In reading a few months ago about the poor woman from MIT who was detained for raising the irrational hackles of Logan Airport authorities for the t-shirt she was wearing I was reminded by my own experience last year bearing what turned out to be my own bit of performance art at the very same airport.
I posted this story last year on the Huey Lewis and the News board but I want to post it in full here too, partly because it's silly and partly because I think it's an allegory about faulty risk assessment:
At the Good Morning America concert at Bryant Park Friday some random guys barged into the front of the crowd and gave out painted styrofoam letters that spelled out "We [heart] Huey." I'm not quite sure how it worked out this way, but by the time the women interested in holding the letters figured out how to spell "Huey" so it wouldn't sound like someone retching, I suddenly found myself holding a blue "Y." Although I could hardly believe my good fortune that I was about to realize my lifelong dream of singing and dancing on national television while holding a "Y," I took my "Y"-waving duties very seriously. "I must not wave the 'Y' negligently," I thought to myself, in so many words. Had you heard me say this out loud you would have been completely justified in slapping me at that point. I was certainly tempted to, just for thinking it.
Anyway, having been laden with this awesome "Y"-waving burden, I decided to make the most of it, and after the show I opted to keep the "Y." This necessitated walking through Manhattan while carrying a spare "Y," but seeing how it was Manhattan no one noticed.
I decreed it to be the official Huey Lewis and the News concert-going "Y," and so brought it with me to the Jones Beach concert that evening. Unfortunately, they wouldn't let me bring it in. Instead they enforced their unwritten "no 'Y'" policy against me. Apparently they feared that either I or a neighboring fan would just go wild with it and poke someone in the eye. Seems that there is such a thing as negligent "Y" waving after all, and they were determined not to have it take place in their venue. I do think, however, that had Huey spelled his name with an "O" that would have been acceptable. Damn Huey for his obstinately phonetic appellation. It ruined all my fun.
Undaunted, however, I brought it with me to the Holmdel, New Jersey concert the next night, where they had no problems with me bringing in my "Y." Apparently in NJ you're free to poke as many people in the eye as you please.
The question now is, should I bring my "Y" to the next show in Turlock, California? Does anyone know if they have a "no 'Y'" policy? Is it likely that they will make one between now and then? This is, of course, presuming that I can remember to pack it. You know how I am with that, and I think it would be really stupid – as well as embarrassing – to pack a "Y" and not, say, pants.
These shows and this travel all took place right after the New York and New Jersey bar exams. I drove back up to Boston and from there flew out to San Francisco, where I stopped off on my way to China to see the concert in Turlock. With my "Y."
Since it didn't fit in my suitcase I had to carry it separately. Outside of Manhattan, where no one would look at you twice even if you had two heads, people do generally notice large blue "Ys" being carried around. Everyone asks, "Why?" (as if they are all being unprecedentedly clever) but it turns out it's kind of fun to be a little eccentric and see how people react. I began to regard it a bit as a piece of performance art, which is generally about engaging in a similar study of human reactions.
Of course, at an airport, this is not the place to stand out. But I didn't do so purposefully, I just needed to get the "Y" from one side of the country to another and this was the only way to do it. I wasn't even thinking about it when I placed it in the X-ray machine. At that point it was just a piece of blue styrofoam to me. Yet perhaps that was unwise; after all it was a piece of blue styrofoam that security officials had already deemed dangerous. So what would the TSA people do with it?
They made the requisite jokes, and then let it through.