Monday, October 17, 2005

Ministry of Fear: T-shirt division

I line up at the postal outlet with my parcel. The Man in Baton Rouge has a collection of T-shirts from family reunions in various states and places he’s visited but he has nothing from Canada. I’m going to rectify that with a tasteful navy T-shirt, sporting the word, “Halifax” and displaying – what was it now? – the provincial crest? Or a tall ship? – one of those. The shirt is stuffed into a padded envelope that I’ve pilfered from our recycles at work and neatly labeled with his address.

The woman at the counter hands me a customs declaration form and reads what I write on it: “T-shirt.”
“Is it new or used?” she asks.
“Is it new or used?”
“New.” What the hell is this? Do I get a discount if it’s used? Will it fly there on a WWII surplus plane?
“You’d better make sure you mark that on the label,” she tells me.
“What? Why?”
“Because,” she advises me, with a perfectly serious, straight face, “if it’s used you need a decontamination certificate.”

Now, really. It was bad enough when I couldn’t send maple candy or hard candy in the shape of a corny lighthouse to my American friends. It stinks enough that I can never, ever surprise anyone with a gift because of the stupid customs sticker. It’s crappy enough that the fee for mailing any small parcel item to the U.S. seems to start at $10.00 with delivery “guaranteed in 10 to 14 days.”

But this?

Who does this? I mean who do I see to get a decontamination certificate for a used T-shirt? Are they like Notary Publics? Do laboratories have divisions of T-shirt decontamination? Are they in the yellow pages? Does the decontamination process leave an odor? Will my friends’ allergies react to what they use? Is there some child out there thinking to himself, When I grow up, I’m going to decontaminate used clothes! You watch me!

I have, in recent times, traveled back and forth across the border. Don’t tell anyone this, okay? But I carry with me (shhhh) used clothes. And the odd time used clothes that need to be laundered.

One of these days, you’ll never hear from me again. And you can nod and say, It was the underwear. They found the underwear.