Oh, internet; argh. Argh. ARGH.
I know it's not The Done Thing to whine and complain. I know that in the larger scheme of things, the little inconveniences I find so vexing are not really all that important. They're minor bagatelles along the lines of Eva Gabor as Lisa in Green Acres discovering that she chipped her nail polish while making flapjacks for Oliver.
But I swear to God, my attempts to get a U. S. passport today gave me a new respect for illegal immigrants. If it's this hard to get out of the country, what must it be like to try to sneak in?
At first I tried to do this the high-tech way. But have you ever visited the passport website? Don't. You'll drown. It's a perfect example of the Too Long; Didn't Read school of bureaucrat-ese. It's so bad that if you Google "passport" the first hits that come up aren't the government site; they're businesses that make their profits by adding a handling fee to the fee charged by the state department--just for walking you through the process.
Now I'm as cheap as the next Yankee, but today I spent over an hour in the post office dealing with a tiny little clerk named Bob while he tried to help me get a new passport. By the end of our time together, I was ready to pay any number of handling fees to make sure this passport thing would actually happen.
Bob was so tiny and woe-begone and incompetent, he was straight out of central casting. He could easily have played Bartleby the Scrivener or maybe one of the lesser Dickens characters. I felt sorry for him. After all, he's this tiny little white-haired postal worker. How loserish must he feel? So I turned on the charm and was patient and understanding. I smiled a lot. And when the pictures he took of me came out looking not just bad, but incredibly bad, making me look like a cross between my own grandmother and a jar of Grey Poupon mustard, I didn't fuss.
The thing is, Bob couldn't remember how much the passport fees were. He couldn't work the camera. Then he couldn't get the picture to print. Then he wandered around for a while looking for the "expedite" stamp, because it was so important. But then he stamped the wrong kind of envelope.
And I couldn't figure out why the sign on the wall was telling me that an expedited passport would cost $192.25 but he kept telling me it would be $135. I mean, since when does the federal government low-ball itself?
It turns out that by having me fill out labels and forms and self-addressed envelopes and such with my own white hands, he was saving me $25. Which I realize still doesn't add up. But when I asked him about it, he'd get out a piece of scratch paper and start adding columns. And I mean, come on! Scratch paper? Columns? Where's the sign on the wall with the fees? Even McDonald's does that. How do I know Bob's not giving me tonight's Lotto win?
After being sent back to the end of the line for not having everything ready to mail out, I wanted to grab Bob, pick him up by the front of his Postal Employee Shirt, and bounce him around like a paddle ball. And I could have done it. I think he was all of 5' 2" and weighed 70 pounds, including his pocket protector.
I finally told Bob, "Hey, listen. I know I don't look it, but let's just assume for the moment that I'm rich. And eccentric. And don't want to save $25 by doing all this myself. Let's say that I'm willing to shove $192.25 at the nearest competent post office employee who will assure me--with a straight face--that I will have a replacement passport in my hand by August 6th. Because on August 6th, I'm getting on a plane to England even if I have to take you hostage to make it happen."
For some reason, he didn't take me seriously. It was very frustrating. I mean, things have come to a pretty pass when it's the customers who are going postal.
I don't feel at all confident that my passport will show up in time. And even if it does, I'll be kicking myself because that is seriously the worst picture that has ever been taken of me. And with my luck, I won't lose this passport. No, I'll probably be carrying it around for the next ten years, like a portable Picture of Dorian Gray.