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A spider tattoo—a large spider . . .

On Monday, December 20, 1971 I reported for work as a United States Customs inspector at the international bridge at Progreso, Texas just across the Rio Grande River from the small town of Las Flores, Mexico, also known as Nuevo Progreso—as opposed to old Progreso, an even smaller town on the U.S. side of the river. The image at right shows the old bridge—a larger four-lane bridge now serves the public at Progreso.

I reported for work wearing civilian garb—official uniforms would come later, purchased at a clothing store in Brownsville, an international city at the southern tip of Texas, a city that combined with the city of Matamoros formed a significant metropolitan complex.

Following a welcome briefing by the U.S. Customs port director and introductions to fellow Customs officers and officers with U.S. Immigration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I was assigned to work with the Customs officer that was checking incoming traffic. In those days Progreso had only one inbound lane, and the officer on duty there checked pedestrian traffic as well as vehicles arriving from Mexico. Vehicles were referred for secondary inspection as necessary, and pedestrians were referred to the offices of Agriculture, Immigration and Customs as circumstances dictated.

The long-time inspector I was working with—let’s call him Leo for the purpose of this posting—maintained a continuous dialogue with me, explaining all the ins and outs of the proper questioning techniques and various other requirements of a job that was completely foreign to me—no pun intended. An officer assigned to that position would work for one hour and then would be replaced, either by an Immigration officer or an inspector from the Agriculture office.

Just before our hour on the incoming lane was up, Leo referred a pedestrian to the office for a secondary inspection. He said he wanted to show me something associated with the man he referred for a personal search. We asked another inspector to take the line and we escorted the person to a room at the rear of the Customs office, a small area that provided privacy for strip searches and also boasted a barred cell for detention of suspects.

This suspect, dressed in sneakers, a T-shirt and slacks preceded us into the room, then turned and dropped his trousers as we closed the door behind us. He wore no undergarments and smilingly asked if he should “turn around and bend over.” The man was a long-time heroin addict and therefore was very familiar with personal searches. Leo replied in the negative, and asked him several questions concerning his drug habit.

When those trousers dropped I knew immediately why Leo had referred the man for a personal search. He had conducted numerous strip searches of the man in the past, and his sole reason for this search was so I could see the addict’s sole tattoo.

Yep, that was the only reason, and I saw the tattoo almost instantly as his trousers dropped to the floor. It was a tattoo of a large spider, a full-grown spider, a spider with all its limbs and antennae fully visible, a spider instantly identifiable as a spider, perched menacingly on the exposed glans of the suspect’s flaccid penis. Sorry, no penis pics in this posting—only a spider.

At this point I must apologize for the PG-14 rating I have given this story. I have a tale to tell, and I am striving desperately to maintain that rating and not let the story descend—or ascend as the case may be—into an X-rated tale. I also strove desperately during the inspection to restrict my imagination concerning the spider’s measurements should its owner become excited for one reason or another—unsuccessfully, of course—my imagination ran rampant—in fact it still does!

That’s it—that was my introduction to the process of conducting strip searches on our border with Mexico. Such searches were required because many seizures and arrests were made from strip searches. The order for a suspect to “turn around and bend over” sometimes showed a shiny substance in the anal area, indicating the use of vaseline or some other lubricant that may have been used to promote the insertion of illegal items such as pellets filled with heroin or cocaine. The contraband was first wrapped in aluminum foil, then packed into the reservoir tip of a condom. In some seizures those packets numbered one hundred and more.

Questioning of the person and search of personal articles would often show that the shiny substance was there for other reasons, thus erasing suspicions of smuggling—you can use your imagination to speculate on the nature of those other reasons.

Many such seizures have been made at ports of entry at airports, land border ports and seaports. If a traveler also possessed laxatives  and an item such as Immodium in a pocket or a purse or a suitcase, that traveler, whether male or female, was immediately a strong suspect for narcotics smuggling. Smugglers use the Immodium to restrict bowel movements until, and at the proper time, the laxatives  can be used to promote bowel movements to excrete the contraband.

Hey, it’s a nasty business, not only for the law enforcement officer but also for the smugglers themselves. Some have died because of such methods of concealment, both male and female smugglers—others have survived, but were severely damaged physically by the botched attempt to enter with the narcotics.

And as for how many people have successfully entered our country through airports, seaports and land border ports with contraband concealed in their bodies, and how many continue the practice and will continue to escape detection?

Quien sabe?

Who knows?

It’s anyone’s guess.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2010 in bridge, law enforcement

 

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A household of many aunts and uncles, including Braxton . . .

In my grandparents household, the grandparents on my mother’s side of the family, there were numerous sons and daughters, with the result that I had many aunts and uncles. All were born considerably earlier than I, and since I am near completing the eighth decade of my life, all have sloughed off the mortal coils of this life and transferred to another, perhaps a better one than this—at least it is to be hoped that it is a better one. I know of nothing that would have caused the powers-that-be to sentence them to a worse life for the remainder of eternity.

Did you get that—remainder of eternity?

Does eternity have a remainder?

That’s kinda profound, don’t you think?

The youngest of the brood of children birthed and reared by my grandparents was a boy named Braxton, known to family and friends as Brack), but to me he was  Uncle Brack. I was far advanced into adulthood long before he left us, but I never had the temerity to call him by his name—he was always Uncle Brack, a man I idolized and longed mightily to be like when I grew up—I wanted to be just like him and do the same kind of work he did.

Over the years Uncle Brack was a share-cropper farmer, a farmer in his own right, a store-keeper, a used-car salesman and a bus driver. Only the profession of bus driver attracted me. He worked for the Miss–Ala Stage Line, a bus company that plied a route between various towns, and one of its routes moved passengers back and forth between Vernon, Alabama and Columbus, Mississippi, a distance of some 30 miles. Vernon was a small town with few people and few amenities, and Columbus had many, including theaters, restaurants, department stores and small industrial components that provided jobs for people from Vernon.

Get it? Miss–Ala? Mississippi plus Alabama?

Uncle Brack’s bus driver uniform was a white shirt with black bow-tie, gray trousers with a black stripe down the side of each leg, and a gray hat with a large metal cap badge and a shiny black brim—he always wore the cap jauntily cocked to one side like our World War II aviators wore theirs. A holster on his belt at his right side held his ticket-punching machine, one with which he always executed a quick-draw, twirled it several times with it coming to rest in his palm, ready to punch a passenger’s ticket. In the eyes of a small boy in the 1930s, he was a combination of all the heroes in Zane Grey novels and in James Fennimore Cooper’s stories of the Native Americans of our great Northeast. In short, when I was a small boy I wanted to be exactly like my Uncle Brax.

He was an inveterate joker—he could no more resist making jokes, practical or otherwise, than the sun can resist rising in the east and setting in the west, and he  regaled any gathering which he attended with his stories. One that he told repeatedly involved a lady that had sneaked a black cat on when she boarded his bus. He said that before he left the station he saw the cat in his rear-view mirror and announced that The lady with that black pussy will have to leave. He said that five women left the bus and the others crossed their legs.

I never believed that story—I thought it was funny, even though I wasn’t sure why it was so funny. I didn’t believe it because in those days people rode the bus with pet cats and dogs, and even with a shoat in a gunnysack—for those unfamiliar with that phrase, that’s a pig in a poke, an actual young porker purchased at an auction in Columbus and now en route to a farm in Alabama where it would be fed and pampered until it became a hog, then slaughtered in the fall for the larder of a farm family, and that’s a fact—I’ve seen such cargo carried on a Miss-Ala  Stage Line bus more than once, and I’ve also seen such cargo carried on trains that ran between Columbus  and various small towns in Mississippi—that’s a subject for a future posting, so stay tuned!

People often bought baby chicks from a Columbus hatchery and boarded the bus with 100 peeping baby chickens in a flat box, similar to a pizza box but somewhat larger, with small round holes built into the sides of the box to provide oxygen for its occupants. Uncle Brack loved to tell the story of the time a lady—a very large lady—boarded his bus with such a box. En route to its destination of Vernon, Alabama, bumping along on a rutted potholed graveled road, the box fell from her lap and spilled the baby chicks, called biddies by country folk—out on the floor, and they scampered to all points of the globe, constrained only by the limits of the bus. The lady frantically ran around gathering them up and putting them back in the box, and at one point she leaned far over from the waist and the pressure on her stomach produced a certain sound, one that resonated all over the bus. A drunk passenger was watching the lady in her quest for the biddies and spoke up with a sage bit of advice, saying That’s right, lady, if you can’t catch ’em, shoot ’em! I remember other Brackisms, but most are not completely suitable for postings on WordPress.

Uncle Brack was a likeable fellow and ladies found him attractive, and he took full advantage of that attractiveness whenever the opportunity arose, so to speak. According to my mother—his sister—when Uncle Brack came in from a night out, usually tanked up with Alabama moonshine or beer illegally transported across the Alabama state line from Mississippi, his mother—my grandmother—would go through his pockets and retrieve any items that were manufactured ostensibly for the prevention of disease, but in those long ago days were mostly used for the prevention of pregnancies—condoms. As my mother told the story, on his wedding day she presented a gift, a cigar box filled with unused condoms. I believe the story because I believe my mother—had Uncle Brack told the story I would not have believed it.

After all that carousing around in search of a bride—that’s what he told his mother he was doing—Uncle Brack married a widow, a sturdy no-nonsense woman with two children from her first marriage, a six-year old girl and a boy of 12 years. The couple stayed married for many years, adding three more children to the family, and the marriage was ended only by his death. During those years of marriage I never heard a word—not even a hint—that Uncle Brack ever returned to his errant ways with women. It was, in effect, a marriage made in heaven.

There’s lots more to be told about my Uncle Brack, but I’ll hold it in abeyance for future postings, so stay tuned.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
 

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