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But only if it’s a natural smile


I’m taking a wee trip in July.

It’s one of those wee trips where you need a passport.

My idea of a passport is a little booklet you carry around and get all the restaurant and bar-type places to stamp — showing you ate and drank at that particular establishment.

At the end of the day you proudly proclaim you’ve eaten 15 cheeseburgers, eaten deep fried avocado skins and glazed peanut shells as appetizers, had 17 (or 27) glasses of beer, were slapped by at least three waitresses (and maybe a waiter), but you are still able to crawl into the backseat of the Uber you hired and say something witty like, “Home James!”

Because after 17 beers (or 27), you are just one witty individual.

But your “Home James!” sounds like “Hmmm Hjuumanji.”

And your Uber driver doesn’t laugh.

And you also realize your Uber isn’t moving.

It isn’t moving because you’re not sitting/slouching (okay — nearly passed out) in the Uber.

You realize you are sitting/slouching (okay — nearly passed out) in a dumpster.

And you have a banana peel and a leaflet promoting “A Peaceful Rally For Sloths’ Rights” in your back pocket.

Don’t ask.

The passport I needed, however, is not one of those “passport-O-fun” thingies.

It’s the official, do not pass go, do not collect $100-type passports.

The little booklet that an official looking person in a uniform has to scowl at and stamp and ask, “What’s the nature of your visit?”

How do you answer that?

“I want to go on a pub crawl in your country and see if the Ubers have banana peels in them.”

I don’t think that’s such a good answer.

“You may smile if you want,” the lady taking my passport photo said.

“I am smiling,” I said.

“You can smile. Really. As long as it’s a natural smile,” she said.

“I am smiling,” I said.

“Seriously. Just give a natural smile. It’s okay,” she said.

“I am smiling,” I said.

But I gave in. I smiled.

“Mmmmm … That’s okay. How about trying less of a frown?”

I like the part where I was asked if all the information on my passport form was true and correct “to the best of my knowledge.”

Does that mean I could have written down “under a cabbage leaf in a meadow by the stream” as place of birth?

Because I’m pretty sure when I was a little boy one of my aunts had me convinced that was where I was born.

If I had written that down would the passport police come and get me?

And if the passport police come and get you — and take you to fibbing on your passport form jail — should I smile for the mug shot?

Is there a fibbing on your passport form jail?

Passports — official, do not pass go, do not collect $100-type passports — are a serious business. It’s like grown-up stuff.

You shouldn’t make fun of grown-up stuff.

People get offended when you make fun of grown-up stuff.

Flying to another country is also a serious-type thing.

It’s a scary-type thing.

What if they don’t like me?

Will they kick me out of the country?

Do they Uber?

What are their senses of humor like?

Do they get offended if you make baseball references like, “Can of corn?”

And can I watch baseball while in another country?

These kind of questions keep me up at night.

That and a really old mattress and a bad neck.

And West Coast baseball broadcasts.

I have a friend who works for TSA at McGhee-Tyson Airport so I asked the obvious, “What can I take in my carry-on bag that won’t get me in trouble.”

I don’t like getting in trouble. I’m pretty sure there is a “you shouldn’t have that in your carry on bag jail.”

I can carry my meds as long as they are in the prescription bottle.

Very good.

Not that anyone ever gets in trouble for smuggling cholesterol medicine.


I need to take a change of clothes.

Scary because that implies your luggage will land where you do not.

I can take my phone, an MP3 player, a book.

I don’t care about carrying the phone with me.

MP3? Yes.

Book? Yes.

Can I smile?

“Only if it’s a natural smile,” I was told.

I was joking when I asked.

What can I pack in my suitcase that may or may not go to the same place I’m going?

Anything that won’t embarrass you if your luggage is searched, I was told.

So much for taking my collection of Gumby toys.

Are customs officials friendly? I asked.

Sure. But don’t smile. They’ll think you’re up to something.

I thought it was okay if I smiled.

A natural smile.

“I’ve never seen you smile,” I was told.

Have you ever realized the Uber you were in wasn’t really an Uber?

That’ll wipe the smile off your face in a hurry.