For underarms or armed threat: P&G's Secret as a secret weapon

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Procter & gamble, you have a problem, and it isn't only whether to move ahead on the deals to buy American Home Products and Warner-Lambert. To put it as succinctly as I can, the security guards at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago think you manufacture dangerous weapons.

I am not citing hearsay evidence. I can vouch for this firsthand (well, secondhand, because my wife Merrilee was the one packing the alleged weapon). Here's what happened.

We were going through baggage security at O'Hare with plenty of time to catch our plane. I got through with no problem, but Merrilee was detained and asked to open her suitcase.

The security man started rummaging through her suitcase and quickly located her aerosol can of Secret deodorant. "You can't take this on board. It's flammable." He then showed her the word "flammable" on the side of the can.

The security guy added that Merrilee could spray the deodorant in someone's face, like mace, and use it as a weapon. So she wouldn't be allowed to carry the canister on board the plane. "You can go to the security area counter and check it as baggage if you wish," the man said. Merrilee's protestations were of no avail.

By this time I was about to leave the security area. I saw the guy rezip Merrilee's suitcase (not knowing he had confiscated the can of Secret) so I walked on ahead. When I stopped to allow her to catch up with me, she was nowhere in sight.

I wasn't concerned (big mistake). I assumed she'd stopped at a newsstand or went to the ladies room, and would catch up to me at the gate. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Meanwhile, Merrilee was desperately trying to signal me that she was being detained. She asked if she could pass by the security area for a moment to let me know what was going on, but another security man stepped in front of her. He told her she could not, under any circumstances, go into the terminal with her "weapon." Merrilee then asked the man if he could watch her Secret while she dashed after me, but he said he could not be responsible for it.

Now Merrilee could have just let the authorities confiscate the dumb can of Secret, but she decided to let her little adventure play out. So she waited about 15 minutes at the security counter where questionable items are checked through as baggage. Finally, a young man appeared

"What do we need to check that wouldn't have made it through security?" he asked. She plopped her Secret on the countertop. The guy looked stunned. Merrilee wondered if this happened often. "Usually I get people with knives that are too long. This is my first deodorant case."

Merrilee asked if he was going to put a baggage tag on the can and put it on the conveyer belt. He laughed and said he'd have to put it in a little travel box. He taped the can inside the box, taped the box closed and had Merrilee write her name and address on the box. He handed Merrilee the receipt and she was released from custody.

By now I had visions of Merrilee being kidnapped. I had looked for her at other gates and had gone back to the security area (she had left for the baggage check counter). Finally I called her on her cell phone. After many rings, she answered and just said she'd been detained and would tell me about it when she saw me. When I hung up she was 20 feet away, and not in a very jocular mood. I was relieved to see her.

I guess we could have not waited around for our little travel box containing a single can of Secret deodorant when we got to our destination (we didn't check through anything else), but Merrilee sort of hoped her box would get lost and she could demand that they deliver it to our home when it turned up after going half-way around the world. But it was one of the first items on the baggage belt, amid everybody's bulging suitcases. So we picked up our dangerous cargo and went home.

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