But that was later. Now, I was saying goodbye to Sebastiano, to Ruth, to my friends, and getting ready to be the big surprise at my mother’s fiftieth birthday party. Ted, (the highway patrol/ FBI man), warned me indirectly against bringing any kief back to the states. Sebastiano had most of it anyway but I kept about six ounces in a plastic bag flat between my stomach and my belt. I was excited to share it with my friends back home.
I shipped my motorcycle to New York and went to the airport with Sebastiano. It was a warm goodbye with promises to see each other in New York. Since my father was a big-shot television producer there was a chance I could get him some work.
After an uneventful flight I was in New York passing through customs once again. On the other side of the barrier, I could see my father waving eagerly, excited that the “birthday present” was extant and viable. I worked my way through the line and a perfunctory baggage check and headed for the exit to greet my father. But before I got there three men in plain clothes stopped me and said,
“Mr. Winsor? Please come with us.”
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“Nothing, we just need to ask you a few questions.” They led me to a room right off the main customs area, one of those rooms made famous in any number of movies where interrogations and torture are featured. A bare light bulb dangled from the ceiling. Nothing was on the walls and for furniture only a desk, a chair and a couple of benches. They went through my luggage again.
“Mr. Winsor, can you tell us which countries you visited?”
“England, France, Spain and Morocco,” I answered, barely whispering the last country.
“Morocco Mr. Winsor? Did you buy any marijuana there?”
“Frankly sir, I did. My friend and I bought a little matchbox of it. You may know that it is not illegal there. Alcohol is though.”
“Is that all, Mr. Winsor? Did you smoke it?”
“Yes sir, I did and frankly it made me sick. I didn’t want to have anything more to do with it.”
“You know, Mr. Winsor, we had a guy in here a while ago who had been in Mexico for a couple of years and we asked him if he smoked marijuana. You know what he said? ‘Sure man, doesn’t everybody?’ We sent him away for a long time.”
The customs cop with the loafers, white socks, and flattop haircut smiled as he told this little story. Then he looked at me and said, “Now we are going to search your person, Mr. Winsor.”
“My person?” I gulped.
They took off my suede sport jacket and looked in the pockets and checked the lining and it seemed they found a few flakes of kief but nothing substantial. Then “white socks with the flattop” got down on his knees in front of me and, beginning at the ankle, patted me down, first up one leg and down the other. In the process he put his hand on the belt area of my stomach almost as if he knew what was there and pushed right on the six ounces I was carrying.
My breathing stopped. Maybe my heart stopped. Time stood still. And then, somehow, he moved on. Is it possible he didn’t feel it? I have never been able to know if they just missed it or if they knew I had it but decided just to scare me and not skewer my life. Once this all began, of course, it took no time for my mind to flash a picture of boring Ted, the highway patrolman writer back in Madrid and his part in this. He had taken an avuncular interest in me. Maybe this was his way of teaching me a lesson and saving me at the same time. Or maybe they just missed it.
They let me go and I walked out to greet my father who was anxiously waiting and wondering what had happened. He had rented a limo for the “birthday surprise” and as we moved toward Manhattan and the Harvard Club, where I was to spend the night, hiding before the party the next day, I sank into the seat and pressed my pale face against the cool glass of the back seat window. My father was so absorbed in his own excitement about bringing me back as a gift to my mother that he didn’t notice the emotional undercurrents swirling around in me.
I was, in fact, the big surprise and happy to make my mother happy. More than a hundred people filled the country club to celebrate my mother’s birthday. She was so highly respected and loved. And my friends were glad to see me and get high and evolve from being beatnik wannabees to nascent hippies.