Monday, August 29, 2011

Trouble in Tocumen

"Papers please," the gentleman said.

"As you wish my good sir," I said as I gave him my dog-eared copy of the Spanish language edition of Weekly World News minus the crossword (I still had one corner to go) and a damp fragment of an old Panama City Today I'd wrapped a couple of empanadas in.

"Esta loco senor?" he said.

"Solo en martes," I responded.

"Pass-a-port," he said, snapping his fingers.

"Port-o-potty?" I asked, looking as confused as I could muster.  You really have to have fun with these petty bureaucrats.  I was feeling a rush like I was in Woody Allen's Bananas.

"Pass-a-port please senor," he persisted, not taking to my little joke.

I gave him my winningest smile, "Of course."  I reached into my trusty trouser pocket for it, but came up empty.  I felt my heart skip a beat.  I patted myself down--gave myself quite a frisking--and struck out at each turn.  "Passport did you say?" I asked.

"Si, pass-a-port."  Impatience was building.  What had been a short line behind me had swelled.  "Stupid american" sentiment was palpable.

"Would you take a library card?" I pleaded.

The official looked me hard in the eye as I handed over my green IFPL card.  After a few seconds he looked down at the card.  "Senor," he said, "this is a fine card."  Hallelujah, I'm goin home, I thought.  Yeah, baby.  "However, senor, it expired 6 months ago."

"What!!" I yelled.  I grabbed it back from him and sure enough it had.  Even more worrisome was that I still had a couple of items checked out.

"Senor.  We must have a passport."

Having heard my shout, another official joined him, the two giving me a double glower.

"Well, I can't seem to find it.  It was here a minute ago."

The other official offered helpfully, "Perhaps, senor, it is in your bag."

I knew it wasn't, but needed time, so nodded agreement and opened the zipper on my swissgear backpack.  Where the hell could it be, I asked myself.  I began feeling around, fondled a pair of socks with a make-believe "aha" look to buy more time.  Some jackass tourist behind me suggested I step aside and let the better prepared go ahead while I got my s**t together.  Fortunately I was deep in the heart of the third world where an official's quality is measured by the degree of his inefficiency.  I continued my search, investigating the insides of my tennis shoes, the hole in the middle of my rolled up miniature yoga mat (you can get them down here), and foraged in the pages of my favorite Iyengar book (on loan from the IFPL), "Yoga is you without the 'U'".  That one was published posthumously, or so it says.  Apparently the publisher thought the old guy wasn't going to make it to publication day.  A lesson there: don't underestimate the power of well tended chakras.

By this time the mood had turned downright ugly.  I felt a London sized riot coming on.  Something had to be done.

"Look my good sirs," I began, "as you can see, I'm obviously an Americano.  So why not let's just send me back to gringoland where I belong.  I'll be out of your hair.  It'll be good for all of us.  Whaddya say?"

They just stared.  I felt I had to keep talking.  "My passport, which I must tell you was here--is here, somewhere--is temporarily lost.  Can't we work this out?"

More staring.  They really weren't being helpful.  "Look," I said brandishing my wallet,  "How much do you guys want to make this--me--go away?"  I could see right away I'd made a big mistake.

A waggle of the first official's finger brought over a couple of stocky security guards who looked to be good friends with their nightsticks.  They hauled me roughly by the shoulders into a security room.  I'll never forget the echoes of that door clanking shut.


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