June 24, 2015's Weekly Slap:

“Beach Slapped” is what it is because from the moment I first came to the Oregon Coast, most every moment I lived here, and even my last hours here, it was always about the beach. That wasn’t always true of my life, and perhaps that’s been my problem.

Growing up in Colorado, I was a long way from the beach. I don’t care what anyone says, lounging next to a giant lake/ civic water supply is not the beach.

BartonGroverHowe.com:Where to keep up with humor writer Barton Grover Howe. Here, you'll find all of his Beach Slapped columns from The News-Times in Lincoln County, Oregon, excerpts from his latest books and the occasional random musing that would get him fired if he published it in a family newspaper.
I hope it's not a Custom to expel me
- August, 2000
One day in Nagoya I got a call from a very friendly-sounding Mr. Iekoku at Japanese customs.  For a variety of reasons I had been sent some medications that are illegal in Japan.  Therefore, Mr. Iekoku very politely informed me that I either would come see him, or I would be arrested.  Well, I thought about this, and decided they couldn’t possibly be serious.  Which is why I’m now writing this letter from Chiba Prefectural Jail, Cell 109.

HA HA! Just kidding.  However, they were not kidding about the arresting me part, so I got to spend my hard-earned day-off on the train heading over 100 miles back up the coast.  I should at this time point out that if you would rather not ever visit Japanese customs, DO NOT have the following FedEx-ed to you:

1) Coedine:  Over here, they consider it in the same class of drugs as cocaine.  Neat, huh?  (This also explains why in the days after my knee surgery, when I originally got the prescription, I don’t seem to remember anything . . .)

2) Ephedrine: Or as we call it America, “Sudafed.”  They seemed positively amazed that not only was this legal, but that you could buy it off the shelf. He even politely asked me to repeat myself, just to be sure he understood me. (Mr. Iekoku, like all Japanese, was always polite, even when he was threatening to have me arrested. A sweet people, the Japanese.)

In fact, they gave me the idea that pretty much any member of the “-ine” family was illegal.  Sardines were against the law here until somebody decided to call them anchovies. If you want to truly play it safe, you probably shouldn’t bring any pill-like substance into this country, except Pez. 

            So I went to customs, where I met Inspector Iekoku, the nice man who had ordered me here and ruined my day off.  He ushered me into a small office where he and another man proceeded to ask me questions.  Within five minutes both of them were smoking like fiends, and proceeded to do so for the length of our day together. Further, every time they clapped closed their lighters, it sounded like handcuffs being locked up.  I’m sure that was a coincidence.

            Mr. Iekoku spoke pretty good English, but the man with him spoke none.  Not knowing the other man’s name, I decided to call him “Watson.” Every inspector needs a “Watson,” I think.  Periodically, their boss would wander into the room, mutter something, smile not at all, and wander out.  He acted like a mafia boss on the “Sopranos.” I called him, “The Heavy.”  This title seemed particularly appropriate as he is one of only four overweight people I have seem in Japan that don’t sumo wrestle.

            And so, Mr. Iekoku, Watson and I, with periodic visits from The Heavy, sat in a little room with the thermostat set at 79 degrees for the entire morning and afternoon.  By my calculations I spent 38% of my waking day in a room breathing noxious fumes, smelling like hell, sweating continuously and listening to conversations I didn’t understand about 90% of the time.  And my shorts were riding up, (i.e., another normal day with Disney On Ice.)

            “I’m in hell,” I thought.  For if there is any constant in the universe, it is the bureaucratic mind, and I was in the death grips of one.  This petty man, with nothing better to do, had ruined my day off (and my health) and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.  Sitting in that room, I cursed him to the seventh level of hell, and proceeded to berate he and his country.

            Well, I wanted to, anyway.  But I didn’t. Because after being in this room about 10 minutes, I saw the 60 pages of documentation they had on me, I saw the looks on the faces of everyone in the office when I walked in, and I saw forms on the desk labeled, “Protocols of Detention.”  I realized right then and there that I could be hacked off, act that way, and find myself thrown out of the country and unemployed.  That would be bad.  So, instead, I calmly answered every question, and was the nicest, most deferential American you’ve ever seen.  I was almost Japanese in my politeness, which is probably why I didn’t get thrown out of the country.

            In some bizarre way, it wasn’t even bad for a day off; I learned a lot about Japan that I didn’t know.  I also took a minute to put things in perspective: I shudder to think what would have happened if I was in China, where the rules change depending on who’s enforcing them, or Singapore, where they just beat you with a cane.

That would have really ruined my day off.