Passport Cover
I need a passport. Quick. I used to have one in the Air Force, but lost it. Which means a separate form from the regular application. My wife emails me, ‘You need to get a certified birth certificate before anything else. Order it now.’

I go to the department of records website in Florida. You can order online, but it takes a couple of weeks. Ooh – there’s a phone number. I call. I’m on hold 30 minutes and then gladly hand over the most confidential information of my life to some nice young lady who I picture as working behind a desk in a room with its windows open because it’s springtime in the panhandle. Mother’s maiden name? No problem. Social? It’s yours. 3-digit security code on my credit card? 943. “That will be $42. May I process your card?” Sure thing. I need this.

I think.

I hang up with the cute brunette in Tallahassee and run to the attic to make sure my birth certificate wasn’t ‘certified.’ It is. Big fucking raised seal right there in the middle. I run to the computer. There’s an email. It’s a payment verification from a company in Arizona that already processed my order. Already? Wait, I have what I need – I don’t need this order…I need it cancelled. I hit reply. It’s a ‘DoNotReply’ address. There’s a number. A different number. I call. I immediately get the ‘Due to high call volumes…’ message with the wait time of – wait for it – up to ONE HOUR. The camera zooms in for an ECU on my eyes. They turn red. The camera pans out – jets of steam blast from my ears. I wait, and then check the website again. I neglected to mention that earlier in the day I sneezed and threw my upper back out. I can’t find my earbuds and can’t type because it hurts to hold my phone on my shoulder. Because it’s a flat phone. Back in the day, you could talk all day with the old-fashioned phones with the spirally cord. They even had little ‘shoulder holders’ for the receiver to make it comfortable to talk and type, or smoke and type, or do whatever people did on the phone back then.  I find my earbuds. I’m on their site. I need to find how to cancel an order PDQ. I click the FAQ. There’s a form. I’m in. I give them all of my personal information again and hit ‘send.’ Ajax error. I keep cool and try again. Same error. I wait on the phone and decide to call my bank in ten minutes if I’m still on hold. I need another phone. There’s no app for this. After five minutes and a half dozen loops of the apologetic voice stating how much they value my business, I hang up and call my bank. I’m told that I have to go in to the branch, but that the payment to the birth certificate company is definitely in queue and there’s nothing they can do about it. Because we’re not millionaires, our bank really doesn’t care very much about us.

My kids get home. My wife gets home. Life happens again. Routine chaos ensues.

IMG_0953 The next day I go to the ENT doctor for hearing issues. He’s a highly recommended fellow. I’m the youngest guy in the waiting room, and am wearing a black tee shirt with a pirate skull and ‘Dead men tell no tales’ written underneath. Despite my name clearly stated as James on everything I fill out, the receptionist calls me Jim. She gets me. The doctor was competent, and confident, but paid more attention to my nose and the two deviated septum surgeries I’ve endured than my ears. “Butchers” he says of the previous surgeons. He checks my ears. We make awkward jokes about heavy metal concerts and then he cleans my ears. It hurts. It shouldn’t hurt. He then somehow removes a 13-year old tabby cat named Jones from my right ear, and an indistinguishable ball of goo that I’m convinced contains a CIA bug that they attached when I was 11 from my left. The goo clinks when it hits the pan. Definitely bugged. Jones scampers away. I am then ferried into a thick-walled room where they try to fool me by making no sounds at all most of the time through the headsets – so I randomly say ‘Yes’ to fool them back.  The results aren’t good. My right ear is shot. He wants to do another test. Soon. “For what?” I ask. “Brain tumors.” He says. He then goes on to tell me that I was free to tell my wife that my hearing will never regenerate and that she should do whatever is necessary to implement a change in her habits when addressing me. I can’t wait to tell her this.


IMG_0954I leave the doctor and go to the mall across the street. I need a nice set of clothes. The day before, my wife told me I’m a big boy and can do it myself. I have no idea where to go in the mall. I go to Banana Republic. I reluctantly enter and slowly walk past a group of gay employees who will secretly make fun of me for my pirate shirt and old jeans with stains in the knees. I start looking at the first rack closest to the door – in case I need to quickly leave because of an overzealous salesperson who wants to help me. I pick out a shirt and pants. I don’t look at the price. Roland appears. Roland is a tall black man with a nice smile. He’s not pushy. I ask for a fitting room, and he shows me. On the way, he asks about my needs. I give him the skinny. Turns out Roland’s a nice guy. I change. I need shorter pants. He retrieves them and then compliments me on the shirt I picked out.  He likes it and recommends a fitted tee as well. I get one. I feel a little gay, but not too much. I should have looked at the price. No I shouldn’t have.

I leave the mall and stop by the bank. The girl who I talked to the day before isn’t there. The teller allows me tell her the whole birth certificate situation, and then informs me that I have to wait for a manager. He doesn’t come for a while. I stand up to look like I’m frustrated of waiting. A manager appears. I tell him the whole story and how the company didn’t allow me to cancel my order. He doesn’t understand. I analogize it with buying a coffee table the same time your wife buys the same one at a different store. You get home, one of the coffee tables have to be returned. And it is. Without any problems. I have no idea why I used a coffee table, but he looked like the kind of guy who’d understand how a husband and wife could buy the same coffee table at the same time from different places – and so he got it, but he still contested that this issue was between me and the birth certificate company. I then explain how if I wrote a check, I could have cancelled payment on the check had this happened. He says he gets it, and takes my number.

I leave to pick up my nine-year old daughter from school to go to the pediatric dentist to have her baby canines pulled. She’s not nervous. Victory. We get there, and she starts to slowly break down – despite the fact we’d went over the procedure a dozen times. This was routine. Nothing to fear. Only, now she feared. The nurse asked if she’d like me to come back with her. She does. They take Xrays while I talk meaningless drivel with the 20-year old doctor extracting her teeth. He has an uncomfortably firm handshake. She comes back and they put her on a chair next to eight other kids in an open bay. All of the children were having different procedures performed. Mostly cleanings though, since there were only two doctors.

IMG_0956 They put the laughing gas on my daughter and she immediately (no, IMMEDIATELY) bursts out laughing. The valve to the nitrous hand’t even been turned. Everyone in the bay stops to look. The poor thing is so freaked out that she’d convinced herself that the laughing gas meant that she had to laugh NOW. He turns the valve. The starts to flow. It’s real now. She’s crying. She’s laughing and crying and says, “I’m laughing and crying” like a loud, drunk, 9-year-old. The whole bay starts laughing. Including me. The dentist can’t even continue. He turns down the valve. Watching the young dentist use the pliers to extract her teeth – I understand why his handshake’s so firm. I don’t pass out.

We get home and I cram in as much work as possible before my wife gets home. The doorbell rings and the dogs go ballistic. No one ever comes to our door. It’s the UPS guy – delivering the birth certificate. Turns out that I paid for next-day air. Nice.

Later, after the chaos of twilight, I tell my wife that I have to fight the birth certificate thing. She knows. Of course I’ll have to fight it alone because their product was on my desk (unopened), and I could never expect the bank to fight on my behalf.  But I think I’ve got a good argument and wonder how many other people end up finding their certified birth certificates immediately after they order one through the highly efficient birth certificate company in Arizona. With an hour wait to talk to someone – I’m obviously not the only one.

It’s 1:00 a.m. and the house is quiet. Tooth fairy time. I tiptoe in and slide my hand under our daughter’s pillow to find the little plastic tooth-shaped holder that the dentist gave her. I’m a ninja. Ninja replaces the teeth with dollar coins, and, as he removes his hand from under the cool pillow, the girl opens her eyes. And smiles.



Jim Mitchem

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Bad Service and Why I'm Hopeful

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.