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  • This went down a generation or two ago, when love was in the air and hipsters weren't yet mugging hippies. Max is an out-of-work former graduate student heading back to Boston after visiting the love of his life, who had fled town to take a job in Edinburgh, Scotland. Here he was, with a useless master’s degree and without a warhol of fame to his name, with no clue what to do with his life other than to fly 3,000 miles to get laid. (A warhol is a unit of time named for a pop artist ‘s attention span.) The good time was over, and now Max had to slide back to reality.

    It was Max's first trip to Europe – anywhere abroad, for that matter. Of course, he had brought his love some pot, taped in paper, double-bagged and rolled up in a pair of socks. It made him a tad nervous, but this was before they were scanning and sniffing everything, and Max figured that the law of averages was on his side. Max and his Kelty backpack indeed arrived safely, his lady was glad to see him, and they went on to experience a number of groovy adventures during that last week of 1971. But that is for another time.

    When it was time for Max to head back to an inscrutable future, he forlornly debarked from Edinburgh on Aer Lingus. As luck would have it, his seatmate was the most delightful Irish lass one could imagine, on her way to visit relatives in the Boston area. At the layover in Shannon , Ireland, Max decided to get some duty free whiskey and asked the lass if she wouldn’t mind importing one of the two bottles he intended to procure. It was just fine with her, she said, her laughing 18-year-old blue eyes flashing. Intoxicated by her visage, Max dashed into the terminal to take care of business, barely catching the flight.

    At Logan airport Max asked her to meet him outside in the arrival area to reclaim that bottle, then of them both got lost in the crowd. It was winter, and Max was wearing a road-cone-orange down parka, under his Mao-Tse-Tsung-red backpack, and toted a Harrods shopping bag full of trinkets for family and friends. Nothing remotely unusual, just clothing, candy, several skeins of wool for his mom, and various little treats.

    After a desultory trip through customs Max proceeded toward the sliding glass doors, thinking about where he’d find the Irish girl and his pal Jay, who was supposed to be picking him up. But just five steps from freedom, a young guy in a blazer puts himself in Max's way, holding up ID. “I’m a customs agent. Would you please come with me?” It wasn’t a question, Max realized, and with nothing to hide, decided not to panic and get this over with ASAP.

    The agent led Max to a little room without any windows, and for some strange reason not much light; Max was expecting an interrogation cell with a naked bulb, not a meditation room. There a young woman joined them. “I’m a customs agent too. Would you mind if we asked you a few questions?” She too was very polite. So far, Max had been asked no actual questions, only rhetorical ones, so he assented.

    The first real question got Max's attention: “Have you forgotten to declare anything?” Mentally racing through his stuff, Max realized he had not itemized everything on his customs form. But his stuff really wasn’t worth very much, and as far as he could tell was all kosher to import. So Max politely replied, "No, I can't think of anything of value I might have forgotten."

    Mr. Customs then asked him to take everything out of his pockets. Max plunked down change, life savers, matches and cigs, ticket stubs, a Swiss Army knife, some pocket lint and his wallet. Then, he proceeded to check out Max's shopping bag items. Extracting a skein of Scottish yarn, he asked Max, “How much did this cost?”

    It was then, as Ms. Customs Agent began examining his pocket items, that Max suddenly realized that yes, indeed there was something he had forgotten to declare – indeed had forgotten for many months – inside his wallet. That revelation, best described as Eureka’s Evil Twin ("I have lost it!"), inspired panic. He tried to get a grip. "I'm screwed," he told himself, "unless..."

    Go to part 2

    @image: A woman standing behind a sign at the U.S. Customs inspection station at the border, c. 1915, San Diego CA.
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