The Logical Philosopher

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Curse of Being Polite

I flew down to Seattle last weekend with some friends and, being the polite blogger I am, I let my friends go through first when we all reached the boarding gate. Big mistake.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think being polite would require me to unbuckle my belt for a man wearing a fake badge and, even worse, with rubber gloves sticking out of his pocket ready for action.
“Have your boarding passes ready please,” the customs agent announced to us all as we filed through into the metal detector line. He droned on, waving everyone in front of me into the screening machine. “Thank you, pass through. Thank you, pass through. Thank you, pass through”

“Hold up sir.” I heard directed towards me as I tried to step past. “Random screening check, step this way please.” He pointed towards an area beside an empty table, calling out to his workmates “Doing a random! Doing a random!”, like it was some sort of reality show prank. Damn, I’ve been Random’d, I thought. It’s like being Punk’d, only they have the legal authority to use rubber gloves.

He then asked a most disturbing question: “Would you like this done in a private room, or is this public space ok?”

“I guess this is ok.” I replied, hoping that if I chose public, the rubber gloves would stay safely stowed away. After a few attempts of incorrectly following his next set of instructions I finally seemed to “assume the correct screening position”, my arms out to the side, and legs slightly apart. He turned on is portable metal detector and proceeded to run his wand over me, finally stopping as it continued to beep at my belt buckle.

“Open your belt please,” he ordered. I got the impression this was going to be the highlight of his day so I went with it. Looking around I saw my friends had all stopped to watch, as if viewing some horrific traffic accident unfolding in slow motion. I now know it is possible to have ones mouth agape and snicker at the same time.

After his wand cleanly passed over me I took it as a sign to buckle back up. Unfortunatly I was wrong - “No sir, I asked you to open your belt buckle. Wide open please.” He continued wanding my pelvic area for contraband and then made the motion for me to spin around. Arms still outstretched I pivoted, like a ballet dancer, only with hiker boots and an unbuckled belt. At this point my friends snickers became auitory. What a start to the trip. I was determined to be graceful to the end, so I reached down to do my belt back up, not so much for my fashion sense of an open belt buckle, but more so to prevent my shorts dropping right then and there.

“No sir, wait until I tell you to buckle it back up.” I heard from behind. Now stop and re-read that line. I decided right then and there that I didn’t ever want to be in a position to hear that line again. I started to sweat, and my friends started to add facial expressions to their noises.

Apparently growing bored of telling me what I could do with my belt, he moved into my carry-on luggage. Unzipping my bag he started pulling out my clothes, inspecting them as he went. At this point it was at least 5 or 6 minutes into my search and all I could think of was next time I’m going to pack dirty underwear at the top, regardless of my trip starting or finishing.

A thin smile appeared on his face as he rummaged around in the bottom of my bag. I started to think maybe he had watched the French Connection recently and saw me as his next big bust? Sensing he was getting warm, he triumphantly pulled out my tube of Crest toothpaste and, more strangely, like he was caressing a beautiful vase, gently held it up to the light for a closer inspection. Except in the actual toothpaste aisle at the local pharmacy I’ve never seen anyone look at a toothpaste tube with such reverence. Time seemed to slow as he stood in awe, gazing at my toothpaste tube.

Finally, after he let a sign of satisfaction quietly escape from his lips, he placed the toothpaste back into my bag, stuffed my now unfolded clothes back on top and zipped my bag up. “Thank you sir. Going to the US means tighter security, I hope you understand.”

“Yeah, no problem,” I muttered as I grabbed the rest of my items from the inspection table, turning towards my friends.

“Oh, and you can do your belt up now.” I hear him say from behind. Damn. Twice in one day. I headed over to my group of friends, who still stood watching the event come to a close. I’m sure they all secretly hoped I would get busted for something, just so they could say they were there when it happened.

“Whew,” I breathed, “I don’t know about you, but I’ve used up my quota of unbuckling my pants for the weekend.”

One of them shook his head slowly, looked me up and down and said with a slow, contemplative tone, “You know LP, all these years I’ve known you and I figured you for a Colgate man. You disappoint.”

I guess you never really know somebody until you see them get pulled for a random search at the airport.