Saturday, October 3, 2009

O tempora, O mores

Air travel has been intolerable for years, but this morning for me the process sank to new depths. Since 9/11 I have navigated security and boarded innumerable aircraft all over the world, but never before have I had my tube of toothpaste confiscated. Clearly I had no choice but to submit to this impertinence today in Montréal, Québec, but the grounds upon which my toothpaste tube was impounded were not that it might conceivably contain plastic explosives—or any other contraband—but simply that it exceeded the allowable volume (expressed, somewhat pointedly, in milliliters, and in appalling French). The fact that my toothpaste tube was quite obviously three-quarters empty… ça ne marchait pas. A little later, queuing forlornly towards U.S. customs and immigration, a tall, middle-aged man—Canadian passport, je regrette—passed the time by clipping his fingernails. Each painstaking snip rang through the hangar-like space with eye-watering reverberation, made worse by the thought of that horrid trail of new-mooned leavings under foot. I have rarely seen anyone exhibit such complete disregard for the boundary that used to separate behavior that is suitable for public places from behavior that is not. How do people learn to forget that distinction? Reflecting presently upon this strange incident somewhere over New Hampshire or Vermont, I wondered how many other travelers were as revolted as I was, offended, or merely incommoded by this performance. It is not unusual to see the occasional, leathery old slapper filing her nails on the train or at the departure gate, so I suppose someone might therefore make a sort of case for tolerating the more radical process of clipping them also. The difference is, of course, that filing mostly produces less noise, and only a little dust.

1 comment:

  1. This seems a little unfair. As the clippers were almost certainly going to be confiscated at the gate, this would have been the gentleman's last opportunity for some days to trim potentially disfiguring sharp edges.

    And as for the toothpaste, Morgenbesser:
    "Morgenbesser was leaving a subway station in New York City and put his pipe in his mouth as he was ascending the steps. A police officer told him that there was no smoking on the subway. Morgenbesser pointed out that he was leaving the subway, not entering it, and hadn't lit up yet anyway. The cop repeated his injunction. Morgenbesser repeated his observation. After a few such exchanges, the cop said: "If I let you do it, I'd have to let everyone do it." To this the old professor replied, "Who do you think you are, Kant?" The word "Kant" was mistaken for a vulgar epithet and Morgenbesser had to explain the situation at the police station."