This morning Ill be escorting my wife to the hospital, where the doctors will perform a caesarean section to remove our first child. She didnt want to do it this way neither of us did but sometimes the Fates decide otherwise. The Fates or, in our case, government employees.
On the morning of October 26th Mary and I entered Portland International Airport, en route to the Las Vegas wedding of one of my best friends. Although we live in Los Angeles, wed been in Oregon working on a film, and up to that point had had nothing but praise to shower on the city of Portland, a refreshing change of pace from our own suffocating metropolis.
At the security checkpoint I was led aside for the “inspection” thats all the rage at airports these days. My shoes were removed. I was told to take off my sweater, then to fold over the waistband of my pants. My baseball hat, hastily jammed on my head at 5 AM, was removed and assiduously examined (“Anything could be in here, sir,” I was told, after I asked what I could hide in a baseball hat. Yeah. Anything.) Soon I was standing on one foot, my arms stretched out, the other leg sticking out in front of me àla a DUI test. I began to get pissed off, as most normal people would. My anger increased when I realized that the newly knighted federal employees werent just examining me, but my 7½ months pregnant wife as well. Id originally thought that Id simply been randomly selected for the more excessive than normal search. You know, Number 50 or whatever. Apparently not though it was both of us. These are your new threats, America: pregnant accountants and their sleepy husbands flying to weddings.
After some more grumbling on my part they eventually finished with me and I went to retrieve our luggage from the x-ray machine. Upon returning I found my wife sitting in a chair, crying. Mary rarely cries, and certainly not in public. When I asked her what was the matter, she tried to quell her tears and sobbed, “Im sorry…its…they touched my breasts…and…” Thats all I heard. I marched up to the woman whod been examining her and shouted, “What did you do to her?” Later I found out that in addition to touching her swollen breasts to protect the American citizenry the employee had asked that she lift up her shirt. Not behind a screen, not off to the side no, right there, directly in front of the hundred or so passengers standing in line. And for you women whove been pregnant and worn maternity pants, you know how ridiculous those things look. “I felt like a clown,” my wife told me later. “On display for all these people, with the cotton panel on my pants and my stomach sticking out. When I sat down I just lost my composure and began to cry. Thats when you walked up.”
Of course when I say she “told me later,” its because she wasnt able to tell me at the time, because as soon as I demanded to know what the federal employee had done to make her cry, I was swarmed by Portland police officers. Instantly. Three of them, cinching my arms, locking me in handcuffs, and telling me I was under arrest. Now my wife really began to cry. As they led me away and she ran alongside, I implored her to calm down, to think of the baby, promising her that everything would turn out all right. She faded into the distance and I was shoved into an elevator, a cop holding each arm. After making me face the corner, the head honcho told that I was under arrest and that I wouldnt be flying that day that I was in fact a “menace.”
It took me a while to regain my composure. I felt like I was one of those guys in The Gulag Archipelago who, because the proceedings all seem so unreal, doesnt fully realize that he is in fact being arrested in a public place in front of crowds of people for…for what? I didnt know what the crime was. Didnt matter. Once upstairs, the officers made me remove my shoes and my hat and tossed me into a cell. Yes, your airports have prison cells, just like your amusement parks, train stations, universities, and national forests. Let freedom reign.
After a short time I received a visit from the arresting officer. “Mr. Monahan,” he started, “Are you on drugs?”
Was this even real? “No, Im not on drugs.”
“Should you be?”
“What do you mean?”
“Should you be on any type of medication?”
“Then whyd you react that way back there?”
You see the thinking? You see what passes for reasoning among your domestic shock troops these days? Only “whackos” get angry over seeing the woman theyve been with for ten years in tears because someone has touched her breasts. That kind of reaction love, protection its mind-boggling! “Mr. Monahan, are you on drugs?” His snide words rang inside my head. This is my wife, finally pregnant with our first child after months of failed attempts, after the depressing shock of the miscarriage last year, my wife whod been walking on a cloud over having the opportunity to be a mother…and my anger is simply unfathomable to the guy standing in front of me, the guy who earns a living thanks to my taxes, the guy whose family I feed through my labor. What I did wasnt normal. No, I reacted like a drug addict wouldve. I was so disgusted I felt like vomiting. But that was just the beginning.
An hour later, after Id been gallantly assured by the officer that I wouldnt be attending my friends wedding that day, I heard Marys voice outside my cell. The officer was speaking loudly, letting her know that he was planning on doing me a favor… which everyone knows is never a real favor. He wasnt going to come over and help me work on my car or move some furniture. No, his “favor” was this: Hed decided not to charge me with a felony.
Think about that for a second. Rapes, car-jackings, murders, arsons those are felonies. So is yelling in an airport now, apparently. I hadnt realized, though I should have. Luckily, I was getting a favor, though. I was merely going to be slapped with a misdemeanor.
“Heres your court date,” he said as I was released from my cell. In addition, I was banned from Portland International for 90 days, and just in case I was thinking of coming over and hanging out around its perimeter, the officer gave me a map with the boundaries highlighted, sternly warning me against trespassing. Then he and a second officer escorted us off the grounds. Mary and I hurriedly drove two and a half hours in the rain to Seattle, where we eventually caught a flight to Vegas. But the officer was true to his word we missed my friends wedding. The fact that hed been in my own wedding party, the fact that a once in a lifetime event was stolen from us well, who cares, right?v
Upon our return to Portland (Id had to fly into Seattle and drive back down), we immediately began contacting attorneys. We arent litigious people we wanted no money. Im not even sure what we fully wanted. An apology? A reprimand? I dont know. It doesnt matter though, because we couldnt afford a lawyer, it turned out. $4,000 was the average figure bandied about as a retaining fee. Sorry, but Ive got a new baby on the way. So we called the ACLU, figuring they existed for just such incidents as these. And they do apparently…but only if we were minorities. Thats what they told us.
In the meantime, Id appealed my suspension from PDX. A week or so later I got a response from the Director of Aviation. After telling me how, in the aftermath of 9/11, most passengers not only accept additional airport screening but welcome it, he cut to the chase:
“After a review of the police report and my discussions with police staff, as well as a review of the TSAs report on this incident, I concur with the officers decision to take you into custody and to issue a citation to you for disorderly conduct. That being said, because I also understand that you were upset and acted on your emotions, I am willing to lift the Airport Exclusion Order….”
Attached to this letter was the report the officer had filled out. Id like to say I couldnt believe it, but in a way, I could. Its seemingly becoming the norm in America lies and deliberate distortions on the part of those in power, no matter how much or how little power they actually wield.
The gist of his report was this: From the get go I wasnt following the screeners directions. I was “squinting my eyes” and talking to my wife in a “low, forced voice” while “excitedly swinging my arms.” Twice I began to walk away from the screener, inhaling and exhaling forcefully. When Id completed the physical exam, I walked to the luggage screening area, where a second screener took a pair of scissors from my suitcase. At this point I yelled, “What the %*&$% is going on? This is &*#&$%!” The officer, whod already been called over by one of the screeners, became afraid for the TSA staff and the many travelers. He required the assistance of a second officer as he “struggled” to get me into handcuffs, then for “cover” called over a third as well. It was only at this point that my wife began to cry hysterically.
There was nothing poetic in my reaction to the arrest report. I didnt crumple it in my fist and swear that justice would be served, promising to sacrifice my resources and time to see that it would. I simply stared. Clearly the officer didnt have the guts to write down what had really happened. It might not look too good to see that stuff about the pregnant woman in tears because shed been humiliated. Instead this was the official scenario being presented for the permanent record. It doesnt even matter that its the most implausible sounding situation you can think of. “Hey, what the…godammit, theyre taking our scissors, honey!” Why didnt he write in anything about a monkey wearing a fez?
True, the TSA staff had expropriated a pair of scissors from our toiletries kit the story wasnt entirely made up. Except that Id been locked in airport jail at the time. I didnt know anything about any scissors until Mary told me on our drive up to Seattle. Theyd questioned her about them while I was in the bowels of the airport sitting in my cell.
So I wrote back, indignation and disgust flooding my brain.
“[W]hile Im not sure, Id guess that the entire incident is captured on video. Memory is imperfect on everyones part, but the footage wont lie. I realize it might be procedurally difficult for you to view this, but if you could, Id appreciate it. Theres no willful disregard of screening directions. No explosion over the discovery of a pair of scissors in a suitcase. No struggle to put handcuffs on. Theres a tired man, early in the morning, unhappily going through a rigorous procedure and then reacting to the tears of his pregnant wife.”
Eventually we heard back from a different person, the guy in charge of the TSA airport screeners. One of his employees had made the damning statement about me exploding over her scissor discovery, and the officer had deftly incorporated that statement into his report. We asked the guy if he could find out why shed said this couldnt she possibly be mistaken? “Oh, cant do that, my hands are tied. Its kind of like leading a witness I could get in trouble, heh heh.” Then what about the videotape? Why not watch that? That would exonerate me. “Oh, we destroy all video after three days.”
Sure you do.
A few days later we heard from him again. He just wanted to inform us that hed received corroboration of the officers report from the officers superior, a name we didnt recognize. “But…he wasnt even there,” my wife said.
“Yeah, well, uh, hes corroborated it though.”
Thats how it works.
“Oh, and we did look at the videotape. Inconclusive.”
But I thought it was destroyed?
On and on it went. Due to the tenacity of my wife in making phone calls and speaking with relevant persons, the “crime” was eventually lowered to a mere citation. Only she could have done that. I wouldve simply accepted what was being thrown at me, trumped up charges and all, simply because Im wholly inadequate at performing the kowtow. Theres no way I could have contacted all the people Mary did and somehow pretend to be contrite. Besides, I speak in a low, forced voice, which doesnt elicit sympathy. Just police suspicion.
Weeks later at the courthouse I listened to a young DA awkwardly read the charges against me “Mr. Monahan…umm…shouted obscenities at the airport staff…umm… umm…oh, they took some scissors from his suitcase and he became…umm…abusive at this point.” If I was reading about it in Kafka I might have found something vaguely amusing in all of it. But I wasnt. I was there. Living it.
I entered a plea of nolo contendere, explaining to the judge that if Id been a resident of Oregon, I would have definitely pled “Not Guilty.” However, when that happens, your case automatically goes to a jury trial, and since I lived a thousand miles away, and was slated to return home in seven days, with a newborn due in a matter of weeks…you get the picture. “No Contest” it was. Judgment: $250 fine.
Did I feel happy? Only $250, right? No, I wasnt happy. I dont care if its twelve cents, thats money pulled right out of my babys mouth and fed to a disgusting legal system that will use it to propagate more incidents like this. But at the very least it was over, right? Wrong.
When we returned to Los Angeles there was an envelope waiting for me from the court. Inside wasnt a receipt for the money wed paid. No, it was a letter telling me that what I actually owed was $309 state assessed court costs, you know. Wouldnt you think your taxes pay for that the state putting you on trial? No, taxes are used to hire more cops like the officer, because with our rising criminal population people like me hey, your average citizen demands more and more “security.”
Finally I reach the piece de resistance. The week before wed gone to the airport my wife had had her regular pre-natal checkup. The child had settled into the proper head down position for birth, continuing the remarkable pregnancy shed been having. We returned to Portland on Sunday. On Marys Monday appointment she was suddenly told, “Looks like your babys gone breech.” When she later spoke with her midwives in Los Angeles, they wanted to know if shed experienced any type of trauma recently, as this often makes a child flip. “As a matter of fact…” she began, recounting the story, explaining how the child inside of her was going absolutely crazy when she was crying as the police were leading me away through the crowd.
My wife had been planning a natural childbirth. Shed read dozens of books, meticulously researched everything, and had finally decided that this was the way for her. No drugs, no numbing of sensations just that ultimate combination of brute pain and sheer joy that belongs exclusively to mothers. But my wife is also a first-time mother, so she has what is called an “untested” pelvis. Essentially this means that a breech birth is too dangerous to attempt, for both mother and child. Therefore, shes now relegated to a c-section hospital stay, epidural, catheter, fetal monitoring, stitches everything she didnt want. Her natural birth has become a surgery.
Weve tried everything to turn that baby. Acupuncture, chiropractic techniques, underwater handstands, elephant walking, moxibustion, bending backwards over pillows, herbs, external manipulation all to no avail. When I walked into the living room the other night and saw her plaintively cooing with a flashlight turned onto her stomach, yet another suggested technique, my heart almost broke. Its breaking now as I write these words.
I can never prove that my child went breech because of what happened to us at the airport. But Ill always believe it. Wrongly or rightly, Ill forever think of how this man, the personification of this system, has affected the lives of my family and me. When my wife is sliced open, Ill be thinking of him. When they remove her uterus from her abdomen and lay it on her stomach, Ill be thinking of him. When I visit her and my child in the hospital instead of having them with me here in our home, Ill be thinking of him. When I assist her to the bathroom while the incision heals internally, Ill be thinking of him.
There are plenty of stories like this these days. I dont know how many Ive read where the writer describes some breach of civil liberties by employees of the state, then wraps it all up with a dire warning about what we as a nation are becoming, and how if we dont put an end to it now, then were in for heaps of trouble. Well you know what? Nothings going to stop the inevitable. Theres no policy change thats going to save us. Theres no election thats going to put a halt to the onslaught of tyranny. Its here already this country has changed for the worse and will continue to change for the worse. There is now a division between the citizenry and the state. When that state is used as a tool against me, there is no longer any reason why I should owe any allegiance to that state.
And thats the first thing that child of ours is going to learn.