My Jack Nicholson Moment

I’ve never had a passport.  I’ve never needed one.  The opportunity to travel outside the US has not presented itself and probably never will.

While I don’t expect to travel out of the country at this late date, I do foresee that unless the Missouri state legislature gets off its patootey and fixes the driver’s license problem, I’ll soon need a passport to fly from here to California, so I finally decided to take the plunge.

I meticulously completed each line of the application, though I remain mystified as to why they need the name of my most recent ex-spouse (why not the other five hundred?) who probably does not wish to be named on my passport application.  Alas, his name went on the form and I proceeded to rack my brain to recall the exact date of our divorce, on which prior to this, my policy had been not to dwell.  So much for living in the present and for the future.  Ach, well, check and check.

Rather than continue searching amidst the piles of photos shoved in various drawers (see Friday’s entry) for my birth certificate, I drove to the Health Department and paid $15 for another certified copy.  The lady in CVS took my picture on the one decent hair day that I’ve had this summer.  I photocopied my driver’s license (front and back).  Check, check, and check.  So there I found myself with an hour to kill before court, possessed of a nicely labeled manila folder containing everything I need, and $165 in the bank, and I sashay into the Independence Post Office which I’m here to tell you has convenient curb-side handicapped parking.

I got in line, pleased to see that three clerks stood chatting in the work area behind the counter.  One of them did nothing while the other talked with her neighbors who had come to buy stamps and stayed to talk about a block party.  The third stood holding her own folder, a thin burden which she clutched to her chest while staring forwards, possibly thinking about what to make for dinner.  When the stamps people moved away, the three clerks started talking about a wedding.

After about five minutes, the clerk who had been idle when I got in line asked me if she could help me.  I stepped forward, proudly displayed my happy burden, and asked her to take my passport application.

“Sorry, lady, it’s by appointment only.”

Now, I am nothing if not meticulous. I had carefully checked the internet and I knew that while some postal facilities list themselves as “by appointment only” for passports purposes, Independence did not.  However, I trotted out my very best Marshall Rosenberg imitation and said, “Oh, my.  Well, is there an appointment available with the passport person now or is he or she busy at this moment?”

The lady shrugged.  “You have to make an appointment in advance,” she said.  I tilted my head.  Not an answer to my question.  I repeated what I wanted to know.  She replied, “We’re all able to take passport applications.”  I glanced at the three of them, none of whom had anything to do by the looks of it.  I smiled.  “Great,” I chirped.  “Beings as I am next in line,” I continued, glancing at the completely empty foyer, “Will you take my application?”

She scowled at me.  She admonished me that I could not apply for a passport without an advance appointment.  At this point, frustration tinged her voice, echoing the frustration that I felt rising from my stomach.  I asked her, “Since you are not busy, why can’t you take my application?”  She snapped, “Because you don’t have an advance appointment, and  one is required.”

Now, on the internet, several USPS facilities indicated they are “By appointment only”, and several just say, “By appointment”.  Practicing law for thirty-three years drums in one’s head that “expressio unius est exclusio alterius”, or “expression of one thing precludes the other”.  Since some say “by appointment only” and some say “by appointment”, I gathered that in the latter grouping, there is the potential for walk-in.  Besides, with three federal employees standing around doing nothing and no other customers in sight, it seemed only logical that I could be helped.

But no.  The woman adamantly insisted that since I had no advance appointment, regardless of how easy it would be to put me in a time-slot for, say, right then, she would not do so.  Moreover, she looked in a big book devoid of entries (I peaked) and announced that they were taking appointments “for two weeks from now”.  Really?

We went back and forth like that for two or three more moments — Me trying to point out that none of them were busy anyway, she retorting that it didn’t matter, because I had not made an appointment in advance.  No, nobody was applying for a passport, she confirmed.  No, there was no one in line. No one was waiting.  No one was booked.  But I did not have an advance appointment, and they were scheduling in advance.  Two weeks from then.  Here’s a dime, call the chaplain.

I considered my options while the three of them stood gaping at me with nothing to do but engage in a contest of wills on the taxpayers’ dime.  I reflected on the inconvenience of having a U. S. Marshall curtail my liberty for getting angry with this recalcitrant witch (with a capital B), and the potential that further persuasion, a raised voice, or cajoling might compel any of them to help me.  Finally, I said, in a deliberately neutral tone, “Well, I hope you sleep well tonight knowing you followed the letter of the policy to ridiculous ends,”and I turned on my heel.  As I left, the woman hollered out, “I was nice to you,” which I found utterly ridiculous to the point of being deliberately insulting.  I paused at the door, turned, and replied, “If that’s your idea of nice, God help you.”

Sitting in my car, I pulled up the USPS website, found the phone number for the next closest postal facility which takes passport applications (Raytown), and made an appointment for August 1st, ten days later.  A man with a pleasant voice took only my surname and cell phone number, nothing more — nothing from which he would likely be able to do any advance work, further confusing me as to the Independence clerk’s insistence on an “advance” appointment.  But  I thanked him and bade him a good afternoon, terminating the call in complete mystification though willing to acknowledge that I probably would never convince anyone in government employ of the unfairness of the clerk’s behavior.

Then I pulled away from the curb, shaking my head, regretting even the two jabs that I had thrust in the lady’s direction.  As I drove, I wondered how people manage to remain calm in the face of such absurdities.  I parked two blocks south alongside the courthouse annex, finally laughing, finally seeing humor in the fact that two years of studying Non-Violent Communication and trying to live complaint-free, has brought me to the point at which at least I did not call this woman any vile names to her face.

Progress has been made.

It’s the thirty-first day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *