Hand over the fork, sir!

TSA confiscations reach new levels of absurdity -- and the Hysteria Hall of Shame goes international

Topics: Ask the Pilot, Transportation Security Administration, Air Travel,

Hand over the fork, sir! (Credit: Salon)

There are those moments when you look for the hidden camera.

A couple of weeks ago  I proposed my idea for the American Hysteria Hall of Shame, a ranking of our more laughable and self-defeating overreactions to perceived security threats over the past decade. Motto: “Malignantibus Parta! Timor vincit omnia!”

Safely assured of a top spot in the Hall, or so I thought, was the time I had a butter knife confiscated by overzealous TSA guards. I mean, what could be more ridiculous than taking a butter knife from a uniformed, on-duty pilot?

Answer: confiscating a fork from a uniformed, on-duty airline pilot.

It happened the other day in Mexico City, at the special crew inspection checkpoint at Benito Juarez International Airport. Yes, I’m dropping the “American” part and changing the name to the “Security Hysteria Hall of Shame,” since, as you’ll see, we are not the only ones who have lost our minds.

I knew there was trouble when the X-ray belt came to a stop and I was asked to open my bag.

The offending item was a fork — one of the small, five-inch kinds more or less identical to those dispensed by airlines in first and business class. Like my long-lost knife, it was part of the silverware pack that I carry in my luggage for those late-night hotel room ramen feasts.

“No, no, no, no,” said the guard. “You cannot take this.”

Really? Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that even the most hell-bent of terrorists isn’t going to get very far with a hand-held weapon of any kind, let alone something as goofy as a fork. The logic in play here is something simpler: Every day, hundreds of thousands of stainless steel forks, not to mention knives, are handed out to passengers in the forward cabins of airplanes. (And why not? The hijacking paradigm exploited on Sept. 11 no longer exists.) Yet on-duty pilots are not allowed to carry them through the checkpoint?

“No, no, no, no.”

“Pero … en el avion … el mismo!” I pleaded, deftly employing five of the 11 words I know in Spanish.

No sale.

And this is the moment when I expected the camera to appear. It was all a joke, right? The guard would break out laughing and slap me on the shoulder. “Estoy jugando, señor! Yo vi su artículo en Salon!”



Instead I got a “Sorry, sir,” and a kind of shrug-wince. For what it mattered, his expression was sympathetic, and I could tell that he understood. He knew the rule was a silly one (I mean, how could he not?). He wanted to make an exception, but was powerless — or afraid — to do so.

This is the lunatic world of security we now live in: one of blind adherence, stripped of reason and logic, in which even the stupidest policies are enforced to the letter of the law.

It gets worse. Together with my fork was a plastic picnic knife — my sad replacement for the metal one taken by TSA. This too was of concern. At one point the supervisor carefully ran his fingers across its deadly serrations, mumbling instructionally to his colleague.

The picnic knife was given the all-clear and returned to me. The fork, though, would be tossed into a bin, carted off to wherever it is that airport security brings its troves of pilfered property. (I propose these raw materials be melted down and used to build new terminals, each with a majestic fountain in the center bubbling with recycled soft drinks, shampoo and mouthwash.)

And so everybody was that much safer.

There’s that expression: “You can’t make this up.” Well, really, you can’t. My head spins and my bones ache just writing about it.

Like I said, we’re not the only ones who’ve gone off the security deep end. I’ve encountered similar nonsense in Thailand, Nicaragua, the U.K.

In the meantime, did you catch the front-page New York Times story about the drug-smuggling and theft ring broken up at Kennedy Airport in New York? Apparently dozens of American Airlines luggage handlers were involved in a years-long operation in which they stole from passengers’ suitcases and smuggled cocaine in aircraft cargo holds. They would, in some cases, hide the drugs behind the sidewall panels of the lower-deck compartments.

Baggage handlers, by the way, do not have to pass through airport security. Not before 9/11, and not since. They, like almost all tarmac workers, are subject only to occasional, random TSA checks.

I realize that the vast majority of airport ground staff are honest employees and not criminals or terrorists. I’m not suggesting that they, too, be required to hand over their forks. That’s not the point, pardon the pun. It’s not that they aren’t patted down and X-rayed and relieved of their pointy things, it’s that pilots (and flight attendants) are.

Could there be a more demented double standard? It basically nullifies everything we’ve been asked to believe about the supposed importance of screening airline crew members. And no offense to the hardworking baggage handlers, fuelers, caterers, cabin cleaners and mechanics out there, but who is the higher-risk employee from a security perspective, a tarmac worker or a pilot? I suppose anything is possible, but let’s be realistic. If we’re going to screen at all, can we at least do it rationally?

As we speak, a program is being tested that, assuming all goes well, will eventually allow on-duty pilots to bypass the normal checkpoint. It’s a simple enough process that confirms a pilot’s identity by matching up airline and government-issue credentials with information stored in a database. That it took 10 years and counting for this to happen, however, is absurd.

I know this comes across as a self-serving complaint, but ultimately this isn’t about pilots. It’s about how diseased our approach to security is overall. A system that is stupid enough to devote valuable time and resources relieving pilots of tableware isn’t just an unfair one, but a potentially dangerous and self-defeating one.

And I needn’t be reminded of the indignities endured by passengers. What’s further unfortunate about the incident down at Benito Juarez is that it steals the thunder of a reader named Stacey Goldring, who shared with me a story of such sublime brainlessness that, until I lost my fork, was ready to take top honors in my Hall of Shame.

One day, flying from Dallas to Jacksonville, Fla., Goldring and her toddler son were refused passage through the TSA checkpoint because they boy was carrying … get ready now … his Star Wars lightsaber. A lightsaber, if you’re not familiar, is a flashlight with a plastic cone attached — or, perhaps more to the point, a toy in the shape of a make-believe weapon from a galaxy, and a line of reasoning, far, far away.

“I believe it was green,” says Goldring, “indicating my son’s future Jedi path. We were told by the TSA professionals that the saber, which technically is something that does not exist, was a weapon. We were escorted out of security and sent to the ticket counter, where I had to fill out paperwork in order to check the lightsaber in as baggage.”

That might have the fork story beat, actually.

Like I said, you can’t make this up.

The saddest part is that few people seem to care. We grumble, we gripe, and sometimes we laugh, but there is little if any organized push to change this madness, neither by citizens nor their elected leaders. In the end, we get what we deserve.

As for me and my silverware, my patience can’t bear these episodes anymore. I think I’m switching to chopsticks.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Congrats to Jerry Aubin, of Austin, Texas, for winning last week’s Hüsker Dü trivia contest.

The questions was this: There is a mistake in the liner notes to the “Zen Arcade” album. What is it?

“Who ever wrote the song sings it,” it says among the credits, “except for ‘Somewhere,’ which Grant wrote the words for.” This doesn’t make sense, as Grant has the vocals on that song.

Not even Paul Hilcoff, host of the mind-bendingly thorough Hüsker Dü archive site, knew the answer offhand.

Aubin gets one of the last remaining Ask the Pilot baseball caps, autographed ballplayer-style under the brim. I have one or two left, as well as a handful of small and medium-size T-shirts. My pre-holiday clearance sale is on: your choice for $10, including shipping.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Do you have questions for Salon’s aviation expert? Contact Patrick Smith through his website and look for answers in a future column.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>