The airport metal detector blurted out a vehement warning as I passed through its cold arches. As with all innocent people, I immediately felt panic and dread, the fear of having done something wrong whilst simultaneously knowing I carried no weapons of mass destruction and had nothing on my person that would enable me to hijack a plane.
Nevertheless, these electronic gatekeepers portend the possible, not the probable or even the known. They simply screech if they detect something worthy of their sensitivity setting.
“Please step back and pass through again,” the security guard said.
“Uh, okay. No problem,” I stammered in response.
My feet were like concrete blocks, barely able to reverse course and ferry me back through the gaping maw of inspection. But I made it.
A quick turn and I faced the gate area with determination. Happenstance only, I thought, and nothing more than a weird sensitivity to nothing.
I stepped through again.
Oh hell in a handbasket!
“Please step over here, sir.”
“No problem.” I lied.
Suspect. Guilty until proven innocent. A terrorist. These are the labels we immediately feel pressing down upon our persons when a fallible apparatus declares us worthy of closer inspection. Airports are the worst places for such things…
So I walked intently to the guard’s location.
“Stand here.” He gestured to the primitive footprint mat on the floor, the one meant to help the feeble of mind comprehend precisely which way to face and where to put their feet.
A gentle face stared back at me from behind the intimidating uniform. A young black man, light of skin with a handsome—nay, a lovely visage that easily would catch the attention of man and woman alike. He couldn’t have been more than 25 years old, almost a decade younger than I.
His form stood equal to mine, his eyes level with my own, and for a moment I wanted to flirt with him, to tell him how attractive he was, how the uniform he wore somehow made his already lust-worthy presence demanding of more attention.
Then he smiled. And I melted in his smile. It felt like a caress from someone calming a wounded animal, someone capable of expressing comfort in the most uncomfortable of circumstances.
I felt at ease.
“This’ll only take a minute. Please hold your arms out like this.” His hands floated into the air until he stood like a scarecrow, his disarming smile continuing to help me feel less like a criminal and more like a normal person caught up in a misunderstanding.
I lifted my arms until they were outstretched parallel to the ground. I returned his smile with a sheepish grin of my own, one both worried and compatible, something meant to say I’m okay with this but still freaked out.
“Don’t worry, sir. It’s probably nothing.”
He already understood my predicament. A trapped animal blamed for something I didn’t do, I struggled with the urge to flee, to run, to escape before having to submit to a cavity search or arrest…or both.
He knelt swiftly in a move that seemed too graceful for a man working this menial job. I wondered if perhaps this was meant to pay the bills while he struggled to make it with a dancing career. Ballet? Cultural? Ballroom?
A certain warmth in the brown of his eyes echoed the friendly nature of the smile on his face as he looked up at me, the wand set aside as he patted me down with quick movements. That complete, he retrieved the yellow-and-black object and stood briefly.
“Hold still, please.”
He didn’t have to ask.
He waved the hand-held detector across my shoulders before quickly moving it down across my body, his legs slowly bending to allow him to follow it as it approached the ground.
As it passed over my right nipple, a rather sickly sound emanated from it, something akin to a chirp but more reminiscent of a beeping toy with dead batteries and a bad heart.
He paused only briefly. “You have your nippled pierced, don’t you?”
“Um, yes.” Was it embarrassment that caused my face to flush with red, the heat of my own blood screaming at me from my cheeks? I didn’t know the answer to that, but somehow his question and my response made me feel less and more intimidated at the same time.
He grinned audaciously before continuing his inspection.
The moment he passed the mechanism over my left nipple, it again let out a weak alarm that barely deserved attention.
“And that one’s pierced too, huh?”
Our interaction felt more playful, more a case of personal discovery than a security review.
Again the devilish smile on his face. Again the twinkle in his eye. He put me more at ease with every second that passed between us, every word, every contact and movement.
The wand immediately passed back and forth as its fall continued. Past the chest, over the abs, and finally—BLURP!
The noise seemed less willful than the first two times. The batteries are dying…
“And I guess your bellybutton is pierced?” A snicker nearly escaped his lips while one hand rested briefly on my right hip so he could shift his weight from one foot to the other.
“That, too.” I felt such comfort then, a relief that he found none of this extraordinary, that he knew precisely how to put me at ease for what must be to him a rather normal event. He knew all the buttons to push.
Then he added, “I thought so. We’re almost done.”
His hand fell away slowly from my body, something I wished had not happened, then he carried on with the task at hand.
I watched as the device slowly made its way back and forth, left to right, perpetually falling down in sweeps just a breath away from my clothes.
Then he passed over my crotch.
No beep. No sound. Not a single gurgling noise.
He stopped. His left hand grabbed my right thigh to steady him as he again shifted his weight and looked up at me. A knowing glare, a sneaky smile, a befriending glance.
“So, um, you didn’t get any lower than that?” he asked with a nod of his head toward my navel.
We both broke into laughter, a comfortable moment that felt like a personal exchange between friends who had no secrets from each other.
I could have kissed him then.
[a true story from May 2003 when I visited Salt Lake City on business; I was heading home when this happened, trying to leave Utah so I could return to Texas; I wish I could have kept in touch with this man; what a credit to his duty, what a master of addressing the business at hand without making passengers feel like victims of circumstance; and what a marvelously beautiful gentleman who certainly deserved more of my time and energy…]