by Justice William W. Bedsworth
Well . . . here we go again. Another month, another Criminal Waste of Space.
The good news is I don’t have another forty years in me. You needn’t worry about me showing up in this space for another four decades.
The even better news is that I’m not on the cover this month.
But the bad news is that I’m not done yet. What Judge Gary Pohlson once referred to as “that attic city you call a mind” is not yet empty. And I’m going to continue to clear it out every month as long as you’ll afford me the opportunity. You’ll probably have to pay to have me hauled away.
Because the world I see seems to have a default setting of “full tilt boggle.” And my tenuous hold on sanity is bolstered by the chance to express my recurrent and pretty much perpetual astonishment here.
For example . . . It’s been over a year since I was in an airplane. Airplane? Hell, I rarely get into a car anymore. A trip to the market requires a full hazmat suit, an oxygen tank, a flamethrower, and a Sherpa guide. I hope manned flight returns during my lifetime but right now my optimism is fully deployed on other fronts, and I have little to spare.
So, having spent months looking at photos of empty airports, I was a little taken aback when an incident involving the Transportation Safety Administration leaped off the page at me.1 It appears TSA has gone a long ways toward establishing that the killer virus has no effect on weirdness.
My friend Kevin Underhill (of LoweringTheBar.net) described it in words I could not ignore: “TSA Thwarts Frozen-Chicken Plot.” I mean, truth be told, I’d read that story first if the one next to it was headlined, “World to End on Thursday.”
You just know it’s gonna be a story that makes somebody look foolish, don’t you? You know TSA is gonna come out of this with a little less dignity. Schadenfreude has its place, and after the cat crawled onto your shoulder while you were lecturing to a national zoom webinar,2 you could use a story about someone else’s dignity taking a hit.
Besides, you know a frozen-chicken plot can’t be anything real.
Or do you?
It’s the Twenty-First Century, folks. Conspiracy Theory is now regarded as a science. We have “alternative facts.”
Half the country thinks Elvis is alive and living in a basement rec room in Tupelo. A member of Congress is concerned about Jewish space lasers3 and thinks the Parkland school shooting was a hoax.4 If there are frozen chicken plots, I want to know about them so I can protect my refrigerator.5
So here’s what happened. TSA bag x-ray showed a weird-looking mass in a suitcase. The mass had what looked like wires sticking out of it and was of a density not too different from that of explosives.
This is probably where I should mention that this is all taking place in Lafayette, Louisiana. I’ve never been to Lafayette (the home of the Ragin’ Cajun athletic teams) but it’s a city of 126,666 souls—big, but not exactly the major leagues of airports. I’m sure there are TSA agents there who are just a couple of four-hit games removed from Atlanta or New Orleans, but they may need a little more seasoning before they’re ready for megalopolis-level crazy.
So one of them saw the weird object with wires sticking out, hit the “suspicious package” button, and all hell broke loose. Shut down the airport for an hour while they tried to figure out what they had.
And what they had was not explosives. What they had wasn’t even explosive—at least not unless left out in the sun for a few hours.
What they had was a frozen chicken stuffed with crawfish.6 Next to a miner’s headlamp. The light on the miner’s headlamp was connected to a battery pack and the wires appeared on x-ray to be emanating from the frozen chicken.
In fairness to the TSA agents who shut down the airport, what are the odds of a frozen chicken being packed next to a miner’s headlamp? Who does that?
I mean, imagine yourself a TSA agent.7 You’re going through your 1543rd consecutive shift without finding a bomb or a gun and all of a sudden you come up with this weird shape with wires coming out of it.
If you asked the owner about it and he said, “Uh . . . um . . . that’s just a frozen chicken stuffed with crawfish. The wires? Uh . . . yeah, the wires . . . um . . . oh, I know, those must be from the miner’s headlamp I packed next to the chicken . . . yeah, uh, I was planning to do a little mining in . . . um . . . Chicago,” wouldn’t you have called for backup?
I mean, that’s exactly the kind of cockamamie story you’d expect from a homegrown terrorist, isn’t it? Wouldn’t that have convinced you that you were dealing with D. B. Cooper’s bomb-toting grandson? Wouldn’t you have resigned your job on the spot and run like hell to get out of the airport before the timer detonated?
Who packs a frozen chicken and a miner’s headlamp? I mean, the frozen chicken I’m ready to accept. Especially stuffed with crawfish. That might be worth lugging across state lines.
And TSA does not regard that as suspicious. They have rules for frozen-chicken toting: “Meat, seafood, vegetables and other non-liquid food items are permitted in both carry-on and checked bags. If the food is packed with ice or ice packs in a cooler or other container, the ice or ice packs must be completely frozen when brought through screening.”
Now, I don’t know how you are going to be able to keep your ice completely frozen unless you live in the airport like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. I mean, ice melts. That’s what it does. Especially in Louisiana, where you’d have to leave home with a glacier to have a decent icepack when you drove into the airport parking lot.
But that’s the rule. Your chicken stuffed with crawfish is perfectly legal. And your miner’s headlamp is also legal, if for no other reason than that no one had ever come up with a reason why it shouldn’t be. But in the history of the planet, how many times do you think someone has packed a miner’s headlamp next to a frozen chicken in a suitcase?
And if you were planning to be the next one, here’s the MCLE portion of today’s column: They turn out to be like balsamic vinegar and baking soda: you get ’em too close together and it’s red lights, klaxons, and unholstered tasers.
Your call. Me, I’d stick the frozen chicken under my arm and wear the miner’s headlamp. But, come to think of it, that would probably get the “suspicious package” button pushed, too.
No, if you were missing Cancun or Cabo or Hawaii or anyplace else you can’t get to without flying,8 Punxsutawney Beds has just seen a shadow in the shape of a frozen chicken and dived back into his burrow. You might wanna consider doing the same thing.
Because the virus isn’t the only thing to fear. Somewhere out there is a guy who travels with a frozen chicken stuffed with crawfish and a miner’s headlamp.
(1) “Leaped off the page” is the sort of overwrought metaphor you use when you’ve come to regard restaurant buffets and Costcos as potential killing fields. I decided to leave it in just to demonstrate how hard it is to write under these conditions. Lower your expectations in the first two hundred words and you are less likely to be disappointed by the rest.
(2) Yes, as a matter of fact, that did happen to me.
(3) I sure wish someone had told me when I was a boy being dragged off to church that Jews had space lasers; I think that’s the kind of thing you have a right to know when you’re choosing a religion.
(4) How does anybody write satire anymore? They may finally have to shut down Saturday Night Live because the newspapers—those that survive—will be funnier.
(5) “Get out the masking tape, Martha! The commies are plottin’ to break into the Frigidaire.”
(6) Did I mention this was Louisiana?
(7) Or don’t. I don’t want to lose you over this; I figure my hold on you is already pretty tenuous.
(8) Hello, Seneca Falls.
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. A Criminal Waste of Space won Best Column in California in 2018 from the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA). And look for his latest book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Vandeplas Publishing. He can be contacted at email@example.com.