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The Essay
Show #347
Xenon A. Bagbee vs Aviation Security
David Gunn

The Aviation and Transportation Security Act, the federally mandated law that screens all checked baggage for explosives and runny cheese, went into effect last week. Most passengers didnít seem to mind the resulting minor airport delays--with "minor" here defined as any length of time up to 23 hours. Even those travelers passing through Ohio International Airdrome who discovered that the airport's multi-million dollar baggage screening machine was not a state-of-the-art Hobart X-raymatic, but rather a Lipton Shred-o-tron Mark V/Industrial Strength, tried to laugh off the demise of their ex-luggage. Other security measures that were implemented with the Act--including strip searches, polygraph tests, retinal scans, stool samples and sodium pentothal-induced admissions of heresy--were also generally embraced without protest.

One person who did complain was Xenon A. Bagbee, an itinerant musician who termed the new law inhibiting to the point of career-threatening. For Bagbee is America's only professional starter's pistol player. Because the instrument is employed in relatively few orchestral works, and there presently is no hotbed community of starter's pistol music, Bagbee must travel all over the country to secure performances. He customarily employs pistols of three different calibers: .22, .30, and 3.14159. Even though the barrel is clearly permanently blocked with a hardened blancmange-like substance, most airport security personnel frown on the airborne transit of such devices, and blithely ignore their significance to the world of music. Formerly relegated to the sporadic musical witticism of Spike Jones, P.D.Q. Bach, David Gunn and the economy version of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, the starter's pistol has of late enjoyed a minor renaissance. Nation-states at war have inspired composers to write music that evokes the sentiments of battle. And what better way to do so than to incorporate a reasonable facsimile of an instrument of war into the tune! But if every privacy-invading bomb-sniffing dog is going to confiscate these musical implements for "security reasons," at an approximate out-of-Bagbee's-pocket cost of $29.95 each, the sentiment of battle will be severely restricted.

Last Friday, Bagbee was flying to Bung Hollow, West Virginia for a performance with the Regional Riparian Philharmonic of "O'Samba: a Ballroom Dance of War," by A. Lark Clobberworm. The piece is in Clobberworm's typically perverse 11 quintillion-to-1 meter, and features an intricate starter's pistol cadenza to which electronically-sequined dancers gyrate vigorously enough to cause discernible shifts in local plate tectonics. Bagbee has played the piece on two other occasions, and both times he left town just as a dip-slip thrust fault opened up directly beneath and then swallowed the music hall. This time, Bagbee had cleverly concealed his instruments in a snow globe diorama that depicted a one-quarter size Wyatt Earp defending himself against the US General Accounting Office's first comptroller leopard, circa 1921. The airport screener who searched the pistoleer's belongings and took a sample of his ottoman, waved the diorama through the security checkpoint after ascertaining that the snow inside was real. Coincidentally, inattention to detail such as this is explicitly noted in the September 2001 GAO report 01-1165T, "Aviation Security: Weaknesses in Airport Security and Options for Assigning Screening Responsibilities." Partway through the flight--and a statistical analysis would probably reveal that the precise fraction somehow featured the number 11 quintillion--the aircraft encountered sufficient turbulence to spring the overhead baggage compartment door above Bagbee's seat. The shock to the stowed diorama as it rolled out and fell to the floor caused the pistols, which Bagbee kept loaded in case of musical urgency, to discharge. A trigger-happy federal air marshal returned what he thought was fire, shattering the snow globe and propelling the pintsize Earp into the cockpit. And from that point, things really began to go awry.

To the credit of the otherwise overzealous Transportation Security Administration officers in Bung Hollow, Bagbee was permitted to leave his detention cell long enough to play the O'Samba cadenza. And in the confusion that accompanied the arrival of the dip-slip thrust fault under the concert hall, he gave his captors the slip.

The slip is something that Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar hopes never to give you, our listening audients. Instead, we'll ply you with music and advice, engaging chitchat and, on this 347th episode, a live interview, not to mention, which I will, anyway, Kalvos.