When I visited my mom recently, she had a small pile of colorfully-wrapped Christmas presents for me, Gary, and the kids. I hate traveling, and packing or unpacking, or waiting at baggage claim forever for a suitcase, so I had crammed everything into one carry-on suitcase and a tote bag, figuring if it didn’t fit, I didn’t need it. I had shipped her presents to her before my trip so I didn’t need to worry about stuffing them into my luggage.
A lot of good that did, when my mother insisted I could fit these presents into my sparse carry-on luggage for my journey home. I jammed a few small packages into the already-cramped suitcase, which was now threatening to burst at the seams, and one remaining box had to go into the tote bag. Good to go, right?
I researched TSA’s website to make sure I could take wrapped presents in my carry-ons. On my trip home, I confidently marched up to airport security, ready to zip through security like a pro and be on my merry way.
Not so fast. As soon as my tote bag rolled through their fancy x-ray machine, the TSA agent frowned, seized my bag, and called another agent over to “verify”. Uh-oh. I mentally jogged through everything in that bag, but I couldn’t think of anything that would raise red flags. I had already asked my mom if the wrapped presents had any liquids or anything sharp, and she wouldn’t lead her own innocent daughter astray, would she?
Two agents asked me to step aside while they yanked everything out of my neatly and precisely packed bag. I bit my tongue and watched them tug my items out, willy-nilly, not keeping anything in any order, swabbing everything, before pouncing hungrily on the happily-wrapped present and demanding, “What is this?”
What the hell does it look like? My nightie?
“A Christmas present from my mom,” I said, wisely ignoring the sarcastic and irritated voices in my head.
The agent eyed me suspiciously. “From your mom?”
She sounded like she believed “my mom” was code for “my internationally-feared terrorist”. I confirmed that “my mom” meant “my mom” and nothing more. She didn’t look convinced.
With gloved hands, she attempted to unwrap the present. I say “attempted” because my mother is fond of tape. A lot of tape. Every possible loose edge was cemented down with a thick strip of clear adhesive. I managed not to laugh as the agent grunted and muttered, “Mom likes tape.”
When a tiny corner was finally freed, she removed the wrapping paper, all intact in one sheet, making me wonder if she is one of those people who can peel an orange in one continuous piece. I quickly looked away, since after all, it was a Christmas present, and I was trying to preserve the surprise.
No such luck. When the offending box was opened and thoroughly swabbed, the agent bellowed at the top of her lungs to another agent, “It’s a clock.”
Just to be sure, they turned it over several times, ascertaining that it indeed was clock-like, hunting for dripping black powder or a sputtering fuse or a timer counting down to imminent doom, I’m not sure exactly. I was too busy being horrified that my own mother sent me through airport security with the one item in the whole wide world that most closely and alarmingly resembles a bomb, for the love of all that is holy. Moving parts, ticking, sealed box, what could possibly go wrong?
When the TSA agents were relatively certain I was not, in fact, deviously scheming to blow up the entire airport, they packed the clock back into the box, (seemingly disappointed at the missed opportunity to wrestle me forcibly to the floor while beating me into submission), unceremoniously dumped my personal belongings back into my tote bag in a decidedly random fashion, and graciously handed me the now-useless, crumpled wrapping paper.
I was already trying to organize my things in my bag in something at least resembling an organized manner. “Can you please throw that away?” I asked.
Well, no, actually this particular TSA agent would not throw away the wrapping paper. She claimed she would get into trouble if she threw it away. Okay, okay. I stuffed the paper into my tote bag so I could personally deliver it to a trash can.
Good thing I had left early for the airport. As I sat at my gate, I wasted no time pulling out my phone (which was not mistaken for a bomb during my security check) and sent my mother an e-mail, thanking her for making my trip that much more eventful. I’m sure she got a good laugh out of it.
As for me, I got a story to tell Gary and a public service announcement for my blog readers: if the brilliant notion occurs to you to gift-wrap a ticking clock and bestow it upon someone who will soon be passing through airport security…well, go ahead, so we can compare stories later!