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  • Conclusion of Forgetting to Declare, part 1

    In the confines of the interrogation room in Terminal E, Max's mood had swung from aggravation to anxiety. A customs agent was about to empty out his wallet, in which she was sure to find a suspicious square of paper wrapped in tinfoil. Just as Ms. Customs Inspector was starting to ransack his stuff, Max thought of a ruse. Mr. Customs Inspector had provided a pretext by asking Max the price he had paid for the Scottish yarn in his Harrods shopping bag. Max may be clueless, but he isn't dumb.

    Max replied “I don’t recall what the yarn cost, but I have a receipt for it,” and picked up his wallet from the tabletop. As he pried open the wallet, Ms. Customs said softly, “Don’t worry, if it’s in there, we’ll find it.” But Max persisted, thumbing through the little pockets, mumbling, “No I’m sure it’s here with the rest of my receipts.”

    Somehow, Max managed to poke an index finger into a tight little pocket and dragged out a tiny rectangle of tinfoil wrapped around a piece of blotter paper that he had put in there six months ago, during his Summer of Like, Wow. As Max tucked the shiny little packet between his second and third fingers, unwelcomed memories flashed back.

    Max had this friendly schizophrenic neighbor who had been advised to control her condition with massive doses of niacin and regular supplements of acid. Her guru, a controversial psychiatrist from Princeton, had connections that resulted in Naomi having a 25 cc supply of pure Sandoz acid in a fridge in her basement. That was a lot of hits, more than she could ever possibly use, so she shared them with people she liked.

    Max liked Naomi back, but she was a bit of a kook even by his loose standards. She had no job and was writing a humongous book that would show that Carl Jung’s Theory of Normal Personality was all anyone would ever need in to know order to understand one another and get along in this world. It seemed like a stretch, but she could have been right about that. And while that syrupy colorless liquid in its eye-dropper bottle was exquisite shit, at least one of Max's four or five trips with it involved oozing paranoia and existential heebie-jeebies that wouldn’t go away for eight or ten hours. But maybe that was partly due to what the Jungian analyst that Naomi had set Max up with was doing to his mind. Coming to understand how the archetypes inhabiting his subconscious were molding his destiny was a heavy trip in itself.

    Max's best trip started at home in Cambridge on a sweet Saturday in June, one of those perfect days when the air smells sweet and there’s nothing to do. In late morning Max chewed a blotter dabbed with Naomi's acid, washed it down with OJ, and let the drug work its way in. Acid is amazing that way; you take two or three hundred millionths of a gram, and somehow those molecules find their way to your pinkies, your ears, down on your knees and feet, and on to organs you never had sensed before. How a drop of stuff can completely occupy a space billions of times its size is a mystery.

    And so it went. As the microcosm expanded within him, Max felt the shimmering. Whatever he gazed at seemed to have an iridescent sheen to it. Time slowed down. His limbs become not numb, but detached and a little hard to coordinate. As he became lubricated, Max felt more and more claustrophobic and restless. Realizing that it was time to get out of the house and commune with Mother Nature, he strapped on his Walter Dyer sandals and went forth to wander the byways of Harvard Square.

    When he reached the Square he kept going. Down by the Charles River, feeling a necessity to connect with the planet, Max unstrapped his sandals and hoisted them over his shoulder, reveling in the textures of grass, dirt and even pavement under his feet. He walked aimlessly in that giddy way, oblivious to the litter, shards of glass and dog shit he trod upon, until he reached a little park off Mount Auburn Street watched over by a statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Just beyond, across Brattle Street, loomed the Longfellow Mansion, an imposing, symmetric Georgian structure smartly painted yellow with white trim and black shutters. Having seen tourist busses parked out front, Max knew it was a museum, and decided now was just the time to check it out.

    Max ambled up the long front walk, up the stairs, and with his sandals still slung over his shoulder and a strange gleam in his eye, rang the bell. Momentarily the door opened to reveal a short, middle-aged Cantabrigian male with thinning, bright orange hair and granny glasses. He regarded Max with a smile and said, “Good day! May I help you?” Max wasn’t sure what to say, not knowing why he had come there. He felt like a little kid who was trick-or-treating in a strange neighborhood, that he might not have permission to visit. Without stopping to think, in a sweet voice, Max asked the orange-haired man, “Can Henry come out and play?”

    Max was in the middle of regretting having said that when the fellow replied, “No, Henry can’t come out now. But if you’d like you can come in and play with his toys.” Here was Max, barefooted, bearded and with Jesus hair, acting completely loony, and this guy either felt playful or a sudden need to humor Max. After letting Max in, the man said that he was the curator, he lived there, and introduced himself.

    The curator deftly took Max's arm and escorted him through his sanctum, explicating Henry’s stuff: spectacles, manuscripts, winter clothes, and mementos like Thoreau’s inkwell and Louisa May Alcott’s recipe for rhubarb chutney. Although Max couldn’t regard any of these things as toys, they certainly gave him a good transcendental hit. His host was as cute as a button (in his eccentric but friendly way), and enjoyed Max's sense of ADHD-fueled curiosity. Max was charmed and coherent enough to thank his host before biding farewell to continue on his random pilgrimage Playtime lasted several more hours. Max ambled home and crashed into a confused sleep. Max never went back to Henry’s house to see the adorable red-headed curator again, terrified that he had imagined the fellow.

    Meanwhile, back at the airport …

    Max managed to palm the foil packet and handed the wallet back to Ms. Customs, who started tearing into it. But before Max could savor the moment, Mr. Customs told him, “Now I’m going to pat you down.” To suppress panic, Max silently chanted his mantra (“I hate it when that happens...”), and slightly turned his cupped palm downward as he extended both arms. Mr. Customs first removed Max's watch cap and squeezed it around, then handed it to him. Max took it in his right hand and extended his arm again. After patting Max's sleeves, the agent worked his way down, frisking and kneading his garments. As he did so, Max maneuvered the packet into the watch cap’s cavity and held it very tight.

    The agent reached Max's engineer boots just as his companion finished examining Max's little shit. He stood up and abruptly told Max, “OK, you can go now.” Max carefully reseated the cap on his head and scooped up his other stuff. As Max turned to leave, he was confident enough to say to Mr. Customs Agent, “This is a major inconvenience. Why detain me?” The reply was, “These down parkas are often used to hide contraband. You fit the profile.” Well, Max thought, better to be a type than a statistic, so he said “no problem” and propelled himself back into the terminal, picking up speed.

    Even though it seemed like an hour had elapsed in that interrogation room, in fact it had been less than a warhol, (or was it an anti-warhol?). Out in the arrivals area, a lot of people were milling around. It took some time for Max to spot his Irish lass, next to a middle-aged couple who looked a bit peeved. Max ran up to her, apologizing for the delay. She was perfectly fine with it, and happily gave Max his bottle bag while her aunt and uncle scowled. Max profusely wished her well on her visit and then cleared out as fast as he could. Soon he had located Jay, who escorted him to the van and drove him home in the wintry twilight, toward a future dim with uncertain possibilities. But at least he still had his tinfoil packet, not that he expected it would do him much good.

    As Jay motored the van through the wintry Boston twilight, Max remembered something else he had forgotten to declare. Turning to Jay with a big smile, he said "It's so great to see you, man!"

    @image: A well dressed young man standing at the U.S. Customs inspection station at the border , San Diego CA, c. 1915.
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