Tales from the metal detector


Chief Bottle Washer
Jul 29, 2002
Total Time
Tales from the metal detector

By Mark Steyn

I wasn't surprised to hear that airport security at Los Angeles had seized from a British granny the 2in toy rifle of a GI Joe action doll she'd bought for her grandson. Nor by the news that a Long Island woman boarding at JFK had been made to drink bottles of her own breast milk in front of other passengers to prove it wasn't a dangerous liquid.

Here at the US Transportation Security Administration, we regard these as important victories in the war against terrorism. Whether these two suspects are, indeed, the world's most wanted terrorist masterminds - where's my secretary's Post-It note? Ah, yes, here we are … Whether these two suspects are indeed the notorious Osama bin Lactate and Mullah Old Ma, it's too early to say, but we do know that it would have been all too easy to insert a toy miniature rifle in the top of the rubber nipple of a baby bottle, give it a surreptitious squeeze and send the plastic projectile flying into the aisle to give the stewardess a nasty nick in her pantyhose. The day that happens you'll know we're not doing our job.

My boss, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, swung by the other day, and I mentioned that we needed a bigger holding facility. "I got wall-to-wall terrorist suspects in there," I told him. "Unless you'd rather I didn't detain quite so many."

"Remember what I told you that first day?" said Norm. " 'You know the rules. Go by the book.' "

"I went and bought the book," I said. "The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. They had it at the airport newsstand and, boy, thanks for the tip. It's got a lot of great dating advice and, for those of us at the metal detector, it sure helps while away the mid-afternoon lull when they're boarding the flight to Riyadh."

But we were at the detention centre and I could tell the Secretary was impressed by the number of suspected terrorists we'd managed to cram in. He peered at their cold terrorist faces as they pressed up against the wire mesh of the cage. "Hang on," said Norm. "You've filled up the joint with a lot of nancy boys."

"That's just their brilliant cover," I explained. "They showed up at the US Air counter claiming to be the touring company of a famous Broadway production. Yet, when I asked them to name the show, they shouted, Annie, get your gun! Fortunately, we wrestled them to the ground before they could yell any further instructions to their accomplice.

We shut down the terminal for four hours, but so far we haven't managed to find this "Annie" - or, more probably "Amir". But I'm confident we can get more out of this one," I said, indicating Ronnie Twinkle, his chilling Islamist fanaticism all too obvious even in his leotard and tap-shoes. "I asked him, 'What do you know about bombs?', and he said, 'Well, I did Sondheim in Des Moines'."

"Bitch!" hissed Ronnie.

"Good work, Mark!" said Norm. But suddenly he spotted a whimpering figure at the back of the pen, her terrorist nerve utterly broken, though we'd given her a copy of the Koran and her own prayer mat. "Isn't that Anna Wintour, the celebrated editor of Vogue? What on earth did you arrest her for?"
"You told me to be alert for strange bangs," I replied.

"Excellent!" said Norm. "But who's that fellow over there?"
"That's the critically acclaimed poet Thom Gunn. I asked to see some picture ID and he produced his California driver's licence. It was a very good likeness, so I arrested him for attempting to board a plane while carrying a replica of a Gunn."

"You'll go far in this department," said Norman. "Hey, what's that awful smell?"
"Sea bass," I said. "It's a couple of days old now, but we're still waiting for the lab results to come back. I went to grab a bite and I found this terrorist had managed to infiltrate the terminal restaurant and was slipping firearms to his terrorist pals under the guise of being a waiter. The buddy, posing as a customer, says, 'So what are your specials?' and then this terrorist guy, Walter, says, 'Well, today, for $12.95 we have a sea bass in a red pepper sauce on a Ruger'."

Walter exploded and lunged at the cage wire. "For the thousandth time, you jerk! It's sea bass in a red pepper sauce on arugula."

I grabbed the sea bass and slapped him hard on the cheek with it. "The mullahs can't help you now, punk!" I put down the fish and turned back to the boss. "Seems this 'arugula' is Italian for 'rocket'. Could be we intercepted something real big here."

"You've done a terrific job," said Norman, as we strolled back down the concourse past a man with dark black eyes and a long grey beard who seemed vaguely familiar. "Nabbing that British granny was a stroke of genius. Hey, what's that on the security camera? More suspicious old ladies?"
"No, that's the Golden Girls rerun," I said. "The guys on the electronic scanner like to switch over once in a while. Like to join me?"