You make one wrong turn..
“Get out of the car and put your hands where I can see them white boy!” barked the Uzi toting police officer. His obese face contorted angrily as he stared down the barrel of his gun with a pudgy barbecue stained index finger on the trigger. A hasty sweeping motion of his gnarly weapon let me know he meant business.
For the first time in my twenty two year old life I was genuinely scared. And no, not scared like the time I downed an entire bottle of vodka on my birthday and pleaded with God the next morning to let me live. I actually felt something brewin’ at the pit of my stomach this time that could only be described at the moment as mortal fear.
“Christ” I thought. It was at that moment that all of the unanswered questions in my young life had come to the surface including “What’s the deal with autoerotic asphyxiation anyway?” and “What really happens in a strip club champagne room?” Unfortunately my naive inquiries would have to go unanswered for the time being as I made my foray out of the vehicle pulling up my saggy army print shorts and kicking up dust with my high top sneakers.
By this time a small crowd of onlookers from the surrounding slum had become my audience. It was a dizzying combination of middle aged women in multi-colored curlers and beach sandals, barefoot children sipping juice boxes, and the occasional toothless old man who was gesturing to the officers with his cane to “get him!” Who would have thought that one wrong turn in what can only be described as Panama City’s most dangerous neighborhood would propel me, even if for a moment, into local stardom?
My mother advised my “gringo” father to stay seated, and quietly instructed me to get out of the car and oblige. She was a tiny woman, a native of the country, who seemed to have what she was going to do and say all planned out in her head. Of course, the fact that she didn’t tell me made my heart pound harder. My palms quivered in pain as I placed my hands on the searing hot trunk of my parents’ beat up 1998 Nissan. The Panamanian sun was as unrelenting as the two bike cops who had pulled me over only minutes ago and had confiscated my Florida driver’s license. I looked over to find them pointing at my picture and laughing as they held that ever so valuable piece of plastic up to the sun amazed by the hologram function.
My original vacation plan of playing videogames in my underwear and drinking myself stupid so as to commemorate two weeks off from work was now a fleeting memory. Much to my chagrin, I decided to catch a flight to my folks’ new retirement destination, Panama, a country which for better or worse smelled like a giant fart trapped in a shoe box on a good day.
“Gringo.” snickered the fat one. The taller one agreed with a boisterous laugh before he spat brown gunk onto the pavement.
I did a subtle shake, attempting to adjust my bunched up boxer shorts. I shuddered as a stream of sweat which had gathered at the small of my back made its way past every imaginable crevice below my belt, finally settling at a field of hair on the back of my thighs. I could see from the corner of my eye that the two crooks in their field uniforms wanted me to stay still.
And that’s when I heard it.
A guttural growl resonated from within me loud enough for anybody within ear shot to hear. It was an unholy reminder of the “mild” laxative I had taken the night before to combat one wicked week of incessant constipation. I guess seven days worth of beer and empanadas really wasn’t the diet of kings?
I stood there cringing as the laxative waged an unapologetic war against my stomach. From the sounds of it the battle which was a long time in the making was about to come to a poetic end.
By this time my mother had managed to get my license back with a clever mixture of crocodile tears and a convincing plea which included: “Look at my son, do you really think he would know any better?”
For whatever reason the officers caved in though not before asking me to hand over whatever cash I had in my wallet. I slipped them a crumpled twenty dollar bill, my last, and headed for the backseat as my sidewalk audience dispersed. The toothless old man gave another shake of his cane before he walked away.
Without further ado my mother started the car and slowly drove away. Initially, we didn’t speak of the uncomfortable situation which had unfurled earlier that afternoon as we drove back to their home on the other side of the country.
Later, my father sarcastically poked fun at the whole situation as we traversed the pothole ridden roads of Panama’s interior. My mother chimed in, her cackle infectious, indeed.
I smiled from ear to ear seeing as how I was the consummate good sport and could find the humor in nearly any situation. But I also took light in the fact that I’d shat in my pants half way through our excursion and would no doubt give them another reason to laugh so haughtily, right?