I’ve been through countless security screenings at airports, and this line looks a lot like those – only I’m outside, and going to meet the President.
Now, when I say I’m going to meet the President, I mean the President – the guy on the news every night, the one who lives in the big white house shown in every fourth-grader’s social study book, the leader of the Free World. And, frankly, I’m a little nervous. Typically, I can calm my nerves when giving a big speech or attending an important meeting by saying to myself, “I’ve done this before.” Plus, the whole spastic cerebral palsy thing makes for good camouflage to hide my nerves. However, I’ve never spoken with a president, and right about now, I wish I’d spoken with a pope, as that would offer some self affirmation, at least. But, I’ve never spoken to a president or a pope, so I’m pretty much on my own as I sit here in line, heading for the security screening, ready to make my way to meet the President.
As I move closer to the security check point, with just a few people in line ahead of me, I see that it’s essentially a pass-through tent, with a metal detector, an X-ray machine, and uniformed officers and Secret Service agents everywhere. Finally, I’m the next in line, and as I roll up, there’s a uniformed officer to my right, and a suited agent – ear piece and all – to my left.
“Good morning,“ the uniformed officer says, glancing down at my powerchair. “Just wait right here.”
The officer looks above my head, to the agent on my left, and says, “Get the dogs.”
Dogs? Get the dogs? Does he mean German shepherds trained to sniff and attack? Oh, great, on among the biggest days of my career, I’m going to be turned into a cerebral-palsied chew toy for Tank and Vito, two police dogs who only respond to German commands and weigh more than I do. One misplaced muscle spasm in my legs, and I go from well-dressed to dismembered. Maybe if I just repeat, “I’m a rag doll,” over and over again, as my physical therapist taught me when I was a child, I can sit still long enough not to be maimed, just like when getting a haircut or going to the dentist or trying to pretend that I’m asleep so my wife won’t bother me with her chit chat in bed.
“If you call out the dogs, we have to take him out of the chair for liability reasons,” the agent replies to the officer.
Did I vote democratic lines in one too many elections? Dogs? Taking me out of my wheelchair? I just want to speak with the President – after all, a wrestling match in a suit, on wet grass, with two German shepherds, wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the invitation.
“Can you get out of your chair?” the agent asks.
Ah, now he’s heading in a more positive direction, and I’m careful to answer, knowing that there’s a right answer, and a wrong answer.
“No, I can’t,” I say, getting them on a technicality, where if I can’t get out of my powerchair, they can’t call out the dogs, which then can’t turn my Lands End dress trousers into tattered, grass-stained tug-of-war rags.
“Do you mind if I check you?” the officer asks.
“Please do,” I say.
He checks my powerchair thoroughly, pats me down, and instructs me through the metal detector, lined by an exceptional number of security personnel. I roll through, barely fitting through the detector, my powerchair triggering the alarm, and continue on, ten feet or so past it, where I look back, thinking I’m all clear – shoes on, no dog bites or grass stains – and I wait for others in my group behind me, still going through security.
Directly in front of me is the quintessential Secret Service agent – six-foot-something, black suit, ear piece, standing with legs spread and hands folded. And, he looks me right in my eyes, expressionless. “Hi there,” I say casually, smiling.
His eyes slowly move up from mine, notably looking to someone behind me. “Search him,” he simply says without moving a muscle.
A finger taps my shoulder, and it’s another uniformed officer. “I have to check you, sir,” he says. “Did the dogs already search you?”
There’s a right and a wrong answer to that question, too, and I just think to myself, “I’m a rag doll.”