Monday, December 3, 2012


Watching a big-league game way up close.

So after getting a reprieve from "Legal" at Immigration on the bundles of apostilled documents that were inadvertently invalidated during photocopying by the removal of one staple each, I had only two things left to do.

One was to finish my application letter in which I probably said all the right things. It's like a why-I-am-really-a-good-person-and-should-be-allowed-to-stay-here sort of thing. And ten to one no one ever reads these anyway.

The other task was to get color copies of two pages of my passport notarized.

Notarizing things is a big deal.

Here's a summary of what it means.

  • someone with a rubber stamp looks at some never-seen-before documents
  • that someone inks a rubber stamp and hammers the document with it
  • that someone then signs on a line left by the rubber stamp
  • this signifies that said someone believes the documents are genuine

A person I met recently tipped me off to a notary place close by, about a block from where I'm staying.

Since I'd finished early for the day at Immigration and was feeling pretty good about not being thrown into chains and stuffed into a crate to be dumped at sea for having my seals broken, I went over there.

The time was 11 a.m. The place was packed.

It is upstairs, behind an anonymous ground-floor door with a word painted on the building's wall above the doorway.

The word is "Notario". I figured it out on my own.

Upstairs it looks like a converted warehouse.

The wooden floor is rough and bare of paint or even stain. The place is inelegant, like its only improvement has been the addition of interior walls. Nothing else.

At one end, to the left, is an archive of old notarized documents (if I'm guessing right - it could as well be an archive of deceased and mummified notaries).

Along the main wall are two barred doors. Over to the right is "Copias", which is where I realized I saw the line that morning. But it was enough to scare me off at the time.

Another gringo came in as I was exiting, after having decided that it was hopeless.

He went in anyway. Later he said that he'd gotten his work done in 15 minutes. I'm glad he didn't listen to me. No one should ever listen to me. I always do things the hard way.

I decided to try after lunch, when there might be fewer people in line.

Around here "after lunch" has a meaning. The meaning is after 3 p.m., give or take half an hour. Lunch for a lot of people runs from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and then you have to throw in tooth-picking, fingernail-polishing, idleness, and noodling time.

So I finished my own lunch and tidied up things in my room and by then it was 2:20 p.m.

At first I decided that it was too late in the day to bother.

Then I decided that I ought to go and see anyway. Maybe I'd get lucky. Or something.

Possibly something.

Luck. There were half a dozen people there this time.

Only half a dozen people.

So I decided that since I was there I had to give it a shot. By now the time was 2:30.

After 10 minutes or so the people ahead of me began to knot up around one of the barred doors. I joined them.

This door also had something about a notary written on top. I think. It seemed hopeful. Like a not-lost cause. Maybe.

Suddenly the inner door opened, the bars unlocked, and some of the people went in.

At almost the same time the door to its left opened and some of the people went in there.

I did too. Fewer people went in the second door, which gave me a better chance.

But a woman inside jabbered harshly and the guy ahead of me turned around, went out, and went in through the first door, with most of the others.

I did too. The woman looked mean. I didn't need mean. Not at this stage.

In the not-mean office we sat on chairs.

There was one woman in this office and four desks. Let's say that Betty was the woman's name.

In a chair in front of Betty's desk sat a large fat man. Every now and then she talked to him and he answered, but mostly she poked at a computer with some of her fingers.

After a lot of this poking and querying Betty got up and fed a single sheet of paper into a laser printer. Then she turned it over and did the same to the other side.

Then she returned to her desk and poked at the computer some more.

Eventually, after several decades of this, and many intrusions by many people who came right in and went up to Betty and began long conversations, she began pounding on documents with rubber stamps.

For someone not impressed by ceremonies, I have to say I was impressed by this one.

Betty has a helluva swing. Give her a bat and she'd beat every major-league batting record into sumbission.

Betty had at least four rubber stamps. She hit uncountable documents at least four times with each stamp. I think.

I wondered what happens when she runs her ink pads dry. I guessed that the office shuts down for a week or so until the ink-pad guy comes around with fresh barrel of stamp pad ink.

But maybe not. Given the lunch hours here it could take a month. Everyone could go on vacation to relieve the stress of long lunch hours and waiting in lines.

"Finally," I thought after the pounding of rubber stamps began to taper off, "she's wrapping it up. Now the rest of us can have a shot."

No. Not like that.

The fat guy got up and joined the rest of us, quietly sitting on his own visitor chair. Things got dim for a while. My mind went into the slowest slow motion possible. Let's say torpor. Torpor was about it. Think torpor.

Betty may have been on the phone for a while, but I'm not sure. It was a time warp. Mostly Betty poked at the computer.

She seemed to like that part. She was good at poking.

I remember not looking at my watch. I didn't want to.

My watch would only have told me that I was very likely to die on my chair, after which the mice would eat my remains and go poop them out on the street, whereupon I would be forgotten forever (even by the mice).

So then. More people came and went.

Mostly these people seemed to be after some kind of favor. Betty talked to each of them in turn and her answers always seemed to be essays ending in "no".

Betty never looked at the half-dozen of us who had been sitting there forever. We were only landscape. Wallpaper. Dead flies.

Suddenly (if I can say that after several eternities), an old man tore into the office.

He was mostly bald with a fringe of white hair on the sides, and wore a gray suit. Sort of a silvery-gray suit, which is slightly uncommon here. Most suits are darker. Some are brown. Lots are very dark gray, or black. Few are silver.

The man (let's call him Mr Notario) must have been in his 80s. He went to the big desk at the back of the office, behind Betty's bookshelves, and sat.

Suspense filled the parts of my mind which had not died.

The time was now 3:18 p.m., but it may have been 3:18 p.m. on a different day, in another year, in a separate reality. Or century.

I was hallucinating by then, so who can say?

With Mr Notario was a young man, bearded, with long unruly hair. I'd say he looked like Che Guevara without looking like Che Guevara. The beard and hair did. Let's call him Che anyway. Just for fun.

So now you have the images.

Then, things happened. All at once. All of us in the office were suddenly all being served. Communally.

I've never been juggled before, but being juggled would feel like that.

I had my two color pages rubber-banded and rolled up inside some waste paper for protection, and suddenly Betty, who had paid no attention to any of us, at all, was on top of me.

I fumbled with the rubber band and with my notebook, trying to look up the explanatory sentences I'd prepared, and while she did listen to me mumble and mangle the language she seemed to know why I was there and just kept saying "Su passaporte." ("Your passport.")

And of course I couldn't get it out of my pocket.

But she waited anyway.

Betty gave my passport and the copies to Che, whom I watched carefully. The passport was the one thing I couldn't afford to lose so I stood there while he eyeballed everything over and over.

Then he found the two extra sheets I was using to protect the actual color copies and he wanted to look at them too, even though by then I was tugging at them, trying to pull them out of his grip. He finally gave up and we were off.

He began hammering at the two actual color copies with his rubber stamp. I kept my eyes on the passport. It came through unharmed.

When I got my passport back (rumored street value: $2000 or about 4-months' income for the average person) I didn't care too much what happened next - the passport was safe. But something happened anyway.

Che went to his second desk in the back with the copies, and there he diddled with something, and then took the now-stamped copies over to Mr Notario sitting in his suit behind his half-acre desk.

Everyone else was behind me, swirling, jabbering. Like bumper car day at the amusement park.

Che motioned me over to Mr Notario's desk and I stood there not knowing what was happening, but Mr Notario motioned me to sit so I sat.

He didn't look at me or say anything.

He was scribbling.

What he was scribbling I didn't know, but he did it with all his might. His whole body went into scribbling.

I bet he could go a full 16 rounds against the world champ and come out fresh and smiling, is how strong and dedicated he looked with his scribbling, Mr Notario did. Age is no limit to a champeen scribbler.

Then the phone rang. Betty had transferred a call to Mr Notario.

She came to the back of the office and stood in a corner in the shadows and watched Mr Notario while he talked.

He wasn't just a scribbler. Mr Notario could really talk. Even I could tell.

I couldn't understand him but I can recognize a talker. He was a talker.

I looked at Betty in the shadows, wedged into a corner, but couldn't see her face. She didn't move. She only watched Mr Notario talk.

Something was going down. This conversation was not polite.

Toward the end of the call Mr Notario said two words which I can't recall, but whose meaning was clear. Maybe I remembered enough Latin to understand, but there was no doubt about the meaning.

What he was saying was "Shut up and listen to what I'm telling you." I got that. No doubt about it. He said it with his voice and with all of his lips, and with his full authority as a notario.

Eventually one or both parties got tired, the call ended, and Mr Notario got to my documents.

He scribbled.

He scribbled some more. And some more. And that was just the first document.

He started over on the second document.

Then at some point he was done.

He handed the documents back to me with an invoice attached by paper clip, and there was Che again.

Time to pay, and Che was my man.

Each notary fee was $1. For two documents that was $2, plus 24 cents tax. So $2.24 total. I gave Che $2.25 and he went to hunt for a penny. He found one and brought it to me. Good man, this Che.

Then I left. The circus was still running at full tilt inside the office. People were swirling, whizzing in every direction, jabbering, bouncing off the walls.

When Mr Notario handed me my papers I thanked him in Spanish. He gravely nodded his head once and then forgot I had ever existed.

He went back scribbling, with his head down, putting his shoulder into it.

Total elapsed time in the office: about an hour and 15 minutes.

When I got back to my room I looked at my two documents. There was nothing written on them except Mr Notario's signature, which took him a full 20 seconds to write out. He really put his soul into it though. When he signed something you could hear the pen scream from across the room.

But the documents were good. They were properly notarized.

Immigration accepted them, so I guess that part is over.

I probably left out some things, but you get the idea. It was a day.


Post a Comment