I’m an American

Note to Readers: This is fiction.

The security line stretched from the screener checkpoint back through the boarding pass/I.D. checkers, and around the Disney-esque, maze-like lanes almost to the street. It was a Friday afternoon. TSA agents hated Fridays. Passengers waxed surly from long workweeks. Businessmen wanted to get home; weekend travelers wanted to escape the clutches of the hum drum and start their weekend away. It was hot. Tempers had risen with the heat, and Orange County’s toney airport lost its allure that day. Some passengers over-challenged their deodorant.

People in my line chatted about the weather, the crowding, the latest Apple announcement, the falling stock market, rising interest rates . We even dipped into the taboo subjects of sex, religion, and politics to divert our attention from the heat. We tacitly shared the need for a respite from this intolerable degradation, and tried to remain civil in an uncivil situation, gritting our teeth against the noticeable diminution of our freedoms in the name of national security.

At random intervals, as we all know by now in today’s post 9/11 traveling protocol, passengers are tapped from the parade to experience closer scrutiny. Same-sex agents pass wands under arms, across the back and buttocks, and around calves and feet. LikCowe slaughter animals, we submit to these annoying intrusions in the hopes of avoiding being passengers on a 9/11 replay. I imagine casually dressed terrorists tittering behind invisible sunglasses, hiding their amusement behind their eyelids, hoping no one notices the slight movement of lips suppressing smirks at our shenanigans.

She was three people ahead of me. She was a blond of unclear age with perfectly pert Orange County breasts, tight face-lifted skin, and equally tight designer Capri jeans hovering taut over French-manicured toe-nails splayed on one-inch-heel rhinestone-studded sandals. She was picked to be scanned that day.

You can’t do this to me! I’m not a terrorist,” she shrieked. “I will not stand for this!” She had that look in her eyes – the look of fear mingled with indignation and outright anger. She couldn’t suppress it in the heat and in her rush to leave town. We knew the feeling; we had managed to swallow the bitter medicine, hating every minute.

“Calm down, Miss,” a male agent approached slowly, gently.

“Don’t touch me. Don’t come near me. I don’t have to do this. I’m an American!”

 We silently cheered her, those of the rest of us who still claimed a vestige of national patriotism remembering what made this country great, besting our poor northern and southern continental stepsisters with every turn and by every measure.

“It’s the law, Miss. Please step this way,” a female TSA agent had taken over, hoping to diffuse the male/female element. “It’s just a random sampling. We have no way of knowing who is picked. It comes from the computer is all,” she purred.

God damn it. You people think you’re going to stop terrorism by picking on innocent women? Forget it. I’m flying on this airplane whether you like it or not.”

The people in line grew quiet, watching the scene unfold like a schoolyard fight. No one wanted the bully airline to win, and silently cheered for our scrappy, salon-preserved blond emissary. But we were conflicted.   We hoped the terrorists weren’t watching. Would they see a weakness? And what if she was indeed a terrorist? What if she was a plant to test the system? On the other hand, what if she was just regular, feisty, independent American, pissed at the outrage?

Four security officers appeared out of nowhere. “Ma’am, come with us. We can’t let you fly today and we have to keep the line moving. Please, ma’am. This is for everyone’s protection. We will refund your ticket right away.”

            The guard spoke loudly so enough people in the front of the lines heard the matter of fact tone that was neither accusatory nor inflammatory. Justice was done amicably. The offender of the system, the lemming who chose not to follow the rest of us off the cliff of compliance, was removed as if by vacuum. The enforcers were trained to be benign and emotionless, as if they had just walked out of George Orwell’s novel 1984.

“What happened to that woman?” I asked as I came through on another trip the following week … “the blond who went nuts when she was asked to be scanned?”

“We gave her her money back and she bought a ticket on another airline. She was as meek as a kitten,” the agent said. “But it made for an interesting day, at least.”

An interesting day. A break in the boredom of shuffling people through the new existence the terrorists have created for us. I hear a sound – a low hum. It’s a distant rising drone that grows louder very day. It’s our diluted freedoms seeping upward through the ground of our continent, evaporating for now, but forcing upward like magma under the earth’s cap. It will either blow up into the atmosphere and fall useless like so much ash, or spew large, angry powerful rocks we can pick up and thrust at our oppressors, forming a new land, powerful and strong against those that want to take away that which we fought for when we founded this, the most wonderful, richest, and free country on earth.

I am an American, damn it.

Practice Makes Perfect

Winners AND losers practice 10,000 hours.

What does “Practice Makes Perfect” mean? Most people think it means that if you do something over and over and over, your skill (whatever it is) will be perfect. It will not, of course, but one can hope to achieve as close to perfection as possible. Piano players à la Practice Makes PerfectVladimir Horowitz, basketball players like Michael Jordan, authors, painters, gymnasts, race car drivers, surgeons, repairmen, typists, dancers—everyone that wants to excel at something—has to practice. 

Winners Practice 10,000 Hours

To come in first in a competition, to be paid for their work, and to generally reach the pinnacle of their craft or sport or profession, winners practice and continue to practice even after they’re “good.” Why do they call it a medical practice, a dental practice or a legal practice? Because those licensed professionals have to keep practicing to continue to be skilled to their high levels of satisfaction. In his 2011 book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery.

There’s a catch, though.

Losers Practice 10,000 Hours Too!

Continue reading “Practice Makes Perfect”

Plan B

What is a Plan B, besides a morning after pill?

It’s a backup. It’s the spare tire. It’s what you should have behind your Plan A.

Plan B’s are scary because we rarely even have a Plan A.  Why not? Companies usually have Plan A’s. Or Plans. Do they have Plan B’s? Shouldn’t they? What happens if the new product fails? What happens if the production line slows or stops? What do they do if they cannot obtain the part they need?  What’s their Plan B?

What’s your personal Plan B for losing your job in a reorganization? What’s the Plan B for retirement if the kids come back home with your grandchildren in tow? Or THEY lose a job in a reorganization and need a place to stay “for a little while.”

If you don’t have a Plan A, you won’t ever have a Plan B.

So what are your plans for the weekend?

Victims of Our Own Unconscious Behaviors

The ThinkerI recently stumbled upon the Chris Jordan 2008 TED talk  wherein Chris made artwork out of our collective unconscious behaviors.  With a smoking skeleton and pills formed into a surprising circular array, he exposed the following and other punishing statistics…not to punish us, but to inform us.

  • 400,000 people died from smoking in 2008.
  • 65,000 teenagers would start smoking in one month in 2008
  • 213,000 Emergency Room visits resulted from prescription drug abuse

How are we doing against these data today?  More importantly, if the unconscious behaviors Chris exposed in artful form come from our individual denials, is there something we can do about it?  Not only do we bear the cost to our national psyche, but also to our healthcare costs, and unnecessary loss of life for our young people.

We’re moving in the wrong direction.

  • 443,000 died from smoking in 2011, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)
  •  114,000 teenagers started smoking in one month in 2011 (CDC)
  •  1.4 million Emergency Room visits resulted from prescription drug use in 2011 (Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).

I am reminded of the novel Lord of the Flies.  I think the book, published in 1954, has been required reading in the California high schools for decades,  and tracks closely to Chris Jordan’s reflection of our collectively destructive detritus.  The Lord of the Flies author, William Golding,  states that his novel’s theme is “an attempt to trace defects of society back to the defects of human nature.  The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system, however apparently logical or respectable.”

Chris’s and our question of ourselves is: How conscious are we as individuals? What can we change today about ourselves that will change society, but more importantly, make us better individuals? Change is hard.   Becoming conscious is the first step.