Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Land of the Free?

I’m home from my journey, trying to get caught up. Our trip was a last-minute thing we threw together when we realized we might not be able to take a vacation again for some time. We’ve done a lot of visiting in the last five or six years, but this was only our second real vacation. We were ready to relax for several days in the company of strangers. Sad, then, that the vacation began with me fuming mad.

I know all about the restrictions for carrying toiletries on to an airplane. They must be in a plastic bag, the items can only be a certain size, the bag can only be so big, yadda yadda. That’s why I packed my toiletries in my suitcase, which I checked. Ever since 2001, after airport security personnel unpacked my entire suitcase, pulled the toiletries bag from the bottom of the suitcase, rummaged through it and found my nail clippers and informed me that the file on it was a weapon and he would have to break it off (he did, and I still have them), I have been checking my bags.

Last Friday, we approached the security line at the airport, where a rather large man who worked for the TSA (yet looked strangely like a forest ranger) yelled that we must declare all and any toiletries we had in our bags. And so, because I have an uncontrollable impulse to do the right thing, I pulled out the one and only object I thought I might need to “declare”—a spray sample of Narciso Rodriguez For Her EDT—and was promptly told to throw it away. I balked. Surely the man had to be joking. He assured me he was not. He told me I could either get a plastic bag from the table where they were handing them out and secure my sample in the bag, or I could discard it. In a huff, I threw it into the garbage can and proceeded to the line. He continued to scream at me like an angry marine trying to break a new recruit as I walked away.

When I got to the line, the sight of women with their little bags of toiletries only made me angrier. Not only are we subject to a stupid rule, but people follow it without question. In retrospect I wish I’d been calm enough to walk over and grab one of the bags, because surely the sign of me in line with my tiny spray sample of perfume locked up in a plastic bag would have been the perfect illustration of how ridiculous this rule really is. What scares me more than anything is how slowly they’re removing basic rights from our lives, and how we take it all, calm as cows being led to the slaughter. Here’s a woman with her baggie full of sample size toiletries, and then right next to her is a man with a suitcase. Am I supposed to believe he has no shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, cologne? I had lotion in my purse that I hadn’t taken out, and it went through the x-ray unnoticed, both going and coming home.

And so the rule is arbitrary, arbitrary and stupid to begin with, and yet nobody asks WHY? Are we not in danger just being packed like sardines in the airport security area? Are we not in danger on buses and trains and cruise ships? How about on freeways, or in malls or grocery stores? We are vulnerable. Packing toiletries in plastic bags after the fact makes us no safer, but it makes us less free. I know that sounds dramatic, but I am afraid of the slow removal of our rights, so slow we almost fail to notice. It seems like such a small thing. What are two or three drops of water on a rock over the course of a day, right? But what about a year, or two years, or five?

Think about it. You can take knitting needles on a plane. You can take ballpoint pens (I learned to use a pen as a weapon in a self-defense class years ago.) You can take your friend, the whatever-degree black-belt in karate. You can take a rope or a belt. For now, you can take them all on the plane. Until someone decides (allegedly) to use one of these things as a weapon. Pretty soon we’ll all be in the airport security line, wearing nothing but hospital gowns.

Oh, enough ranting. I promise to return soon and talk about the sampling I did on vacation. In the end I didn't wear all of the samples I took with me (I tried only the Fifi and FM's Parfum de Therese), but I got samples of the new Donna Karan and Hanae Mori, and I also tried the new Badgley Mischka and several Guerlain fragrances. It was quite an event for my nose!