No, sonny boy. I am definitely not gratified by the Transportation Security Administration’s deciding that I no longer have to take my shoes off in airport security lines. Not by a long shot. It means that my own government has certified me as harmless.
Don’t deny it. That’s what this means. That’s exactly what the TSA was thinking: We don’t have to worry about that codger. Let the old guy right through. He can keep on those orthopedic clodhoppers he moseys around in.
Why, a bomb would probably slip out of his hands anyway, what with all that arthritis he must have by now in the fingers. Or maybe, just at the moment he was to signal his coconspirators that it’s a go, his prostate would start acting up and he’d have to drop everything and troop off to the back of the plane, where he’d have such a struggle opening the bathroom door that a flight attendant would come over and discover plastic explosives under the arch supports of his Hush Puppies. Also, the way his memory’s been lately, he’s likely to forget about the bomb until he’s standing at the luggage carousel, watching the bags go around and wondering if he’d just gotten off the Greyhound to Des Moines.
Our convenience? If it was for our convenience, it would be our belts they’d let us keep on.
Why? Because as some men get older, they suffer from DTS — Disappearing Tush Syndrome. An older guy with DTS gradually loses his hindquarters, which makes it hard for him to keep his pants up even with a belt. I once saw a man in North Miami Beach, Fla. — a retired insurance adjuster from Paramus, N.J., who was using both hands to carry a tray in one of those cafeterias where you get all you can eat for $8.95 if you arrive before 5 o’clock — walk right out of his pants. One minute he was a respectable older citizen wearing his pants up to his sternum; the next he looked like one of those gang wannabes who wear their baggy jeans so low you’d think that they’re on the subway mainly to display the thread count in their boxers.
The way I figure it, the TSA called in some of those statistics geeks — the sort of guys who used to walk around the halls in high school with slide rules on their belts. On one side they calculated the odds that Gramps would be an effective terrorist, and on the other, how often the TSA was sued by an old guy who bent over to retie his shoes and ended up breaking a hip.
No, I don’t blame the TSA employees, who are actually working the security line. They’re pretty patient, particularly considering how many passengers they have to listen to grumbling about those X-ray machines that let some screen-monitoring drudge in Boise, Idaho, see you naked as a jaybird.
Not long ago, in a security line at LAX, I stood just behind a woman of some years. No, I wouldn’t guess how many. There was a time when women didn’t go around telling total strangers their age and shoe size and whether they’d fantasized about sleeping with two Slovenian firemen and a Chihuahua. Let’s just say that if you made a reference to, say, Perry Como, this woman wouldn’t have looked totally blank.
As she approached the X-ray machine, the TSA guy asked her to take off her shoes — a pair of snazzy-looking wedge sandals. She pointed to the sign that said passengers over 75 didn’t have to. The guy smiled and, as he waved her through, said, “Well, I would have never guessed.” She beamed. It was a nice moment. But I had to wonder what she could have hidden in the heels of those wedge sandals.
Calvin Trillin, a contributor to the New Yorker, is the author, most recently, of “Dogfight: The 2012 Presidential Campaign in Verse.” He wrote this article for the New York Times.