Who decided that full body scanners were a good idea? The Electronic Privacy Information Center contends that scanners are "invasive, unlawful and ineffective." My concern is slightly more superficial: Do I really want to be seen without my Spanx? At the airport, you have to make a spot decision. Do you want to glide through the scanners like everyone else, or do you want to make a scene? I was traveling with my mother. There was no doubt which choice would be hers.
"I'm going to refuse," she said to me as we loaded our wheelie bags onto the conveyor.
"Why not?" She moved to the line of tape marking the floor.
"Ma'am, step into the machine and place your shoes on the designated footprints," the unsuspecting TSA official called out to her.
"I don't want to be x-rayed," she said.
"Just go in," I whispered. The security line snaked, tension coiled behind me. I leaned forward and urged. "We don't want to be late."
She threw out an elbow, jolting me back. For a woman who weighed barely 100 pounds, she sure packed a punch.
"Ma'am, are you choosing to decline the body scanner?"
"You bet I am," she said with obvious glee. "I've had x-rays of my teeth. I've had mammograms and bone scans. Lord knows how many other rays have permeated my body. I've had enough radiation to light the Olympic torch."
They ushered her to a holding area as I stepped into the machine and surrendered my arms overhead, posing like a human suppository.
"Look who they pick on!" I heard her yell over the sound of the machine. "A 75-year-old lady with swollen fingers and fallen arches."
As I waited with our bags, someone bumped my shoulder. I recognized the boarish wheeze before I saw his sweaty face. He'd been behind me in the security line. He grunted in my mother's direction. "Is she with you?"
I shook my head. "Never saw her before."
Guilt swept through me fast as lightening and then, an immediate wash of defiance: What if my mother was right about radiation? I took out my phone and found the EPA website. Cosmic radiation, I read, is a constant sprinkle of particles from space, raining down on the earth. The higher you go, the more you're exposed to radiation. "On a typical cross-country flight," the EPA report claimed, "in a commercial airplane, you are likely to receive less than half the radiation dose you receive from a chest x-ray."
Who hasn't had an x-ray? A friend once said: "You know you're old when you drive around with your films in the back of the car." If the contents of our cars indicated our ages, I'd have celebrated my last ten birthdays on "The Today Show" with Willard Scott. I have the films of a centenarian: x-rays, CT scans and an MRI that I probably didn't need. I'm a glowing example of what medical science offers. In fact, I should be grateful I don't hear Radio Netherlands through my dental fillings or leave a visible smear in my wake like the Road Runner.
Once on the plane, I turned to my mother. "Well, we made it."
She smiled back at me. "You know, they always hassle me at the security checkpoint," she said. "I honestly don't know why. I never do anything wrong." In her lap, a skein of yarn released a long strand that she wound effortlessly through those crooked fingers. I heard the familiar sound before I saw what was poised in her hands: 14-inch, pointed-tipped, aluminum knitting needles.