The beautiful olive skin lady, wearing the white dress uniform of the Disney Cruise line, made her way through the crowded Parrot Key dining room looking straight at me. The expression on her face was one of calm and pure professionalism but it contrasted sharply with the merry Caribbean décor of the onboard restaurant and the shape of her athletic body the tailored uniform showed off.
Right from the start, I somehow knew she was coming to talk with me even though the very idea seemed beyond silly. The lady was someone very important and was often seen at the captain’s side during the cruise and when separate had her own small entourage following her around. Still I entertained the notion mainly because the general conversation at the table last Friday night had drifted toward lawyer talk carried on by my attorney wife and our tablemates, a couple from Rhode Island who were also attorneys, leaving me slightly bored.
Much to my surprise the lady crewmember did in fact continue to weave her way towards my table and came to stand beside me placing her soft hand on my shoulder and went as far to lean over to whisper in my ear. Her shoulder length brown hair, which matched her eyes, fell over to one side of her neck as she brought her lips close to my ear. Her touch was like that of an angel and it matched her Italian accent leaving me in wild anticipation of whatever she was going to say.
“Mr. Johnson,” she said in a soft voice, “I need to talk with you privately for a moment.”
At that moment I think the extremely surprised look on my face was pale in comparison to the one my wife wore followed closely behind by our tablemates. Despite whatever fantasies that had tumbled across the largely barren plains of my mind as the beautiful crewmember approached it was clear as spring water that her tone was one of total business and that I better get up and follow her. Just for the record, I will state even though most who read my posts should be able to guess, I would have followed this lady any place she suggested. Unfortunately, our destination was only a small alcove a few feet away used by the waiters to store things like utensils and other small items.
Still standing very close to me the crewmember, whose nametag had “Marta” printed on it, handed me an envelope. “Mr. Johnson,” Marta began, “we have received word from Customs and Border Protection officials that they want to interview you tomorrow once the ship docks at Port Canaveral but before you disembark. It is just routine but it would be unwise to be late, or heaven forbid miss it.”
I opened the envelope she handed me, pulling out the letter inside and read the same thing she had just told me but in more official and legalistic terms. I was dumbstruck as to why Homeland Security types might want to interview me. Yeah, I had done several stupid things out of the country and on my past Disney cruises but never anything that might warrant such attention. The only things that came to mind were a couple of unfortunate occurrences.
The first happened while on a weekend pass during my basic training in 1984 and had me sleeping in a dumpster in Juarez, Mexico hiding from a guy and his buddies upset I was with his ex-girlfriend. The second was a regrettable incident involving the lady playing Ariel the Mermaid and my hand that landed in a place she did not care for while posing with my daughter and I for pictures.
The former was an issue because it could have been a nasty problem between the United States and Mexico had I turned up dead forcing my drill sergeants to fill out mountains of paperwork but nothing Uncle Sammy would remember over the long term. The second was a deeper concern since I have heard rumors that the Mouse has a long memory to the point of making people “disappear” from their parks for their transgressions. My only comfort was that I had trouble believing that one simple country boy could ever draw the joint notice of both a Big Brother acting Uncle Sam and an irate corporate rodent.
With no other options I listened to Marta as she told me when and where to meet her in the morning and how she would escort me to see the Homeland Security people. After being mesmerized by her eyes and trying to pay attention to her words she gave me a dazzling smile and lightly touching my hand, which again reminded me of the touch of an angel, she turned and walked away.
Returning to the table my wife, in her lawyer frame of mind, read the letter Marta gave me several times trying to figure it out. “Well.” she said, “It’s probably nothing but if I don’t see you in a couple of hours after you go to meet them I will figure they carted you off to some prison.” With that, she handed me back the letter and went back to her crème brulee dessert and talking lawyer babble with our table mates.
The next morning the phone in our stateroom rang at 6:00am and I found Marta on the other end. “Just wanted to make sure you were up and ready to meet our guests.” She said in a much too cheery voice that challenged my angelic assumptions about her.
Truth of the matter this whole turn of events had spoiled my last night on the Disney Magic. After dinner I just retired back to the room my wife, daughter, and I shared leaving them to attend the final party next the Goofy pool alone. To say I was worried would be an overstatement but even while in the military dealing with authority types on a daily basis I hated being hassled by the Man.
I arrived at the Guest Services desk just a few minutes later to find two other people like myself waiting for similar “interviews.” One was a bald dude nervously fondling a different colored passport than mine and the other guy was clearly American and it was obvious he had not let the impending arrival of Uncle Sam’s paid monkeys ruin his final evening onboard.
Marta marched the three of us down to the Walt Disney Theater, a huge auditorium where they have Broadway-like shows, and to seats close to the stage but off to the far side. On stage at that time was a collection of seven or eight Customs and Border Protection agents sitting at a table reviewing the paperwork of the foreign-born workers that ranged from waiters to ship’s engineering. The line of people waiting for their papers to be reviewed stretched down the stage and out a side door with no end in sight.
Each of the agents were going through the paperwork handed to them, looking them over, and asking the crewmember questions. After the agent was satisfied that particular person presented no threat to the Republic the crewmember was dismissed and would march down the stage, visibly relieved. This would have the Customs and Border Protection agent bark for another person in the line to come forward and begin the process again.
It may just be my distaste in having to deal with the Man but I found the agent’s demeanor coarse and rude to a bunch of people who fall over themselves continually to make fat Americans, Canadians, and Europeans happy. If any of the crewmembers, almost all from Third-World countries , wanted to do nasty and horrible things to anyone they had more than enough chances on a regular basis.
Finally, Marta, who had been standing close by, was able to catch the attention of the chief government monkey who marched down the stage with all the self-importance of an egotistical military general after retrieving a few papers from the table he shared with the other agents. Marta introduced both the agent and us to each other and stepped back to allow the monkey to do his job.
The first thing that came to mind as the scene in the auditorium rapidly developed was one some movie involving a POW camp with the guard walking in front of the nervous prisoners watching for any sign of rebellion. The agent stepped in front of Bald Guy and reviewed the papers he brought down. After asking for the Bald Guy’s passport, he immediately told him he owed the United States government nearly a hundred dollars in unpaid duty fees from 2006.
Bald Guy in the space of five minutes went from claiming he did not owe any money to thinking his wife might have paid it already. The Customs agent, clearly enjoying bald guy’s discomfort, then said that he could either pay it right there or go ask his wife and find a receipt but that he would hold unto his passport until the account was settled somehow. Bald Guy then quickly ran up the steps and out of the auditorium like a scared rabbit.
While Bald Guy was being interrogated Mr. Agent allowed one sheet of his collection of stapled papers to fall free and I was able to read some of what was on the print out. Much to my surprise I saw my name but the picture beside it was not me, along with that was a long list of crimes with “murder” standing out among several lesser crimes. Because of that, I had some understanding when Mr. Agent focused his laser-like attention on me.
Mr. Agent asked for my passport and I handed it to him with all sorts of stories about mistaken identities and innocent people spending decades in jail for crimes they did not commit going through my mind. Despite my sudden growing trepidation, I had to stifle a laugh when I realized Mr. Agent looked like a Disney character.
Because of Mr. Agent’s full and bushy mustache and his more than average arrogance, I could not shake the thought that he looked like the sheriff police car from the Disney/Pixar movie “Cars.” After what seemed like an eternity Mr. Agent handed me back my passport with a grudging acknowledgment saying I was free to go.
Not looking a gifted horse in the mouth, I pocketed my passport and got the hell away from the Man. Now that left one final guy for Mr. Agent to check out, but through the whole thing I believe he was asleep in his chair feeling no pain. I’m all for solidarity amongst the oppressed masses but I’m also about taking it easy and not ruffling the feathers of the Man for no good reason, plus I was close to missing my last breakfast on the ship and you always have to keep your priorities straight.