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HCB’s Guest Post: Passport Regained

For quite some time now I’ve conceived of myself as organized. Sure, I often get to the grocery store without my shopping list, and I’ve been known to leave the doggie bag at the restaurant. But that’s all small stuff, which by now we know not to sweat. High stakes obligations? I’m on it.


Just how organized do I think I am did I think I was? Consider the following illustrative example culled from real life: For over two months I’ve known it was possible that I’d get a job in a foreign country—a situation that by definition requires a passport. Because I never lose important things, I didn’t even think to confirm my passport’s whereabouts.

For two months I was too busy researching: the study habits of Korean students and the institutional mores in a Neo-Confucianist milieu, and how to adjust my teaching protocols accordingly; the various pros and cons of Korean, Asiana, and Singapore Air’s respective frequent flier programs and affiliated credit cards; the mercurial geopolitical situation in the DPRK; every tourist destination on the Korean peninsula, from the Baekdudaegan mountains to the Noryangjin Fish Market (you’ve seen the youtube videos of people eating a squid that’s still moving); kibun, a social custom of good hospitality, not unlike xenia, fostered by ritualized gift exchange; the potentially complex tax situation for US citizens working overseas; whether or not my Starbucks Gold Card will continue to accrue benefits in the ROK (it won’t). Time well spent, indeed.

Upon receiving my offer letter, I also received a list of documents to scan and e-mail to the university so various offices could arrange, first and foremost, a work visa and alien registration card, but also a background check, insurance, pension, apartment, bank account. Being out of town, I asked David just to grab my passport out of its special place, scan it, and e-mail it to me so I could forward it. Piece of cake.

The passport wasn’t in its special place. Nor was it in its second special place, nor third, nor fourth, nor fifth. David, to his amazing credit, systematically tore apart and sifted through the contents of our apartment while I was 3,000 miles away. Okay, I said to myself, 3,000 miles away, I’m sure I’ll find it when I get home, no worries. But I was growing worried.

And with good reason. Between April and October of 2011, between the time I completed my dissertation and assumed my adjunct position, we lived out of suitcases all kinds of places, peregrinating from the Bay Area to Washington, DC and back again, wantonly exposing our precious government-issued documents to so many ways of getting lost: motels, bars, tourist traps, restaurants, friends’ houses, rest stops. It turned out to be an “eventful” summer, so throw into the mix two moves, an estate sale, and a funeral—so we were traveling, packing, throwing, donating recycling, selling with alacrity.

I returned to California last Thursday night, sustained only by the delusional expectation that I’d find my passport any moment now. I’ll spare you the full schedule of search-oriented activities, but trust me: between Friday morning and Monday morning, I took thorough to a whole new level. I found Amelia Earhart. I found Jimmy Hoffa. I found the second book of Aristotle’s Poetics, AND all 150 books of Varro’s Saturaram Menippearum. I established a rigorous cycle of prayer because there are no atheists in storage units. Sunday I had a full-blown meltdown. Sunday night I contacted a psychic I know to see if she could help. For a hot second, I contemplated staging a robbery so I’d look more like a victim and less like an idiot who’d spent two months researching whether it’s difficult to acquire American-style turkey for Thanksgiving dinner in Seoul (it’s not) instead of double-checking his passport’s whereabouts. But due to the PhD in Criminology I’ve acquired through extensive analysis of “Law & Order,” I knew I’d get caught.

Monday morning I awoke resigned; I drove to the passport office; the door was locked; it was closed for Martin Luther Kind Day; a 24-hour reprieve. You, sir, have just been handed a little gift. Maybe the Santa Cruz storage unit warranted another look. Everything else has been picked over at least twice by at least two people. I’d only been there once.

Reader, I found it.

Within two minutes of unlocking the storage unit, I dumped a box of high school memorabilia onto the floor (thorough). Inside a photo album (of Alison, Amanda, Vanessa, Will, Andrea, Charlie, Eric and me cutting class and swimming in the lake by Eric’s dad’s house in 1997) was my passport. Of course. That’s exactly the right place to store one’s passport.

So, this has been entirely too much documentation of what’s really the simplest plot. But I had to tell someone, and the excessive length reflects my attempt to convey the excessive emotion of the situation. I’m lucky that I didn’t report it lost, and lucky that it wasn’t actually lost. Now that it’s in hand, all other arrangements are smooth like butter. And if I hadn’t found it, you would not be reading about this.

We’ve all lost important things. What’s your nightmare story?

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Graham #

    Before you get too excited, check the expiration date on the passport. If it’s been in storage too long, it tends to go stale (though better here than overseas).

    January 21, 2012
  2. It’s still fresh and viable. But it’s so much easier to renew a passport whose whereabouts are known than to replace a lost one.

    January 21, 2012
  3. Ann Wilson #

    Before there were the required passports you could us your birth certificate to travel to Mexico. I decided to be smart about our documents and not jeopardize losing them in a foreign country. I made photocopies of the four birth certificates and presented them at the check in at the airport in SF. We were informed that we could not use them as the were not the official stamped documents.
    Larry raced to the car leaving us in the airport and made it to Cupertino and back in record time. We were the last to board… The moral of the story is not to over organize and bring all original documents.

    January 21, 2012
  4. Dianna Woolsey #

    I’m cheating by using another person’s horror story, but one of my delightful roommates agreed, about two weeks ago, to keep her friend’s car here at our house while the friend was out of town. The roommate is in the process of moving out, and she’s packed up everything she owns. She put the friend’s car keys on her desk a week ago and hasn’t seen them since. The friend doesn’t have a spare key, so, until all of the boxes are unpacked, the friend doesn’t have a car and we have an immovable Subaru parked in our grouchiest neighbors’ favorite parking spot.

    January 21, 2012
  5. Whew! I can’t believe you found it! I think the Saint of Lost Things led you to it. Actually, it’s a living example of what my dad always told us growing up, when we couldn’t find something: Don’t look where you think it could be, look where you think it won’t or shouldn’t be. Or words to that effect.

    I LOL’d at “There are no atheists in storage units.” There is some sort of rich vein of something there that needs mining. xo

    January 21, 2012
  6. Kristi #

    We lose Jimmy all the time…does that count? :)

    January 21, 2012
  7. HCB #

    In 1986 my mother lost her Kodak Disc camera at Christmas, which she found in the pocket of one rarely-worn winter coat. You can believe I went through every pocket around here.

    Dianna, it is possible for AAA to pop the lock and cut a new key, as yo probably know, but I get wanting to put off the nuclear option.

    Becky, glad you like the line. Bonus points: did you recognize the sentence listed almost verbatim from your blog?

    January 22, 2012
  8. Hmmm, I know I do love the “Reader, I ____ ____” formulation. But I am all about grabbing the reader by the lapels all the time. And I’m all about ripping off Bronte.

    January 23, 2012
    • HCB #

      While we both love Bronte, the line in question is something else. Think about hoarding.

      January 23, 2012

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