Business or Pleasure?

16 Aug

Following directions.

It’s not that important, right? Left, right, up, down, “No parking,” “Sophie, please don’t grab my food with your hands,” “Seriously, this steak is mine,” “No, you can’t have my autographed poster of Miss Piggy” etc. etc. Do they really matter? Are they really that important? Can’t we all just do whatever we want, whenever we want?

Apparently, some people subscribe to this reasoning.

The other week, I went to the French consulate in Boston to apply for a visa because I will be moving there for six months in the fall.

The amount of time and dedication I put into preparing my application materials was probably more intense and involved than the amount of time and dedication I will put into preparing for childbirth.

Mostly because storks these days are super efficient, so I assume there will be very little to do on my end.

But also because NOTHING gets me more rattled than paperwork. (Except for rodents in my living space and when people pronounce “espresso” like “expresso” and Meryl Streep-related insults and the smell of a moldy house on a rainy day and when I jump out of the ocean and my towel is full of sand and when I have to enter/exit parking garages and can’t figure out how to pay for my ticket and when they don’t have skim milk as an option at coffee stations and when they look at you like you’re deranged if you ask for skim milk and when people cough and the wind from their cough touches my skin.)

Filling out paperwork necessitates two skills that I seriously lack: neat handwriting and attention to detail.

Which is why I painstakingly went through MULTIPLE COPIES of all of the forms I needed, and asked anyone in my family who would listen if “this ‘A’ looks slightly crooked” or if “that ‘T’ looks more like a lowercase ‘l’ with a roof over its head than a ‘T’.”

Many hours and scores of trees later, I’d finished my paperwork and had packaged it up in a tightly wrapped, waterproof Ziploc bag. (I’d also managed to drive all of my family members to their rooms, so they wouldn’t have to listen to my questions any longer.)

The consulate’s instructions were very specific: make an appointment, get there on time, and do NOT forget any of your application materials.

I acted like I was about to enter into battle…or take the SATs.

I set my alarm early enough so I’d have ample time to get ready. I ate a protein-filled breakfast. (Major life events are wonderful excuses to shove your face with “protein-laden” goodies). I reviewed my materials. I was ready.

I got to the consulate fifteen minutes early and was pleased to realize I had plenty of time to use the bathroom.

The bathroom was locked.

Good, I thought. No time for distractions.

The security guard at the front of the office checked me off the list, and I proceeded to the waiting room.

Every other time I’ve needed a visa, I’d been traveling through a school or a program, and so I’d never actually gone to the consulate. I thought I’d be marched to a solitary confinement chamber and forced to undergo a rigorous interview with lots of intense questions, like “What are your intentions with our country?” and “How many shrooms had you ingested before you posed for this heinous visa application photo??”

But no. When I entered the office, I was surprised to find about twelve other people waiting for their appointments, and absolutely no line or sense of order.

I sat down to a nice looking girl and her dad. She was nineteen and bubbly and full of life (bleh…just kidding…) and was preparing to study abroad. Comparatively, I felt like I was one step removed from playing bocce at the old age home.

We chatted for a while to pass the time.

And then, out of nowhere, came a disgruntled businessman, named Mr. Chen.

Mr. Chen marched into the waiting room and didn’t think to inquire about the process or the order of operations. Instead, he walked right up to the counter and shoved his materials at the poor employee.

“Sir,” said the woman behind the desk, “You’re missing a few key things. I cannot accept your materials until you have all parts of the application.”

“WHAT,” said Mr. Chen. “I’m just trying to build a business overseas! Why do I need materials?”

(Oh, just trying to build a business?? We thought you said, “just trying to smuggle a eucalyptus”! Okay, our bad, you definitely don’t need a complete visa application for business creation overseas. That’s no biggie.)

“Mr. Chen, I need photos of you that aren’t blurry,” the woman explained.

(What’s wrong with these? What, you won’t accept this Instagram photo I took of myself doing a gargoyle keg stand in Key Largo last year?)

“I also need your latest pay stub as proof of your employment,” she elaborated.

“I don’t have a pay stub,” Mr. Chen yelled. “I’m not going to France to sightsee! I’m building a business opportunity!”

(A businessman without a pay stub: the best kind of businessman.)

“I understand what you’re saying Mr. Chen, but you’ll need to return to the Consulate with a complete application.”

“WHAT?! I need to RETURN? Can’t I just send my secretary?”

(Sure, if your secretary has the same identification and fingerprints as you, go ahead.)

“No, I’m sorry, you’ll need to return in person.”

“If I have to return in person, then I just won’t go to France to pursue this business opportunity! I just won’t go!”

(Okay, sounds good?)

“Let me speak with the consular!” Mr. Chen demanded.

At this point, a French man emerged from behind the glass and managed to calm Mr. Chen down a bit. It was agreed that he could send via email his pay stub and photos and send his secretary the following week to pick up the visa.

(Six months later, a headline reads: “Man found wandering the streets of Paris, carrying only what appeared to be a Valencia-filtered selfie of himself doing a keg stand, and a miscellaneous pay stub for $0.00. When questioned, the man yelled, ‘I AM HERE FOR BUSINESS, NOT PLEASURE,’ and then scurried away.”)

On the other side of the waiting room stood a young man, wearing silk pants and an American Flag t-shirt. He’d walked in during Mr. Chen’s rant, and had been pacing for several minutes.

“What, there’s some kinda wait in here?” he inquired.

“Yes, we’ve all been waiting,” explained the girl next to me.

The man looked really disgruntled, and then proceeded to mumble – I think – about his failings as a musical artist. (Or, I guess he could have been some kind of stage performer, like a ventriloquist or a stripper. Unclear.)

“Shiiiitttt, man, I’ve got a show to do! I haven’t performed in months! Shiiit, you know?”

No, actually, we didn’t.

At this point, the woman in the corner – who was juggling a newborn and a five-year old – allowed her older daughter to grab a lollipop from the consulate’s candy bowl.

Piano Man perked up. (I see you, Piano Man.)

“Yo,” he asked the girl, “are there any more pops in there?”

She shook her head.

“You sure? Like, there aren’t any more?”

(The Spanish Inquisition of lollipops had begun.)

She shook her head. And then, in the most badass, defiant move of all time, she threw her lollipop into the garbage.

Piano man looked like someone had spilled syrup all over his keys. (Or all over his dummy, if we’re going with the ventriloquist theory.)

“I might have to go into the trash for that,” he considered, aloud. At which point, the girl’s mom called her over to her lap.

Piano Man clearly hadn’t protein-fueled for his visit, and was hangry enough to consider dumpster diving at the consulate.

Not surprisingly, Piano Man had also forgotten some key aspects to his application (like his PASSPORT) and so ended up leaving the office prematurely.

When it was my turn to approach the bench, the woman looked at me like she was afraid that I, too, would yell about business opportunities and missed musical/ventriloquist/erotic dance performances.

Not to toot my own horn, but I totally NAILED my paperwork. She stamped my forms and told me I could return to pick up my visa the following week. (A deadline about which I totally forgot, so hopefully they’re holding my visa for me!)

It was such a change of pace for me – getting somewhere on time, having all of my belongings organized, experiencing a relatively seamless administrative experience…is this how normal people function??

I thought I had turned over a new leaf!

Until I reached the parking garage…and wandered around, lost, for several minutes, wondering how I could pay and then – when I finally had paid – driving down the up ramp instead of up, wondering if I would ever, ever figure out how to exit.

When one door opens, another…stays closed.

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