For those that don’t know me, I’ve been indulging in bouts of chemo treatment not so long ago. Sensing I needed a little boost towards the finish line, a good friend offered to take me to China. Dangling the travel carrot was just like promising a feedbag stuffed with sugar cubes to an old nag at the winner’s gate.
And there is something incredibly sexy about getting on a plane bound for an exotic land. Nothing compares to that moment when you are completely lost and can’t even fake the host country’s language well enough to butcher it.
So, armed with the knowledge that I would soon be viewing such sights as Emperor Qin’s Terracotta Army and Tiananmen Square, I bounced into my last chemo appointment, arms extended and blue veins bulging.
Hours later, with IV sack’s drained, I gingerly pulled down my sleeve and waved goodbye to the beloved nurses. I was positively bubbling with excitement…and sporting a slight toxic glow. My goal was to get some rest, build up my white blood cell count…and find my passport.
I checked my thong drawer where I stash travel documents and opened the official blue covered passport. A come-hither blonde I barely recognized stared back at me, prompting an immediate check of the expiration date. As suspected, I had just a month to renew…and maybe sprout some coverage on my bald scalp.
Since my hairless issue wasn’t in the passport renewal FAQ’s, I called the Bureau of Consular Affairs. After a relatively lengthy hold time, they advised me to buck up and buy a wig. If I had wanted a wig, would I have waited until after chemo? So I pulled a hat down low over my noggin and headed to the pharmacy for photos.
“Can I help you?” asked the husky woman with an “RIP Elvis” tattoo on her forearm.
“I need some passport photos.” I said.
The rockabilly chick instructed me to stand over two taped footprints on the floor and smile.
“You’ve got to take off the hat.” She said.
“It might be better if I keep it on.”
“It’s not allowed. You can only wear a hat for religious purposes.”
“That doesn’t seem fair…can I convert now?”
“Listen, I don’t make the rules. The hat’s got to go.”
I removed my cap and her eyes widened.
“I just finished chemo.” I mumbled.
“Damn it sister…I know all about that. My cousin had a tumor the size of a cantaloupe growing in her rectum.”
This is something you hear often…invariably everyone knows someone who has something growing somewhere, and just like new mothers repeating the horrors of labor (the rips, the tears, the bulbous hemorrhoids), you are going to listen to every last detail of that lump and how big it grew.
I’d nearly forgotten about my travel papers until one day a padded envelope with an official stamp arrived. I knew the photos would be bad, but I wasn’t prepared for ….
Good Lord, where did my forehead go? Actually the whole top of my head is missing. It’s like someone decided to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Or they got a little too liberal with the Witeout. When I stopped laughing…and crying…I panicked. If I was lucky enough to get to China with this mugshot…what if they wouldn’t let me back OUT of the country? Clearly I look terminal…and contagious. I’d heard they frown on both.
The day of the trip I kissed my husband goodbye at the airport, and headed for security. When it was my turn, the security agent opened my passport…and then slowly raised his head to verify the egghead in question. As he looked into my eyes, time froze. I could only assume he was profiling me as a drug-running, arms-trafficking, computer-hacking, DVD-pirating middleman, disguised as an invalid.
“Wait here,” he said, and was gone.
Finally he returned with a mountainous female agent in tow. Sweat rolled wild and free as only sweat unimpeded by hair can do. I visualized an intimate back room with “Olga” and a full body cavity strip search, ending with a squeal and a moment to compose myself. Instead, he stamped my ticket and waved me through security.
“Enjoy your trip,” he said, then momentarily confusing my gender added, “I hear you can get a great knock-off Armani suit in Shanghai for next to nothing.”
Obviously I was way off the mark with my perception of what was happening at the security checkpoint because from that day forward I’ve been given Transport Security PreCheck fast track approval.