— Excuse me Sir, you’re not allowed to bring those into the country.
— Why not?
— They’re contraband — not allowed. Against the law. Illegal.
— But they’re only cigars! Surely that’s OK.
— No they’re not — they are asparagus.
— Not at all; they’re panatelas. Look.
— Sir, you are brandishing a box of asparagus spears.
— Spears? What? I have no spears. I have cigars. You know, tobacco.
— It is not permitted to bring raw vegetables into the United States.
— What does that have to do with my cigars?
— Certain fruits and vegetables carry the risk of contamination via pests and bacteria.
— But the heat from the smoke would surely kill any pests in my cigars —
— The Mediterranean fruit fly outbreak of 1980 can be traced to just three male fruit flies.
— That’s awfully specific. I don’t know what that has to do with my cigars though, to be perfectly honest.
— Sir, they’re not cigars. You have been duped. You are the victim of a hoax.
— You have been marked as a rube and have fallen for the oldest trick in the book.
— Why, I —
— You have been sold a box of asparagus spears in lieu of your panatelas.
— How is that even possible?
— I see it all the time. You’re not alone. It’s a racket. But you have to hand them over, I’m afraid, because under the current customs guidelines, they are restricted. You can bring in as many cigars as you fancy, just not asparagus.
— But what are you going to do with them?
— I am duty bound to confiscate them, Sir.
— Well, I’ll be darned . . .
— I’m sorry, Sir; them’s the rules. Move along now; you’re holding up the line.
* * *
— Pssst — Jason!
— Yo, wassup?
— Get a load of these panatelas I just confiscated.
— Nice, brother! What d’you want for them?
— $50 should do it.
— I’ll give you $20.
— Sold. That old asparagus line works every damn time.
Vegetables, The Knapp Press, 1983