A True Story of National Security

Delta Winds cover 2006Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


A True Story of National Security

Scotty Hoag

My father thought this was a moment worth saving indefinitely on film, so he turned on his camcorder and aimed it straight at me. I'm glad he found me being held at gunpoint amusing.

"Sah, the chief wants to ask you some questions."

The guard pointed to a very serious looking man sitting behind a white desk. On either side of him were other serious looking men wearing serious dark glasses and brandishing serious looking automatic rifles and shotguns.

The situation looked serious.


I hobbled clumsily through the middle of the sterile white security checkpoint while trying to hold all of my personal belongings and refasten my belt to keep my pants from falling down. The closer I got to the desk, the darker the room seemed to appear, like walking towards a storm or into the inner sanctum of a beast or vampire. The officer was busying himself by erasing all of the recently acquired confidential material off of my father's now confiscated digital camcorder. I glanced at the desk and noticed some serious looking papers and documents underneath a newspaper opened to a very unserious looking comics section. I felt a little more calm or, at least, as calm as a terrorist suspect surrounded by armed New York SWAT team recruits could possibly feel.

"Sah, can you explain this device?" a guard asked me under his heavy accent while motioning me away from the desk. He held in his phonebook-ripping right hand a clear liquid-filled plastic vial attached to a series of electrical wires, transistors, microchips, and ultimately, a big red propeller.

"Uh, sure. It's a fan. My handheld fan. See, you flip this switch here. . . ," I said as I reached for the device, then stopped, realizing I probably shouldn't be making any sudden movements that could potentially be interpreted as "Hostile" within proximity of the stoic-faced, assault-rifle-wielding grunts, and recoiled my arm to a safe pointing distance. "You flip that switch and it spins the propeller. Then, you push that button and it sprays the water on your face. . . . You know, to cool you down." I could see one of the other guards near the metal detectors and walk-in bomb-sniffers performing chemical tests on the water from the vial. Another guard was referencing security tapes--watching how I had walked through the metal detectors--and pointing out inconsistencies in my facial expression and walking speed. They both turned and glanced at me at the exact same time with that emotionless, CIA-agent, Hello-my-name-is-Mister-Smith expression.

"Cool you down? Mmm-hmm," the guard hummed through his frozen stare. He was obviously not very happy with my response, judging by how he then brushed aside my scarf, forced open the collar of my Pendleton coat, and counted through the neck opening how many layers of clothing I was currently wearing. I looked at the situation from his point of view and realized that, yes, perhaps I did seem a bit suspicious carrying a battery-operated fan to a city that thought 50 degrees was T-shirt and shorts weather. The fan had been in my travel bag since my trip to humid Japan where the heat made everyone I was with sweaty and miserable. I had left it in the bag in case I happened to encounter warm weather again.

"Scotty, do you realize how cold it gets back east?" I remember Annie telling me as I was futilely trying to zip up my severely overstuffed suitcase the night before. "Why are you packing this?"

I boasted between grunts that one should always be prepared for all sorts of serious weather conditions while traveling. She rolled her eyes, and agonizingly conceded. "Fine, Mister Boy Scout, you're the one who's going to be carrying it."

What I wanted was a comfortable body temperature. What I got was detention by post nine-eleven security measures.

After another 10 minutes of serious questioning and serious tests, I was finally awarded clearance to speak with the serious head officer.

"Get out," he commanded before I could verbally defend myself. Two soldiers, whom I mistook for The Hulk and The Jolly Green Giant, firmly handed me my father's camcorder and my deathly suspicious little red fan. I almost thanked the head officer, but decided to remain silent fearing that any explicit action could possibly be used against me in a court of law.

We passed by people still gathering their belongings from the metal detectors, bomb-sniffers, and x-ray scanners, and walked out from the police tent into the open air. Some of our travel companions were waiting for us at the base of the enormous "pedestal." Some had actually gone on ahead and we had to rush up the stairs while tripping over our own feet and pulling our loosely-buckled pants up to get into the same elevator. The tour guide shoved her way into the now uncomfortably crowded lift, commented on how cute my heart-print boxers were as I attempted to buckle my belt again, and began describing in detail how the structure stays together and why it turns green. The doors closed and our claustrophobic stall began traveling higher and higher. In some form or another, we had all finally made it to the symbol of our nation's freedom and enlightenment, the first thing our ancestors saw after fleeing their home countries decades before to seek protection and start new lives, the Statue of Liberty.

Funny, it looks a lot smaller than it does on TV.