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Kirby: TSA owes me a knife but I'll trade for something better

Published March 18, 2013 12:26 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This column is to let Transportation Safety Administration chief John Pistole know that I want my #%&@! knife back.

In January, TSA agents took the knife from me at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. Less than two months later, Pistole announced it was permissible to carry the exact same knife aboard aircraft.

Not everyone is happy about this, least of all me. We're talking a miniscule Swiss Army knife with a 1-inch blade, teensy scissors and a completely useless pair of tweezers.

Normally I would just let this go. However, the knife has sentimental value. There's a nick in the red plastic handle where a dog or a grandchild bit it.

The list of things TSA has taken away from me since 2001 is a long one. To the best of a fragile recollection, it includes three tiny pocketknives, two nail files, a dozen bottles/cups of Diet Coke, 18 partial bottles of water, assorted medications without labels, a fishhook, a suspicious pill, shampoo, toothpaste, a wad of dried Play-doh and a bullet. Not a live cartridge. Just the bullet.

Note: Once they also wanted the surgical pin in my shoulder. I talked them out of that by breaking down and crying.

I don't begrudge TSA any of that stuff. Rules are rules and I have a lifelong habit of breaking them, often for no other reason than I'm just not paying attention.

However, by any definition it is not fair to take something away from somebody and then turn right around and tell everyone it's OK to have it. I want my knife.

It's reasonable, right? If President Gerald Ford can pardon Vietnam draft dodgers and give them their freedom back, then TSA can certainly square this with me.

On the other hand, sometimes you just have to make the best of a bad situation. I still remember what a couple of TSA agents gave me shortly after 9/11, when America was still trying to come to terms with the new rules of air travel.

I was flying out of New York City. The security lines stretched to the parking lot as thousands of Americans tried to cope with something they had never been subjected to before: public violation of personal space.

When it was my turn, I was stripped of belt, shoes and wallet. Confused and nervous, I stood there with my hands raised while two large African-American males sorted through my pockets. In true big-city fashion, bystanders ignored what was happening.

Ever have that moment when your brain completely syncs with another person's brain? It was like that. While he searched me, one of the agents and I looked at each other and saw it at the same time.

"That's right, we're black," he deadpanned. "But this is legal. Just relax."

Things might have been OK if the two agents and I hadn't started laughing. Worse, so did a dozen other passengers who heard him say it.

And it spread. It got loud enough to draw the attention of a TSA supervisor who came and, just like supervisors everywhere, failed to see the humor. She told everyone to knock it off and keep moving.

Like I said, sometimes you just have to make the best of a bad situation.

So I'll cut John a deal. If he can find those two TSA guys and give them a raise and a medal, I'll forget all about the knife.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.