In 1979, I escorted the GI Joe doll that my grandparents had given me for Christmas onto the airplane that was to take my family home to Wisconsin. When we got to security, the doll was detained and frisked. His pistol was confiscated. He wasn’t interrogated or otherwise humiliated, but I, as his representative, was told in slightly scary, slightly condescending terms that, without clearance, carrying guns on planes was prohibited. Confused as to why this was happening to me, and sensing that I’d somehow done something criminal, I promptly started to bawl.
My lawyer, who also happened to be my father, interceded on my behalf and a battle of wills ensued. My father-lawyer explained the obvious to the security guard who’d detained us, that the pistol wasn’t a real gun; it was a toy, made of solid plastic and barely an inch and a half long. If GI Joe and I planned to hijack the plane with it, we surely wouldn’t get very far. “Don’t you think you could let him keep it, sir? You see how upset you’ve made him.” The man wasn’t accustomed to being challenged, at least not here in the lane behind the airport-security metal detector; this was his domain—he was the authority here. He knew every sub-clause of the regulations he was charged with enforcing. He believed in them. Reason was not something that interested him. Logic was an affront to his power. The longer my lawyer tried to argue, the more truculent the guard became, and eventually, he broke off all engagement with us. “Move along now before I have you forcibly removed,” he said. My father couldn’t argue with that.
Once I’d calmed down, I began asking questions—well, one question, the same question I always asked, the question that’s gotten me in trouble throughout my life: Why? But there’s no room for why when confronted by the raw exertion of power. There’s only capitulation or conflict. I can choose to think this man had a goal in mind, that he was trying to show me how safe I was, how scrupulous and unswerving he was in his mission to protect the citizenry as they travel the airways. I can choose to believe he was standing on principle, that he was making his small contribution to a noble cause. What I do believe is that he sensed somehow that my family and I were skeptical of power and those who serve it, and by choosing us to arbitrarily punish, he proved our skepticism to be well founded.
My GI Joe doll abandoned the army soon after this incident. He stripped off his cammies and started wearing the flared trousers and pirate cut shirts that my twelve-inch Star Wars figurines had laying around. As the years went by his disillusion and embitterment grew exponentially with the rightward turn of our country. He’s hiding in some box in a dark basement now, shouting hysterically, but no one is listening.
Joshua Furst is the author of The Sabotage Café, a novel, and Short People, a collection of stories that Jay McInerney called "scary, funny, brilliantly observed." He has received fellowships from the James Michener Foundation and The MacDowell Colony, and was awarded the Nelson Algren Award for his short story "Red Lobster." He lives in New York and teaches fiction and playwriting at The Pratt Institute.