I’m at Dulles International going through a metal detector, which is invariably set to read “CODE RED” at anything from loose dimes to dentures.
“Sir, please empty your pockets.”
“Sir, please take off your shoes.”
“Sir, please take off your belt.”
BEEP BEEP BEEP.
As I am about to strip down and do a pole dance to prove I’m not sneaking through a Kalashnikov, they decide to search through my two carry-ons. My laptop is taken out and inspected as if it were a nuclear device launcher. It’s opened slowly and carefully. The whole process looks very professional, very serious. Even though I am now in danger of missing my flight, I feel in no danger of succumbing to Compaq wielding terrorists.
Glad to say, the laptop passes the 12-point inspection, uplifting my spirits. But the joy is short-lived.
“Sir, do you happen to have a lighter in your bag?”
Three weeks ago, I bought a really cool lighter for my little brother. It’s made up of a glass shell encased in aluminum, and it lights up all fancy colors when the top is opened. Still under the na?ve assumption that it won’t be mistaken for a fire-breathing dragon, I reassure the inspection officer full cooperation.
“Oh, yes, I’ll show you where it is.”
“NO SIR!, that’s a BIG no-no. Please move away from the bag!”
I get this mental image where, as a criminal next to some beat up car, I’m surrounded by a couple dozen cops and the one with the crew cut and trim mustache shouts, “Step away from the vehicle!” Except, I am just trying to get my little brother a lighter that turns colors when you open it. And I begin explaining this to the Gestapo here, but this too is against protocol.
Anyway, a half-hour later, three more inspection officers, and four more trips through the X-ray later, this employee of the month offers his best attempt at a solution.
“You can put it in your bag and submit it as baggage.”
Provided the Messiah makes an unexpected appearance, I can do that and actually make my flight. Newly religious, I head toward check-in.
Fortunately, officer 2 of 4 chimes in, “Actually, you can’t do that. What you can do is mail it to yourself right over there. But you will have to go through the security check again if you exit.”
Officer 3 of 4: “Actually, mailing it is a federal offense subject to a $10,000 fine.”
Officer 4 of 4 is most helpful. He remains silent.
Inevitably, they end up keeping the lighter, X-raying my bag one more time and letting me through. I miss my flight and get stuck with someone who can’t speak English rescheduling me for the following morning.
At 3:38 a.m., still at the airport, I finish reading everything I have with words on it and start alternating between laptop solitaire and writing this soliloquy – which, by the way, is a lousy form of therapy. Meanwhile, in a place far far away, buddy bin Laden is skipping with mountain goats and a bag full of lighters that light up all fancy colors.
-The writer is a junior majoring in international affairs.