08 May 2008

M. Franck Returns to the Land of His Birth

Ah, Spring. Back to the Gubernatorial Scarlet Letter State. When we departed New York in January, the only New York Governor whom I could recall making the front pages for his extra-curricular activities was Nelson Rockefeller, he of the dramatic exit. In the past three months we have added two more Luv Guvs. Is this a virus? Should we wear a masks? And unlike Las Vegas, what happens in New York State stays... on the front page of the New York Post.

But as the politicians say, back on message: M. Franck has once again defied the odds- - our placid fourteen year old lab has had his virtual canine passport stamped twice more on the way home in his trusty crate. And, as ever, he has done it in his inimitable style, crapping his way across the globe, making no less than six crate entrances and exits en route. It's all the humans' fault; Frank would have been happy to go into the crate on Tuesday, and come out on Wednesday.

Btw, we have learned our lesson: for this trip, Frank is drug free.

It all starts, of course, in St. Barths, where the chartered rubber-band plane is prepared for the ten-minute trip to St. Maarten. Our baggage (overweight, naturellement) is loaded onto the five passenger puddle jumper (would be seven passenger, except Frank's crate required the removal of the back seat), and the empty crate is placed aboard with the door of the crate facing the door of the airplane. Frank is then poured into the crate by his personal weight lifter. Once in, he turns around, settles down on his bed, looks out at me with his ears forward that causes those adorable wrinkles in his brow, opens wide the big browns, and all but speaks, "Okay, boss, I know the drill, what are you guys so nervous about?" He is at his gracious best. We are at our neurotic worst. Doors are closed, they wind up the rubber band, let it spin the prop, and we are off.

Fifteen minutes later, we are on the tarmac at St. Maarten, parked in the small-plane area. The rear door is opened, the pilot and I lift the crate out of the plane and put it on the tarmac, I open the crate door, and Frank is free for the leashed 25 yard walk to the bus that will take us to the terminal. But the tarmac is too warm for his majesty's comfort, so he expresses his displeasure in his inimitable fashion. He poops. The pilot is shocked. He has never seen a dog take a crap on his tarmac before, and he tells Pinks, "Mon dieu, you must pick zat up!" An unnecessary admonition, because we go nowhere without a pocketful of plastic bags.

But Frank then refuses to walk on the hot pavement, so we recover his crate from the baggage handler, put Frank back in, and off he goes, riding comfortably on the cargo trailer while we trudge across the hot pavement to the bus, carrying our purses, computers, etc, and the transparent sandwich baggie containing his highness's spoor. The bus driver, who was carefully observing the entire drama, was real happy to see us get on board with our recently acquired additional carry-on baggage.

St. Maarten has a new, modern terminal. Glass walls separate various areas, and while Pinks and I are walking down the long corridor to the immigration checkpoint, we spy Frank one level down, lying in his crate, contentedly watching the world go by while the crate goes around on the luggage carousel! Five minutes later, we recover him and he makes his second crate-exit of the day.

We find a porter. Uh, oh. He informs that this new terminal forbids uncrated pets to set foot on its immaculate new terrazzo floors; Frank is not permitted to walk to the American Airlines check-in counter. (Doubtless this rule stems from a report of Frank's extraordinary excretory exhibition at JFK in January. Now not only Frank is banned from walking in the terminal, he has ruined for it all of his kind!) Back in the goes, we traverse the hundred yards to the check-in counter, where the agent says she needs to weigh the crate--- empty. Out he comes. (#3) Then she needs to weigh the crate full. In he goes. Then because there a half-hour before we need to surrender him, we wheel the loaded crate outside, release Frank, (#4), he drinks a liter of water, pees all over the entrance-way, and while we wring our hands and catalogue the list of possible mishaps to be incurred in the coming international voyage, Frank lies down on his side on the warm concrete walkway and takes a nap.


When it is time to give him back to the airline for the voyage home, we say "Frank, into the crate," he wakes, rolls his eyeballs up, walks into the crate and shows us his disdain by settling down with his rear end facing us-- the ultimate put down. We load the crate onto the trolley, and wheel him to the special security checkpoint, where a 200+ pound uniformed St. Maarten equivalent of a TSA lady says we need to take him out of the crate so she can inspect it for bombs. I open the door of the crate, and she shrieks, "Put the leash on before you take that animal out of the cage!" Clearly a dog lover. But with the door open, I encounter Frank's tush. I start to encourage him to back out and the security lady is frantic: "You ain't allowed to take that dog out without a leash!" I am calm. I explain that the leash is designed to go on the front end of the dog, and all I can access at the moment is the back end. She is as adamant as I am frustrated. Being that it is not consistent with my personality to suffer stalemates, I proceed to remove Frank from the cage tush first, (#5) while she-who-would-keep-us-safe-from-terrorists retreats to a position behind the xray monitor lest Frank-the-Quada-dog, discovering a new sense of rejuvenation, dash across the twenty feet that separated him from the government official, leap over the xray machine, and using techniques learned at a Tora Bora madrassa-kennel, lick her to death.


When Frank was fully out of the crate, and leashed, she asked we retreat while she took a broomstick and poked around in the empty cage. Finding no bombs, she directed that I take the crate through the scanner. I gave the leash over to Pinks, and started to carry the empty cage through, but the TSA lady stopped me. "No, you gotta put the dog in first." Huh? Whatever. In he goes, I slide the crate through the arch, horns go off, (my stuff, Frank's tags, the metal grate door, etc) all of which is ignored. I no longer look for logic in these things. Process is what counts, not results. Frank is deemed secure despite the warning bells, his front door is then locked, secured with plastic wire-ties, and the loaded crate is trollied away.


Fast forward five hours, and we are at JFK, standing at the luggage carousel designated for our flight, at the same time anxiously keeping our eye on the "oversize luggage" door 50 feet away, where Frank should be appearing any minute now.

Slow forward another hour and a half, and nothing is changed. Passengers from our flight are boiling mad: half the luggage (including Frank) from AA #660 is still missing and the red jacketed AA reps patrolling the area have no information. I storm over to the AA luggage office where I make a scene and demand to speak to a supervisor. At last, one is produced. I not-so-calmly tell him this was not just about luggage, I am missing a live animal. That merits his attention. He makes a series of telephone calls, finally gets the person he wants, there is some back and forth, and my stomach flips when I hear the supervisor shout into the phone, "Listen Fucko, I have a live animal on that flight. Are you guys telling me you've lost him too?"

After listening for a few moments, the supervisor puts down the phone and tells me Frank will be at the oversize luggage belt in five minutes. Well, he was almost correct: a half-hour later, the cage rolls out onto the short belt, and there is our M. Franck in the lion pose (think NY Public Library) calmly checking out the world outside his front window. To him, it's all part of the continuing observation of the interesting world where idiot humans get excited over nothing at all. He is totally relaxed, except he doubtless is wondering why his dinner is now five hours late.

We are not quite there. The luggage for three AA jumbos having all arrived at the same time, about two hundred people need to pass through two customs checkpoints and hand in their fabricated declarations concerning the things they did not buy while out of the country. Almost all people who pass through this bottleneck get to go right home, but for the few who are suspected of having contraband, there is round two, a backup pair of customs officials whose principal job is to inspect the contents of luggage carried by people who for some reason have attracted the attention of the first tranche of officers. We are sent to this area. No, we are not suspected of smuggling in contraband, but the first pair of agents had all they could do to collect the forms, and could not be bothered to examine Frank's papers. So we wait on another very short, very slow line, watching two customs guys meticulously inspect people's dirty laundry. Nice job. One guy even sliced into the lining of a traveller's luggage. In all, we observed, over half an hour, four very thorough inspections. Yield? One confiscated baloney. Another victory in the war against drugs.


When it finally came to be our turn, the customs guy was flummoxed. Among the necessary papers to admit an animal is a veterinarian's certificate, made within ten days of entry, attesting to the animal's good health. Frank's certificate, created by Dr. Maille in St. Jean just a few days ago, was, of course, in French, a language not comprehended by this officer. Frank's two-year old rabies certificate was in English, and issued two years ago in the U.S., and our passports, of course, identified us as U.S. citizens. While all this seemed perfectly normal to us, the customs officer was overwhelmed by the international aspect of this travel. He looked at one paper, then the other, then back to first, etc,. Finally, he asked, "Is this an American dog?" We said he was. I was quick to add, "Not only is Frank an American dog, but he is a patriotic American dog, even though he lacks an American flag lapel pin, and I assure you he would be wearing one if only he had a lapel."

Well, I almost said that, but MRFL sensing my mood, gave me "The Look", I said nothing more, and Frank was accepted back home. We too. Cue Bruce Springsteen.

A bientot.

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