Tuesday, March 2, 2010

An Omen?

When I was an undergraduate student, I remained an “undeclared major” for as long as the school would let me get away with it. It was fun. Being undeclared meant I could take a whole bunch of interesting classes from a variety of disciplines. Although I couldn’t prove it with any official school records, in my head I was an English major, loading up on classes in philosophy (How many angels was that?), medieval history (Battle of Hastings!), English literature (Norton Anthology!) and Irish drama and poetry (the answer to everything is “William Butler Yeats”). I sat in creative writing for one class session until I, a mere sophomore, became intimidated by the room full of seniors with published works and dropped it. (That was partly the result of being “undeclared” and having the phys ed teacher as advisor, who has no real clue about any of the programs or actual class requirements.)

The literature classes were rich with symbolism that I would never have figured out in a hundred million years. Anything remaining in my head is a collection of memory shards from classes with Dr. Barker, who I adored. When he wrote on one of my papers that I was “a good writer” I adored him even more. The symbolism fragments I actually remember include: The space in the front teeth of the Wife of Bath in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales symbolized sensuality and lust (those cuh-razy medievals). Crows are literary harbingers of doom and death. A change in the weather signifies a change for the main character.

These are the mental fragments that sometimes catch a spark of light in my head nowadays, and sometimes ring eerily true (at least when I play “connect the dots” and try to make them into something). In my generally hyper-alert, semi-paranoid state, I find symbols in my life. Like the time a murder of crows camped out on my front lawn, and I thought, “Geez, that’s creepy. Is something bad going to happen to me?” and a day later my boyfriend of the time unexpectedly broke up with me. Coincidence? I don’t know. Weird? Definitely. I haven’t seen a bunch of crows like that in my yard since, either.

And that’s why what recently happened is a bit disturbing to me. But first, I need to step back.

My passport expired last December. I intended to renew it long before it expired, to be prepared for any potential perfect storm of wanderlust, opportunity and financial means. I like preparedness – it helps me avoid aggravation and stress, and having key pieces already in place actually allows me to be spontaneous. Yes, I just said that planning allows for spontaneity. Think about it. Somewhere along the way, I heard stories about a change in the passport or travel rules or something or other resulting in lengthy waits for passports, and decided to let things calm down because there were no travel plans anywhere on my horizon. Perhaps a year ago, the renewal application was downloaded and has been filled out and traveling around in my daily planner ever since. My old passport was located after a brief search and set in a handy place (i.e on top of the dresser). Then I got lazy for, oh, the next six months, and, in spite of countless regular trips to the Walgreen’s photo department, just never got around to having those tiny regulation photos made. I didn’t have enough time. I didn’t have on the right makeup. I had too many freckles. My hair was messy. The store was too busy. I didn’t want to be in a turtleneck in my photo for the next ten years.

When gal pal Stacy asked me last month if I wanted to quit my job (ah, only every day!) and go with her to Costa Rica for yoga certification (oh, man!), one thing standing in my way was my absence of a valid passport, further proving my case that preparedness allows for spontaneity. Another obstacle was a perceived lack of funds and I will admit it, an actual lack of nerve to be jetting off on an adventure like that in two weeks time. But since Stace got her own brand new expedited passport and planned a trip to Costa Rica, and friend Karen headed to Belize, I have been feeling some serious passport envy. Two weeks ago, I elevated “Passport Photos” to the top of my weekend to-do list.

After two weekends, it was still not done. The first weekend, I just plain got lazy, which was just plain stupid, because I had just had my hair done and could have had fabulous salon-fresh hair in my photo. Duh. The following weekend, determined to get it done, I kept the little photos in mind as I showered, dressed, put on makeup. Saturday, I dropped the ball again and just didn’t do it. On Sunday, I was ready for the all-too-public, pull-down screen photo studio in the front of Walgreen’s, and was headed out the door when I allowed myself and my vehicle to be hijacked into picking up and delivering a box spring, causing a two-hour void in my day that left me feeling a bit resentful. (Having already copped to general laziness and passport envy, why be embarrassed about a little resentment?)

After Sunday’s derailment, I vowed to go to Walgreen’s on my lunch hour on Monday. Except I didn’t. After a lecture from myself, I promised myself I’d go after work. After letting Moose out to run around the yard, verifying he hadn’t destroyed the house, and changing into jeans, it was time for a mission – passport photos and makeup remover, and, heck, as long as I was going to be out and about, why not look for some new black boots. (I’m trying to think “green” and piggyback trips, even if I have to manufacture a leg of the journey to feel better.)

First stop – Walgreen’s. I announced my photography need, the photo clerk found a camera, backed me up against the pull-down screen and took my picture. This was nothing like on the “Juliana and Bill” episode I had on the other night when Juliana needed passport photos. First, this isn’t Hollywood or wherever, so there was no digital preview. There was no chance for a re-do. There was no assistant to sneak into the preview machine and edit the photos. The clerk took one shot, asked for my name and phone number, and said it would be about ten minutes.

The timing was perfect, because ten minutes might give me enough time to remember all the other things I suspected I needed but couldn’t actively recall. It took a couple aisles before I even remembered the makeup remover part of my mission (it had been at least ten minutes since I left the house for it). About three aisles into my strolling over to “health and beauty,” after looking at reading glasses, dog treats, writing journals, the lights went out in the store. My first thought was, “Hey! This just got more exciting.” The manager scurried around telling employees to get their flashlights out. I suggested we play flashlight tag. After a few seconds, the lights came back on. Then went out again. And back on. I wandered back to the photo department and the clerk told me she had just loaded my photos before the power thing and wasn’t sure “if they went or not.” After a few more cycles of the lights going on and off, it seemed they were out for good. The manager announced there was a backup power system for the registers purchases could be rung up for about the next ten minutes.

I hung out for a minute and the clerks and I puzzled over the cause of the power outtage. The weather was nondescript. The traffic lights were still on at the intersection outside and so were the lights at the Shell station across the street. And the furniture store. And the shoe outlet. In fact, the only place with no lights was Walgreen’s. I began to think it may be a fluke resulting from the confluence of the Earth now being three inches off its axis due to the recent earthquake in Chile and my Bad Technology Karma.

The Walgreen’s clerks and I started cracking jokes about the store not paying its electric bill. Then I said, “Geez, all I wanted was passport photos. Is this a big fat sign that I shouldn’t travel?” And now I’m even more paranoid than usual, if that is even possible. The earth is spinning cock-eyed and the lights are out. I guess if my next trip requiring a passport is terrible, this will seem like some sort of symbolic event. At least there were no crows.

So, because I was out, I went to Kohl’s where the lights were bright. I bought a fake leather jacket for less than the prices at my beloved Goodwill. I bought some plaid Bermuda shorts that still cost too much even on sale, but I’ve been wanting some for at least three summers and couldn’t find any in the spring when it made sense to buy them. On my way back home, I pulled into Walgreen’s, which, in spite of the lights now burning bright inside, still bore handwritten notes on the door proclaiming “Power Out. Sorry.” I headed home. An hour later, my new friend the photo clerk phoned me to say the power was back and my photos were ready, but I was deep into not paying attention to something on TV and wasn’t going back out. I think I might skip it and start over.