I woke up on the airplane, and the chiropractor was tapping my arm. He was sitting in the empty seat across the aisle and leaning towards me speaking with a conspiratorial whisper.
“Dude!” he smiled. “I’m sorry to wake you, but I want to talk with you.”
“That’s okay,” I said rousing, shifting carefully so as not to wake my 7-year old who slept limply on my lap.
“Man, she’s really out, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said, stroking her hair. “She’s had a busy week.”
I slid the plastic window shade up and asked, “Where are we?” I looked out over a range of serrated, sun-glint mountains that seemed to fall off the rounded earth.
“I don’t know,” the chiropractor said. “I think that’s the Alps.”
I peered at the dazzling snowcaps for a moment then slid the shade back down and turned to my newfound friend.
“So what’s up?”
He spoke quietly. “I wanted to talk with you, you know… about your job.”
“Well, I just wanted to tell you that I’m a fan of the magazine. I’ve been reading it for years.”
“Well, thank you. I really appreciate that.”
I had met him a few hours earlier while waiting in line at the Cairo Airport. He told me he was a chiropractor from Schenectady, and that he and his lovely young wife were tourists returning home after their second trip to Egypt.
“I wanted to tell you that I’m not a tourist,” he confessed.
“No, man,” he whispered. “I’m smuggling hash.”
There was a long moment of silence above the white noise of a jet engine. Finally, I managed to say, “You’re…”
“Smuggling hash,” he confirmed as his face broke into a goofy grin.
“Smuggling hash?” I parroted, not knowing what else to say.
“Yah!” he said bright-eyed, nodding his head.
“Well… Um, good luck.”
“Yah. I just wanted to let you know.”
“Um… Cool. Thanks.”
“Yah. Much respect!” he said and, squeezing my hand, slipped something small in the crook of my palm.
“Later, dude,” he got up and walked to the back of the plane. I never saw him again. I looked down in my hand and saw a gram of Egyptian black hash.
I squeezed it between my fingers and held it up to my nose. Yep! That’s hash all right
I looked around furtively, but the cabin was mostly dark. No one could see. Everyone was sleeping.
What am I supposed to do with this? I could think of only three options:
I could flush the hash down the airplane toilet. (No, I couldn’t…)
I could eat the hash. (What could go wrong? I’m not a complete idiot…)
That left but one choice: I had to smuggle a gram of hash through JFK with my 7-year old daughter in tow.
What to do? What to do? Put it in my pocket? Put it in my shoe? Thinking hard, I came up with a clue. I took an unopened bag of those airplane peanuts – the ones everyone loves – and I carefully pulled the Mylar apart at the bottom seam. I put the hash in with the peanuts, and, using the glue-stick from my daughter’s airplane art box, I carefully resealed the bag. Perfect. I nestled the nuts in my carry-on and tried my best to relax.
But as we began to prepare for landing all my panic returned. On the ground it was Christmas in New York, and she was looking forward to the tree at Rockefeller Center and seeing Santa again at Macy’s. It would be a shame to ruin all that by hauling Daddy off to jail.
The stewardess passed out immigration cards, and I couldn’t find a pen so I asked if she had something I could write with?”
“Here,” she smiled, handing me a cheap El Al Air promotional pen with a molded plastic cap. “Keep it.”
I filled out the card, and after I was through, as I replaced the cap on the top of the pen, I was thunderstruck with a better idea. I pulled out the peanuts and opened the bag that I had oh-so-carefully resealed. Retrieving the hash, I began to work it between my thumb and my index finger, rolling and kneading until it was a thin cylinder of a warm pliable contraband. I took the pen, and stuffed the hash into the hollow cap then I used the penpoint to plunge the hash deep into the shadowed recess. I put the cap back on the pen and the pen in my shirt pocket. Something told me this was the right move, and I was suffused with a sense of calm.
A few minutes later, as I walked through customs with my daughter in tow, the James Bond theme song was thrumming through my head.
I handed the customs agent my passport and my immigration papers. He stamped them and smiled and handed the passport back. I took two steps away and was about to cross into the U.S. when the customs agent said:
Adrenalin flushed. My heart raced. My mind unreeling…
“You forgot to sign the immigration form.”
I took two steps back to the window, pulled the pen out of my pocket and uncapped it. With the hash in my left hand and the pen in my right, I signed the form with a flourish and handed it back to the agent.
“Welcome to the United States,” he said,
With a rueful smile and the slightest trace of a Scottish accent, I replied,
“Come, Dylan. Let’s go home.”