A TSA agent has a line of Chinese school children in front of him.
“How old are you?” He asks one.
They stare at him.
“How old are you?” He repeats, louder.
“对不起，你多大了？” I say.
The man shuffles kids under twelve one way and those over another. Twelve is a magical age where your body cannot be affected by millimeter wave scanners and you are a greater threat for terrorist activity. The younger ones go through a metal detector and keep their shoes on. The older ones are sent barefoot to the scanner.
Another TSA agent directs the children through the scanner. He tries to explain what to do, but TSA-speak is too specialized. He makes a motion to each child, showing them how to stand in the machine.
The children nod.
Things I took through a TSA checkpoint:
1 electric kettle full of socks and underwear (used)
1 electric kettle stand
1 electric tooth brush (sonicare)
1 tube toothpaste (3.8 oz)
1 bottle Bauscher + Lomb Bio true contact lense solution (4 oz)
1 Dell Latitude (with charger)
1 mason jar containing distilled water and a living sphagnum plant (4 oz)
2 pairs microspikes
“Do you have something in your bag?” The screener asks, holding it in front of me.
He opens my bag and takes it out, running the backpack and the kettle, now separate, through the scanner again.
“Anything in the kettle?” He asks when he comes back.
“Some used socks and underwear.”
“Can you open it for me?”
“Sure.” While he holds it, I hit the open button. He can see one sock and one pair of underwear. There are more underneath it, but he doesn’t ask for any evidence of this. I’m not allowed to touch my bags while he opens them. I’m not allowed to touch things in the bin. For the sake of the agent’s safety, I have to hit the open button while he holds it.
“I didn’t know people still used kettles for tea.”
“How do you make tea?”
“Do you fly a lot?”
“I used to,” I say. “Now probably four to six times a year.”
“Have you thought about TSA pre-Check? You can read about it on our site.”
“Do you always opt out?”
“Did you know that with TSA pre-Check you can keep your laptop in your bag and shoes on. You can also pick which method of screening you want to go through–the scanners or the metal detectors.”
“For $85, I can choose to go through a metal detector rather than a patdown?”
“Yes. It might be more convinent for you. It lasts five years. If you fly four times a year, that’s twenty flights for $85.”
“I think I prefer the pat down.”
After reaching the gate and seeing my flight was delayed, I wanted to brush my teeth. When I started to walk away from my bags, someone told me that you [still] can’t leave bags at the gate.
“Why?” I asked. “So they won’t get stolen?”
“So if there’s anything dangerous in them, like a explosive device or biohazardous agent, a terrorist couldn’t leave it.”
“After the security screening, shouldn’t everything be safe?”
“Do you want some coffee, miss?”
Pandora Helps Political Organizers Target Voters, the scrolling text reads. “You probably vote democratic if you listen to Daft Punk,” CNN informs me as I sit and wait for my flight.
As I write this list, I wonder what would happen if they banned more of these things. I think I remember hearing something about epoxy being material you could make a functional blade out of. Epoxy can look a lot like toothpaste. What if you couldn’t have any toothpaste at all? I wonder if I’d then have to check my bag. The bag I have with the kettle and the microspikes. I think about the cost and the fees. The TSA gets an extra fee for each checked bag. More people are using carry-ons because of checked-bag fees. It is widely believed that the existence of the TSA and the use of scanners is about capitalism and votes.