The personal meets the political

What Table Talkers are saying this week about how embargoes, elections and airport security affect their lives

Published July 23, 2004 1:50PM (EDT)

Social Issues

Fear & Loathing of the Swarthy Other

Mary Mathis - 07:24 am Pacific Time - Jul 21, 2004 - #281 of 281

I'm an innocuous 40-something mother, who, because I happen to have some Middle Eastern blood mixed in with the Irish and English, regularly spends at least 1/2 hour going through security. The fact that I do not have an obviously Middle Eastern name, and that in my shorts and sandals, I look like about 5 million other people in the N.Y. Metro area who are Italian, Jewish, Latina or "black" Irish just makes it all the more baffling that I am always -- and I mean ALWAYS -- singled out.

On one of my more recent trips, my underwire bra sets off the detector. The guy running the checkpoint and X-ray machine starts screaming, "You're alarming, You're alarming!!! GO BACK!!!" So I do go through again, and again, he's screaming, "You're alarming, you're alarming!!! GO BACK!!!" Third time was, alas, not a charm ... I am still "alarming!!!" Meanwhile, people are freaking out around me, and the security goon is yelling that I need to put my cup of COFFEE in the bin with my SHOES to go through X-ray. (Of course, the shoes come out the X-ray belt just covered in coffee ... see how swift these guys are?)

So, I am banished to the Airport Stockade -- the body search area -- where a woman security person checks under my arms, pokes at my post-baby belly flab, explores under my feet and actually inspects between each toe (what do they expect to find, some sort of Toxic Toe Cheese that can bring down a plane?).

The culprit that has made me alarming? I know what it is -- it's my underwire bra, because at some security points, it sets off the detector. But despite the fact that any trained security person can identify an underwire bra, the moronic Tampa area security lady who does my body search and pokes at my bra with the back of her hand doesn't want to hear it. When I suggest that it's the bra, she yells at me that an underwire bra does NOT set off detectors, and shouts that I am lying. "WHAT DO YOU HAVE ON YOU?" she screams.

At this point, they have to bring over some sort of "expert" person, who runs the wandy thing over me again. I'm there now almost a half hour, with my bin of coffee-logged shoes, and standing barefoot, arms raised, legs spread, in T-shirt and shorts, barefoot. Finally, the expert declares me to be "safe" and I head off, barefooted, to find some napkins to attempt to rescue my shoes.

Who KNOWS what truly nefarious person could have passed through security with the most minimal of scrutiny while the minions of Tom Ridge and John Ashcroft spend their time doing battle with a 38-B Victoria's Secret Underwire ... I've got to fly again soon. I think I'm going to go barefoot and braless, lest I end up at Guantanamo ...

Mary -- The Alarming One

White House

George W. Bush: Public Enemy No. 1, part XVI

Karl Northman - 07:59 pm Pacific Time - Jul 16, 2004 - #1819 of 2044

The last time I was down in Cayman I was talking to a bartender in a deserted bar one night. He, like a lot of "service" workers in Cayman, is not a native -- he was a Canadian, which is very common. Cuba is 200 miles from Cayman, and there are no issues in flying there at all. Cayman is also quite expensive, so a lot of people on Cayman go to Cuba for vacation.

Anyway, he talked about the "sex trade" -- when he had been there last (this would have been, IIRC, in 2001), he went for a week's vacation. The first night he met a Cuban woman in a bar, who was willing to stay with him for some small (to a Caymanian) amount of money. He had a wonderful time, and one thing led to another and he essentially hired her the next day to be his companion for the week. She was a combination tour guide, translator, companion and sex partner. On about Thursday, IIRC, she asked if maybe he could help her with something -- the following Saturday was her mother's birthday, and she asked if he could perhaps take her to one of the foreign-currency-only stores so that she could get a bunch of special food and things in excess of what she could get in the ordinary markets or with her ration cards. He went along with this, and they went to the hard-currency store (Cayman dollars are hard currency -- they're pegged at $1.25 US).

He ended up spending something like $50 there. He said that the oddest thing was that it was so ordinary -- cheese, chickens, spices, odd things that you'd never think about -- but she was just gleeful about getting a bunch of this stuff.

So anyway, he was feeling that was sort of like a tip for her, and then she said, "You've helped me get all this stuff, please come to my family's party with me." And he was "Ummmm, does your family have any idea about how we ... met?"

And she said something like, "Well, they kind of know, but they don't really know it -- they pretend that they don't know, because now that I've got this stuff my parents can invite by their brothers and sisters and all their kids, and we can have a real feast. Now I've got (xxxxx), and that means my grandmother can make (yyyyy), and no one has had her (yyyyyy) for years. We pretend that there is no shame involved in how we have this party, and maybe then there isn't."

Anyway, the guy said that he had gone along to the party, and it was just outstanding. There were like 30 or 40 people, there were musicians, there was all sorts of fun, and people kept coming up to him and thanking him for making it possible to have the special celebration foods that people hadn't had in ages. They asked him about the woman he was with, saying, "Isn't she a wonderful girl?" and he's thinking, "Well, yes, she is, but you do know how I got involved with her, don't you? I started out paying her for sex!"

And then the guy said, "You know, it was funny, that was what it was, I did just think she was a whore, and then she was so nice, and then I met all her family, and I don't know -- she's not a whore, she's just doing what she has to. I started out thinking one thing, and then now I don't know. People shouldn't have to do that just to buy spices and chickens. That's just wrong, and that's the embargo."

Mothers Who Think

Mama Mia: The Larger Than Life Mother Thread

cyasukot - 11:52 am Pacific Time - Jul 19, 2004 - #37 of 52

My mom's a democrat. Since she raised me in the most republican, per capita, county in the entire United States of America, when I was little I thought she was a democrat just to piss people off.

One day, though, she told me the story about her first trip to a laundromat when she'd first immigrated to the US. She was living on the Naval Base in Charleston, South Carolina, with my dad. A woman named Vera who lived next door became her official ambassador to all things American and Southern when my father was away on his submarine tours of duty. Vera took my mom down the street to the laundromat, baskets in tow. The sign on the door said "Whites Only." My mom thought she couldn't go in, and Vera tried to explain to her that the sign referred to Black people, not Orientals (this was the mid 1950's). And my mom, confused, said -- "No, I can't go in because my bath towels are blue."

When she's telling this story for comedic effect, she plays up her naivete. Sometimes, though, she tells the story with righteous indignation. To her, America is supposed to be an unmarred vista of fairness and acceptance. Any evidence to the contrary is treated with disgust. Like many other immigrants, she feels personally humiliated by the ugly little truths about the American Dream, and outrage that Americans don't do more to stop injustice.

This is why my mother, wearer of matching shoes and purses, daily floor washer, meal cooker and 24-hour-a-day bra wearer appeared on the playground one summer day when I was 8, having marched there grimly, her face red with humiliation and anger. She grabbed me by the arm and took me home where I was placed at the kitchen table and given a glass of Hawaiian Punch. The TV was on, an unusual event during the day. It was the Watergate hearings. "All politicians are crooks," my mother told me. "Watch."

The TV got a lot of abuse from my mom, who would whack it or slap it when the news pissed her off. Chicago political corruption made her particularly enraged, a character named Fast Eddie Vrydoliac in particular. When his exploits made the nightly news, they were met with a shout of "Cockroach!" by my mother, who would then smite his TV image on the head with a cooking utensil. This was especially effective when she used the spaghetti spoon. "Look, blood!" I would say. "Good," she would respond.

She wasn't always angry, though. She was sad, too. My mother cried when Nixon resigned, the same way she cried when the Emperor of Japan made his radio adress to the Japanese people announcing surrender. She's a believer. She expects valor, she expects integrity, she expects strength. She's not a leader -- she's a worker bee, and she likes it that way -- but she expects the people who are leaders to take care of her country.

So I was quite honored to be running for class president when I was in junior high. I thought if I got elected and did a good job, my mother would be very impressed. I went out of my way to be ethical and honest and as un-politician like as possible. The morning of the election, my father mentioned to me that it was considered fair play to vote for your opponent in an election. So I thought I'd definitely do that, because I so wanted to be the first honest, fair politician in the world. I marched off to the bus stop, "Vote for Chris, you can't miss" pamphlets in hand. Just as the bus pulled up, I turned to see my mother had come out to the bus stop in her house coat. She bent over and spoke in my ear.

"Vote for yourself," she whispered, and walked away without looking back.

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