Don’t Act Weird at the Airport: Understanding TSA Archetypes
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
in great disquietude
By the time you read this, I assume I’ll be flying through the air in a glorified tin cigar at 500 mph.
I’ll be strapped tightly to my chair. I’ll try to relax, try to rest, maybe even try to read. But I won’t dwell on the fact that a “valve the size of a flashlight buried inside the tail” could cause the whole contraption to plummet haplessly like a lame duck toward the earth.
I assume I’ll have made it through security. I try not to let show how nervous I am. I’d rather live like Immanuel Kant and never leave home. There’s good coffee down the block. Grocery store nearby. From my apartment window I can see West as far as the smog will let me. Why would I leave? But sometimes during holidays and important culturally-sanctioned sections of the calendar, one has to travel. Flying still seems suicidal to me.
Either way, I’m still a good American. Not a criminal. Not a bad bone in my body. But today’s United States security forces can’t tell. They’re screwed up about what is and isn’t criminal. It’s hard to blame them. Al Qaeda is the ongoing cause of our leaders spending trillions of dollars on war and domestic armoring and cranking out new weaponry, while reminding us to keep terrified, but lately Al Qaeda is a positive element deserving US air cover and NATO-reinforcements in Syria.
At the airport, Osama bin Laden might be hiding in your purse, or lying like a hammock in your underwear. Yet, in the 1980s, Osama was CIA Tim Osman, and he led his freedom fighters against the invading army from the North. He helped defeat the imposing spread of Communism and was, for a time, an American hero, if Americans ever gave a shit about anything outside the sharp focus of their TV screens.
You cannot talk to the TSA about these sorts of things. They don’t get paid enough to look into that information. All they know is: terrorism bad; America good. But these days, what is America, anyway? The half-cocked visions of global dominance being propagated by our corporate shill leaders? Or holding dear the pursuit of life and liberty between baton blows from a long line of riot police?
I’ve never been in a scuffle with the TSA because when they tell me to spread my legs, I do it with a conviction rarely seen by weary passengers being led like cattle through the security turnstiles. Don’t do it too sprightly. Then it seems like mockery. But make a show of being a submissive citizen traveler. They like that. You say, You’re in charge. I’m guilty until you say I’m not.
I don’t resist the TSA one bit. I smile. I raise my hands in their body scanner like they’ve got guns on me and let them blast me with a high-powered microwave, so I can prove that I’m probably not guilty. If you don’t like that, you’ll have to step aside and get a deep search. It can get intimate. It can involve the anal cavity. Just depends who’s doin’ you. For a young man who was raised a hardcore Christian, I simply cannot allow that, whether it be playful or serious. So I take the scanner with its long-term risk of cancer.
I say, Thank you, because I’m from North Dakota and that’s what we do.
There are TSA archetypes. You have to know how to handle them. They are not complex creatures, but they’ve been endowed with enough power to can your precious Bill of Rights. Never make the mistake of imagining you can jostle with these folks. You will end up locked in a bleak white room with buzzing fluorescent lights for an indeterminate amount of time. You will sit there wondering about your fate. Your future as an American citizen. What will your life be like on the no-fly list?
If you would have just submitted to the authorities, you would have been on your way, breezing through time and space and wondering still, despite all the years of air travel, just how that big goddamned metal bird actually flies.
Here are the three TSA archetypes I usually run into.
The mousy man with a mustache and glasses. His needle eyes serious and drawn tight behind the thick lenses. He is no fun to talk to. He will not laugh. He’s often pissed because his widowed mother is constantly on his ass to clean the basement, or else she’s going to make him move out.
He most likely runs his own thread on Reddit featuring something unbelievably morbid, but surprisingly specific, like pictures of children who have lost limbs due to rare cases of Capnocytophaga canimorsus. A horrific hobby, but admirable in his unwavering dedication to the topic.
This agent makes a perfect grueling Internet troll, but he will hardly say ‘boo’ in the airport terminal. He didn’t want to get a job, but to make his mother shut up, he found one. And there you are, alone at the airport, squinting into his square, frameless glasses and thinking you could handle him in a bar fight, easily, but now he’s wielding the power, and he knows it. Yet, he’s not a cop. He never took a real oath. And he can ruin your life.
Don’t resist this man. He won’t say much, but he’ll call over the authorities for any minor infraction. If he tells your wife to drop her pants behind the screen so he can take a gander, you wave your spouse over and wash your hands clean.
The pot-bellied, taller man, who thinks he’s doing service for God and country, and who, from time to time, will boss around the mousier agent (and he resents it very, very much). He thinks he’s fair, but then again he fully subscribes to every crackpot theory the US government and the Department of Homeland Security distributes to their employees. He’s never heard of WTC 7, and he certainly won’t like your assumption that US-backed NATO troops are mostly guarding fields of opium in Afghanistan.
This agent is a religious man. If you ask him how he knows Jesus is the Saviour, he’ll tell you to look up John 3:16. He’s the type of agent that righteously backs the bomb sniffing dogs that, most times, sniff out of passengers’ luggage ham sandwiches and foul underwear.
The minor inconvenience for the traveler to have to unload all of his belongings onto the airport’s bacteria-rich floor while other passengers wheel their baggage around him is no matter for this agent.
Then there is the overweight black woman who might be the friendliest of the TSA archetypes. How are you doing today? I always ask this one, and she will usually respond, “Not bad, thank you, now step this way, honey.” Honey? These loaded words always set me up for an emotional false start. I’m tempted to say, Alright, sugar.
I’m from the Midwest, I usually say, so you’ve got nothing to worry about. I’m as patriotic as they come. My grandfather fought in World War Two so that we wouldn’t be living under various factions of government-sanctioned thug security forces in our malls and airports.
I like to say, He fired shells as big as your peanut head out of a Bofors 40mm cannon into the roaring mouth of Satan. Lucky for us he’s passed away now, otherwise who knows in what direction he’d be firing that thing. He could sniff out Fascism anywhere.
The mousy agent hardly ever responds to that. But one time he raised the right side of his upper lip until I could see his top teeth. The faraway look in his eyes said it all. He’d understood me for just one moment.
“Move along now,” he said.
[40mm Bofors from US Navy, 1948]