or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


As I mentioned, we went to Newfoundland last weekend, and while there, we went on a little shopping expedition to get some Purity products, which every Newfoundlander knows, because they were in every kitchen and probably still are. Among the things we bought was a half-pound tub of delicious Partridgeberry and Apple Jam. (Partridgeberries, better known to some as lingonberries, are exceedingly tart and are not generally eaten by themselves. I guess partridges like them as is, but we humans cook them into jam or something with a lot of sugar.)

We didn't bother with checked baggage, because we each had a knapsack and a small piece of luggage that could be stowed into the overhead compartment in a bigger plane, or put onto the skycheck cart on a smaller one. (There were smaller ones, too; the airplane that took us from Halifax to Moncton was a Beechcraft with twenty seats in it, ten on each side.) So I packed the foods into our various luggages and didn't give it a second thought.

You can see where this is heading, can't you?

On my way through security at the airport, I got an unusually thorough going-over by the staff (including the little makeup-remover pad on a stick that tests for traces of explosives), and the cause of it was the flat, broad plastic tub of jam in my knapsack. The woman behind the scanner was pleasant enough but unbending: I couldn't bring this onto the plane with me. If I had any way of getting it into the mail, or if there was someone on the other side of security who could take it, then it could still be transported to me; otherwise, she'd have to throw it away. I said there wasn't anybody, and would she like some jam? Understandably, she said she wasn't allowed to take it or anything like it, and after I voluntarily surrendered it, she tossed it into a waiting garbage can, and I was on my way.

Actually, I was on my way after I put a container of lip balm, Carmex it was, with a plastic jar and a metal screw lid, into the one-litre see-through plastic bag into which all liquids and gels, in containers of not more than three and a half ounces or one hundred millilitres, must be placed, because as everyone knows, this bag magically transforms dangerous fluids into harmless ones. Carmex out of the bag: incendiary. Carmex in the bag; lip balm. If I had troubled myself to go to a dollar store and buy three small plastic tubs, I could have portioned the jam into them and put it into the magical plastic bag and it would have sailed through the security checkpoint; but because it was all together in one container, it was automatically deemed hazardous.

This airport worker, and all her co-workers, know, beyond any scintilla of doubt, that what's in that tub is in no way dangerous; she may not know for sure that it's jam, but she proved she knows it's harmless. Why? Because she tossed it into a trash can, a trash can which was standing right next to her for the entire duration of her shift at the scanner. If she thought it was dangerous, she would rightly refuse to work beside it. If her supervisors thought it was dangerous, there would be a squad of highly trained people ready to take care of it, so as to pose no threat to the hundreds or thousands of people in the airport. If her union thought there was any possibility of danger, she wouldn't be allowed to work in proximity to such a hazard. Instead, she literally tossed it into a large container with the other putatively dangerous substances, any of which, if they truly were hazardous, could commingle in the can in unpredictable and possibly lethal ways. A half-pound of theoretical jam. A 360-mL bottle of putative contact lens solution. A 125-mL fla├žon of alleged eau de cologne. Who knows what could happen?

Nothing, that's what, and everybody from the airport's janitors to the prime minister of the country knows it. These airport personnel--who are just doing their jobs, like airport personnel all over the civilized world--and their superiors who set up these policies know for a fact that the things they're taking from passengers are harmless, and they prove they know this by treating the things in a reckless and cavalier manner. And if they know this to be the case, why take them at all? Wouldn't the makeup-remover pad test tell them everything they need to know? As my friend Ralph said via e-mail,

the security screening is merely an appalling charade to scare the devil out of the public. It has little if any practical value as a security measure, other than perhaps as a police state effort to cow citizens into subservience and convince us that the "war on terror" is real.


So, no jam for us. But we did bring home some other things, including peanut butter kisses and some other kinds of kisses as well. (They're all gone, so don't bother asking. We still have some peppermint nobs and molasses-flavoured humbugs, but they'll soon be gone, too. According to Wikipedia, humbugs are peppermint, but in Newfoundland they're made of sugar and molasses and nothing else, and you can just imagine how tasty they are.) However, here's the back of the peanut-butter-kiss package:

and the only reason I show it to you is because it contains a typo. Every single candy bag that I looked at has exactly the same mistake: "Blackmarch Road". There's no such place. It's Blackmarsh Road. (We double-checked by actually driving past the Purity factory and wistfully imagining that they gave tours, which I think would be like Willy Wonka's factory only much, much better.)


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