Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ready for a break

Before I get to how Angie broke two of her toes in a ballerina kung-fu match against our tub, I should backtrack to earlier this week.

It all started on Tuesday when I sat down to complete the ESTA requirements for our trip to the States next Monday. For those of you who have yet to have the pleasure of being raped by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. Anyone travelling to the U.S. without a valid U.S. passport needs to apply for this approval at least 48 hours in advance. I was 168 hours in advance, although it didn't mean jack.

But why do we even need this, your holy nosiness asks, since we are all U.S. citizens? See, the funny thing is, Americans have this silly policy that prohibits entry into the country if one of the kid's passports has expired or the other kid's dad is a moron who somehow managed to forget to apply for the U.S. passport, despite several nags over the last year to 'get off your ass and set up the appointment at the embassy'. In my defense, David has a valid U.S. passport and hey - 1 out of 3 is still better than nothing, right? Apparently not.

I wasn't worried because, other than me, we are all also German citizens with valid German passports. My thinking was that after the long flight, I could dump Peter and Tom with Angie in the foreigner's line at customs while Davey and I zipped through the American fast-line.

The point when I did begin to worry was when Peter and Tom's passports were both rejected by ESTA.

'Passport is not valid.'

Angie's application had gone through with no problem, so I didn't understand where the hiccup was. I spent the next hour re-entering the form on the very unlikely off chance that I had done anything wrong.

'Passport is not valid.'

It did not help matters that there was no explanation at all - just a cute little pop-up message that cheerfully mocked my frustration.

'Passport is not valid.'

After spending several hours on the phone trying to get a human being with a pulse, I gave up and decided instead to surf chat rooms dedicated to bitching about Homeland Security.

Within a few minutes, I discovered the problem. The boys have a Kinderreisepass, which translates to 'children's passport'. I read on to find out that this passport is valid for entering into any country in the world, except the United States. So, to summarize - a child with a 'child's passport' needs a visa to enter the U.S. of A. I can only assume that this is to curb the recent influx of terrorists under the age of ten. Hey thanks a lot, ASSTA. I feel safer already.

I tried to explain our options to Angie, who had started hyperventilating and muttering 'I told you so' over and over.
  1. I'll call the U.S. embassy tomorrow morning and see how quickly we can expedite a visa.
  2. You call the city and see how long it would take to get the German 'adult passports' for the children.
The next day, I called the U.S. embassy on my way into work and quickly realized that friendly customer service is apparently not in their mandate. After explaining our predicament, I got what I like to call 'the one word response'.

'We're flying on Monday - is there any way to expedite the visa application?'


Okay, short and not so sweet, but at least I could start freaking out sooner. Just then, Angie called and started screaming before I could even share my good news.

'You need to get your ass back here NOW! I called the city and if we make it there in the next two hours we might have a chance of getting the passports back by Friday.'

I turned the car around and gunned it. Apparently, I wasn't the only one freaking out. Angie had been folding clothes in the bathroom and instead of setting aside this chore to get ready for our impending mad dash, she decided to just complete the task quicker. This involved a series of relay runs back and forth from the bathroom to our closet. At some point, I guess Tommy got interested in Mama's sudden fitness sprints and moved in for a closer look.

The closer look came as Mama barreled into the bathroom for the next load and had to ninja-jump over Tommy to avoid crushing him. For unknown reasons, this must have pissed off our tub, who suddenly jumped out of nowhere and attacked Angie's toes.

As Angie's pinky toe was busy getting broken in two places, I was parking in the garage. I raced upstairs, ready to start our 'race to America'. Tommy met me at the front door.

'Mama has a owa.'

'She always does - where is she?'

I found Angie limping out of the bathroom.

'Oh, Steve - I really bashed my foot; I think I might have...'

'Yeah, yeah. Whatever, woman - let's go!'

We rushed over to the Kindergarten and yanked David out. It wasn't until after we got outside that we realized that we actually didn't need David since he was the only kid that actually has a valid U.S. passport, but it didn't really matter at that point. Welcome to the ride, Davey - buckle up!

At that point, the clouds decided to have their fun. So there we were - soaking wet, no umbrella and Angie could barely walk. As she hobbled along, she kept babbling something about how she thought her toe might be broken, but to be honest, I couldn't hear anything over the rain that was pouring down on us. Had this happened to another family, I would have laughed my ass off. Okay, you know me by now - I did chuckle. Slightly.

Next stop was Peter's school, but along the way, Angie and I decided to split up. I took David and Tom and raced off to find a photo shop that took biometric pictures. Angie's mission was to get Peter and hope to hell that he was not on a field trip.

I stormed into the first photo shop I could find, leaving the kids outside.

'Do you do biometric passport pictures?'

'Yes, we do!'

I then whistled for the boys to come in and the guy turned to me awkwardly.

'Umm, do you need biometric passport pictures for children?'

'What do you think?'

'Uh, well, we only do biometric pictures for adults here.'

'Of course! And where do they do them for children?'

I don't know if it was the veins popping out of my neck or the fact that my hands were clenched into a fist that was ready to beat the poor guy senseless if he didn't do it for me with his next response. He nervously pointed me down the road to another photo shop that does not turn away innocent children.

Along the way, Angie called that she had picked up Peter. I congratulated her and passed on the coordinates of the kid-friendly photo shop where we rendezvoused ten minutes later.

'Okay, you run to the city hall and get in line - I'll take the kids and get the pictures taken.'

'My foot really hurts.'

'That's great, honey - get moving.'

I was pleasantly surprised that there was no line. The guy came out and was intuitive enough to realize that I might pounce on him if he delayed things in any way, manner or fashion.

Tommy was the first to 'volunteer'. He is a natural-born camera hound and immediately jumped on the stool and started getting his pose on. The photo shop worker paused nervously.

'Ah, is this for a Kinderreisepass?'

I had a brief moment where I completely understood the breaking point for Michael Douglas in 'Falling Down'. Instead of whipping out a baseball bat and getting my freak on, I decided to try out 'the one word response' method that I had recently learned from the friendly embassy staff.


'Okay - I only ask because in the adult passport they are not allowed to make funny faces.'

It was at that point that I noticed that Tom was grinning like the village idiot. We were in a hurry, so I tried convincing him to stop smiling. This did not work. In his mind, he was obviously the star and a camera was trained on his mug. Must. Smile. Now.

They don't call me Papa for nothing. My brain kicked into overtime and I began to play to Tommy's ego.

'Okay, Tommy - now I want you to be an angry tiger - growl for me!'

'That's great, Tommy. Now, I want you to look surprised.'

'Oh, perfect. Now, can you give me a sleepy-sad look?'

'Alright, camera-guy, take the picture!'

My methods might be unorthodox, but at least I deliver results. Peter was a bit easier to coerce; he had been yanked out of school and forced to race around in the rain, so not smiling was not a problem.

We finished up and darted over to the city office that did not yet realize that they held our vacation in their hands. As I walked in, I saw Angie shaking her head.

'Oh, no. Well, what can we do?'

'Nothing - you'll need to rebook.'

Angie brought me up to speed by explaining that the passports would take four days to come back from Berlin. I busted out my 'oh shit' calculator and quickly deduced that this would be Saturday. The office, being a German one, is not open on the weekends. Monday is a German holiday, so the earliest we could pick up the passports would be Tuesday. This would be tricky, though, since we were supposed to fly out on Monday.

'Oh, no. Well, what can we do?'

'Nothing - you'll need to rebook.'

As Angie continued working her pity mantra on the lady, I started looking around for a bat. I heard Angie call the kids over and wandered over to listen to her latest tactic.

'Listen up guys - I'm so sorry, but it looks like we're not going to be able to go on vacation. I've asked the lady several times, but apparently there's nothing she can do.'

Peter was the first one to start crying, followed by David. Tom didn't have a clue what was going on, but started bawling out of sheer solidarity. I glared at Angie, trying to figure out why the hell she would break the news to them here. She had an odd smile on her face and when our eyes met, she winked. What the huh?

Before I could puzzle on how Angie had lost her mind, I noticed that the woman had picked up the phone and was talking to the office in Berlin. She hung up the phone and called another office. After a few minutes, she explained that the passports actually take three days to reach the main office; the extra day is for them to be sent to the local office. Considering that the main office is only ten minutes away, we explained that yes, we would actually prefer to drive and pick them up on Friday than to miss our flights so that we'd have the convenience of walking three minutes to the local office.

Relieved that my passport malfunction had been resolved, I finally had a look at Angie foot. Her toes were swollen, black and blue and they smelled funny. I dumped the kids back at school and drove stinky foot to the foot doctor.

Murphy had apparently not gotten enough giggles for one day. Somehow, he had sneakily removed Angie's wallet from her purse so that when we finally made it to the reception, we had no medical card. I thought about telling the gimp to hobble her forgetful ass home and get it, but the whole 'you almost ruined our vacation' cloud was still hanging over my head. Besides, I hate waiting rooms.

When I made it back, the doctor had already concluded that Angie's toes were, in fact, broken.

He also chastised her for running around on broken toes for several hours, but what the hell does he know? He's only a doctor. He did crack me up when prescribing the treatment.

'At your age, surgery is not recommended...'

'What do you mean at my age?'

Either her tone or the subsequent glare was enough to steer the wise doctor off of the crash course he had just inadvertently headed down.

'Just keep it bandaged up and stay off of your feet for the next few weeks.'

When we got home, my little spring chicken promptly plopped on the sofa, grabbed the remote, and began following the good doctor's orders.

Honestly, though, I didn't see much difference between 'recuperation' and any given weeknight.

So, now let's jump forward to Friday. The big day, the day when all worries and concerns about missing our flight would be alleviated because we would be picking up the ADULT passports for our CHILDREN. I would also be officially removed from Angie's shit list, but that's more a personal 'me' thing.

I had to work, so Angie showed up at the main office with all three boys promptly at 11:00 as ordered. Peter's passport was there, which was good because his U.S. one had expired. David's passport was there, which did not matter much since he has a valid U.S. passport; we had ordered the German one along with the others just for shits and giggles. Tommy's passport was not there, which was not good.

'Oh, no. Well, what can we do?'

Angie didn't even wait for a response. She rallied the boys into a huddle of tears and sobbing by explaining that our vacation was off because Tommy's passport hadn't arrived. This method had already proven to be effective the first time, but would it work again?

One of the guys working there is actually a saint dressed in khaki pants and striped shirt with the number 7 on it. He picked up the phone and called Berlin to confirm that the passport had been sent. It had. Great. Wonderful. Lovely. Then he called the post office and had the package re-routed to another office in a nearby city. Then he saved our vacation.

'Look, I normally do not work on the weekends, but come to this address tomorrow at 11:00 and knock on the window.'

The address was for another government office in the next city over. Angie showed up to what strangely felt like a drug deal and knocked three times on the window. Seconds later, the door clicked open and the dealer showed us the goods.

The goods were golden, but we had little to offer in return. I had made sure that Angie brought the guy a nice bottle of Gran Reserva wine as a thank you. Without him, we would have had no chance in hell of flying out next week. And trust me - after this week, we were definitely ready for a break.
Ladder Talk:
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That I got Snoopy.
David: When I make the photo for my passbook.
Tom: That I play with my big laster.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That Tom jumped on me.
David: That I break that squishy toy from Lauri.
Tom: When I cry why I not give Sarah a kiss.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: Fly to America!
David: Go to America.
Tom: When to go to Namerica.

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