Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Tale Of Pre-Security

Deja voodoo all over the place.

I want to leave the country. Legally. At least for a while. It's a thing.

I might hike or something.

To do that I need a passport.

Last week I checked at the post office to find out the days and hours I could do this.

The man I talked to said I'd need a photo. I knew that. He said it would cost $110. I knew that.

He said there was a $25 fee. I didn't know that, but OK.

To confirm I said "So that's $135." No, he said, $110 plus $25. "$135, right?" I said, hopefully.

He said that the passport fee was $110 and there was a $25 processing fee. I wrote all this down, added it up, and came to $135, which seemed to make sense to me.

He seemed dubious.

The hours were OK: Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

So far so good. He reminded me that I'd need a photo. Twice. (Three times in all.)

So far so good.

A few days ago I went back.

I was wearing pants.

And I had:

* The official form, filled out.

* $135 in cash, since I didn't want to mess with a check or credit card, which were both listed as options, on the form.

* Two photos, as required, in the correct size.

* An official birth certificate.

The form asked for my parents' full birth dates, but I only know the years so I just put them in. I hope it's good enough. I believe only terrorists know really detailed information like day of birth and month of birth, and normal people don't. I'm trying hard to seem normal so I think that's in my favor. We'll see.

The clerk saw that I had already signed the form and told me I'd have to come back in three years, after getting a spanking, because I shouldn't have.

He was right. On line 1476B, subsection 18, in bold, 3-point type it says not to. I'm a naughty one, I guess, but he pulled out a scrap of paper and had me sign it while he watched. He said that would work too.

This was obviously a test. And not just an ordinary test, but a two-part test.

First, to prove that I knew what a pen was.

If I had grabbed the pen and immediately poked both my eyes out, I'm sure I would have failed, oh so miserably.

Second, to prove I could write, I guess. I can, I could, I did, signing my very own name again, successfully.

I passed. OK so far.

Time to pay.

I offered $135 in cash.

No. They don't take cash.

There are two fees: $110 and $25. They have to be two separate transactions. The first one is $110. To pay that I had to buy a money order with cash, at a cost of $1.10, print my name on it and hand it back to the clerk.

I tried not to.

I tried giving him my credit card. He said it was good for only $25. But I could pay with a check if I wanted.

No. I had brought cash so I wouldn't have to do any of this stuff, but after a while we got it worked out. Meaning that we did it his way.

$110 in cash, plus $1.10 in cash, and then he gave me the money order, and then I handed back the money order.

On to the next part, also involving money. Yay!

The clerk accepted cash for the $25 fee, without twitching, while I held my breath. But he forgot to make me kiss his ring, which I'm having some guilty feelings about now. I should have reminded him. We'll see. I hope it doesn't come back to me later. I am on camera not kissing any rings at all.


He cut my photograph in two. I had brought two images on one sheet of photo paper, and handed them over, then he cut one off and gave it back to me. He said I could keep it for my records. But I have a mirror in my bathroom, which fills all my needs, so. What?

I reminded him that I was supposed to bring two. It's on the form. Bring two identical photographs. It's on the form.

He said they don't do that any more, so I should keep the second one. (The form lied to me. Nasty lying form. We isn't trusting it again, ever. Nasssssty form. We isn't ever trusting it again.)

While the clerk was mutilating my photograph I casually remarked that it's a good thing I'm not the kind of guy who, about now, would be standing there waving his arms and screaming. He didn't say anything. I'm not sure he heard me. Or maybe he was thinking how bitchin I looked in my 2x2-inch photo.

Probably not.

I don't think he was that impressed. I guess I just didn't come across as funny, or threatening, or bitchin. Anyway, I wasn't trying to be funny.

Then the clerk disappeared.

I had my credit card out, floating around. I had one stray floating photo, and that had to be recaptured too. And I had another piece or two of paper, plus two receipts, one for $110 and one for $25, signifying the two transactions, you know.

But I had no driver's license.

You have to bring one.

For identification.

I'd had it out, and I didn't want to lose it, because, you know....

And now I couldn't find it.

After a while the clerk came back and handed it to me. He had gone off to make a photocopy, which I hadn't known, because he's a mumbler. A really, really good mumbler.

In fact it was only then that I realized why I hadn't been able to understand any more than every third or fourth word. Because he must have been one of the best of the best. A mumbling instructor.

They ARE the best of the best.

I imagined him at the front of a room. A room full of chairs, and in each chair a fresh, shiny clerk in training, and he was teaching each of them how to talk like you talk when you have a whole cheeseburger in your mouth. But he didn't have one.

I know.

I had him open his mouth and stick out his tongue and there was no cheeseburger in there. Anywhere.

He's a pro.

I could never, ever be that good.

But we got past it. You lean how to do that in relationships, so we worked, and got past it.

Only one thing left.

For some reason he had to check my birth certificate and find my birth date. I'm not sure why. It could be his hobby. But he got it wrong. He found the date I applied to get the copy, which is on there, and it says "December 23, 2010".

And that confused him. I'm way too young.

I directed him to the birth date line but it still, to him, seemed wrong. Somehow.

I told him that I should write Harry Shearer about how my day went but I don't think he heard me. Or he didn't care. Or he thought I was bluffing. Or doesn't know who Harry Shearer is. Not that Harry Shearer would care.

I'm just this guy, you know?

But it passed. We moved on.

The clerk decided that my birth date was my birth date and read it out loud. Four or five times.

I began to feel proud. My birth date, I think, must be a really good one.

It may have been a first for his collection, especially since I'm from a very small, really goofy state that has more cow poop than electricity.

He seemed pleased by all this in his expressionless, mumbling way.

Almost done. I had only to gather up my collection of waste paper and receipts, and leave.

While I did this the clerk told me that the process will take three to five weeks. He said this at least four times, except that once he said four to six weeks.

I think he wanted to see if I was paying attention.

I was paying attention.

Helpfully, the clerk finally informed me that if I want to know about the progress of my passport application I can check the web site. I pull out my receipts, looking them over for a tracking number while asking if there is a tracking number I can use.


I am free to go to the web site and search around. Somewhere. Somewhere at the web site of the State Department there will be a place that will tell me where to go, and then if I want to, I can go there.

Fine, I said. I'll keep that secret close to my heart.

I said this with feeling. And I will do it too. I will keep this secret so very close to my heart, and cuddle with it whenever I am feeling lost and hopeless, or chilly.

That was it. I was told I was done.

Next I get to meet the TSA. I can't wait. I hear they're nice.

But first, "Quit whining. It ain't that bad," someone said, over my shoulder.

And that is exactly what the clerk then repeated. In fact, those were the clearest words he spoke, to which I replied "Oh, yeah?"

Directly following this we engaged in a reasonably short arm wrestling tournament (best one out of one) to settle our differences, which we did, pretty quickly, although there was too much grunting and screaming for my taste.

Who won isn't relevant, but I'd like to say right now that these injuries are taking a lot longer to heal than I'd hoped. I can still barely even use a spoon to feed myself, let alone the cat.

I have no idea when this cat showed up. I didn't used to have a cat, but he's a good conversationalist, and has been nice about licking my scabs to keep them from cracking. He's a good napper too, which I admire.

Sir! Mr. Clerk, Sir! (I have to call him that from now on) and I did part amicably though (I am legally required to say that). In fact, in a gesture of magnanimity, or possibly of pity (either works for me) he let me test-lick a whole new line of stamps that will be available soon: peach, plum, persimmon, cinnamon-ginger beer, and spicy green apple, in handy denominations from 47.25 cents up through $22.37 (for those larger, fatter letters full of legal documents, and for passport applications).


That's all taken care of.

Now I guess I just wait for the FBI to kick my door down.

If they don't, I'm free to go.