Keenan forgot his favorite watch back in the United States, and by the way he spoke of it, I would not have been surprised should the thing have been able to cook dinner. “It is an amazing watch,” he said, the way most people speak of their children or spouses, “and I feel uncomfortable without it around my wrist.”
So he had the watch shipped from the states, the way most stupid and unsuspecting newbies to Panama do: by regular mail. I warned him that the package had about as much of a chance arriving at his doorstep in Panama, as did Pamela Anderson. If he was shipping anything valuable, it had to be done through a reputable company.
But no, he wanted to ship it regular mail, and about a month and a half later, Keenan sat watch-less staring out the window: perhaps looking for this watch to precipitate down from the heavens like acid jewelry.
But then finally, about 50 days after the thing was sent, we got a notification. It said something to the effect of: Your package has arrived. It is in Caledonia. Retrieve it if you dare!
For those of you outside the thugs-and-hoodlums circuit in Panama City, Caledonia is basically headquarters. It’s this dilapidated and scary neighborhood way down Via Espana in which you shouldn’t really be hanging out unless you’re looking to get mugged or do some mugging of your own. Because we would need proper identification to acquire the legendary watch, we would not be able to send a messenger. We’d have to go ourselves.
“I’ve never seen you walk this fast in my life” Keenan said, trailing me by a good fifteen paces on our way to the office. He was right. I was walking far quicker than I thought physically capable, but in all fairness, I had motivation. Take, for example, the curled up homeless woman on the corner, sitting on a sheath of dirtied cardboard shouting “hey, give me your money now little brother man.” It wasn’t possible that we could be related, but just the thought of having family get-togethers with this gremlin woman made me throw up a little bit in my mouth.
Also on the street, were several men who looked like they could attack me blindfolded. I happened to be wearing some really nice loafers that day, and I could see their eyes following my footsteps, much like the way a shark follows a minnow before he crushes it, instantly and frighteningly with his dazzling shark jaws.
We finally reached what appeared to be the post office package area. It looked pretty familiar: lots of small locked boxes on the wall and several bored-looking women behind plastic windows. We showed her the slip and were re-directed to another post office not too far away. But following the woman’s pollo-scratch instructions, we couldn’t, for the lives of us, figure out where to go.
She eventually walked us there, and when we arrived, we couldn’t help but cackle. It was this room, about the size of a squash court for midgets, packed—literally to the brim—with boxes of all shapes and sizes. There was an older man, cocked back in a desk chair tossing envelopes into three vague and indistinct piles. Some of the envelopes would get hit by a gust of wind from the nearby floor fan, and would take off landing somewhere else where, presumably, they’d stay.
Oddly enough, the intimidatingly fat guy at the main desk knew exactly where Keenan’s watch package was. So here I am, really expecting a package, the probable dimensions more or less that of a refrigerator. But what we got was seriously no bigger than a box of tissues. I sighed, gave the man our slip, assuming that would be the end. But no. We had to pay. Bigtime.
Customs charges ten or fifteen percent of the value inside each international package and Keenan’s shipper had listed the contents at a whopping $1,000. This meant that, just to collect the package, we had to pay $150 on the spot, cash. We didn’t have that kind of money, so we offered the man thirty. He took it like a fool, but in reality, we were the ones probably getting ripped off.
We arrived back to Casco with the watch Keenan wore proudly our his left wrist. I assume he must’ve felt more comfortable with the thing securely in his custody. But in reality, from our bizarre trip to Caledonia, it was me who was the one left a bit frazzled.