Sunday, March 29, 2009

Can't We All Just Get Along?

He was angry, my friend. He didn't want to take off his jacket and his belt at the security checkpoint, to empty his pockets. He had waited in line for the godforsaken ferry to Liberty Island for too long, and this was too much. The embittered guard took the brunt of his anger and gave it right back. The two were locked in battle over the stuff spilling out over the edge of the black bucket. No one was budging. It was war.

I ended the stand-off, tamping down sleeves and sending the bucket through. I was next up. I smiled. I followed the guard's orders and gave him a gold star. "You deserve this," I said. He gave me a big smile, thanked me and placed it proudly on his chest. He was a different person. His co-worker was jealous. "Hey," he said, "that's not part of the uniform..." and then, "Why does he get one?" I gave him one too (the big one he said he deserved) and one to the woman seated in front of the screen, scanning for danger. They were all laughing and smiling, anger diminished.

My friend couldn't believe I'd given the "obnoxious" guard a gold star, didn't think he deserved one. I begged to differ. "You were angry at him even though it wasn't his fault you had waited, that you had to take off all your stuff. And he was fucking with you," I said (forgetting in my fervor that there were little ears present.)

It is awful to be suspected when you know you are not a terrorist, to strip down nearly bare, vulnerable, to be judged as you walk through a sensor. "What if they make us take off our underwear?" my 7-year-old son had suggested. Soon, I thought, soon.

But our upset over this demeaning ritual is displaced on to the people carrying out the orders. We wonder why they are unpleasant but we are generally the creators or at least the contributors to this unpleasantness. We do not think to thank them, to smile, to make a bad situation slightly better. They do not think of those things either. They are so used to annoyed people that they are ripe for battle when it comes, taking out on individuals what the general population has wrought, wielding what little power they have to fight back. Someone needs to be strong enough to break the cycle. Some days it is easier than others.

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