Tuesday, June 15, 2004

SATMATC 10: Customs

I couldn't let y'all stew overnight. I'm tired, though, so I'll just get you over the hump, then I'm off to watch the rest of "White Zombie."

There wasn't anything we could do about Shea's vomit. I just got him to wipe off his face, and then dragged him out the side door, across a sidewalk, and into a cold, brightly lit "reception area." In the middle of this were several dozen padded benches. At one end was a tall countertop, behind which stood the largest man I have ever seen in uniform.

I only have to make that qualification because I worked for a couple of summers with the right tackle for the University of Tulsa, who was six foot six and about three hundred and fifty pounds. This guy was every bit as tall, but was even more impressive because he had on a big ass pistol belt. One look at this guy and I could see he was NOT fucking around. He was in the business of catching fuckups like me and Shea, and I could tell he was looking forward to grilling us over the next few hours. As is usually the case when the cops know they got you, he was excessively polite:

"Gentlemen, please read and sign these documents." He spun a couple of identical clipboards around in our direction. "Identification, please." I pulled out my wallet, reluctantly, and after a second I heard Shea: "uh, sir, my wallet's in the car." I looked over--he was even more green than he'd been out in the parking lot.

I read the papers, and the papers made me want to puke. They said that I was willingly giving up all my rights as a US citizen until Hoss was good and done with me, and that if I wasn't willing to sign the sheet, that I could just go right the fuck back to Canada and think it over. Or at least, I could go deal with the Canadian customs people--and I had the feeling these guys were in cahoots out here, staring at each other across that bridge all day and night.

(actually, I don't think you can see the other bunch of guys from the border, but never mind that)

In essence, we were caught in a rundown. I signed my papers, leaning heavily on my elbows because I wasn't very confident in my knees at this point. I'd heard something from one of the girls in Michigan about the Canucks considering each hit of LSD a count of involuntary manslaughter, or attempted murder, or some shit like that--and here I was, sitting on a hundred lot. Fucking moron. And then it struck me: this is technically international drug trafficking! I'd been trying not to think about it like that, but faced with an actual US Border Patrol/Marshal/Customs Officer (I couldn't bear to look too closely at him, lest he take offense and pull my head off my neck), it was a hard thought to avoid.

"What I'm going to do, gentlemen, is take your car keys, have a look around your car, and then come back. You should sit down on one of those benches over there to wait. This might take a while."

I was sweating like you wouldn't believe, and so was Shea. The cop turned and left, with my car keys in one huge hand. At the corner he turned his head and, pleasantly, said "is there anything you wanted to tell me?"

I thought we were dead, kids, because my head involuntarily jerked over to see what Shea was doing--of the two of us, I had the most to lose, which means I had a whole lot more incentive to keep my cool. Shea, on the other hand...

Shea was in the process of picking out a seat already, and I guess the cop thought I was shaking my head, because he was gone by the time I turned back to him. Maybe he was just being funny.

Thus began one of the strangest periods of my life.

I sat. I thought furiously, and I always came round to the fact that everything in the world that pertained to me was on hold. The only people who knew where we were, right then, were cops. Even my fucking parents had no idea where I was. We'd last talked to Sean 10 or 12 hours before, and given our nature, he'd wait another two or three days before launching a search--unless he saw us on the news, which up in that part of the world, I can imagine it would.

I sat, and I thought. I wondered if I could run, and if so, how far I would get. I was in pretty good shape, and it wasn't TOO cold, but my car was something I couldn't just walk away from. And then there was Shea. The only thing worse than being on the run with him would be being on the run knowing he was still within the grippers of authority. No, I thought, I should just be cool. And start thinking about how I could afford a lawyer.

Time stopped. We sweated. Kids, I can't tell you how long we sat there, even though I stared at a clock the entire time, ticking above the door the cop would re-enter. It could have been an hour. It could have been three hours. Maybe it was half an hour. But it felt like 8 hours of sweating, knee jiggling, and studiously avoiding looking at anyone. No one was in the room with us, but I could see other police type figures in the next room, who glanced at us curiously from time to time. Shea whispered something to me, staring straight ahead and trying not to move his lips. Like it mattered. "What was that?" I said, purposely too loud. He flinched.

"do you know Sean's phone number? I've lost it."

Fuck. Double fuck. So much for our only connection in state, presuming he'd even, uh, recognize us given his current situation.

A lifetime later, my clock watching paid off: the cop reentered. He stood inside the door and stared at us, from fifty or sixty feet away. His arms were at his sides, and I couldn't see his hands, but he appeared to be agitated.

"Gentlemen, please step over here."

We approached, as he stepped behind another counter. Behind him, I could see another, far less comfortable room. It was brilliantly lit, with plain tables, tape recorders, and folding chairs. I recognized it as an interrogation room, and my heart sank. Further, someone came out of a door at the back of that room, and I saw a sort of bathroom/privacy area. This is where they strip search you, children--I'd already been in areas like that a couple of times (well, once before, at that time), and I know one when I see one. The humiliation sort of oozes out under the door, even when there's no one in there.

Petrified, is the word you're looking for. I certainly was.

The cop had been quiet til now, allowing me (us, I guess) to take in what was behind him. He spoke, and I looked back at him. His two clenched fists were hovering about six inches above the counter top. They were massive.

"Gentlemen," he rumbled.

I thought to myself, this is it. It's either a bunch of drugs or my fuckin' car keys. We're going to know in about 2 seconds.

The cop looked at me, and then looked at Shea. Shea was standing at attention, completely giving us away (or so I thought--hell, I knew we were guilty), biting the inside of one cheek. The cop looked at me, and opened his hands.

"Have a nice stay in New York." Out dropped my car keys, and our ID's.

I'm breathing deeply just remembering it, ladies and gents.

But almost as soon as I registered what he'd said, my club wielding brain section started whippin' on my chihuahua brain section, because the worst thing you can possibly do when the cops didn't find your stash is caper about and shout "yahoo!" No, you must spend every single microgram of thought energy making sure Shea doesn't caper about and shout "yahoo!"

So I croaked out a heartfelt "thank you, sir," and hustled Shea out to the car.

On the passenger seat of the car were three ID's. One was Shea's fake ID, showing him to be 23 years old. One was his brother's old ID, again, showing him to be older than he was. The third was an Oklahoma ID card, showing him to be his proper age. I was aghast, and understood why he was so worried about his ID's--his actual OK driver's license was in his hand, and you're not supposed to have more than one kind of state issued ID here.

On my seat was a hand grenade.

I'd completely forgotten I had it. It was a dummy grenade, something I'd purchased as a knickknack when I was in middle school and making the rounds of gun/knife shows with my dad. I'd carried it around for years, in the center console of my car, and never given it a second thought. I wanted to throw it into the woods, but I was afraid the guy in the glass booth would freak out and call the bomb squad.

Shaken, we both got into the car. I started it up, and began counting the stripes that my hood ate up. Once we were out of sight of the bridge, I pulled over and began to hyperventilate. "Oh fuck," I repeated. I said it again, and again, and then again, until Shea put his hand on my shoulder and said "dude, we did it. Here, light this shit up."

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. My hands were shaking so badly that he had to light it, and hold it for me. "Oh, fuck," I said. "That's the best shit I ever smoked in my life."


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