L. Neil Smith's
Number 180, July 1, 2002


So There's This Ticket Agent and This Jokey Passenger, See ...
by David M. Brown

Special to TLE

In The Crunch Report's eerily prophetic dystopian play about being at the airport, a character asserts that under the terms of the so-called "Patriot Act," it is now illegal to tell jokes while in transit. Just another fantastical science-fiction scenario that could never actually happen.

Many mysteries lie within the ten billion pages of the Patriot Act, however. There must be a provision somewhere that reads, "Any wisecrack that could be construed as a bomb threat by an obtuse dunderhead is in fact a bomb threat, regardless of whether it would be thus construed by any reasonable person."

That's what poor tin-eared wise guy Gregory Hastings discovered when he responded all too jokingly to a ticket agent's "security questions."

It seems that Hastings is one of those people always telling painfully unfunny jokes and then laughing at them himself during the ensuing dead pauses. When asked by the ticket agent if anyone had given him something to take on board, Hastings--a very infrequent flyer, hence relatively untutored in the minutiae of modern security precautions-- answered, "What do you mean? Like one of those ticking cardboard boxes?"

Now, if it had been Gary Shandling, the ticket agent would have been in stitches. It's all in the delivery.

But it wasn't Gary Shandling. So--out of painful, and pained, necessity--the police were paged pronto. At some point in the proceedings there was a scuffle, apparently. Hastings and the cops disagree about exactly what happened. But withal, the Boston Globe reports that the witticist's luggage was never even checked; which, if true, sort of belies the notion that anybody at the airport really thought the lumpen-prole had made a bomb threat.

Anyway, Hastings was tossed in the hoosegow for a few hours, then released after agreeing to serve two years probation, perform 100 hours of community service (presumably teaching tots how to avoid making dumb jokes in public), and fork over $500 to charity. (Though it's not quite clear how charity had been injured by the joke.) One of the charges against Hastings was "making a false statement." (There goes the Internet.) Heh-heh-heh-heeeeggggggg-gghhhhhhh....

Ticket agent didn't know whether the stranger was joking. Seems if it's so friggin' opaque, you'd ask. "Is that supposed to be some kind of joke, sir? If so, it's not jolly-well appreciated, okay? We're all pretty uptight here in the post-911 environment."

(Also, if it's so darn crucial that nobody ever josh out of turn, why not stipulate that in the eternally iterating airport security announcements? "This is a non-smoking environment ... in the name of security, please stay with your luggage at all times ... also ... please ... do not ... for your own safety, do not try to 'lighten the mood' with any ill-conceived humor about the bureaucratic-security- hellhole in which you now find yourself ...")

Hastings concedes that it wasn't exactly bright of him to be kidding around about bombs while in an airport. Ergo, it's "hard to empathize with [his] plight," according to the Boston Globe's un- empathetic reporter, who presumably drives everywhere. But there's a difference between saying something dumb and doing something criminal. Or there used to be.

David M. Brown is the publisher of The Crunch Report. His eerily prophetic dystopian play about being at the airport is archived at http://www.davidmbrown.com/columns/060602.html.

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