May 8th, 2013, 5pm in San Francisco, United States
I've hid no explosives or knives or bullets or 3D printed plastic guns around my testicles. Nor in my anus or about my waist. I've also hid nothing in my shoes or my bags outside of NyQuill and a funny face mask that creates a moist micro-climate for me on the airplane. Let me just say: a moist micro-climate and some Ambien and you can put me anywhere — a cattle car, economy seat, cardboard box — and I'll emerge a happy man. But that's for another essay.
How many times have I opted out? All of the times.
Which works out to thirty times or so in the last couple of years. Mainly here at SFO.
Sometimes a lady will scream your decision: OPT-OUT! MALE OPT-OUT! And a co-worker will look at the screaming lady and say, How ya doin' Ruby?
Other times they whisper opt-out like their bodies are consumed with a dark depression that's robbed them of their voice. Uncaring if you're in a hurry or if anyone heard or if anyone will come to your opt-out aid. I once stood around for 15 minutes waiting for my rub down and finally a TSA agent approached me, annoyed, and asked, What the hell are you doing standing here?
They use the backs of their hands on sensitive areas because the backs of the hand are safe and not creepy. Not creepy at all. Certainly not when they spend a good ten seconds slowly rubbing your buttocks.
Sometimes, though, the security professional is clearly more creeped out than the pat-down recipient. For these young men (almost always young, always men) you can tell this is the "gayest" thing they've ever done. They avoid eye contact. And, like the man who patted me down today, are so uneasy, so worried that too much chatter might indicate the wrong thing — this being San Francisco, after all — that they don't even tell you it's safe to go. That their rubber gloves picked up no trace of explosives on your body. No explosive residue around your testicles or your inner thighs. Nothing to indicate you accidentally sat in a puddle of bomb in your bomb factory.
Your only indication that it's safe to go — that if you start to pack up you won't be tackled or screamed at — is the abject and pervasive apathy all around you. You scan the faces of the TSA agents and they are at once engaged in idle chatter yet with minds so very far from the security checkpoint, checking their watches, wondering when the hell they can get out of here. You scan the faces and find your man — joking to a female coworker who should be paying attention to a monitoring screen — and realize it's now safe to begin lacing up your boots.