"Why do you suddenly want a passport?" the Lovely Bride asked suspiciously.
"So we can run away somewhere exotic," I said, trying to give her a kiss. She waved me away.
"Are you certain you don't have another family somewhere?" she asked. "You've sure been 'traveling' an awful lot."
"Of course," I said. "This family turned out so well I couldn't wait to start another one."
"I see your point," she said. "But seriously, why the passport?"
"I want to enroll in the TSA Pre program. I'm tired of standing in security lines at the airport. Besides, our kids all have one. Eventually we'll stop spending money on them and we can go somewhere interesting."
"Fine," she said. "Get a passport."
The next day I diligently filled out my paperwork, enclosed an original copy of my birth certificate, and sent the application off to the appropriate authorities.
Several weeks later, I came home to an envelope from the Department of State. It didn't look like it would contain a passport, and sure enough, it didn't. Instead, it held a letter on very official looking stationary from the United States Department of State, Charleston Passport Center. It began:
Dear Snag:My first thought was, I hate it when people use "and/or."
Thank you for your recent passport application. The evidence of U.S. citizenship or nationality you submitted is not acceptable for passport purposes for the following reason(s):
The document you submitted does not sufficiently support your date and place of birth in the United States since you were a non-institutional birth. Therefore, please submit the following:
- A combination of early public documents created at the time of your birth. Examples of such documents include: notes created by the midwife regarding your mother's pregnancy and delivery, early religious records, your parent's tax, rent, or employment records created at the time of your birth which indicated their U.S. residency, elementary school records showing your name, date and place of birth, and/or any other document established in your infancy or early childhood that indicates your date and place of birth.
My second thought was, what the hell?
Fortunately, the people at the State Department had included a telephone number for someplace called the National Passport Information Center. I dialed the number and, after the requisite ten minutes of working through a phone tree, connected with a very nice woman at the Center.
"Hello, may I ask who I'm speaking with?" she inquired.
"Snag," I said.
"What can I help you with?"
"I got a letter that says because I'm a non-institutional birth, I have to provide other records. I'm trying to figure out what that means."
"May I please have your date of birth?" she asked.
I gave it to her.
"And the file number at the top of the letter?"
I gave that to her as well.
"Now, please read the letter to me," she said.
"The whole letter?" I asked.
So I did. I kept waiting for her to stop me, but she never did, and I read it all, the salutation, the citations to the Code of Federal Regulations, the closing, every last word.
"Thank you," she said. "Now what is your question?"
"I'm not sure why I'm considered a non-institutional birth. Is there something weird in my birth certificate because I'm adopted?"
"I'm sorry," she said. "I can't tell you that."
"Why not?" I asked.
"We're not authorized to provide that kind of information."
"Okay," I said. "So what am I supposed to do?"
"You should do what the letter says you should do."
"Right. But I was adopted so I don't have any of those documents."
"Could you get a copy of your parents' tax returns from the time of your birth?"
"No, you see, I don't know who my biological parents are. And the birth certificate I sent you before already has my adoptive parents' information on it, and that's apparently not sufficient."
"That is a problem," she conceded.
"So what should I do?"
"You should do what the letter says you should do," she cheerily responded.
"But I can't," I said. "So what can I do instead?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, we're not allowed to tell you that."
"Let me guess," I said. "You're not authorized to provide that kind of information."
"That's right," she chirped, clearly pleased I was catching on so quickly.
"In that case, who can I talk to?"
"You'll need to talk to the Charleston Passport Office. They're the ones who sent you the letter."
"Fine," I said. "What's their phone number?"
"I'm afraid they don't have phones," she said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"They don't have phones."
"They don't have phones?"
"Right!" she chirped again.
"Look," I said. "I know you just work there, but that's the craziest thing I've ever heard."
"Why do say that?" she asked.
"I'm pretty sure there's phone service in Charleston and I'd be willing to guess the State Department isn't working off the grid."
"Sir, all I know is that we've been told they don't have phones."
"Well, how am I supposed to talk to them if they don't have phones?"
"That is a good question."
"Do they have an email address?"
"Hmm," she said. "I don't think so."
"I suppose if they don't have phones, they probably don't have email either," I said.
"I know!" she exclaimed. "You could write them a letter and ask them to call you!"
"That's an interesting idea," I said. "But how can they call me if they don't have phones?"
"They could borrow one!" she said.
"That might just be crazy enough to work!" I said.
"I know!" she agreed.
"Well, thank you very much," I said.
"You're very welcome," she said. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"No, thank you," I said. "You've done plenty already."
"Have a great rest of the day!" she said.
"You too," I replied and hung up the phone.
"Who was that?" the Lovely Bride asked.
"What are you talking about?"
"I don't really know anymore," I said.