Thursday, November 7, 2013

Not Today

[My friend and colleague F. J. Dagg has blessed us with another short story. Read it. As you pass through knots and crowds of your countrymen today, listen for the murmurs and undertones. Are they there? How far away is “Not today?” -- FWP]

Few sounds set the nerves on edge as quickly and as thoroughly as that of a crying child. It is a sound impossible to ignore--; it demands action, which is why it has high survival value to an infant in need of its mother. Which is why intelligence operatives use recordings of it to wear down the morale of prisoners.

That sound, on a particular day, wore down the morale of a few hundred travelers standing in long lines to board their flights in the East terminal of San Diego’s Lindbergh Field airport. The crying child was a girl of about five years, confined to a wheelchair, and evidently regarded as a threat by the TSA agents on duty.

The people had been waiting for hours, for the little girl was not the first “threat” perceived that day by the TSA agents who ruled their fiefdom with all the zeal and accountability of Egyptian pharaohs. A stout, swarthy female thrust her blue-rubber-gloved hands deep into the little girl’s gaily-patterned trousers, while a male agent gripped the child’s wheelchair to keep it from rolling under his colleague’s relentless probing.

The girl’s mother, angry, near tears herself, protested, but was sternly warned that the TSA was in charge of her child now, and that to interfere is a Federal offense. The public address system reinforced the agent’s threat, blaring the message at five-minute intervals:

“You are reminded that any inappropriate remarks or jokes concerning security may result in your arrest!”

A man of about forty-five inched up the line toward the checkpoint. He was dressed casually in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt with a surfboard motif, but his bearing suggested military experience.

The line being so long, he drew a paperback book from his hip pocket and tried to read, but the child’s crying shattered his concentration. He gave up and thrust the book back into his pocket. He arrived, at last, at the checkpoint and took in the spectacle of a pair of Federal Agents tormenting the little girl in the wheelchair. He leaned, conspicuously, toward the them.

“It’s always a pleasure to see people enjoying their work.” His voice carried over the crowd’s noise and the little girl’s sobs. A few heads turned.

The TSA agent holding the wheelchair whipped his head around with an ugly look, full of the arrogance of power and ready to put the interloper in his place, but when their eyes met, a shadow of doubt crossed the agent’s face, and under the man’s level gaze, he blinked.

The female agent probing the little girl’s private places thrust harder and her formerly confident colleague turned back to his task of keeping the wheelchair still, glad of the distraction from the man who dared to mock authority.

“Good teamwork there.” The man in the Hawaiian shirt said, in the same strong voice as before. “You two must be proud.”

The male agent, reminding himself that the full force of the Federal Government stood behind him, straightened to face the man.

“Look...sir...” he sneered. “You’re interfering with Federal agents in the course of performing their duties. I can have you...”

“Who’s interfering? I was complimenting you on your enthusiasm. And teamwork.”

Again the agent tried to stare down the man in the Hawaiian shirt, and again he failed.

The child looked up at the man, her lip aquiver and her face flushed and tear-stained. His eyes softened and a ghost of a smile crossed his lips. The little girl essayed a smile in return.

The man turned back to the agent, his gaze as hard as before. The agent opened his mouth to speak, but something in the man’s eyes stopped him. He was not used to this. Not even a little bit, not here, where he and his rubber-gloved, deeply protected colleagues ruled. He grabbed the mic attached to his gear.

“STSO to Checkpoint Six. I need STSO at Six. Now, please.”

The faint smile had returned to the traveler’s lips. Some of the other civilians had eased out of line to listen to the exchange. Many wore expressions similar to that of the man with the surfer shirt and the military bearing--something rarely seen in American airports in the 21st century--their demeanor in that time having been more akin to that of subjects of poor, dead East Germany, Stasi-ridden satellite of the misbegotten, dead Soviet Union.

A subtle human dynamic was in motion--of which no one here was directly aware. Without conscious intention they were closing around the two agents and the child in the wheelchair. A long-latent sense of “us” and “them” had at some level quickened in the travelers.

The two agents looked up at the same time. Their accustomed looks of dismissive arrogance evaporated. The female agent removed her hands from the little girl’s pants and stood upright with a dull, puzzled expression as she took in, for the first time, the crowd closing in around her.


“Stand aside!” a deep voice commanded. “Make a hole, there! Stand aside!” The crowd outside the circle parted.

“You called for backup?” said the man with the deep voice to the agent, who had been steadily losing his confidence before the man in the Hawaiian shirt, and the gathering crowd.

The supervisor’s voice sounded like that of the actor Morgan Freeman, and indeed there was a physical resemblance as well. The combination of authority and borrowed celebrity had served him well. He was accustomed to getting his way.

The cowed agent nodded, then jerked his head toward the man in the Hawaiian shirt.

“This individual attempted to inter...”

“All right,” said the man who borrowed a famous actor’s looks. He turned to the man in the Hawaiian shirt--and to the growing crowd of travelers around him.

“I am the Supervising Transportation Safety Officer on site,” said the faux Freeman. “There are rules here, people, and it’s our job to enforce those rules. It’s your job to obey.”

The Hawaiian shirt man grinned, nearly laughed, as if he’d just heard a really good one. “Officer, I wish I could compliment you on your dedication to duty...” The smile vanished. “...but you’ve got it all ass-backwards.”

The STSO stiffened and drew up to his full six-feet-two. The two TSA agents who had been tormenting the little girl in the wheelchair gaped. They had seen, first-hand, what happened to anyone foolish enough to tangle with the STSO.

“Sir, I will give you just one warning. Then I will direct my officers to...”

“You’re right,” said the man in the Hawaiian shirt, in a voice that cut off the supervisor and rang through the sudden silence.

“There are rules.” The man thrust a finger at the officer. “But it’s your duty...and your officers’ obey them.” The STSO suppressed the thrill of panic that shot through his chest and took a step toward the man.

“I am the authority here! You have no...”

“I have the authority of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States!” said the traveler with the military bearing. He swept his arm wide, to include the crowd. “And so does every man, woman, and child here!”

A deeper hum rose from the travelers.

“He’s right!” cried another voice. A young man jostled to a place beside the man who defied the TSA and sang out:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizure...

A muted, growling cheer from the crowd interrupted him. He went on, louder:

...shall not be violated..!

He recited the rest, and the STSO looked rattled for a moment, but recovered. He raised his voice over the ominous, rising hum.

“I don’t give a shit what the goddamn Constitution says! I am the authority at this facility and I order all of you...”

A tremor shook the floor, and silenced the STSO. His first thought was that an earthquake had struck. Then he realized that the crowd had begun to rhythmically stamp their feet. The hum was rising, too--and changing--becoming articulate.

“Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” The travelers chanted.

The STSO took a step back.

“You, sir,” the man with the Hawaiian shirt said, advancing, raising his voice above the travelers’ thunder, “You took an oath! A solemn oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies foreign and domestic. And you are in violation of that oath!”


You... are the domestic enemy...the God-damned enemy of the people!”

The STSO’s eyes darted right and left, frantic -- the ageless response of a bully whose bluff is called.

“Freedom! Freedom! FREE-dom! FREE-dom! FREE-DOM!!

No one fully grasps the dynamics of the human heart. But again and again, responses to relentless pressures emerge at tipping points, sometimes with no warning. As with the earth’s crust, titanic pressures build, unremarked, until the critical moment at which the fault between two tectonic plates ruptures, with results impossible to predict. Such a point came that day in San Diego, when TSA officers felt the earth heave beneath their feet.

The travelers were as one as they cried, “Freedom!” and stamped their feet in rhythm and thrust their fists in the air in time with their chant. Without any specific intent, or order, or organization, they began to advance on the little knot of blue-gloved agents, the agents of tyranny.

A meaty whack sounded above the rhythm of the crowd, and a scream. One of the agents went down, struck by a thrown shoe.

It was an idea whose time had come--a young traveler shouted, “Hell, yeah! They want our shoes? Let’s give ‘em our fuckin’ shoes!”

In the next instant a barrage of footwear rained hard upon the panicked TSA as they retreated from the checkpoint. The crowd pursued. A need to hoist the oppressors by their own petard took hold, and shoes, belts, confiscated personal items, carry-on luggage, all became weapons. The levers of oppression became the symbols of liberation.

But what the determined travelers at Checkpoint Six did not know was that the spirit that moved them also moved travelers at every other place in the terminal. And even as television news programs across the nation reported, “Federal spokeswoman declares rumors of a disturbance at the San Diego airport to be false,” people in the Lindbergh terminal captured video images of the drama and sent them around the world.

Even as the government denied “a disturbance,” video of the wheelchair-bound girl’s molestation went viral. Ten minutes later, video of a young man singing out the Fourth Amendment took its place in history, and in another ten minutes, thousands upon thousands were sharing the clip of a man in a Hawaiian shirt ferociously backing a tall TSA agent to the wall, armed only with his voice and his Constitutional rights.

The spirit of freedom swept like a tsunami across the nation, through every airport, train station and bus terminal. The next restoration came a hundred miles up the coast at Los Angeles International Airport, and the wave rolled through San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. Next came simultaneous demonstrations at Tucson, Boise, and Dallas. Kansas City, Chicago, Memphis and other middle American cities followed suit. Finally, the East Coast joined--the greatest rising occurring at Washington, D.C.’s Reagan International.

The TSA all survived, but all were beaten, then tied, gagged, bound...many with their clothes stripped half-off, blue rubber gloves stuffed in their mouths and in their private places, and the few reflective ones among them could not deny that there was justice in it.

America, former land of the free, that day reclaimed her honor.


Soon, the weary but uplifted travelers boarded their flights, as they had in a free America--before the dark days that followed 9-11, and the false choice between a Republican or a Democrat, either way, a liar’s promise of “security” in exchange for liberty. As they had in the days when America was not afraid to name her enemies, and rise against them, they simply walked aboard, free people, unmolested by agents of a State that had declared war against its own people.

A young mother, hands full with her luggage and her spirited eight-year-old daughter, knuckles skinned and bleeding from doing her part for freedom and dignity at Checkpoint Six, blew a strand of hair from her eyes as she marched down the jet way to her plane, just behind a middle-aged man in a Hawaiian shirt.

The little girl looked up.

“Mommy,” she asked, hope blooming in her face, “Are the TSAs not going to feel under my dress?”

The young woman stared straight ahead, her eyes hard, and she replied,. “Not today.”

Her expression softened then she looked down at her daughter and smiled.

“Not today, sweetheart.”

[Copyright (C) 2013 by F. J. Dagg]


YIH said...

I felt no sorrow or remorse when that TSA goon was made into a good TSA goon.

idahobob said...


Very Nice.


KG said...

Hell, YESS!

Tom Wolff said...


I also have no empathy for the TSA slime that was exterminated like a cockroach.

F.J. Dagg said...

Thanks, Dear Readers, for your comments. Made my day, you did!

And thank you, Fran, for the forum.

Ronbo said...

The Lexington Moment in the Second American Revolution?

All it takes is Redcoats and a Captain Parker with one squad of Minutemen who refuse to back down.

The revolution is inevitable.

The only question is when and where it will start.