Monday, October 16, 2006


I am surfacing this afternoon, as if from a dream. Such a strange dream!

Yesterday, I drove the nearly two hours to visit with my son. We got his passport photos taken and began to fill out the passport application. A huge obstacle to our plans arose when, in horror, my son realized that his signature could not be predictably controlled enough to fit within the borders of the proscribed rectangles, three times on three separate pages!

I was already experiencing a strange kind of floating foreigness after our experience at the mall. I know I haven't been to any big city, really, for a while, except to singular areas on singular errands, where the terrain is very familiar. The realization hit me in a blinding flash, that big city-ness was now very strange to me at the very same time that is familiar, like an old memory. My usual haunts of late, quiet farmland and small towns, came into sharp contrast in the assault of the glitter and intentional design in the shopping centre, when I looked at the price tag on a coat and realized that it was about four times what I would expect a similar coat to cost in the shops I have frequented lately!

It's insane, I thought. And my poor hapless son was just as giddy. His giddiness came from exhaustion, however, because he has been working 12-13 days in a row lately, including yesterday morning, prior to my arrival, and that morning's shift had been a very short shift-change between the late shift the day before yesterday and a very early ringing of the alarm for yesterday morning.

He tried out his signature again on scrap paper. It's a quick jab at the paper with pen and the result is an elegant, tight arc for the D, and a sharp spike with a tail, that represents the rest of the letters of his name. Foggily, I wondered how legible governments require signatures on passports to be.

He measured the trial signature against the space on the application and decided to try it for real. The arc of the D reached far back and scratched a hair's breadth past the border.


The instructions on the application quite distinctly say the application will be summarily rejected if the signature does not stay withing the borders of the rectangle meant for signatures!

My son was dejected. "I always had trouble with colouring inside the lines", he joked.

I couldn't think what to do. The other problem was that my son knows nobody close by that is qualified to be the required guarantor of his identity, that the photo is him, etc. etc. I was going to take the application with me. A doctor I have known for too many years to count has agreed to guarantee my son's identity.

I think, distractedly, that what I had thought would be quite simple is now getting downright weird. Thank goodness, because my son can't get time off work until the new year, that we have decided to make our trip to Ethiopia in January or February! This means we have more time. We might need it after all.

Today, I called him after checking online for the location of the passport agent nearest to his home. I had promised to call him at 1 o'clock. I whiled away the morning reading. Suddenly, I looked up. The clock above my desk had stopped, the battery dead. I replaced the battery and checked the time by another clock: 1 o'clock. My sense of time is ok, even when the clocks stop!

"What's wrong with you?" my son asks.

"What?" I wonder what in my voice betrays my stuporous state.

I have been immersed in the story of Pi adrift on the Pacific in a lifeboat, his only companion a Bengal tiger!

I explain.

My son thinks the book sounds like one he might enjoy.

Then, my son, a bit better rested today, announces that he has a plan for overcoming the signature problem. The post office across the street from his apartment is an easy source of passport application forms. He'll fill the signature spaces on application forms, without even worrying about the rest of the information requested on them, until he has achieved a perfectly signed application form, one that complies with the "staying within the lines rule", even if he has to fill out a dozen forms.

The post-master or mistress may wonder at what my son is up to, coming back for dozens of passport application forms, and draw the wrong, but obvious, conclusion!

As a result, we may be arrested before we even leave Canada! My son will be arrested because there can be few reasons why a 25-year old young man needs 12 passport applications, and me, because I encouraged him!


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