May 21, 2024
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May 21, 2024
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Lost and Found…and Lost…and Found

We all know the feeling, the sense of frustration that accompanies the realization, just as you are about to exit your home, that you’ve misplaced your house keys, your car keys or your wallet. After a brief moment chastising yourself for once again losing one of these mainstays of daily life, you begin a careful search of the premises to locate the missing object. Sometimes you’re lucky and you find it right away; other times you do a thorough search of your home, don’t find it and, after a second search, locate the object where you had previously searched. Finally, there are those dreaded occasions when you can’t find what you’re looking for after multiple searches of all locations where the missing object should be located, and you conclude you lost it outside your home or office. Major panic then ensues, but often enough you’re still able to retrieve it through the intervention of a helpful stranger or friend who was looking out for you. Rarely, happily, is the object truly lost and, of course, in that case, you probably only have yourself to blame.

A rather strange, and laughable, variation on this theme of recovering lost belongings took place not so long ago in the life of Jake Rabinowitz, a most likeable fellow, who, truth be told, was not in the habit of returning things to their rightful place and who regularly spent undue time looking for papers and other belongings “someone” had misplaced. To this day Jake considers himself a victim of bizarre circumstances, but I’ll let you decide for yourself if in fact Jake got what he deserved.

It happened that one day in late fall, Jake and his wife received an invitation to attend their niece’s upcoming wedding scheduled to take place in Israel that coming January. Jake booked a flight on United Airlines, but as was his wont, he neglected to search for his travel papers. Finally, with about a week to go until the flight, he inspected his night table near his bed for his necessary documents. He recalled last seeing his passport there and he wasn’t disappointed when he discovered it easily among other papers. When he examined the passport carefully, though, he was surprised that the expiration date read April 10, 2018, less than six months away. He had used his passport just a few months earlier. How had he failed to notice the quickly approaching expiration date?

“That’s a problem, Jake!” said his wife Betty, when he advised her of his discovery. “You can’t travel abroad with such a passport!”

Jake had heard of such a rule, but he wasn’t sure it applied. He spent an hour researching the question, but found nothing conclusive: Neither the US State Department, the state of Israel or the airline he was travelling explicitly restricted travel on a soon-to-be-expiring US passport. Nevertheless, Jake was nervous about risking it and he immediately proceeded to explore how he could rapidly obtain a new passport.

With less than a week to go, Jake had limited options. He attempted first to sign up with an online service that promised for an expensive fee to expedite the new passport. He found the application cumbersome and, with little faith in their ability to deliver, decided he would need to visit his regional passport office—two states away—in Stamford, Connecticut, to obtain a new passport using their expedited same-day service. Accordingly, Jake called the requisite 800 number to obtain an in-person appointment for the following Friday morning at 9.

Bright and early he left New Jersey, armed with his old passport, his application for a new one and proof of his travel plans (departure from Newark the following Thursday). Everything came off without a hitch until, having completed his interaction with the passport clerk, he inquired at what time he could pick up his new passport that day:

“All passports will be ready for pickup at 4:30 this afternoon,” replied the clerk.

Jake visibly gulped.

“I can’t wait that long!” Jake exclaimed.

How was he to explain to the clerk that because the Sabbath started at 4:30, he would have to leave Stamford at least an hour earlier than the new passport would be ready?

“Is there some other way you can send it to me in time for my flight next week?”

“We can overnight it to you and it should arrive on time,” offered the clerk.

“Can you send it out today? Jake asked.

“I’m not sure of that, but it’ll go out no later than the next business day.”

Normally, that would’ve taken care of matters, but the following business day, Monday, was Martin Luther King Day and all federal offices were closed. That meant Jake’s new passport would only be overnighted next Tuesday, with Jake’s departure scheduled for Thursday afternoon. With his blood pressure rising by the minute, Jake managed to offer a weak “Go ahead” to the clerk and reluctantly drove off towards home and his uncertain future!

Saturday through Tuesday came and went without the new passport arriving. On Tuesday, Jake attempted to contact the Stamford Passport office by phone without success. He reached out to the main passport office line and finally reached a helpful customer service officer who informed him that Stamford could receive no phone calls or emails from the public, but that she could contact Stamford and ask them to contact her. Jake begged her to do so as time was running out.

Finally, late Tuesday afternoon, Jake received a call from the Stamford Passport office: It was not what he was expecting to hear!

“Mr. Rabinowitz, we received an email from Washington inquiring about the status of your recent passport application. I’m sorry to tell you that we had to reject your application.”

“What?!” was all Jake could say. “Why?” was his next question.

“You see, the passport you surrendered to us with your application was previously reported by you three years ago as lost and stolen. Our records show that you have another existing passport in effect that has seven more years to run! So we’re unable to issue you another passport at this time!”

Jake didn’t know what to say. Valuable time had been lost. Why hadn’t they contacted him immediately? What was he supposed to do now? It slowly dawned on him that his friendly housekeeper Martina must have found the old missing passport at some time in the past and placed it innocently in his night table where he had discovered it. It had lain undetected no more than five feet from his pillow, waiting silently to “trip him up.”

But then Jake remembered he had traveled abroad several times since reporting the “lost” passport, so there had to be a valid (newer) passport somewhere at home—but where?

Jake quickly thanked the passport agent and told her he would search for the valid passport without delay. He did just that, ransacking his home for two hours without success. Every valise, every carry on, every bag he could find produced no results. The elusive passport was nowhere to be found! It was now late Tuesday afternoon and it was time for Jake to contemplate the uncontemplatable: another desperate trip to Stamford the next day, without an appointment no less!

At times of great stress, it pays to have resources to fall back on. Jake, obviously frustrated, reached out to his children and spouse for support, utilizing all digital communication means to do so. It was his son, Aiden, who came to his rescue. Aiden worked with Jake and informed his dad he would stop by on his way home from the office to see if he could help. It didn’t take Aiden more than five minutes to locate Jake’s valid passport in—you guessed it—Jake’s favorite blue carry-on bag. As you also guessed, this was the very bag Jake first had searched when he began his frantic explorations.

“I checked that bag carefully,” he told Aiden. “Just not carefully enough, I guess.”

The trip to Israel took place without a hitch and the wedding was beautiful in spite of the saga of two passports lost and found.

By Joseph Rotenberg

Joseph Rotenberg, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Link, has resided in Teaneck for more than 40 years with his wife Barbara. He has spent most of that time searching his surroundings for signs of intelligent life. His first collection of short stories and essays entitled Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment will be published by Gefen later this year.

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