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zingmagazine

zingmagazine10 autumn 1999

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“No,” I sheepishly replied. “I don’t see him anywhere.”

“We have to begin,” Rabbi Dworkin solemnly said.

I nodded. This was one show we had to get on the road. Jennifer had waited so long for this, there was no way that I would disappoint her.

I walked over to my future father-in-law. “Howard, would you fill the breech and stand in as best man?” I asked him. This sweet kind man said, “Yes, of course I will. I’d consider it an honor.”

I stood with Howard under the ‘chupa’, it was a Jewish wedding. The music began and Jennifer’s maid of honor walked up the aisle followed by the ringbearer, Joshua, Jennifer’s seven year old son and my soon-to-be stepson. He looked real handsome in his black tuxedo, a replica of mine, just smaller.

And then the fanfare began and I let my mind go blank. The beginning of Felix Mendelsohn’s melodic “Wedding March” drifted through the air as Jennifer, radiant and beautiful Jennifer in her wedding gown, slowly walked up the aisle. Accompanying her was her beaming mother, Magalys, and her mother’s older brother, Angel.

As I gazed into Jennifer’s sparkling hazel eyes, the Rabbi began intoning the age old marriage ceremony. “Do you, Jennifer Rosales, take Melvin Mendelsohn . . .” It was repeated in Hebrew and Spanish for the multicultural guests. The Rabbi came to the part of the ceremony where he asked for the best man to come forward, take the wedding rings, and hand them to him. Howard momentarily lost his way. The Rabbi, in a loud irritated voice, said, “Will the best man, whoever and wherever he is, please step forward.”

A red-faced Howard began to move and that was when the door burst open and Mohammed flew in shouting, “The best man is here!”

And this very solemn occasion was disrupted by the uncontrollable laughter of many while Mohammed took his place like nothing happened.

That was my last fond memory of Mohammed Yousaf. I blamed him for the situation I was now in, trapped on a plane with nowhere to go.

I didn’t know it at this time, but one of the women had told the Customs agents my name and all of my flight information. They reached my seat in minutes. As I waited for them to put their hands on me my heart felt like a drum in my chest, my life’s blood roared and pounded through my brain. They had a full description of me: white male, five feet eight inches tall, one hundred seventy-five pounds, distinguished looking gray hair, gentle appearing hazel eyes, mature, refined, handsome face.

There was no where to run, no where to hide. I was a tasty meal for defeat, full of hot blood and righteous anger.

The careless ones, the incompetent ones, had brought me down hard.

“Mr. Mendelsohn,” they began, “please come with us. We’d like to ask you a few questions. Don’t worry, you’ll make the next flight.”

Someone once told me, “if you’re going to lie, make it a big one.” I’m thinking that the Customs agents’ lie is the biggest one I’ve heard. I am not an unintelligent man, I knew I was going down.

They kept on talking to me. “Where is your luggage?”

I pointed my thumb up at the overhead rack. As usual I had no checked-in baggage, only a small carry-on, along with it a shopping bag. The bag contained a German made cuckoo clock. I purchased it in Frankfurt. Rising to accompany the agents I said, “Be careful with the shopping bag, it holds a present for my wife.”

I suppose you’re wondering why a cuckoo clock would be so important to me at this time. I don’t really know. Perhaps I was trying to hold onto something familiar. I knew right then and there my life was going to change. Perhaps I was thinking that the cuckoo clock would provide a small ray of sunshine to pierce the dark clouds of life that would swirl in on Jennifer’s existence.

Why do we hurt the ones we love the most? Why do they let us?

I wanted to break away from these men and run to Jennifer. If I could have talked to her at that time I would have said, “Two and a half weeks ago, February 3rd, you made me the happiest man alive by marrying me. How proud I was when we pledged our love to each other. The Rabbi’s words branded into my mind...’for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or worse . . .’. In the very near future we will experience the negatives—poorer, sickness at heart, and the worst situation. It may seem as if the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse—fear—is trying to strip you and me of our honor and dignity. But, if we hang in there and weather the storm, it will strengthen our character and our marriage. You are a proud woman, Jennifer Mendelsohn, perhaps too proud and too tough in battling to survive in this world as we know it. You have to give vent to your emotions. Allow me to share your pain. I know the woman you are, you are remarkable and decent, a woman who feels, hurts, needs and yes, sometimes, even cries. Let’s you and I show our mettle and survive this whirlwind of tragedy.”

I pulled the sweet memory of Jennifer to me. This was the only way I could get off the plane in the company of the men who were destined to bring me down.

I thought of Jennifer. I recalled the vacations we took—Miami Beach, Jamaica, Puerto Plata, Saint Maarten, the Bahamas, Hawaii—the places where the sun shone, our love blossomed, and we’d been so happy. “Let’s override the dark days coming. Soon we will hope, laugh, love and see the sun once again,” I thought.

I did not know where these men were taking me. I knew it would be a dark place.

I held on tight to my Jennifer. I wanted to say to her, “There will be danger, And hurt. But we’ve both come through things few people ever face. I believe in you. I always have. We can triumph because I love you far too much not to try.”

We were moving back toward the airport. I laughed to myself as I recalled the Customs agent saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll make the next flight.” The flight to hell because that was surely where they were leading me.

I remember the last words Jennifer said to me when we said goodbye to each other at Newark International: “Mel, please be careful.” I was careful, but not quite careful enough.
That afternoon at O’Hare Airport I felt like a man who had run into a brick wall. The impact wasn’t fatal, but I was wobbly on my feet.

The Customs agents led me to an office and introduced me to Customs Inspectors Tom Noss and Bob Major. Tom asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee.

I looked from Tom to Bob, then said , “No, thank you.”

Tom pointed to a chair. “Make yourself comfortable. I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

“Go right ahead,” I told him, acting nonchalant.

Tom looked into me, his blue eyes like lasers. “Did you travel from Frankfurt accompanied by two women, Isabel Rosado and Maria Ayala?”

I had learned from my previous life as an educator to answer direct questions and nothing else in situations like this. And, when you do answer, you only tell the part of the truth that helps you. “Yes,” I said, knowing he wouldn’t have asked me if he didn’t already know.
“What was the purpose of your trip to Frankfurt?”

If he had already talked to Maria and Isabel I’m sure he knew the answer to that question. But, I wasn’t about to give up any more information than I had to. “I am a partner in a New York travel agency,” I told him, then reached into my inside jacket pocket and produced a business card.

Tom took my card and handed it to Bob who read it quickly then stuffed it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

Tom came back at me with the questions.

“Why were the women with you?”

“I can handle this one,” I told myself. “My partners and I are looking to expand our agency and are contemplating opening a small office in Germany. In Frankfurt, Isabel and Maria were being screened as possible employees and were brought to Frankfurt to observe German travel agencies in operation.” I smiled after that. I didn’t know if either Tom or Bob believed me, but that one went down pretty smoothly. I began thinking that maybe there was some hope for Mel Mendelsohn.

But that was when tom got tough, no more Mr. Nice Guy, it was hard ball now.

“Did you have any knowledge that the two women were carrying drugs on their persons? To be accurate, about three kilograms—6.6 pounds—of heroin? Each?”

I went for my Academy Award then, figuring what did I have to lose. I let my mouth flop open like a man who had just been sandbagged by some surprising news. “I can’t Believe it!” I exclaimed, trying to look like a man who was shocked and disappointed.

Then Bob,who had been silent, joined the party. “Mel?” he waded in.

I looked toward him. I didn’t like the tone of his voice. I was already missing Mister Nice Guy Tom Noss.

“Is it okay if I call you Mel?” Bob asked. But I knew it didn’t make any difference what I wanted.

My goose was cooked and I knew it. But, even worse than that was the fact that Tom Noss and Bob Major knew. From the moment Bob used my first name I knew he didn’t believe me.

“Cut the bullshit!” Bob said, taking off the gloves, so to speak. “One girl screwed up at Immigration. We know the whole story.”

I wasn’t surprised at Bob’s revelation but I was still going for my Academy Award, so I continued to look like a man in serious need of a reality check. My impression read, “This can’t be happening to me! I trusted those women! How could this happen!”

Neither Tom nor Bob were convinced. They were a tough audience and I was acting my heart out. I wasn’t prepared to stop until they beat me into submission with the truth they had got ten out of Isabel and Maria.