In a last-minute decision while killing time in the duty-free shop in the international wing of the Sao Paulo airport,I bought a box of Fine Cuban Cigars. I was thinking to myself that I’d probably avoid getting randomly searched by customs in Mexico City or back in the good ol’ Communist-hating US of A – Chicago. Why not?
I was wrong,of course. I successfully avoided dealing with the Mexican Federales,whom probably didn’t care about a box of Fine Cuban Cigars anyhow. But,thanks to our dedicated force of airport border Homeland Security officers,I was randomly selected to be searched by hand.
“Where are you coming from?”
“Well,I certainly don’t have a sister living there illegally.”
“Do you have any alcohol,tobacco,or food with you?”
“No. Of course not,sir. I’m a good American citizen just like yourself,proud of the work you are doing.” And salute.
I wasn’t taken completely by surprise. I had taken precautions. The box of Fine Cuban Cigars were stashed at the bottom of my carry-on backpack along with my laptop and the book I was reading – Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. But I had brought several books; I put them all in the backpack on top of the box of Fine Cuban Cigars,which was still wrapped in the duty-free package. There was also the ripped-up torn copy of The Economist magazine: several pages had been torn off,which I used to wrap up the package in a very hap-hazard and messy method. Then the package of complimentary sleep-junk AeroMexico gave out on the plane. Then some packaging from a box of cookies that Jen was going to throw out. My studio headphones. Another pair of headphones. The ipod cable. The laptop power supply,carefully tangling the cable around the growing mass. Ah,an uneaten biscuit wrapped in a package. A couple of pens,some paper,a notepad,receipts,lint…
The officer opened my backpack first. Which was good – there were two large suitcases with me that he had yet to search. He found the manual for the Nikon D70 SLR camera I had with me,and we started talking about cameras. He’s an amateur photographer – just purchased the D90,he said. Talked about speed of the camera,other models,pictures of Brazil,etc etc.
He was still grilling me: see if I’d slip and say I hadn’t been to Rio when I previously said I was. But I was doing mine: keep him distracted from the back just long enough for him to give up on the giant mass of crap inside…
He had made it down to the wrapped Box of Fine Cuban Cigars,but threw it back in and zipped up the backpack,moving on to my two suitcases. One of which was about to provide him with the wonderful scent of pure mildew from the wet swimming clothes. The exit’s through there – welcome back to America,you communist-loving terrorist-supporting bastard. Not that it makes a whole lot of sense: Cuba’s already got my money,whether I smoke the damn things or not.
My dad said it well: “One man’s terrorism is another man’s fine smoke.”