by Sheldon C. Wesson
The three young customs officers were friendly. All the way down to the warehouse in the taxi we had chatted, in broken English and shattered Japanese, and we were pals by the time the workmen got around to opening the crates.
Personal and household effects; two crates, one liftvan. That's what the customs declaration had said. Personal and household effects enter Japan duty free on an initial shipment.
They tackled the smallest crate first. When the men removed the lid, there was Josephine, the old 7x11 Gordon, wobbling on her bolts after a seven weeks' voyage from New York, but otherwise apparently okay.
"Ah, Mis-tah Wesson. This, ah, what is?"
Gay reply: "Oh, that's my baby-chan."
Polite smiles. "Large baby-chan. What is?"
"Printing press. You know, insatsu."
"Insatsu? Ah, so. Then what, Mis-tah Wesson, is your oc-cu-pa-tion?"
"Occupation? Oh, no. This has nothing to do with my occupation. This is my hobby."
"Hobby?" Rapid chatter in the local tongue among the three. The nearest they could get to "hobby" was a vague relation to a horse.
So I explained further. "Some people collect stamps. Some people paint pictures. I have a printing shop. You know...."
"Ah, so. Yes, yes. Hobby. Oh, yes." And the matter seemed to be settled.
But a few minutes later we were on dangerous ground again--"dangerous" meaning "duty, ad valorem, etc."
"Mis-tah Wesson, please, what is your oc-cu-pa-tion?"
"Newspaper correspondent. Kog yo shimbun, you know."
The connection became apparent and light dawned. "So, you use printing machine for your newspaper work?"
Light laughter. "Oh, no. Just to print things for friends. Little books."
No one was convinced. But, Customs Inspector No. 2 was just then going through the stuff in the big liftvan--9800 pounds of furniture and cartons and stuff--examining every fifth or sixth package. By luck, he opened the carton containing back numbers of Siamese Standpipe.
I leaped upon this favorable evidence. As luck would have it he picked out the issue with Helen's little story about how Sheldon P. was born in Tokyo. Waka Danna-sama is the title of that piece. It is illustrated with linoleum cuts of Japanese dolls. And in the center spread of another is the multi-colored dragon. All that they appreciated.
Then to help matters, they found the little 2 x 4 press that Sheldon the Smaller uses, Little Josette. "My little boy's toy," I explained. That amused them.
"This one is little boy's toy. The other one is my toy."
Gay laughter. "Big toy, no?" And the crisis was over. I was too relieved to follow up with a recruiting spiel.
So Josephine, the former Bilious Bull Press, companion of Alf Babcock and solace of the Wessons, 70 years old, entered Japan as a toy. Duty free.
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