Tuesday, September 21, 2021

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Joe's Neighborhood

The peanut butter caper


Am I being punished for secretly liking romance novels featuring a pirate as the main character?

Pick up backpack. Shuffle one step. Set down backpack. Breathe. Turn around to see if I’m somehow miraculously closer.

I’m not.

Pick up backpack. Shuffle one step. Set down backpack. Breathe. Turn around.

Listen, I had plenty of warning about this. My mom always told me if I kept on teasing my sisters I’d go to “hell in a hand basket.” I just didn’t know she meant the hand basket was located at passport control in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.’

But here I am.

Prep Iowa

The line curves back and forth and back and forth in a neatly carved maze of black bands connected to gleaming metal poles. I am at the very end. Perhaps 300 people in front of me. We can see the automatic machines that will read our passports directly in front of us, but we frustratingly turn away from our goal, first to the left and then to the right, in a slow mournful procession. All that’s missing is the casket.
I’m in the process of coming home to Des Moines. Gone for 30 days in the land of the Dutch. A retreat among windmills and art and Dutch friends.

“A journey of self-discovery that most folks take when they are 16 years old,” my wife kindly points out.


“You’re working on your self-esteem?” She says with a barely-contained smile.

Well, sure.

“Didn’t you get participation ribbons when you were a little kid?”

This is her quaint way of saying that she is wholly supportive of this adventure.

A preacher in a white collar is 20 people in front of me. I pass him after each switchback. I bet this is a real challenge to his faith. You know, the whole “first shall be last and last shall be first” thing. Clearly, as the line barely moves, the last shall be even further last at this airport.

Being gone from home for so long, I had to think about something special to bring home for my wife. Something that really speaks to my consistent vows of loyalty and love for her, something that pops with astounding amazement and surprise, something that just sweeps her off her feet so she lands in my arms singing “You’re the One.”

Peanut butter seemed the obvious choice.

Lordy, I’ve finally made it to the automatic passport machine. In goes the passport. Oops, wrong direction. Re-insert. Yikes, it’s taking a photo. Only half of my face is on the screen. Reposition. Out shoots a slip of paper. Giddily, I present it to the uniformed man. He nods and sends me not into the airport as I expected, but into another maze going BACK to the end of a new line, just where I started 300 people ago.

Ahhhhhhhh. Am I being punished for secretly liking romance novels featuring a pirate as the main character?

As for my wife’s gift, trust me, my wife really likes peanut butter. And Dutch peanut butter is her very favorite. She has everything already — earrings, a grandchild, the love of a good man. But what does she not have? You guessed it, Dutch peanut butter.

Oh, my goodness, I’m finally talking to a live agent at passport control.

“Why were you in The Netherlands?” the uniformed young woman asks.

I have a gut feeling that to say I was working on Brene Brown’s notion of self-esteem is not the right answer.’

“Pleasure?” But that sounds like I’ve spent my time smoking dope and going to the Red Light District.

How about “Visiting friends”?

“Welcome home,” she says.

Before I leave Holland, I buy my wife’s gift of Dutch peanut butter. I bury it deep in my backpack so that it will not break. I easily make it through the stringent controls at the Amsterdam Airport, where you stand in a large machine with your hands raised while the security folks count the freckles on your back.

One last security line to go through before I get on my final plane to Des Moines. I place my backpack on the rollers and give it a push toward the scanner. I patiently wait on the other side. And wait. And wait.

“Is this your bag?”


“Don’t touch it,” one uniformed woman shouts.

I jump back. Even I become concerned. Does it have secret nuclear codes buried in my long-sleeve wool shirts? Are there illegal designer drugs tucked into my SmartWool socks? Is the answer to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart hidden in my art book on Pieter de Hooch?

The two women open the crammed backpack and root around.

No luck. They pull out my red underwear. Really? For everyone to see? Again, no luck.

Finally, they look at me in exasperation and ask if I have anything in a jar.

I look dumb, have an aha moment, and then slowly and guiltily say: “Peanut butter?”

And there’s the culprit.

So, today only, an awesome jar of Dutch peanut butter is now owned by the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.

And my wife?

No gift. Our marriage is left to flounder on the rocks of the loveless. The hopes of salvaging the unsalvageable is dashed. No couple can survive a peanut butter caper.

But no worries, folks.

She’s Irish. Her favorite gift? A story. Everyone knows that. So when we land, here’s her story. Just written. Eight-hundred words. Simple and sweet. What a great gift. What a thoughtful husband. How clever am I.

By the way, do you think that jewelry store is still open downtown? ♦

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www. joesneighborhood.com.

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