Since I seem to be unable to write unless I'm stealing other people's ideas recently, let's continue the trend. Meg, over at Hobocamp, recently wrote about how she recently had her bag searched on the NYC subway. Fortunately, she had no contraband on her person, so she ended up fine (sigh of relief). But continuing in that vein, I figured I'd talk about one of the two times I was almost arrested by Homeland Security. Note: this story is going to seem pretty crazy, but I swear every word is true.
The time: December, 2001, 3 scant months after 9/11.
The place: LaGuardia International Airport, New York, New York.
Three months after September 11th, my sister and I were flying to Cape Town to visit our parents. It was, as you can somewhat expect, a pretty tense scene. In addition to the fact that the entire country was still pretty shaken up after the terrorist attacks on the WTC, airports were just a complete nightmare.
Now, I've talked before about how, due to the number of random ethnicities running around in my family, it's hard to pin down what ethnic group I belong to if you don't know me. Let's just say that being a somewhat dark-skinned person walking through LaGuardia three months after 9/11 was something of an adventure. I knew it was going to happen, and decided in advance that I was just gonna suck it up and accept that I was going to get searched. I made my peace with it, and began my journey.
When our taxi pulled up the airport, I was searched before I even got into the terminal. Then I was searched in the ticket line. Still, I was pleasant, non-confrontational and simply kept my mouth shut and took my medicine. I was searched when I went through the security line. Finally, bags checked, ticket in hand, we were in the terminal. My sister was a little shocked at both the level of security and the number of times I got searched. Of those three times, one of them was just a bag search, and two of them were a bag search coupled with a pat-down. Between leaving the security lines and getting to our gate, I was searched two more times - one pat-down, one bag search.
OK. So, yes, it was getting a little old. I felt that I had pretty much fulfilled my civic duty about two searches ago. But still, I answered the questions, succumbed to the searches, and was pleasant, patient and cooperative. Finally, we're at the gate. We're getting a little antsy because a) we're about to embark on a 22 hour plane ride, b) we're excited to see our parents, and c) I'd just finished being searched FIVE TIMES in two hours. But we're ok. A little goofy, but OK.
Let's interrupt for a second and briefly discuss my sister and I. I'm a little weird, perhaps a little crazy. My sister, being a theater major and now an actor and director in NYC theater, is verrry dramatic, and probably crazier than I am. When we're together (which is not very often)... we get a little nutty. OK, fine, a LOT nutty. We goof off a lot, we get kind of hysterical. We've been holding it in, reining in our inner whacko for a good few hours now. We're reaching critical mass. Imagine a six-foot-two, 200 pound dork and his six-foot, slightly smaller lunatic sister doing everything they can not to burst at the seams in craziness. If we don't get to act silly soon, someone's gonna get hurt. But for now, we're keeping it together.
Finally, they announce that our plane is boarding. We're getting antsier. We're in the little tunnel leading to the plane door. And... I get stopped again. For the sixth time. I take a deep breath, and hand over my carry-on bag. And we go through the drill with the little security man:
Security Man: Excuse me, may I see your bag?
TK's Sister: Oh, Jesus.
TK: It's fine. Certainly, sir.
He begins rummaging through it, asking questions.
SM: Do you have any knives?
TK: No, sir.
SM: Any nail clippers?
TK: No, sir.
SM: Any corkscrews?
SM: Any nail files?
SM: Any batteries?
TK: N0... wait, what?
SM: Any batteries?
TK: Oh. Um... yes.
SM (getting serious): I see. Will you show them to me?
TK: Really? OK. They're in the front pocket.
Note - this was before Ipods, so I had only my crappy discman, which used two AA batteries in about 3 hours. Bear in mind, this is, counting flight time, layovers, etc., a roughly 30 hour trip. I had a shit-ton of batteries.
SM finds the batteries, looks at them intently.
SM: I'm going to have to confiscate them.
SM: For security reasons.
And here is where the dam starts to break...
TKS: That doesn't make any sense.
TK: Yeah, why can't I have batteries?
TKS: They're for his discman - what's he supposed to do without them?
Now we start crossing the street to Crazytown...
TK: Yeah, what am I supposed to do? How are they a security risk? What am I gonna do, THROW THEM AT THE PILOT?
TKS: This is ridiculous! NO ONE SAID ANYTHING ABOUT BATTERIES! HE'S BEEN SEARCHED FIVE TIMES AND NO ONE SAID ANYTHING ABOUT BATTERIES!
TK: WHY CAN'T I HAVE MY BATTERIES! I NEED A REASON, DAMMIT!!!!
At this time, all the people streaming past us are starting to notice. We're officially making a scene.
SM: Sir! Ma'am! Um...
TKS: See all these people walking by? See that guy? And that guy? And that woman right there? ALL OF THEM HAVE BATTERIES! WHY ARE YOU TAKING OURS?! WHAT IS THIS BULLSHIT!
We're now the mayors of Crazytown. We're closing in on this little security man, who is easily 7 inches shorter than us, and realizing he has a couple of mentals on his hands.
SM: OK! OK! Fine! You can keep them! Please, just keep them and go!
TK: FINE! THANK YOU!
TKS: *panting, gasping*
So there you go. Somehow, despite throwing a complete crazy-fit in front of a security person, three months after 9/11, we avoided sharing a cell in Gitmo.
But wait! The story ain't over. So we get to the plane, and we are still living in Crazytown. I, in particular, am freaking out. I'm shaking after the encounter in the tunnel. We sit down, and I'm trying to get my shit together. And failing. My sister is starting to come down, so she tries to get me to calm down.
TK: Christ, I'm wigging out here.
TKS: Honey, just relax. Here, I brought these pills, they're supposed to help you calm down.
She shakes one out, gives it to me, shakes one out for herself.
TK: What?! JUST ONE?! Fuck, look at me!
I take the pill, glug down some water, pass her the water.
TK: I'm fucked up here, sis. I'm seriously losing my shit. Look, I'm shaking, I'm fucking sweating. I'M - I'M HAVING NIGHT TERRORS!!!!!!
And here, ladies and gentlemen, is where the wheels really come off. My sister is halfway into swallowing her water, and after hearing me screech about "night terrors" (night terrors?), she cracks up, and promptly sprays water out of her mouth, and right. onto. the. bald. head. of. the. man. in. front. of. her. Which blasts off his head, and showers the people next to, and in front of, him. I swear I am not making this up.
Bedlam. Absolute fucking bedlam on the plane. People start yelling, the guy in front of us is in a rage, and my sister and I are now on our knees in front of our seats, clutching our stomachs, crying, because we are laughing so hard, it's physically painful. We have lost all capacity for rational thought. All the craziness that's been bubbling up inside of us for the last four hours just exploded out of her mouth, and we are off the goddamn chains. We're dying. And we somehow think that ducking behind the seats will save us. We cannot. stop. laughing. And crying.
The plane starts to move. People settle down. We slowly get our shit back together. And for the entire 22 hour flight, no one speaks to us. No one looks at us. We're like two lepers on the flight. It's brutal.
Believe it or not, there is more to this story. 10 days later, we're at a shopping mall with my parents (in Cape Town). My sister and I are goofing off, wandering through the halls, when my sister freezes. Paralyzed. I stop, ask her what's wrong... and look in the direction she is staring.
It's the bald guy. From the plane. The guy she spat water on. He turns, sees us, does a double take, and then points at us and roars: "YOU WERE ON THE PLANE!!!!"
My sister? She just turns and fucking bolts. She runs faster than I've ever seen her run. As for me? What choice do I have? I turn and just hightail it after her, and don't slow down until we're outside.
Yeah. Like I said, my sister and I don't see each other very often. Perhaps now you can understand why.