Papers, kamerade?


Friday, December 19, 2003

Last year I learned that despite what the US government told me over 20 years ago, I did not in fact give up my American citizenship when I married a Canadian and because I was still a US citizen, I was obligated to declare myself as such any time I entered the US; to facilitate the process I began to carry around a copy of my birth certificate.

The problem with the Washington State birth certificate is that it doesn't come in a convenient wallet-size card but instead is an 8.5x11 inch monstrosity (side note: when I called the State Dept. of Vital Statistics and asked about a smaller version, I was told that they'd stopped offering one about 10 years ago because there wasn't enough demand; I guess 9/11 isn't enough to make them reconsider their policy) which is, in my opinion, a pain in the ass to have to lug around.

Getting tired of having to use my birth certificate as ID every time I entered the US, and having some liquid assets at my disposal, I decided that it was time to bite the bullet and obtain a US passport. I've had one before but it hasn't been used since 1981 when my Canadian Landed Immigrant papers were stapled into it, and once I took the Canadian citizenship oath it was stuck in a box and relegated to storage. Keep this in mind, as it will become relevant later on.

Step 1: Obtaining and filling out the forms. This process has been made relatively painless due to modern technology, as you can now download both US and Canadian passport applications from their respective websites -- however, be aware that the US site omits some important information (again, this will be important later).

Step 2: Getting your picture taken. Despite how easy it sounds, this was the hardest part of the entire process due to the various requirements regarding size and paper, some of which are obscure bordering on unavailable (see Step 1). I got the first set of pictures taken at a mall close to where I work; they told me they could meet both Canadian and US requirements, and I believed them...more fool I.

Step 3: Locating a guarantor. The Canadian passport application requires that a guarantor sign one of the photos and complete a section of the application stating that they've known for you at least 2 years and can verify your identity (It doesn't matter if you're naughty or nice ­ you could be Saddam Hussein or President Bush, they just have to verify who you are). A guarantor must be a "professional" as defined by the government ­ for example, a doctor is valid but a plumber is not.

Step 4: Driving yourself crazy as you make sure you've filled out everything correctly and have all of your supporting documents (proof of citizenship and identity, all the forms and pictures).

Because I was unsure whether or not I had the right address for applying for my US passport (after all, "Passport Applications" and "American Citizen Services" don't quite look identical), I sent an e-mail to the US Consulate in Vancouver asking for verification; they replied confirming the address and were nice enough to include extra copies of the passport applications, thereby presenting me with My First Snags:

Snag 1: One of the forms was a list of new picture specifications which mentioned that photos were to be on non-glossy paper; the photos I had taken at the mall were glossy. This meant that I had to find a different place to get my pictures taken (more on this later).

Snag 2: While the application form I'd downloaded was identical to the one they e-mailed me, there was an addendum stating that pages 2 and 3 had to be back-to-back on the same sheet of paper which, of course, isn't possible with an online form. Fortunately the photocopier at my workplace does single to double sided conversions, so I made a couple of copies (in case I messed the first one up) and I was good to go.

I found a different photo shop and while I was getting new US passport photos, I ran into Another Snag:

Snag 3: According to the clerk, Canadian passport photos were also supposed to be matte and my original set were glossy, so I ended up springing for another set with the intent of going back to the first store and demanding my money back. The problem here is Step 3, the guarantor -- I needed one of the new photos to be signed! My guarantor is a doctor and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get together with him before Friday, which is when I was planning on applying for both passports as both offices were in the downtown area, two birds with one stone and all that.

I left a message asking my guarantor to let me know when we could get together, and I decided that I would call the Canadian passport office the next day (Thursday) and verify the glossy/matte issue; if it was true that matte was the way to go, I'd have to possibly change my plans if I couldn't get the new photos signed by Thursday night. After spending about 5 minutes in voicemail hell listening to a bunch of things that didn't matter to me, my patience was rewarded and I received the Secret Code to unlock the Live Person Level (for the record ­ it's 6, but you have to know when to enter it or it doesn't work) and was told that my original pictures would be just fine.

Friday morning dawned dark and cold; I had my forms signed and my pictures ready, and my plan was thus: hit the Canadian passport office first as it opened at 7:30, then afterwards hit the US Consulate which opened at 8:00. I made it downtown in good time without incident, found a parking space, and was the 5th in line waiting for the doors to open. Things were going my way, and Nothing Could Stop Me!

Ah, hubris -- but I didn't get bitchslapped where you might expect; I got my application processed and I was out the door within 10 minutes. No, my problems began when trying to get my US passport application processed.

The first step is to line up outside a small door on the outside of the main office building; at a certain point a clerk of some sort comes and culls those of us that are applying for passports or obtaining other US citizen-only services from the folks applying for US entry visas, and giving us a laminated card that allows us to enter the main building where, upon presentation of said card to Security, we are allowed access to the 20th floor where the actual work is done; sort of an elite club, if you will, although I've never been to a private club where I had to empty my pockets, turn off my cellphone and pager, and go through a metal detector.

While waiting for the people in front of me to pass inspection I was listening to the father and son in line behind me; the boy was asking why we had to go through the clearance but Dad was having a hard time making the kid understand. I probably could have sped things up by butting in and saying:

"Listen, kid, the reason we need to be strip-searched without the benefit of a reacharound is because the US is such a big, annoying bully of a country that it's pissed off a lot of people, and rather than try and make nice with everyone they've decided that we're all potential terrorists, and you should be grateful that we're not being asked to take our shoes off like they do at airports, and why the hell are they making sure that our cellphones and pagers are off when at the airport, they have you turn them on to make sure they work? HUH???"

Fortunately, I knew that it would be a good idea to keep my mouth shut.

Once processed through I got to a wicket immediately; we first clarified that I didn't need to fill out the "lost passport" form that I'd downloaded when I realized I didn't know where my original US passport was, because it was over 20 years old and had expired long ago - but I figured that if I hadn't brought the form, I'd have been bounced from the queue for not having it.

No, they saved that joy for the pictures.

Snag 4: It turns out that there has to be a min. of 1/2 inch of clear space between the top of your head and the edge of the picture, and the second (matte) set of pictures didn't measure up. In desperation I brought out the glossy set from my first photo session but they were missing that magic area as well so, matte or glossy, I was up the creek without a picture.

The official was quite nice and told me of a place a block away where I could get new pics taken (he even had their business card, smart thinking on the part of the photo shop) and also mentioned that if I didn't want to drive back downtown and pick up my passport I should get $5.50 in stamps to it could be sent to me by registered mail (he told me there was a postal outlet across from the photo store and told me to get the stamps while waiting for the pictures to be processed), because the passport office couldn't include postage costs in my fees.

So, I gathered up all my papers and left the rarefied air of the 20th floor, got my new photos taken, picked up the stamps, walked back to the side door, got a laminated access card, got Security to let me back up to the 20th floor, went through the entire security check again -- but this time, I had to wait about 15 minutes before getting back to a wicket to have my application processed.

Once at the wicket, things went well; my paperwork was in order and this set of pictures was deemed worthy of gracing the inside of a US passport. I went to the cashier wicket to may my fees ($85 US), then waited for a consular official to swear me for my application (yes, I swear the information I'm providing is true, no, I swear that when I took Canadian citizenship I did not intend to relinquish my American citizenship, no, I have no idea why it's spelled "Puyallup" but pronounced "Pyooallup" instead of "Pooyallup")*

Now my applications are in process and barring any additional problems I should have both passports no later than mid-January; all I have left to do is get refunds for the bad pictures ­ but as a public service I thought I'd show you, with the pictures I have left, what is and isn't acceptable when applying for passports:

This was one of the first set of US passport photos and it has 2 strikes against it: it is on glossy paper, and it doesn't have the 1/2 inch of clear space from the top of my head to the edge of the photo.

This picture was printed on matte paper, but the clear space is not quite big enough.

This one's a keeper -- matte paper and enough space at the top for whatever purpose they use it for. Personally, I think they add some sort of message that is only visible with special US Customs spy goggles, like this:

In any event all the fees have been paid and paperwork is being processed, and by mid-January I should have both passports...then I get to do it all over again in 5 years (Canadian) and 10 years (US). Oh, joy!


Oh, and in case you're wondering why the glum expression, it's because photos for Canadian passports can't show you smiling; you have to have a "neutral expression." I'm not sure if there's any such requirement for US passports since it wasn't mentioned anywhere - even on the secret info sheet I received - but I figured better safe than sorry.




*I was born in Puyallup, Washington. No, really; I don't make this stuff up.



Max - June 20, 2001 - December 2, 2003


Sunday, December 14, 2003


Please forgive the length of this entry; I need to write all this down as a way for me to come to terms with the loss of a well-loved member of the family.

Max joined our family over the Labour Day weekend in 2001, a small (for the breed, a Checkered Giant/Belgian Hare cross) bunny with some of the biggest ears I'd ever seen on a rabbit.


Those of you that have raised dogs are probably familiar with the rule of thumb that says you can get an idea how big the dog will be by the size of its paws when it's a puppy -- Max's ears offered us the chance to see that this rule also applied to rabbits, as shown by this picture of him sitting on a recliner:

Checkered Giants aren't generally known for being pleasant-tempered but between being raised by a breeder who takes the time to "gentle" her Checkereds and his Belgian Hare heritage, Max was a very likeable rabbit that got along with everyone.

Most people who have encountered pet rabbits have only seen them sitting in cages or cuddling on laps but rabbits, like cats, are sui generis and if given lots of attention, and not ignored and left in a cage, will develop personalities. Max had some definite character traits:

- Even if there was enough room to squeeze between you and whatever you were close to he would do his best to get you to move, whether by nudging, nipping or scratching.
- When he wanted attention he wanted it RIGHT NOW, and when he felt he'd had enough he'd move away from you...on the other hand, he could soak up the petting for hours if he felt like it and if your hands stopped petting him, he'd nudge it to remind you that you were falling behind in your homage to The Great Furry God.
- Checkered Giants are a "running breed," and Max inherited that trait as well; while we had to keep him in his hutch while we were gone during the day, we'd let him out in the evenings and he would race around the basement like a maniac, eventually wearing himself down to where he'd collapse to rest (and soak up some petting) before getting up to run around some more. He loved to bounce off the walls as he ran, I believe in part because he liked the noise he made while doing so.
- Max was, to put it simply, a big goof. I lost count of the number of times he'd just leap in the air for no other reason than he was in a playful mood and just felt like it; rabbit owners generally refer to this as a "binky" but Max had his own version; he'd often kick his front and back paws out while jumping straight up, similar to the Lipizzaner stallions with their "airs above the ground." He had the ability to jump up and turn 180 degrees in mid-air, then land and go back to whatever he was doing before he felt the urge to jump.

The first hint of trouble began on Dec. 1st when Max didn't eat. While this was a serious concern (gastrointestinal, or GI, stasis is a severe problem with rabbits ­ most people don't know that a rabbit's digestive system is built in such a way that you don't even fast them before surgery), we weren't overly concerned as we'd gotten previous rabbits through bouts of GI stasis before;it usually involved a force-feeding of payaya tablets (the enzymes help break down any blockage such as ingested hair) and Petromalt (a laxative-type paste that's necessary because unlike cats, rabbits can't vomit up hairballs). He wasn't terribly thrilled with being wrapped in a towel -- aka the "Bunny Burrito" -- and having stuff crammed down his throat by syringe, but he put up with it.

It became clear on Tuesday night, however, that things were far worse than we'd imagined; not only was he still not eating but we couldn't even get the papaya or Petromalt down him. Since our vet was closed for the evening we ended up driving into Vancouver to an emergency clinic and the vet told us that things were very grave -- not only did Max have a blockage but the vet suspected peritonitis caused by some sort of an internal rupture, as the X-ray showed what looked like air in the chest cavity.

The vet told us that not only was Max in very bad shape (he gave him less than 5% chance of survival), but that he couldn't even promise that he'd survive being put under for surgery...he hadn't been sure Max would survive the X=ray. Mary and I discussed the situation and it became clear to us that as much as we loved Max and wanted to try and save him, we had to make the hard decision to help him across the Rainbow Bridge.

I won't go into the details as it is still very painful to think about; those of you that have had to make this decision know what I am talking about and those that haven't ­ well, I hope that you never have to do so.

It's been a couple of weeks since we said goodbye to him but we're constantly faced with reminders ­ the glance at his hutch when we go to the basement to do laundry, the impulse to feed him when we first get up in the morning and the moment we come home, the urge to let him out for his evening runs.

I got his ashes back last weekend; it seems strange that such a big bunny, so full of life, can be reduced to a small urn. I'm sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere but I'm really not in the mood to try and figure it out; I only know that a big part of our lives is gone and a rabbit-shaped hole has been left in its place.

Goodbye, Max, you big furry goofball...you will be missed.