“Looking Through You”
by Tim Chorney
“Breast. Breast. Penis. Tampon. God. Why is everyone so fat?” muses the short, stocky man sitting in front of a monitor.
He may be unqualified to unravel America’s obesity crisis, but what he does know is that he hates his job and can’t fathom why he dropped out of police college two years ago.
Earning a meagre living examining the meagres of the travelling public as they pass through JFK International Airport is not a career path he ever foresaw. He dreamt of being a New York cop, but alas, he now toils 48 hours a week as an airport security screener, a job that barely generates enough income to cover his shabby basement apartment in Queens. On most days, he sits bleary-eyed in front of a monitor listlessly peering under the clothes of those passengers unlucky enough to be selected for additional screening.
Monitoring the body scanner isn’t his only responsibility at the airport. Occasionally, he is required to perform enhanced physical pat-downs. This is the least favourite of his duties. On his first day alone, he probably touched more groins than Tiger Woods has in a lifetime.
It’s been a typically dull shift this morning, but his interest is peaked momentarily by one of the images on his monitor. Fully engaged for the first time today, he concentrates keenly on the image in front of him. “What the hell is that?” he ponders. He’s never seen anything like it. The image is that of a man with what appears to be a feather piercing the end of his penis. It looks weird and is certainly not his taste, but such items are not on his list of security threats. The feather will only warrant a humorous anecdote during lunch. Next.
He’s not sure why there is so much controversy associated with the full-body scanner he operates. The screener viewing the passenger is housed in another location and the ghostly, nude images that appear on the monitor, from his perspective, couldn’t be less erotic. That said, he doesn’t know how effective the scanners are either. In his eight months on the line, all he’s uncovered so far are six prosthetic breasts, four colostomy bags, and a man with a rolled up sock stuffed down his pants. Now he can add a penis-feather to his list. He can’t imagine the travelling public is any safer.
Today he must train a new recruit. He abhors training. With starting pay at eight dollars an hour, his company doesn’t exactly attract the best and brightest. Then again, if they attracted the best and brightest, he suspects he wouldn’t be here either.
“Hey, I’m Justin,” says the improbably tall and skinny recruit. “I’m really stoked about working here.”
“Nice to meet you Justin,” he says extending his hand. “I’m John. What made you decide on airport security?”
“Oh, I’ve always wanted to work in security somewhere. I tried to get on with the big mall by my dad’s place in Yonkers, but dude said I needed a high school diploma. I’m eventually going to get my GED, but until then I gotta do something and I’m not going back to Wendy’s.”
The last guy John trained had a high school diploma, but he also had narcolepsy. In this instance, Justin may well be the hockey player with the most teeth.
John leads the new employee to a small room, barren, save for a life-sized mannequin attired in brown chinos and a Brooks Brothers golf shirt. This is where new recruits are familiarized with the pat-down procedures.
“Let me introduce you to Marvin,” says John, squeezing the mannequin’s shoulder. “He’s going to help you perfect your pat-down technique. He’s a lot more agreeable than most of the guys you’re going to have to deal with out there.”
“Hey Marvin dude.”
“No one is going to be happy about being patted down. So treat them with respect and speak to them in a professional manner before you put your hands on them. That’s very important.”
Starting at the shoulders, John runs his hands down a pliant Marvin, explaining the nuances of groping a strange man without getting punched.
“Remember, don’t linger over the crotch. A quick check, then slide down the legs. If you feel like you’ve been there too long, you probably have been.”
“Whoa! Whoa! I have to touch his package? That’s not cool.”
“I’m afraid you have to. I don’t like doing it either, but it’s the law, and that makes it company policy.”
“I dunno. Touching another man like that makes me feel a bit gay.”
“Look. You’re doing a job. The toughest, most heterosexual cops do it. Patting someone down doesn’t make you gay.”
“It sure doesn’t make me not gay though.”
Unable to convince Justin that patting someone down wouldn’t necessarily make him not gay, John decides to take his new recruit to the security line where he can get some real hands-on training. Once there, he begins with his standard lecture.
“We randomly take a certain number of passengers out of the regular line for a special screening. They’re given the choice to have the machine capture their image through their clothes or if they decline that, they can receive a physical pat-down like the one I showed you earlier. Make sure you emphasize to the passengers that they are chosen at random. They don’t like the notion of being singled out. Also emphasize they get to choose. Americans love choice.â€
John relieves a line worker and waits stoically for a customer. The first passenger singled out for additional screening is a balding, fifty-something man travelling on business to London. His reaction is not atypical.
“What! I look like a terrorist to you?”
“No sir,” says John calmly. “You were chosen completely at random. It’s the procedure we are required by law to perform. You can go through the body scanner or receive a physical pat-down.”
“This is outrageous!” the man sputters. “So I have the choice of somebody back there taking pictures of my dick or I can be felt up by you perverted mall cops?”
“That’s about the size of it sir,” says John.
“I’ll go through the goddamned scanner. Thanks for wasting everyone’s time. Fucking assholes.”
“Wow! Dude was not happy,” says Justin, exhibiting the keen observational skills that eight bucks an hour will purchase these days. “Does everyone get so pissed off?”
“No. No. Well, yeah. Pretty much. I don’t even notice anymore.”
The next passenger is less angry, but just as problematic.
“Sir, would you like to go through the scanner or get a physical pat-down?” asks John.
“Oh, can I have both?” lilts the casually dressed man in his thirties.
“No sir. Unfortunately, it’s one or the other.”
“Well, that’s not fair,” he says. â€œI’ll take the pat-down then.â€
The moment John begins the procedure, the man starts to breath heavily. As John moves towards his groin, he progresses to orgasmic moans.
“Oh God! That’s incredible!” the man shouts, turning heads throughout the screening area. John finishes his pat-down faster than usual.
“Okay, sir. You can go.”
“It’s over already? What a shame. It’s too bad you can’t smoke here because I’d really like a cigarette right now.”
John reacts with nonchalance to the routine. During his short tenure, he has been mocked, spit at, and slapped. There’s not much that can affect him at this point, but Justin appears rattled by the uncooperative passengers.
“That was so freaky. I know I just started, but this job kind of sucks.”
“Yeah, but it’s better than Wendy’s right?”
“I don’t know,” says Justin, his hand clasping his pointy chin. “I never had to put up with shit like that at Wendy’s.”
“You’ll get used to it kid. Once you lose your dignity, it’s amazing how impervious you are to insults. Come on. I’ll take you to the room where we monitor the scanner.”
“Sick! What does impervious mean?”
The room is small and dark. The only discernible light is that generated by the glow of the monitors. A man in his early twenties sits motionlessly in front of a large screen. He does not acknowledge the presence of the newcomers.
“I think that dude is asleep,” says Justin.
“Oh, probably. He has narcolepsy. You know that disease where you just fall asleep at any time.”
“Shouldn’t we wake him up? Dude’s not doing his job. He could be missing a bomb or something.”
“I don’t think you’re supposed to wake up a person with narcolepsy. Wait, maybe it’s sleepwalkers you’re not supposed to wake. Corey! Get up!”
The man opens his eyes, but his trance-like state continues. “Corey!” The man coughs and lurches into consciousness.
“Oh, shit!” says Corey as he vigorously rubs his eyes. “Sorry. I don’t think I was out too long.”
“No problem,” assures John. “You probably didn’t miss a thing.”
“Probably!” blurts Justin. “What the fuck is going on around here? Dude could have missed an AK-47 for all we know. Don’t you care?”
“Look Justin,” explains John. “Most of this is just a preventative scare tactic. It’s complete bullshit! No one in their right mind is going to try to get anything through security. It’s politicians pretending they can do something about terrorism. It’s all about politics. Lighten up!”
“I don’t want to offend you,” says Justin, “But this place is whacked. I don’t want to work here. I’m done dude. See ya around.”
Justin tosses his security pass to John and gives a perfunctory wave as he leaves the world of airport security forever.
“What’s with the uptight guy?”asks Corey. “He’s quitting already?”
“It doesn’t matter. With this economy and our education system, there’s plenty more where he came from. But now I’ve got to go back through that pile of horrendous resumes and recommend someone else. It’s going to be painful.”
Shoulders slumped, John moves deliberately towards the door, turning before he exits.
“See ya Core. I’ll bring back another live one for you.”
Corey stares blankly ahead.
Still no response. John leaves the room, gently closing the door behind him.