Air-Porting Your Dirty Laundry
Dear Gil: Do you know if the Red Light/Green Light system at the airports here is truly random. Or do they “give” you the red light if you look suspicious? I have a good reason for asking, but I can’t say what it is. Don’t get the wrong idea. I am not planning to do anything wrong or illegal. I just look suspicious, and it makes me paranoid—that’s why I live in Yelapa. Everybody looks almost as suspicious as me in Yelapa, so I don’t feel so…
Dear Freddie: First of all, Freddie, let me apologize for not publishing the other twenty-five pages of your letter. As much as I enjoyed reading about your “prostate situation” and the “unexcusable (sic) lack of authentic Chinese food in Yelapa”, we simply do not have enough room.
As for your question, outside of the actual airport personnel themselves, I am one of the few human beings in the Western hemisphere who knows for an absolute fact the answer to your question. Answering it directly, however, would be a federal offense. And so I will have to leave it to you, Freddie, to read between the contraband-sniffing dogs, the bomb-sniffing dogs and the enlarged prostate-sniffing dogs; to, in other words, decipher the data for yourself.
It was a slow day at the Venustiano Calzado Obregon Josefina De Ortiz International Airport. Mid-September, the bottom of low-season, and traffic was thin. I picked up my lone suitcase at the carrousel without incident and headed for the customs line. When my turn came, I pushed the button, and for the first time in my life I was given the red light.
The two customs officials manning and womanning their posts led me politely over to a small table where, with equal civility, they asked if I was introducing any new and valuable item into their glorious country.
“No,” I was able to say truthfully, at least on this occasion.
“Would you please open your suitcase?” the female officer asked deferentially.
“Con mucho gusto,” I said, switching to Spanish in order to show them that I was, in fact, on their side.
Undoing the latches on my bag and flipping up the lid, I was greeted by a rather surprising sight.
The two customs officials were looking a wee bit surprised themselves. “Sir,” the woman asked, “are you absolutely certain this is your suitcase?”
“Well it sure looks like it on the outside,” I spluttered, “but this stuff inside is…is…”
“You’re not traveling with your daughter?” the man asked hopefully, dangling from his thumb and forefinger the top of a very small two-piece bathing suit.
“No, I don’t have a daughter,” I replied.
“And you are not traveling with someone else’s daughter,” she asked, holding up for my inspection a child’s bright yellow skirt.
“Not that I know of.”
“Then these are your clothes?”
“With all due respect,” I said, “even an experienced transvestite would have difficulty getting into that thing. And,” I added in a doomed attempt to lighten the mood, “I look absolutely awful in canary yellow.”
The officials, to my dismay, did not even crack a smile.
“And that bathing suit top,” I went on indignantly, “what do you suppose I would do with that—use it for a wrist band?”
“That is what we would like to know,” the man said.
“Please don’t take this personally,” the woman said diplomatically, “but we have been experiencing a lot of trouble lately with foreign perverts. That is why we would like to know what you are doing with these clothes.”
“Do I look like a pervert?” I demanded.
“Well…” the man said noncommittally.
“Has it occurred to anyone,” I pointed out, “that I may have grabbed the wrong suitcase by accident?”
“Then you are claiming that you are not a pervert?”
“Right, I am not a pervert. At least not in the traditional sense.”
“What does that mean?” the man asked.
“I was joking,” I explained.
“This is not a joking matter, sir.”
“All right,” I sighed with defeat, “I am prepared to make it official: this is not my suitcase.”
“This is not your suitcase,” the woman repeated dubiously.
“Is there an echo in here?” I demanded of the ceiling.
“There it is--that’s my suitcase!” a small shrill voice suddenly cried.
Turning around we saw a small family standing behind us with a tear-stained girl around seven years of age pointing an accusatory finger in my direction. Her bulky father, who looked like a steroid-wrecked over-hyped ex-linebacker, was holding what I was certain must be my own errant suitcase.
“See, I told you,” I told the customs officials.
“This is your suitcase?” the angry father said.
“Yes, you can see they are nearly identical. That’s how…”
“Didn’t you check the number against your baggage stub?” he demanded with reproach.
“It was an honest mistake,” I said.
“You should have checked the stub,” he insisted.
“His suitcase,” the little girl said, choking back tears, “is filled with dirty laundry. And everyone thought it was mine. I was so embarrassed!”
“Let’s see that suitcase,” the customs woman said.
The father laid it down on the counter and stood there glaring at me.
“Life is short,” I said to him. “Don’t you want to start your vacation now—while there’s still time?”
“I want to make sure this thing gets straightened out,” he said.
“It is straightened out, honey,” his wife said. “Nancy has her suitcase. Let’s go.”
“Your suitcase is filled with dirty laundry,” the customs man said to me.
“That is correct,” I said. “Do I have to pay duty?”
“Don’t get smart, sir” the woman said. “What are you doing coming on vacation with a suitcase of dirty laundry?”
“I’m not coming on vacation; I live here.”
“You live here, sir?” the woman asked.
“That’s your excuse, sir?” the man said.
“It’s no excuse,” I said, attempting to control my temper. “Haven’t you ever come back from a vacation with a bunch of dirty laundry?”
“Well, trust me,” I said, “it happens all the time.”
“That’s not necessarily true,” the irate father interrupted. “Many people on vacation visit Laundromats, or even the dry-cleaners.”
“Everyone was staring at me,” the little girl whimpered. “When I opened the suitcase, it was so stinky, I almost puked!”