Please, Make My Head Stop Hurting.

Posted by DmentD | Rambling,Stress | Thursday 16 April 2009 2:50 pm

This week started with a crushing amount of stress.  Familial… difficulties that I’m unfortunately not at liberty to expand on out of long-standing wishes, etched in stone and enforced with stern will.  Suffice to say, my world was fifteen minutes from changing irrevocably, and even as I write this, the needle has swung from “less dire” to “dire again” a number of times.  This see-saw is going to break me yet.

Upon receiving strong news, my brain goes into a survival mode.  This is something that took me a long time to identify and learn how to harness to keep myself from going overboard (can you say “bye-bye childhood memories”?).  I distract myself thoroughly and allow my subconscious (I call it my “hind brain”, like in a dinosaur tail) to sort out and absorb the information, figure out what best to do with this info, and keep me from losing my shit.  I always said that if I had to name a singular talent, it is my capacity to take things apart — myself included — figure out how it works, and how to put it back together better.  This is a side-specialty of that.

I’ve thrown myself into some home projects that I’ve been working on… measuring, cutting, sanding and painting are fantastic for occupying one’s thoughts thoroughly.  I’ve gone practically obsessive, bordering on manic, and while that’s fine for things that only involve my immediate surrounding, it’s not so good when it involves others in the world.  I suspect I may have done some damage to some possible new friendships by coming off all “Cable Guy”, and being a little more boisterous than normal (hey, I like making new friends… and these folks are cool as hell).  I may be projecting that, though… but I worry about these things sometimes, and until I get to know folks better, I try not to tread on toes — and fail spectacularly on occasion.  Apparently I still have some work to do on my survival mode tactics.

I have mostly kept everyone at arm’s length, because I was already feeling like I had a wet towel wrapped tightly around my head, and the last thing I needed was to feel like I was smothering any more.  I love my friends dearly, and I do support and accept their support freely, but I needed — absolutely required — time to myself to digest what I knew first, without having to recount the tale repeatedly.  I needed to be locked in my own head for a while, without being drawn out.  Trust me… I’m not staying in there, and I know when to open the door again.

What a fucking week.

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We Done Been Moved.

Posted by DmentD | Site,Stress | Friday 13 March 2009 9:49 am

If you’re reading this, then the site move has been completed.

The ever gracious Mensa had previously been hosting this site and CuriousConfections.com (as well as his own) on essentially a rented virtual server, and acting as tech consultant and server admin.  Due to being a busy little fucker, and broke as any smart sonofabitch going for his Grand Poobah Degree (in succession: masters, Ph.D, GrP.D), he has opted to throw me under the train, and kick me to the curb like a rented whoo-ah.

So, I’ve moved to a new host.  A bigger host.  A host that likes a post-coital cuddle before announcing that there is cab fare on the dresser, nowgettheFUCKout!

Ahem.

Just so you know.

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Say Cheese! *yarf*

Posted by DmentD | Links,Stress | Thursday 15 January 2009 9:47 pm

So, you’re tucking into a nice dinner of ORLOTAN… maybe you’d like some CHEESE to go with that?

Because the larvae in the cheese can launch themselves for distances up to 15 centimetres (6 in) when disturbed, diners hold their hands above the sandwich to prevent the maggots from leaping into their eyes.  Those who do not wish to eat live maggots place the cheese in a sealed paper bag.  The maggots, starved for oxygen, writhe and jump in the bag, creating a “pitter-patter” sound.  When the sounds subside, the maggots are dead and the cheese can be eaten.”

Now, please excuse me while I go be violently ill.

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*shudders*

Posted by DmentD | Links,Rambling,Reflection,Stress | Monday 8 December 2008 12:57 pm

Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please.

I, as you know, was born and raised in south Louisiana.  The glorious land of high humidity, warm temperatures, narrow minds, and expanded appetites.  Louisiana, the land where residents routinely dine on mass quantities of the aquatic equivalent of the Madagascar hissing cockroach, and prehistoric reptiles that would be just as happy dining on mass quantities of you.  A land where the scrapings of a pig’s scull are gelatinized, molded, refrigerated, and served on crackers under the dubious label of “head cheese”.  The land where fresh roadkill is just a time saving step toward getting your grocery shopping done (and consequently the former home to one of the oldest leper colonies in the U.S.).  I am now keeping my food heritage alive and well in Austin… Jeebus help them all.

I tell you, as a man raised in that gastronomical environment, I am disgusted and mortified by the tale of the wee orlotan, a bird from the bunting family that is the size of a lark.  And I figure if it has that effect on me, then who am I to not share it with the people I love the most.  Here — stolen shamelessly from the pages of the St. Kew Inn newsletter — is the finest description of what has me tweaked almost beyond words:

After netting, the bird has its eyes poked out and is kept in a cage where it gorge feeds on millet, grapes and figs until it gets about four times its normal size.  It is drowned in Armagnac, and then roasted in a very hot oven for about 6-8 minutes.  The great experience is entirely in the eating.  Firstly a traditional embroidered napkin is placed over one’s head – some say this is to enable the diner to inhale the earthy, rich aroma, others say it is to hide one’s head from God for one’s gluttony and shame.  Then place the piping hot bird in one’s mouth leaving the head dangling out, bite it off and discard.  Inhale rapidly through the mouth to cool the bird down and allow the ambrosial fat to cascade down one’s throat.  When cool, slowly begin to chew.  In a glorious 15 minutes, work through the breast and wings allowing the delicate cracking bones to lacerate the gums and allow one’s own salty blood to mingle as one moves on to the inner organs.  Devotees claim they can taste the bird’s entire life as they chew in the darkness: the wheat of Morocco, the salt air of the Mediterranean, the lavender of Provence.  The pea sized lungs and heart, saturated in Armagnac are said to burst in a liqueur-scented flower on the diner’s tongue.

Mmm, mmm!  There is nothing quite like having a bird (blinded, fed to the point of bursting, drowned in brandy and roasted whole) — feathers and all — popped straight away into your maw to sear your mouthflesh.  The delight of prizing the head off with your teeth is nearly as wonderful as shredding your gums with its tiny, brittle bones.  I mean, come on!

This lovely dish/ritual comes to us courtesy of the French, who have had a hit-and-miss relationship with their influences on world gastronomy (admittedly, mostly “hit”, but still…).  The cherry on top is that it was as late as 1999 that they outlawed the preparation and sale of the orlotan as a dish, but it took till 2007 to outlaw consumption.

This ranks up there on the squick-me-out-scale alongside the Dirty Jobs episode where Mike was docking the tails of sheep, and castrating them with his teeth.  I was squirming in my seat the whole episode, and frankly had to avert my eyes a few times out of sympathy.

Oh Jeebus.

Thank you Sweets for intoducing me to the orlotan.  You never fail to surprise me with the things you know.  I will have my revenge one day.

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Best Foot Forward.

Posted by DmentD | Aggravation,Reflection,Stress | Tuesday 16 September 2008 11:51 am

Soooo, I did a stupid thing on Friday.  At GonzO’s hurricane party I hopped down from a height of about 3′ and rolled my right foot under me, effectively spraining it mildly.

I was standing on the head of DeJockamo’s cousin (currently “on loan” and living happily in GonzO’s yard) and peering over his fence and into the empty lot next door to see what Cleo and Puck were barking at.  Cleo, a pug/Jack Russell terrier mix, had succumbed to her instincts and efficiently dispatched a rat to its heavenly host earlier in the day.  I was attempting to see if there was another one — or several for that matter — wandering around and making the dogs go batshit loco.

Finding nothing of interest, I hopped off the concrete idol.  Whilst in mid-fall I noticed that where I once had a clear landing zone, I now had a fuzzy face with an adorable under-bite, and a pair of soft brown eyes staring up at me.  Cleo had maneuvered herself directly under me, finding me suddenly more interesting than the non-existent rats.  I shifted my weight and adjusted my feet so I wouldn’t squish her, and I came down hard with most of my weight on my right foot.

I felt it roll on the uneven grass, followed by a sharp pain in my ankle — but no pop or crack sound.  I immediately made my way to somewhere I could stand and support myself, and evaluated what damage I had done.  My ankle hurt like hell, but I could bear putting my weight on it, and the initial pain was starting to dull (thank you endorphins!).  After ten minutes there was no noticeable swelling and I could walk, albeit favoring my non-injured foot.  Ten minutes later I had a small egg of swelling on my outside ankle, and a tiny bit on the front of the foot.  I was reasonably sure I hadn’t broken anything as I could support my weight, and my foot/ankle didn’t swell up like a ham attached to the end of my leg.  I attribute this to the fact that I was wearing my tactical boots when it happened, and the tight lacing and high sides are designed to minimize foot and ankle trauma.

I iced the foot for an hour afterward, and was able to hobble around with my weight partially on it.  I was even able to drive with surprisingly little difficulty, to pick up Sweets from class and to get us home.  Walking was much easier and less painful after driving… using the foot to operate the pedals seemed to have warmed the ankle up a bit and loosened up the stiffness.  When I lay down for bed, there was only minor swelling and no bruises to be seen.  I had a nice little elastic ankle brace of Sweet’s to use to keep compression on it.

Waking up Saturday, I had shockingly little pain in the ankle — just tenderness and stiffness.  My range of motion had increased, and lo and behold, the bruise had finally decided to show.  It spread, over the course of the weekend, from my heel all along the side of my foot to the arch, and a lovely bruise also formed under the outside of my foot as well.  I kept it elevated and iced on-and-off all weekend, and have been able to walk normally for the most part.  The bruises are starting to fade, but here they are for what it’s worth:

After a day of work yesterday, and a little shopping afterward, I’m finding my ankle to be a little sore — it’s the most walking I’ve done since banging it up on Friday.  Also, the swelling is going down, so that’s contributing to it a bit too.  Ibuprofen is my friend!

So, it was a damned stupid thing to do, but it could have been worse.  I now have a reminder for the next month or so of my own idiocy… like I don’t have enough reminders already.

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Stress Fractures.

Posted by DmentD | Aggravation,Rambling,Stress | Friday 25 April 2008 2:44 pm

The date to close on the house is rapidly approaching — April 30th.  So far, the stars are in alignment… the contract is a lock, the loan is a done deal (at a fairly awesome interest rate), my mortgage company deserves some sort of posthumous Medal of Honor for throwing themselves on the worst of the paperwork grenade and absorbing all the shrapnel for me.  I cut a check for my portion of the roof as a deposit (upgrading to the better roof for a fraction of the cost), and the work is a go as soon as the ink dries next Wednesday.

So why do I feel like a guitar string being tightened to the point of snapping, giving off metallic pings and tremors just before shearing?  I’m raw, I’m on edge, and my nerves feel like they’re being sandpapered.  I feel like I’m drowning at times, for want to get my head above the waves of this emotional ocean.

I’m lonely as hell.  The one person I want to spend as much time as humanly possible with is 5000+ miles, and an ocean away.  We IM, we video every so often, we talk on the phone now and again and I am comforted, elated and feel her companionship… but the second the signal is severed, I’m left alone again in my little apartment.

I can be alone, that’s something I learned about myself and am quite comfortable with.  But now that I have a such a wonderful girl in my life, I want nothing more than to be close to her, and I can’t.  At least not yet.  Yet the loneliness I feel is not from living alone, and is felt more sharply owing to the immediate stresses pressing down on me.

I have friends galore, whom I don’t get to see enough of.  Some of them are new friends, and they’re wonderful but we’re still trying to get our equilibrium with one another.  Some of them are old friends, and are the backbone of my emotional support system — they are the comfortable, well known easy chair I can turn to when times are rough, to cradle me, support me, and give me comfort when the world is crumbling down around my ears.  Except that they have problems of their own, or are soul searching and rediscovering who they are, or they are growing in a different direction, or they don’t feel like putting up with my crap any more, or I’ve done such a wonderful job of disguising my emotional state that they don’t realize anything is amiss.  So with a few notable exceptions, my comfy easy chair has left the building… I have a small cushion left, and that’s about it (and I’m thankful for that cushion, or I’d have lost my mind completely by now).

And this lack of being able to lean on my friends for a change has done nothing to improve my mindset.  I’m grouchy, irritable, and throwing off negative waves like a corpse off-gassing the stench of decay.  I’m afraid I’m wearing thin on those who have been putting up with me, including my girl who is oh-so-far away.  But still, what underlies it all is the fact that I’m bone-achingly lonely, and normally it’s not a problem except that right now it’s compounded by the fact that I’m about to lay out a huge sum of money all in one go, and that a figurative chunk of blue ice could fall from the empty sky and wreck the whole house deal.

I need some familiar company.  I don’t even want to go on at length about my problems, I just need companionship and a meal, a movie or a beer in comfortable surroundings.  I need distractions from my stresses, preferably in a small group of two or three.  I need someone to make me laugh — to release that valve on the top of my head like a pressure cooker.  Someone to engage me in a conversation that does not include “house”, “contract”, “closing” or “down payment” in it.  I have made attempts with sub-par success.  Maybe I am too good at hiding my mental state.  Maybe I’m comically lousy at it, and that’s chasing everyone off like Frankenstein’s monster smashing the door in.

But the one thing I don’t want is sympathy.  I don’t want a pat on the head and exclamations of “poor baby!”.  I’m not fishing for a pity round at the local pub.  I’m not looking for a sudden onslaught of calls and texts out of the clear blue sky looking to hang out because people read this post and suddenly feel bad for me, or guilty, or obligated — I’ll take my lonely little apartment over that any day.  In fact, I don’t know what I want, except to not feel like too little butter scraped over too much bread.

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House Update.

Posted by DmentD | House,Stress | Monday 14 April 2008 1:36 am

So, inspections are done, and turned up nothing that would give me cause to “run, don’t walk” away.  It’s a 25 year old home, and as such has things that need doing.  I made a list, checked it twice, and submitted an amended contract to the seller.

And waited nervously.

One of the things I did want taken care of was the roof, which had about a year-and-a-half of viable life left to it, and showed damage from hail and trees.  This was a point of contention with my insurance company, and as such an important issue with me… an expensive issue.  The seller has to be well aware of the condition of the roof (as it was quite obvious), and the property was a rental, and I’m sure he was reluctant to put any more into it than was strictly necessary.  So, my request for funds for a new roof were likely not to be a surprise.

So, along with the amended contract I submitted a letter from my insurance company basically stating that any policy they issued me would indeed be very temporary, and replacing the roof was a condition of a long and healthy relationship with them.  I also got quotes to have the roof redone and submitted those as well.  I asked for the sum of cheapest of the two quotes to be paid into escrow, to be paid directly to the roofer upon closing.  I also asked for a number of other necessary repairs.

They agreed to pay in full for the roof repair, and offers a sum of cash to cover the cost of the other repairs, and I could do them myself.  Deal!

I’ve signed off on the above amendments to the contract, and sometime tomorrow it should be filed with the title company.  Once that happens, I am on the fast track to actually buying this house.  Now I need to lock in my interest rate and finish the mortgage process (which I was pre-approved for).

Should all go well, I close on April 30th.  I’m more than a little excited.  Nervous too.  But hell, I’m one door-slam away from going homicidal on my downstairs neighbors, so this is for the best.

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Aberystwyth Bound — Part 4.

Posted by DmentD | Aggravation,Pictures,Stress,Travel | Friday 9 November 2007 9:20 am

Journal Entry — September 16th: Welcome to Hell v2.0!  “Now with 200% more lying assholes!”

Guess what?! Screwed again! Our plane developed “mechanical failures” right at the last minute.  We sat around while they tried their hand at repairs, then at procuring another plane, then it turns out ours was the best of the four available, so they had another go at fixing it.  Lots of ladders under engines and people climbing about.  I was surrounded by a sea of politely angry English folk, and had some good conversations while we all waited to learn our fate.


The broke-ass plane as seen
from the terminal.

We were pushed back from 8:25pm to 10:00pm to 1:00am.  We had till 2:00am before the pilots were going to leave.  The whole while we’re watching the ground crew scurry about like rabid little gnomes in orange vests… consulting their radios, their co-workers, even a thick sheaf of paperwork (schematics, I assume).  We were told it was a broken relay that controlled the reverse air thrusters on one engine (basically, the “air brake”).  I kept snapping out comments that were making the others giggle (“Hey, I think I just saw them pry a fried squirrel off of some wiring in the engine, that must be our problem.“) — and they were all thinking snarky thoughts, but were entirely too properly English to be rude and voice them… enter me, the big mouthed, frustrated American.  That’s me… Voice of the People.

At 1:00am they canceled the flight, and that’s when chaos erupted.  Hollering, pushing, shoving, cutting in line, torches, pitchforks, and burning the ground crew in effigy!  After much hullabaloo, they created a whole new flight just for us the next day, re-booked everyone, and issued hotel and meal vouchers, and sent us on our way.  It’s a sad thing that I was expecting this, and was — surprisingly — not near as distraught over the cancellation of another flight.  Pissed off, yes, but calm enough this time around to keep my head and do what needed to be done to ensure that I had a flight to be on the next day, and a place to get some rest for the night.  It’s a stupid thing to have to get used to.

More line waiting at the Holiday Inn (the hotel voucher I was issued), then an evening of sleep.  Woke up, checked out at 11:00am and went back to the airport.  Had a meal (for free), got a huge coffee (for free), then went and parked my ass at the gate and waited for the next disaster.

About an hour before the flight, they changed the gates and we had to hoof it all the way across the terminal to make the new one.  The silver lining: good weather, a plane that works and we were able to board!

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Aberystwyth Bound — Part 2.

Posted by DmentD | Aggravation,Stress,Travel | Thursday 18 October 2007 10:49 pm

Journal Entry — September 14th: Welcome to Hell

Let’s see, where to start?  Well, due to severe weather in Atlanta, the airport there was on full “ground stop” for two hours.  No air traffic in or out.  So, we sat and grew moss in the Austin airport.  Talked to the folks at the counter and was given bad news.  International flights are given priority, and more than likely because the plane I was due to get on was running late too, they were going to dust off another one from the hangar to get the Manchester flight out on time.  Joy.

Took off from Austin 2+ hours late, had an uneventful flight, but we ended up sitting on the tarmac, mouldering.  Apparently the plane at the gate we were going to had mechanical problems.  Forty-five minutes later, we finally pull in.

Coming off the plane I emerge into chaos.  People everywhere!  Went to the nearest check-in counter and asked what my options were.  Obviously the lady there wasn’t all too bright and she scared the hell out of me with her ill informed research.  She directed me to the main check-in counter for the terminal.  Arriving there I found myself in a line of hundreds.  Not long after I got there, some other employee came along and started pulling international travelers out of line and directing them to a different terminal desk.  A terminal so far away I had to get there by train.  By train.  Big damned airport.

Getting to the “E” terminal (from “B”) I find myself in a line of thousands.  THOUSANDS!! Jeebus, what am I in for?  I’m hungry, I gotta piss real bad, and I can’t leave the line or I lose my spot.  Twenty minutes later, an airline employee comes to us at the end of the line and says there are no flights leaving for Europe till tomorrow, and the wait from our point in line is estimated at three hours long.  She advised that we should go to “T” terminal (all the way at the other end of this monster airport) and talk to the folks at their master check-in counters in the ticketing area, that it’ll take much less time.

I bolt for the escalator — you don’t have to tell me twice — and make the train ahead of the throng.  Taking the train to “T” I notice the terminal map indicates that ticketing is by the baggage area, which is the next (and last) stop after “T”.  I go there, bolt up the escalator and see a big sign that says “Leaving Secure Area, No Re-Entry”.  Crap.  Can’t have that happen.

I decide to hoof it back to “T”, and a few escalators and an elevator later… I’m lost.  I eventually ask an someone that looks official (man, finding employees is a challenge) where to go, and strike out in the direction they indicate.

I come across a lone, lonely, and more importantly, free of passengers check-in counter.  They give me two options — a direct flight at the same time tomorrow as my flight was tonight, or a 5:30pm flight out of JFK airport.  I opt for the direct flight and fewer opportunities to miss another connecting flight.  I’m pissed, I’m hungry, my blood sugar is low and I feel like crap.

Now I have to find someplace to stay, and I’m worried that with all the grounded passengers, there will be no rooms available.  I make a few calls and find a room at a Quality Inn (truly and oxymoron) five minutes from the airport.  I jump on the shuttle and book my room.  The only food is pizza delivery… so I make an order.  The last time I ate was at 11:00am and that was over twelve hours ago.  I devour a crap pizza and feel better almost instantly.  Now here I sit, writing this.

Checkout is at 11:00am, so I’m gonna’ go to the airport way, WAY early.  I can get food there and I can take my time clearing security and getting to the gate.  I’m gonna have to buy new train tickets in Manchester and I don’t want Sweets to have to go out of pocket for hers.  This sucks, now not only is everything more complicated, but I’m losing a whole damned day with her.  I can only hope that the flight home is somewhat smooth, or I’m fucked again.

Time to get some sleep… I’m wiped out.

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Pass The Port.

Posted by DmentD | Aggravation,Stress | Friday 5 October 2007 2:25 pm

My girly-girl made it safe and sound to South Africa, and by all accounts is having a wonderful time.  I imagine it’s a bit of sensory overload, but hopefully she’ll be able to absorb enough to have memories she can relish for a good long time.

So, during my recent trip to Wales I kept a travel journal (provided to me on the trip to the airport by Pandora… thank you my dear!).  Every day or so I’d write in it, or more as I was stuck in airports and had nothing better to do anyway.  I’m going to transcribe the entries to the blog, on an journal-day-per-blog-entry basis, and include pictures and such to accompany them as well.  This will allow me to tell the tale of the trip to anyone interested in hearing it all in one, consistent go.

I have my thoughts as I had them at the time all nicely written down when they were fresh, and I don’t have to rely on my (famously) poor memory to recreate them.  I have an exceptionally visual memory, and I find that I do a very unsatisfactory job of trying to recall and relay experiences to folks verbally.  If only people could climb into my head and watch the movie my memory projects onto the back of my skull, then they’d see what I see.

At any rate, the tale of my journey wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of the Terror of the Passport story, and that’s as good a place to start as any.

** WARNING — This is a very long post.  I’m not going to bother breaking it up into multiple entries so read it at your own pace, skim it, skip it… your choice.

So May 1st I went to apply for a passport.  The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs stated that due to increased volume, it would take 10-12 weeks for standard passport processing, and 6-8 weeks for expedited.  No problem.  My girl hadn’t made her first trip here yet (it was planned, but hadn’t come to pass), and I didn’t have a date for my journey, but knew that I should get things in the works because at some point I was going to go visit her.  I didn’t bother with expediting and went with the standard (why pay the extra $60 when you don’t have to?).  I downloaded, printed and completed the passport application, went to the main post office downtown, had them take my picture — a really good idea as they make sure it conforms to the U.S. DoS requirements, and only cost $15 — handed over my birth certificate, the forms, and a money order for $97 and walked out whistling a happy tune.

Not long after I finally picked a travel date, September 14th, and determined that it was 20 weeks from when I applied… plenty of time for them to process my passport.  Time passed, as it is wont to do, and about the 10 week mark I checked on-line, and the status was listed as “processing”.  Fine.  I also provided my email address so I could get status reports as things changed.

Time continued to pass.  Once I was well past 12 weeks I checked on-line again, and was still listed as “processing”.  I sent a formal inquiry to them through the website, and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.

Round ’bout the 16th week, I get an email saying

“Thank you for submitting your passport application!  It is currently being processed.  You should receive your passport within 10-12 weeks from the date you applied.  If you are travelling within 2 weeks and have not received your passport and have further questions about the status of your application, you may contact the National Passport Information Center.”

Wait.  We’re now at 16 weeks since I applied, and you’re just now processing my passport, and somewhat suggesting that the 10-12 week counter starts now.  And you’re telling me not to bother contacting you until I am 2 weeks from traveling (which was backed up by info on their site).  Great.

So I spend the next two weeks growing increasingly nervous.  At the 15-days-till-departure mark I call the NPIC.  I’m told by a very friendly lady (surprising for a government agency) that yes, my application is being processed (in New Hampshire), but that there was a problem with my proof of identification and that a letter was mailed out the day before requesting more proof from me… 5 pieces specifically.  I asked what was acceptable and was given a veritable laundry-list of things, all of which I could provide with the exception of a military ID.  I expressed concern that by the time I received the letter and turned around and sent them the info they required, that there wouldn’t be enough time for them to finish processing my application before I had to depart.  I asked if I could go to the Houston passport agency (1 of 14 in the country) and submit my proof of ID.  She said yes, that Houston could take over the application and finish it there, but that in all likelihood that I would be starting a new application and I had better go prepared with new pictures and everything.  I would have to make an appointment (via and automated phone line) because the agencies do not take walk-ins.

Surprisingly I was able to make an appointment for Friday (8:30 the following morning — was expecting it to be the following week at the earliest).  Woke up at stupid-o-clock in the morning and drove into Houston.  I parked and made my way through the metal detectors right at 8am.  After apparently stealthily tromping past the armed guards, into the elevator and up to the 4th floor, I found out that I had to wait downstairs, and to ask one of the alert fellows with guns specifically where.

Was shown to a room that contained about 50 other folks who lucked into the same appointment time (silly me, thinking that time was mine alone).  Scanning the room, I decided to sit in that one seat left in the first row.  After a half an hour of people slowly trickling in, and me wondering if I was going to actually see a human being any time before the afternoon, a guard poked his head in and told us that he was going to start leading folks up an elevator-full at a time, and would the first row kindly follow him.  Ha!  I just moved up from 50th in line to 8th (sometimes it pays off to sit in the front of the class)!  Upon entering the elevator, I slipped immediately to the side near the door and let the remainder of the people fill in the back of the car.  That little tactic pushed me to 3rd in line when we exited.

When it was my turn I stepped up and told my tale.  As I was talking, I could see the lady becoming more confused.  When I told her that the folks on the phone said they could just take over my application, she excused herself to go talk to someone about that.  Fantastic.  That was going to be my death knell, asking a government agency to do something outside of their normal parameters.  We’ve all been to the DMV, and know that even smiling at them is taken as some sort of an act of aggression, but asking them for something special was grounds to be attacked.  This was the Fed, and sure as shit they were going to send me packing.  She returned, handed me a printed “now serving” style number and was told that they could help me.  Really?!  Color me impressed.

My number was B166.  The digital board showed that they were serving A001.  Um, was I now behind 1165 other people, or was this a special numbering sequence for troublemakers like me?  About 45 minutes later I was called to a special window, the wonderfully nice lady there listened to me patiently, and laid out what she was going to do.  No, they weren’t going to take over or start a new application for me… I was already in the system with New Hampshire, and it would be faster just to resolve the issues at hand.  She took all of the 20 or so forms of ID I brought with me, photocopied them all, put her little rubber-stamp on them and signed it.  She said she was going to overnight that paperwork to them, to arrive on Tuesday since Monday was Labor Day.  It would be coming from their agency, so would be all official and such.  I filled out a FedEx overnight shipping tag that she could send along with it so they could expedite the passport to me on my own dime.  I asked if she had done everything from her side that could be done, and if I had done the same from my side.  Yes we respectively did, and there was nothing more to do but wait and check back every few days or so.

I left feeling positive.  I was in a good mood.  I even got to work in time to only lose half a day.  Checking my mail that evening, I notice that the letter from New Hampshire had arrived!  Ha!  I beat it to the punch… but upon reading it my heart sank.  Not only did they want a boatload of ID, but there was a 5 page “supplemental worksheet” they wanted me to fill out and return with the ID.  Crap.  The absence of the worksheet was a sure-fire way for them to delay my passport even further.  I scrambled to provide all the info they wanted: a complete work history, a complete education history, a complete list of every place I ever lived and a complete list of my immediate family with birthdates and the cities they were born in.  They even wanted my baptismal information.  Damn, I didn’t remember half of this crap.

Many calls and a stress filled evening later I had it all completed.  The next morning I schlepped myself down to FedEx and overnighted the worksheet, a duplicate copy of all the ID I provided in Houston, another FedEx overnight return tag, and a polite letter explaining everything again and begging them to please hurry the fuck up.  With any luck, they should get both FedEx packets at the same time.  I called the NPIC hotline and told them what I had done as well, and gave them the tracking number for the packet I just sent.  I was now just shy of 2 weeks from departure, with no passport — 18 weeks after I started this whole mess.

A few calls the following week let me know that they started re-processing the application on Wednesday, and the folks at the NPIC hotline fired off an “urgent” email to New Hampshire agency reminding them that my departure date was a little over a week away.  Come Monday, five days before I departed I called again to check the status.  The lady on the phone was phrasing things in a manner that hinted that she could see what the current status of my app was, and when pressed, she said she could not provide me with that info.  I asked her for an off-the-record forecast of my chances of getting my passport before I was supposed to leave on Friday — “not so good” was her reply.  Wonderful.  She suggested I go to the Houston agency and have them start the process over again.  I told her that not only did I take time off work to attempt that, but that they shot that plan down in favor of what they did.  I thanked her and hung up.

I called the airline and asked what my options were.  I had until 24 hours before my departure to reschedule my flight (at the low, low cost of an additional $200) or lose the tickets altogether.  That didn’t leave me much time to just sit and wait to see if the passport showed up.

Despondent, I talked to my girl and we came up with another date.  Unfortunately, it had to be in November as she was going to be gone all of October.  It would have been near five months since I saw her last at that point.  This was going to suck.

Eating lunch later that day I decided to do a little homework on the web.  I’d read lots of news reports in the last few months about how people were getting all pissed off about the exorbitant delays with passports, so I figured that people were mouthing off about how they got a few days from leaving and still didn’t have theirs, and maybe there were some clever solutions they came up with.

Bingo.  I hit pay dirt.

Consistently, folks were having success with two avenues when it came down to the wire: The U.S. Consular Task Force Watchdog Group and their local Congressman (and they provided the contact info I needed for the watchdog group).  The DoS’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is the agency that oversees all things passport.  The watchdog group are the folks who respond to abuses and neglect within the passport system.  I called them first and, again, told my story of woe.  The nice gentleman on the phone seemed gruff, but sympathetic, he took my information and vowed to see that something was done about it, and I might get a call the next day.  I then phoned the Congressman’s office, and was quite surprised to learn that they have staffers for this and other issues (like tax stuff) that would act on my behalf and light a fire under the Fed.  I needed only fill out a release of information form (to give them legal right to be my agent in this, and to provide all the details about my case) and fax it to them.  I did.

Literally an hour later I receive a phone call from the NPIC, with a chipper and very very polite woman on the other end.  She called to inform me that my application was complete, and that they would be shipping my passport out the next day via FedEx overnight, and I should receive it no later than Wednesday morning.

*blink*
*blink*

One of the two contacts I just made got a hold of the NPIC and jammed a size 13 boot clear up their ass so far they could taste shoe leather.  Jeebus!  If I’d have known that, I’d have called them a week ago and saved myself a lot of stress.

As it turns out, they got my passport to FedEx that day, and I had it in my hot little hands on Tuesday.

The first moral of my story is this: If you don’t have a passport, go and apply for it now.  NOW!! It costs about $112 (including the photo from the post office).  They are good for ten years, and you might just decide that you want to take a trip out of the country.  You need them now even to go to-and-fro from Mexico and Canada — and that is the exact reason for all the slow-downs… literally 10x the normal number of applications have been filed this year.  Also, they are the best form of ID, even more so than your driver’s license (a passport is a Fed issued ID, your license is a state issued ID, and the passport is much harder to get and more accepted).  If you had a passport and it’s expired, or about to, renew it now.  NOW!! See above.

The second moral of this story is: No matter how polite the NPIC people are — and trust me, every single person I talked to was friendly, intelligent sounding, compassionate, and oozed an aura of urgent helpfulness — they are lying to you through their teeth.  They are anesthetizing your sense of outrage at being bent over and sodomized dry by the system.  They are not your pals, so work the system to your advantage.  Make the calls and climb over their heads as much and as frequently as you can.  Here are the contacts you might eventually need:

National Passport Information Center: (877) 487-2778
U.S. Consular Task Force Watchdog Group: (202) 647-7948

Just check the web for whoever your local Congressman is, and call his office and talk to the helpful people there.  This is the one time I can happily say “this is your tax dollars at work”.  I suspect that they made the call that lit the fire and got me my passport, but hell, call everyone and let them race to see who helps you first.

This is the end of my long-winded story.

**MESSAGE ENDS**

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