It all started with a seemingly innocent comment — “I think the terrorists have won.” Okay, maybe it wasn’t so innocent considering we were standing in the security line at the airport.
I said it quietly to Julie but the middle-aged woman standing in front of us turned and stared at me nervously.
“What do you mean?” Julie asked with a giggle.
“Look,” I said, gesturing to the gray bins stacked up awaiting the x-ray machine. “Look at this.” I started pontificating on the ridiculousness of what you had to do just to get on an airplane — practically having to disrobe — and now being forced to display all liquid items for the scrutiny of security and strangers. I really didn’t want to know that the attractive woman behind us was using lice shampoo or that the old guy in the next line was taking something called “Insta-Rection.” (And yes, the cucumber melon body butter is mine; does anybody have a problem with that?)
If I had been paying better attention maybe I would have noticed the middle-aged woman whispering something to her friend and then the “next male” uttered by someone wearing a white shirt and navy blue tie as I walked through the metal detector.
The alarm didn’t go off but I was asked (Asked? Are you really asked to do anything at the airport?) to step into a glass enclosed box to await the arrival of someone named Lonnie.
Julie glanced at me as she struggled to gather our stuff off the conveyor belt. I shrugged. After a moment a man of about 70 opened the other side of the box.
“Right this way,” he said. “Sit down, please.” He pointed to a black chair.
When he leaned down, placing his leathery face a few inches from mine, two things were immediately evident. One was that Lonnie was an Aqua Velva man. The other was that his nose hair could really use a trim.
“First,” he said, “I’m going to have you raise your right leg, I’m going to go over it with the wand, then we’ll do the other leg.”
I noticed his wand seemed different than the ones other security people were holding. I tried to get a good look at it but Lonnie kept it moving.
“So, you folks goin’ on a little vacation?” he asked.
“Where ya headed?”
“Ah, that’s nice. Stand please. Okay, now extend your arms with your palms up.” He passed the wand over my outstretched arms.
“Yup, Mexico’s a nice place. Lotta nude beaches down there. I’m sure you and your lady friend wouldn’t mind checking out a couple of those, am I right?”
He grinned and gazed towards Julie who was bent over zipping up our suitcase.
“Uh, yeah, maybe,” I said.
He walked behind me. “Okay, I gotta warn you if the detector goes off over a more sensitive area, then we’ll have to take this in the back. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” he added, reading my thoughts. I cringed; I truly did not want this old man near any of my sensitive areas.
As I stood there, being subjected to this humiliation, I wondered where this job fell on the airport security totem pole. I figured it had to be kind of an entry-level job. The sole purpose was to grope and annoy, annoy and grope. Who would sign up for this? And was it possible this was a higher-up position, that people were actually striving to become an annoying groper?
After wanding my legs again, Lonnie asked me to lift my shirt so he could see the button on my pants.
“Ah, Dockers. That’s a good brand. How much did you pay for those?”
“Um, probably around 30 I think.”
“30? Then you got yourself a good deal. Could you roll those down so I can see the other side of the button?”
I stared at him dumbfounded.
“Yup, just roll ‘em down a little.”
I did as he asked and Lonnie waved the wand over the button.
“Going commando, huh?” He leaned towards me. “Me too,” he said with a smile. “But don’t tell anybody.” I grimaced.
He finished with a good, ol’ fashioned full-body pat down. I shuddered as his wrinkled hands with the yellowish, ragged fingernails slithered over my arms. Then he crouched down and began at my ankles, slowly crawling his way up and finally ending at my waist. And except for the time at my friend Brian’s birthday party where his grandmother (after a few too many Bloody Mary’s), cornered me in the upstairs hallway, I can honestly say Lonnie was the oldest person ever to feel me up.
“Alright, you’re good to go,” he said. He began walking towards the glass box where another poor sap was waiting.
I found Julie sitting at the end of a long table. She was smiling.
“Shut up,” I said before she could say anything.
“What? I was just going to ask if you got his phone number.”
I glared at her as I slipped on my sneakers.
“You know, it took you two months to do to me what he just did to you.”
“I’ll see you on the plane,” I said. I grabbed our suitcase and started walking away.
Julie ran to catch up with me. “And he didn’t even have to buy you dinner.”
A week later, after a relaxing vacation in Cancun, we came back through the airport.
“Hey, look,” Julie said, on our way to the baggage area, “it’s your friend.”
I followed her glance and sure enough there was Lonnie, busy groping someone else.
“Here, hold this,” she said, shoving her purse into my hands. “I’ll be right back.” She headed for the bathroom.
“Do you see that? That’s the way to do it.”
To my right were two men dressed in white shirts and navy blue ties. They were also looking at Lonnie.
“Lonnie’s the best,” the older man continued.
Lonnie now had the man he was checking on his knees with one leg extended behind him.
“No one more thorough. He’s the one who invented the other side of the button thing.”
“Wow, that’s the guy?” the younger man asked.
“Excuse me,” I said, stepping closer to them. “Could I ask you something?”
The older man looked at me and then down at Julie’s purse. “Yeah, what about?”
I pointed to Lonnie. “What that guy’s doing, that’s not really a high-up position, right? More of an entry-level type thing?”
The man smirked. “Are you kidding? It takes years to make it that far. You gotta pay your dues! Entry-level.” He elbowed his friend who smiled.
“Oh, okay,” I said and slunk back to the wall near the bathroom. Julie came out after a moment.
“It’s a shame about Lonnie though,” I heard the older man say as we started walking to Baggage.
“He retired about a year ago.”
“Yeah. We let him come down every once in a while and work, ya know, just for old times sake.”
I stopped abruptly and turned around, convinced I had heard wrong.
“His wand isn’t even official. I think he actually made it himself.”
Now Lonnie had the man standing on his hands while he passed his bulky, misshapen wand over the bottoms of his feet.
“Yup, no one more thorough.”
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED