Of Mice and Molecules...
"Uh Oh, Spaghetti O's"
I've spent the week in San Diego, working on setting up things for the new job. For the next month or so, I'll be living in a hotel while we complete our move to the west coast, so new posts may be a bit sparse for a while. Moreover, all I've got right now is my wok computer, for which my employer has mandated the use of Internet Explorer, further thwarting my efforts to communicate with the outside world. Or not - who knows? Anyway, I have a story from my flight out here, another bit of magic brought to us by the TSA.
In executing any move, there are a number of preparatory steps one must go through. One of these processes is the consumption of everything in the pantry. This process follows an unspoken rule, whereby items are consumed in an order inversely proportional to their delectability. The day of my departure, I had consumed all but the least appealing item in my larder, in this case a can of two-year-old Spaghetti O’s. I have no idea what I was thinking when I purchased the can, but an idiopathic-but-strong ideology against food waste led me to pack it in my luggage for the flight. In my mind, I would eat the pasta in transit, taking solace in the fact that I was at least avoiding expensive airport food.
At O’Hare, I trundled through security and was mildly surprised when my carry-on was pulled from the X-ray for hand inspection. A bored TSA drone poked through my sundry items without comment until he found the can. “Uh-Oh, Spaghetti O’s!” he sang, beaming at his situationally-appropriate usage of product advertising. “No, seriously, this can’t go on,” he explained. "It's dangerous."
My mind whirred into gear, weighing how I might respond to this latest but of taxpayer-sponsored idiocy. While I didn’t particularly care if the can was confiscated, not fighting the TSA went against everything I believed in. I also strongly suspected that my food, should it be confiscated, would almost certainly find its way into the gut of this overly-gleeful TSA flunkie; in that case, I should at least open the can and get some bodily fluids in there, just to uphold my anti-TSA principles.
My momentary paralysis was pivotal; before I could respond, another TSA guy got involved. “No, it’s OK to go on,” he said, reaching for the can in an apparent attempt to return it to me.
TSA man #1 plucked the can away in a not so fast gesture. A great forensic debate ensued between these two philosophers as to whether Spaghetti O’s are on the TSA’s no-fly list. It was quickly established that the can’s capacity far exceeded the three-ounce limit for liquids. The issue, it was agreed, was whether or not Spaghetti O’s were a liquid or a solid.
Other TSA agents joined the conversation, drawn like flies to honey. Epistemological analysis flew fast and thick as these intellectual titans took one side or the other. More and more agents were called over to see if a clear majority opinion could be reached. There was a surprising amount of passion for such an inconsequential issue. It occurred to me that the TSA guys weren't all that different from dudes who hang out in the hood all day, bored stiff until something happened. I was that thing; this can of pasta was the airport security equivalent of a drive-by shooting in South Chicago.
Speaking of danger, rumblings of discontent were emanating from the line behind us as passengers reacted unfavorably to 40% of the security lines abruptly grinding to a halt. The TSA guys seemed to care not at all.
Locked in hopeless impasse, a manager was called to cast the deciding vote. An even beefier, surlier man in a blue polyester shirt swaggered over. After hearing from the prosecution and the defense, the manager decreed that the can should be swabbed for explosives. Everyone present (a good dozen government employees by this point) watched as the label and pull-top were dutifully swabbed and fed into the analyzer. The machine reported what we all should have known from the beginning – Spaghetti O’s gas chromatograph profile is inconclusively different from an explosive.
Additional discussion ensued. Another, presumably more powerful manager was summoned. He listened to the recap from the first manager. “Uh oh, Spaghetti O’s,” repeated the original TSA guy, trying to double dip on the joke for a larger audience. The attempt was met with pro forma chuckles. TSA man #1 appeared pleased with himself.
“What the fuck are you people doing?” yelled a passenger who'd been waiting for the body scanner now for maybe ten minutes. Another guy piled on: “Yeah - Bin Laden's brother better be trying to get on a flight!”
“Shut. Up!” megamanager bellowed at the belligerent travelers' audacious demands that they do their job. “Call the dog,” he commanded the intermediate manager. “Call the dog,” intermediate manager repeated to a subordinate.
Through all this I'd remained silent; on previous occasions I'd attempted to explain the colloidal properties of toothpaste to the baggage boys in blue, and I knew facts and science had no place in this discussion. However, as we waited for the sniffer dog, I noticed that TSA guy #1's work pants were cut in such a way that the man had a perpetual fabric boner.
I love a good troll opportunity. "Excuse me," I said to TSA guy #1. "Why do you have an erection?"
I pointed at the tented fabric over his pelvis. "It looks like you're hard as a diamond. I was just curious why you're aroused."
Everyone's focus was now on TSA guy #1's crotch. TSA man #1 is not up to the scrutiny; he presses down against the tent, which instantly springs back. Realizing that it appears he is manipulating himself through his trousers, the man tries a new tactic - he holds the Spaghetti O's in line with his package.
"Please don't touch the can to your genitals," I request in the same voice you'd use when requesting to be c.c.'ed on an email.
TSA man #1 doesn't know how to handle this. He weakly denies having an erection, the just purses his lips and shakes his head, trying to make eye contact with his co-workers who are having none of it. I feel good about myself.
Three minutes later, my can of Spaghetti O's was being interrogated by the nose of a German Shepherd in a tactical vest. The dog sniffed the can, paused, then gave it a desultory lick while making baleful eye contact with his handler. His expression seemed to say, I stopped licking my asshole for this?
“Alright, you’re good,” megamanager declared, already losing interest. As the cluster of TSA warriors reluctantly broke up, I caught a look of disappointment from the original TSA guy. “You were hoping to eat them yourself,” I said. It was not a question.
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Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.