Moodswing - Hidden treasure

It's what's inside that counts

I suck at smuggling. So if it were me loaded with Cuban cigars while going through customs, I'd have been flagged immediately. The agents would have spotted me upstairs from their little mirrored room above the immigration booths, seen me quaking like a lab rat undergoing nerve-gas experiments, fumbling with my passport and trying to make small talk with the immigration people ("So, what's with the gun?"). By the time I'd actually approach the declaration line, they'd have been waiting there for me already wearing their rubber gloves.

So it wasn't me who smuggled the cigars, if there were any cigars to be smuggled. I'm not admitting anything. It's not like I saw anyone actually pack anything in a secret compartment or something, it's just that a certain someone, whose name starts with a "C" and ends with "hristopher," bought a whole honking box of the things the day before we flew home from Zurich, and when I asked him, "How are you going to smoke all of those before we leave?" he just grinned his evil grin. He looks like a total terrorist, too. So I'm here to tell you that profiling must not be practiced at Customs and Immigration at Hartsfield, because he breezed through with nary a hairy eyeball directed his way, while I followed several minutes behind, detained until the agent's computer deemed me acceptable to enter. They didn't search me, though. They could probably tell I had no hidden secrets worth uncovering.

It's no secret that I tried to be a thief as a kid, but failed. I never had the disposition to steal, and plus my technique was terrible. I employed the snatch-and-run method, not wise when you're 4 with legs like little pork chops. I tried to steal some chocolate coins from our local convenience store that way once. It was not my favorite store, it didn't carry Pixie Sticks and the extra big bottles of Pepsi, but this store's proprietor was old and I figured he couldn't catch me.

Wrong. He hardly had to move to catch me. He didn't even interrupt his conversation with his customer; he simply took one step to block my escape, extracted the booty from my dirty mitt and continued about his business. I stood by the door bewildered for a bit, waiting to take my punishment, but "Goodbye, girl," was all he said.

I tried a new approach a few years later. I went back with a rolled-up beach towel tucked under my arm and strolled about the aisles, shoving every odd trinket that caught my fancy into the folds of the towel, certain it was a fool-proof plan. By the time I was ready to leave, the towel had taken on the girth of a baby buffalo and I needed both arms to lug it. I was skipping by then, inwardly ecstatic with my hidden treasure, clutching it to my chest. Looking back, I figure the only way I could have escaped the proprietor's attention was if he'd been blind since birth, so of course he intercepted me at the door.

"Girl," he said, kneeling down to meet me at eye level, "let me see what's in your towel."

"It's my doll, she's sleeping," I protested, the panic in my face as evident as my guilt.

"Do you promise that's your doll in there?" he asked. I promised ardently, with such sweeping, achingly earnest shakings of my head that he had to place his hand on my shoulder to steady my balance. "Well, then, as long as you promise," he finished, and opened the door for me to leave.

I bounded to freedom, still clutching my booty to my chest with both arms, hardly believing my luck, and got exactly as far as the length of the adjoining storefront before I turned back. Of course I had to turn back. He was a weathered man, the proprietor, who lived down the road from us in a small house along the railroad tracks. Unsupervised, I used to roam the tracks back then, and break into condemned warehouses to climb the abandoned equipment like a jungle gym.

Once during these wanderings, my sister and I came upon the proprietor in a tool shed, cutting rocks in half with an electric saw. Rather than chase us off, he welcomed us inside. He was looking for "geodes" he explained. "See that?" He said, pointing to the sparkly dust on the edge of the blade, "that there is precious gems." Then he brought a dirty, nondescript rock down from the shelf. "Looks like a regular dirt clod, don't it?" He smiled and opened the rock down a middle crease to reveal an incandescent funnel of lavender crystals. My eyes widened, Hidden treasure! I thought. "Don't ever think it's a regular dirt clod 'til you see what's inside," he said.

Months later, there I was standing outside his store clutching my loot after he let me go. He had sized me up and concluded I wasn't a regular dirt clod, and for that I couldn't continue my escape. So I opened the door, using such stealth that the bell tied to the handle didn't ring, and crept a few steps forward to place the rolled-up towel laden with my hidden treasure on the far end of the counter. The old proprietor was nowhere in sight, but still, as I turned to leave, he called after me, "Goodbye, girl."