Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Tales Of Pre-Security

Deja voodoo all over.

I want to leave the country. Legally. At least for a while.

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 at the time. 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.

Today I went back.

I had:
* The official form, filled out.
* $135 in cash, since I didn't want to mess with a check or credit card.
* Two photos, as required, in the correct size.
* An official birth certificate.

I didn't know my mother's or father's day and month of birth, so I put down the years. I hope that works. 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. To prove I could write, I guess.

OK so far. I passed.

Time to pay.

I offered $135 in cash.

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 that.

But after a while we got it worked out. Meaning that we did it his way.

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

On to part two.

The clerk accepted cash for the $25 fee, without twitching, while I held my breath.

But he forgot to make me kiss his ring. I'm having some guilty feelings now.

Then 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 out and handed the other to me. He said I could keep it for my records. But I have a mirror in the bathroom, which fills my needs.

I said I was supposed to bring two. It's on the form.

He said they don't do that any more, so I should keep the second one.

I told him 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.

But probably not.

I don't think he's like that, and I'm not, so I guess I just wasn't funny. And I wasn't trying to be funny.

Then the clerk disappeared.

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

But I had no driver's license.

You have to bring one.

For identification.

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 good one.

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 a mumbling instructor.

They are the best of the best.

I imagined him in the front of a room, showing every counter clerk 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 be that good.

But we 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 too young.

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

I tell 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 passes. The clerk finds my birth date and reads it out loud. Four or five times.

It must be a good one.

It may be a first for his collection.

He seems pleased in his non-expressive, mumbling way.

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

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

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

I was paying attention.

Helpfully, the clerk finally informs 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 while asking if there is a tracking number I can use.

No.

But I can go to the web site and search around. Somewhere.

Fine, I say. I'll keep that secret close to my heart. I say it with feeling. And I will do it too.

I am now free to go.

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

On the way out of the post office I check my box.

In it I find, exactly on schedule, my latest DVD from Netflix. "Duck Soup".

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