It was 4:52pm and I had to have some documents filed at my local county courthouse by 5:00pm. I had calculated the time it would take to accomplish my errand down to the last nano-second and I was sticking to my schedule like a high speed monorail with a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder thrown in for good measure. I was in the final stretch, and I was approaching my target like I had a GPS device implanted in my already too cramped cranium. I’m not going to get into a bunch of details, but the documents I was filing were highly important to my continued well being, and I had labored over them under a constant state of mega-stress for weeks. I had put off preparing them for the better part of a year. I had pushed the envelope of diligence, preparedness, and good sense right up to the very brink of disaster. I didn’t need, and couldn’t afford, to suffer any bullshit. As I’m sure you know, it is times like this when great boatloads of the afore mentioned B.S. always seem to find their way to a position located directly above my bewilderingly attractive head. Today was no different.
I walked into the front of the courthouse, and approached the official 9/11 memorial anti-terror metal detecting threshold that is now a fixture in most courthouses around the country. There weren’t any guards standing at the ready as I approached the x-ray conveyor belt, which didn’t bother me. I know the drill. I was perfectly happy to do my own homeland humiliation. I walked briskly to the little table that sits in front of the magnetic gateway and proceeded to place all of the objects made out of metal that were in my possession into the little Tupperware tub that had been placed there for my convenience. As I did this, four security guards came rushing out of a doorway behind the conveyor that looked like it lead into a room that used to be used as a small coatroom. One rushed over to a position in front of the x-ray monitor and started scanning the screen for anything that might be moving through on the conveyor belt. Another one jumped on the other side of the magnetic gateway as if to block any attempt I might make to pass through without doing the required “I’m a subservient citizen striptease”. The third guard out of the closet was a pasty faced, Napoleonic looking little troll with greasy hair, and what seemed to be the onset of some kind of nervous disorder. He hurried right over to me shaking his little head, waving his little hands, and repeating the phrase, “OK, hold on there! Hold on there! Hold on there! Hold on there! OK.” The fourth rent-a-cop positioned himself on a nearby step, with one hand on his gun and the other on his official security guard radio microphone. He had that look on his face that lets lowly civilians like me know that he is ready, willing, and able to shoot me, call it in, and then figure out some good reason for having done it.
I hadn’t moved, and I remained still as a statue with an “OK, I’m holding on there,” look on my pleasantly featured face. The nervous little power troll came well within my personal circle of comfort and started admonishing me that I couldn’t just pass through this checkpoint. I had to be checked out. I had to go through the security procedure. It was for my own good. This had to be done to ensure everyone’s safety and security. It wasn’t going to take long, if I would just cooperate with him and comply with his requests. Everybody had to do this. I wasn’t being singled out. It wasn’t that bad. It would only take a minute. I had probably had to do this before. This was going to be easy. I wasn’t supposed to worry. He just wanted me to slow down for a minute. There wasn’t any need to rush. The courthouse wasn’t going anywhere ( he chuckled at his little attempt to make a big person’s joke).
Ever still as a statue, I didn’t move.
“OK, now I need to take a step backward.”
I took a step backward.
“OK, now I need you to take everything out of your pockets,” he said.
Without moving anything else, I turned my head to look at the Tupperware tub that had been placed at the table for my convenience and which was now holding everything I had that was made with metal. It included a lighter, a pen, a paint can opener, my wallet, my keys, and a couple of paper clips.
“I put everything in the tub,” I said.
“So, you don’t have anything else in your pockets?” he quipped.
“Nothing metal,” I responded.
"OK, now. You need to listen to me. I need you to take everything out of your pockets. So, your telling me that if I pat you down I’m not going to find any receipts, or gum, or hankies, or anything? I’m not going to find weapons or drugs or medications? I’m not going to find any address books, or maybe treats for your dog, or cat, or sunglasses?"
I didn’t move. I said, “I thought I just had to take out the things that were made of metal.”
Troll boy became somewhat agitated. I noticed that his reaction caused the other guards to become a bit agitated as well. The wanna-be-a lawman on the step gripped the butt of his gun a little tighter.
The female security dolt behind the x-ray monitor piped in and said, "You better pay attention to the directions, Sir. Things don’t have to get difficult."
The guard on the other side of the magnetic gate chimed in with, “Yeah, you don’t have to make things difficult, now.”
The cop-flop on the step gripped his weapon a little tighter.
“I may have a couple of receipts in my pocket,” I said.
"OK, now I’ve asked you to empty your pockets. Are you refusing to comply?” the troll asked as he took an aggressive little step toward me.
“Not at all,” I said as I went to search my pockets.
“OK, big guy. Just slow it on down now. Let’s just take this nice and easy,” he said.
I pulled out a couple of pieces of note paper and a receipt and handed them to him.
“See now? That’s the way to do it. This is for your own safety. We’re all on the same team here. Right?” He said.
“Sure,” I answered. “Can I go through now?”
“All in good time now. We’re not running any races here. There aren’t any winners. There aren’t any losers. Are there?”
He waited until I agreed that there were no winners or losers.
The badged boy scout reject moved slowly over to the table and the Tupperware tub that had been placed there for my convenience. He slowly looked at each item that I had placed inside. Suddenly his face became aglow with the kind of illumination one would expect to see on the face of a tomb raider who had just discovered the Holy Grail. He slowly and gently picked up my paint can opener and held it in front of his face. He inspected every millimeter of the tool and when he had etched the entire image onto the palette of the grey matter he was using as a brain, he lifted one eyebrow in a most inquisitive manner and whispered, “What do we have here?”
The other three guards now appeared to become soldiers of a grand inquisition and their gazes fixed upon me as if to say, “Indeed!”
“A paint can opener, Sir.” I replied, trying not to sound like one of the waifs in the story Oliver Twist.
“A paint can opener?” Said the grand inquisitor. We don’t allow paint can openers past the check point! Don’t you know better that to bring a…why, a…paint can opener here to the seat of justice in this county? Why this could be construed as being a deadly weapon.” He hissed.
A paint can opener, as you know, is a thin piece of metal measuring approximately 4 inches long which has been bent into a triangle shaped bottle opener at one end. At the other end, the tip has been flattened like that of a screwdriver. Then, it is blunted by a curve at the tip that allows one to insert it under the cap of a can of paint.
I will make this brief.
I apologized to the guard for making such a faux pas, and asked if he could hold on to it for about five minutes while I filed my documents with the court’s clerk.
He and the other guards informed me that they were not allowed to do this and that my little tool would have to be confiscated and disposed of in a manner that would preclude me from being able to retrieve it. I asked him if I could take a look at the little tool again and when he handed it to me, I took three steps to the front door, opened it and threw the thing so that it landed on top of a garbage can about ten feet in front of the courthouse entry.
Well, my friends, we now had trouble. Right here in River City – with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for paint can opener.
“Oh! You’re gonna be very sorry you did that! You are going straight to jail!” The guard yelled.
The little bastard then proceeded to leave his post, exit the building, retrieve my little paint can opener, and bring it back inside of the courthouse.
“You’re not getting this, Buster! This is going in the trash, and you are going straight to jail with a big fine!”
“Yes, yes,” the other guards agreed.
“Well in that case, I’ve got to get these documents filed immediately,” I said. I then grabbed my stuff from the Tupperware tub that had been placed there for my convenience, and ran through the metal detector and around the guard who had been blocking my clear path up until that time.
“You get back here right now! You haven’t been fully wanded! You are not cleared!”
“You got my paint can opener, what kind of a threat could I possibly pose?”
“You are in serious trouble, Buster!” He yelled as I ran down the hall.
When I arrived at the clerk’s desk I slid my documents through the glass partition in time to have them stamped at 4:58pm. I thanked the helpful woman behind the glass and in a most off handed manner and tone asked her if I could speak with her about a matter that had to do with the court’s security procedures. Without missing a beat, she responded that matters related to paint can openers were handled through the administrator’s office two floors above.
“They retrieved it from outside and threw it away!” I pleaded.
“It’s ridiculous, those bozos are not with the county. They are contract security providers and they pull that kind of crap all day long. Nobody usually has the courage to stand up to them because they think that they can get charged with some kind of Homeland Security terrorist crime, and the damn thing is, you actually can!”
“Well if there is one thing I’m willing to take a stand on, it’s my G-d given right to bear an American made paint can opener, and to freely place that asset in a place where I can be sure that it will either remain untouched or be stolen by someone who has as little need for it as I do. I’ll not be bullied into surrendering a perfectly useless and easily replaceable item without fighting with every ounce of by being to the very end!”
“There are those who wish they could take up such a pathetic little cause, but are prevented from doing so because they have lives of meaning. I speak for all of them when I say that I salute you. Go to the second floor. Godspeed, my son.” Said the clerk, and with that I was on my way.
I darted around the corner from the clerk’s desk and found the stairway. When I arrived at the administrators office there were two county sheriff’s deputies waiting just inside the door. I didn’t even get to address the administrator when one of the deputies advised me to keep my hands out of my pockets. You know, you can’t outrun a radio. The little midget militia had gotten on the horn and alerted the sheriff’s deputies. I still wasn’t beaten though.
“Are you the guy who had some issue with the security guards over a paint can opener?”
“Well, yes I am. I was just going to report it to the court administrator,” I said.
“We’ll take it from here,” the deputy responded.
“Step outside and keep your hands where we can see them,” he continued.
I stepped outside as instructed and told the deputies that the entire matter had been a big misunderstanding.
“We hear that allot,” one of the deputies told me.
“The funny thing is, that guard made a big deal about a little paint can opener, but look at this,” I said as I produced my pen from my pocket.
The deputies flinched and told me not to reach for anything else without telling them. I agreed.
“You see this pen? Its about two inches longer that my paint can opener and look, It tapers down to a solid brass tip that is pointed and super sharp. I mean, I could take this and…” I held the pen like a dagger and made stabbing motions, Then, I realized what I was doing. So did the deputies. After a somewhat pregnant pause, one of the deputies held out his hand. I placed the pen in his open palm.
“Let’s go downstairs and see what the other side has to say. You lead the way, ” he said.
I agreed and walked in front of the deputies down to the entry checkpoint. The Napoleonic nubhead had a crap eating smirk on his pinched up little face. The deputies asked me to wait outside, which I did.
I could see the greasy stain of a guard becoming very animated as he gave his side of the story to the deputies. Finally, after a few minutes, the deputies stepped outside and approached me.
“How did you put the paint can opener outside?” One of the deputies asked.
“Well, I tossed it on top of the garbage can there,” I said.
The guards had made their way to the doors and, I swear, they were making faces at me through the windows.
“Right,” said one of the deputies. “That was an act that could be considered littering. You could be arrested for that, given a hefty fine, or both.”
“I did not know that. I certainly wouldn’t have done what I did had I known,” I said.
One of the deputies produced my paint can opener and my pen and gave them to me. He paused before putting them into my hand and said, “We were told that you didn’t have the best attitude when this whole thing started.”
“You know, I may have been a little less than cordial. I promise you, Sir, that I will never bring anything like a paint can opener to the courthouse again. And I will keep my attitude in check as well. I am so sorry for all of this.”
The deputy put the paint can opener and my pen into my hand and said, “See that you do.”
The deputies turned and went back into the courthouse. I watched them walk down the hall and around the corner. The guards peered out of the windows in the front doors at me. I don’t know exactly what overcame me, but I had the uncontrollable urge to start doing this ridiculous jig of a dance whilst using my paint can opener in a mad pantomime that resembled the opening of hundreds of little paint cans. The guards were aghast. I could see the head guard talking on his radio frantically, but I just kept on dancing. I kept it up until I looked through the windows in the front doors of the courthouse and saw the deputies come around the corner at the end of the long entry hall. They saw me too.
With no time to waste, I bounded across the front courtyard to my girlfriends waiting auto. She was honking by now and asking me what in the hell I was doing. I jumped into the car and told her to floor it.
She refused, of course, and asked me why I had to do things like this.
I told her that I do the things I do, not for myself, but for the silent masses of Americans just like her who treasure their freedom.
“I do these things for you,” I said.
“Well, I wish you would stop,” she said.
I just smiled.
“Hey! Is that my paint can opener?” she yelled as she grabbed it from my hand.
Later that night, and for the next few days, the news was filled with reports about a gunman, a kid, who went to a mall somewhere in Nebraska and opened fire on shoppers killing 8 of them before killing himself. He had an AK47 assault rifle and a couple of handguns. There was no mention of a paint can opener.