Several months ago at the Portland International Airport, in the midst of a routine patdown, a second uniformed TSA employee approached and told me I had tested positive for explosives. Me? Explosives? I knew it wasn’t my shoes because I tend not to ever wear them anymore, except when traveling. Could it be my underwear? I thought back to the last time I’d had a particularly explosive bowel movement. Maybe they found explosive residue in my boxers?
I figured the TSA Gestapo would just re-test me and it would be all over, but instead he began his interrogation. “Where has your wheelchair been in the last week?”
“Uh, no place. I’ve been sitting in it and I never go anywhere. This is the first time I’ve been out of the house in months. When I sleep, it sits obediently beside my waterbed.”
“No one else has used your wheelchair?”
“I suppose my wife could have used it when I was asleep, but since she runs marathons that would be highly unlikely.”
He turned and stepped up to his special Homeland Security Play Structure and grabbed his magical detection wand, then loaded it with an explosive residue wipe and passed it over my clothing. Then he inserted it into his special Secret Agent Explosives Detection Monitor and waited. A green light came on.
“You passed. I guess it was just a false reading.”
I grabbed my belongings and went on my way, feeling the gaze of security cameras on the back of my neck.
Months later, in late October, I went through security at the same airport again and once again tested positive for explosives. In two different places. This time I was the one who asked the questions.
“Where are the explosives supposed to be?”
“The bag hanging beneath your chair and your right foot. Do you take medications for your heart?”
A light bulb went on in my head. “Ohhh, could it be nitroglycerin?”
“Yes, that’s on the list. Do you carry it in that bag?”
“Yes, and I think I know what you found on my shoe. Just this morning my wife helped me wrap a compression wrap on my leg that was impregnated with zinc oxide, acacia, and glycerin. It’s for a pressure sore.”
“I guess that was it.” The look on his face suggested disappointment. It must have been a very long time since he busted someone for real. Maybe never.
“Can I go, then?”
“I’ll take one more swipe.”
I waited patiently while he passed his magic wand over me once again. This time I got the green light, which was strange, since three minutes earlier it had glowed red.
He seemed uncertain of what to do next. “I guess you can go.”
I rolled on, wondering if my dossier was now fat enough to put me on the No-Fly list. All it takes to make a person feel dangerous and important these days is heart surgery and a pressure sore.