08 Feb Take OFF Your Belt!

Every year the City calls me in for jury duty. But, because I’m very liberal and over-educated, nobody picks me for a jury. Still, they call me and I come. I know many people who are never called in. It’s like a lottery.

This year, I showed up at the court house door dutifully at 8:25 A.M. on the appointed day. Nobody was waiting to enter at the security scanning station. As I stepped up, the Sheriff’s deputy on duty—a short woman of middle age—issued commands like a drill sergeant: “Move up. Put your bags on the conveyor. Remove all metal objects, coins, possessions. Place them on the conveyor.”

I complied.

I’m a compliant guy. Most of us are. We’ve spent too much time in the TSA lines. We’ve become cowlike in our submission, shuffling through the cordoned chutes of security.

“Take off your belt!” the deputy said loudly. Maybe I wasn’t moving fast enough for her. But nobody stood behind or ahead of me. I had already put my bags on the conveyor. “Take OFF your belt!” Now she was shouting.

I said, “Take it easy.”

“Don’t YOU tell me to take it EASY!” she snapped. “Take OFF your belt!”

It was as if she were telling an armed-and-dangerous perp to Get OUT of the CAR.

Confused and a little frightened, I did as she demanded. Then I put my belt on the scanner’s conveyor, where I thought she wanted it.

“DON’T put your belt there!” she shouted. “I didn’t TELL you to put it there!” She snatched up my belt and handed it back to me. By this time I had taken off my coat because I thought she wanted my coat on the conveyor belt.

“I didn’t TELL you to take OFF your coat!” she shouted. ” Put your coat ON!”

I must have stared at her as I would have stared at an oncoming train. Mind you, on a normal day, I’d still be in bed, dreaming of running barefoot through a field of sunflowers.

“Put your coat ON!” she shouted. “PUT your coat ON!”

I did as she commanded. Then, in frustration and disgust, I dropped my belt into the plastic box she held.

“That’s IT!” she announced. “He’s got an ATTITUDE!” Her fellow officer behind the deck just stared. Maybe everybody was frightened of the deputy. Now the deputy turned to me: “You’re not coming in this way. YOU go around to Saint Paul Street!”

“What?” I stuttered.

“Around to SAINT Paul STREET!” she shouted.

ron tanner's fourth grade music teacherI recalled the time that Mr. Altman kicked me out of fourth grade music class because I was singing our “tra-la-la” chorus derisively. He was a big man, a slob and a bully. He insulted us routinely by giving us the most insipid, infantile songs to sing. I loathed him. “WHO was that?” he demanded after silencing us. “WHO was singing like THAT?” Then his rodent eyes met mine. I felt my face burning. Did a cruel smile tug at Mr. Altman’s chapped lips? “You, Tanner, OUT!”

The deputy heaped my bags and my belt into my open hands and commanded: “Around the block, to the SAINT PAUL entrance!”

Amazed and befuddled, I walked past another officer who shook his head in disbelief (he looked frightened too), I pushed through the huge court house doors, then nearly tripped on the big step down. Another man was walking in. He must have seen my shaken expression. “You all right?” he asked with concern. I couldn’t look at him. I only nodded and waved an okay, my head resounding with a Kafkaesque chorus of tra la las.

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