Trump’s America, Wednesday morning, 9:03 AM.
I head in to my local post office. I’m out of stamps. I also need my passport renewed. It expires this month.
Rather than flee the country, I vowed that, if Trump won the election, I’d stay in the U.S. and fight along with the people who would be endangered by the new administration. I still feel that way – but I am not comfortable having an expired passport.
Call it paranoia – or the weight of historical Jewish trauma in the midst of a country of newly emboldened White Supremacists – but it feels like an urgent matter.
There’s only one clerk on duty, but there’s only one person in line in front of me. Nobody’s behind me. I’m grateful the wait won’t be too long.
I choose the National Park stamps. They’re gorgeous.
Then I ask about the passport. I’ve printed out the online renewal form, have my passport photos, and am ready to pay with my bank card. The clerk tells me I can just mail it in with a check.
I tell her I want to do it now. Right now.
She suggests getting a money order and sending it Priority Mail. Do I want “expedited service?” The regular fee is $110 and expedited service is $190. I don’t have lots of extra money these days, and I know I have to pay to replace the tire on my car that is slowly losing air.
I choose the expedited service.
I’m not sure why, but I tell the clerk I want to get this taken care of before the inauguration. She replies, “That’s so funny! Everyone is saying that!”
While we’ve been executing these not uncomplicated transactions, a number of people have walked through the door behind me. I turn around and notice a long line. Fresh blood pumps to my lungs. I feel acutely aware of the kippah I am wearing. I feel acutely aware that I’m taking a lot of time in line at the post office, where people may just want to ship their Christmas presents. I feel acutely aware that I’ve said something that other people might find silly or annoying or offensive.
The clerk instructs me to write “Department of State” on the money order, and enter my date of birth in the “memo” line. I tell her I can move to the side and fill out the forms so the people behind me don’t have to wait.
The man behind me has a package, puts it in the Lucite box where packages go. He, too, wants the National Park stamps. They really are beautiful.
And, while I’m filling out my money order, I notice he’s not alone. He has two kids with him. He wants three passports.
The clerk tells him that the person who processes new passports will arrive at 9:30. He and his kids step to the side.
The woman behind him approaches the window. She too buys the National Park stamps. She too is not alone.
The clerk again explains that new passport processing won’t begin until 9:30. The woman notes, politely but urgently, that the post office’s phone message states that passport processing begins at 8:30.
“Yeah,” explains the clerk, “we have no control over that.”
The woman says the message should be changed. The clerk agrees.
The woman and her family step aside. Our eyes meet. I press my lips together, and slowly nod. She slowly nods.
Seven people, besides me, are now standing in the lobby of the U.S. Post Office, waiting to get passports.
The next person in line is an older woman, shipping a number of gift boxes. I wonder if she’s annoyed. I wonder if she has a passport. I wonder what people do when they don’t have $190. Or $110.
I wonder if the people who elected our new president had this in mind when they voted to make America great again.
Rabbi Michael Rothbaum is a Jewish educator, speaker, author, and social justice advocate. He and his husband, Yiddish singer Anthony Russell, live in Oakland.