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Leaking brains and lost passports

Posted: Sunday, June 18, 2000

The last thing I said to my teenaged son as I put him on the plane for Europe was: ``Don't lose your passport!''

The second-to-the-last thing I said was: ``Don't lose your passport!''

In fact, if you were to analyze all the statements I made to my son in the week before his departure, they'd boil down to: ``Don't lose your passport!''

The message I was trying to convey was that he should not lose his passport. Of course he did not need to be told this. He is a teenaged boy, and teenaged boys already know everything. When a boy reaches 13 years of age, the Knowledge Fairy comes around and inserts into his brain all the information in the entire universe. From that point on, he no longer needs any parental guidance. All he needs is parental money.

This is why a teenaged boy who has had a driver's license for a total of two hours knows that he can drive 367 miles per hour in heavy traffic while devoting 2 percent of his attention to the actual road and 98 percent to the critical task of adjusting the radio to exactly the right volume setting (''Death Star''). If you criticize him, he'll give you a look of contempt mixed with pity, because you are a clueless old dork who was last visited by the Knowledge Fairy in 1873, and your brain has been leaking information ever since.

And so, when I told my son, as he got onto the plane, not to lose his passport, he rolled his eyes in the way that knowledgeable teenagers have rolled their eyes at their parents dating back to when Romeo and Juliet rolled THEIR eyes at THEIR parents for opposing a relationship that turned out really swell except that they wound up fatally stabbing and poisoning themselves.

At this point, you veteran parents are asking: ``So, when did your son lose his passport?'' The answer is: Before he legally got into Europe. He may have set an Olympic record for passport-losing, because apparently his was stolen, along with all his traveler's checks, while he was on the plane. Don't ask me how this could happen. My son has tried to explain it to me, but I still don't understand, because I have a leaky old brain.

All I know is that when the plane landed, my son had no passport and almost no money. Fortunately, the plane landed in Germany, a carefree, laid-back nation that is not a big stickler for paperwork.

Ha ha! I am of course kidding. The national sport of Germany is stickling. So my son spent a number of hours trying to convince various authorities that he was a legal human. Meanwhile, back in the United States, unaware of what had happened, I was exchanging increasingly frantic telephone calls with the mother of the boy my son was supposed to meet in the Frankfurt airport, who had reported back to her that my son had not arrived. The mother had suggested several things that her son could do, such as have my son paged or ask an authority, but of course her son scoffed at these ideas, because he is also a teenaged boy, and thus did not need to be told how to find somebody in a large, unfamiliar foreign airport. He preferred the time-tested technique of wandering around aimlessly. His mother, who also has a daughter, assured me that girls do not act this way.

Eight fun-filled and relaxing hours after his plane landed, my son finally called me, and I nearly bit my tongue off not telling him I Told You So. He told me that the Germans had graciously agreed not to send him back to Miami, which is good, because he would probably have ended up in Kuala Lumpur.

He got a new passport the next day, but replacing the traveler's checks was not so simple. I will not name the brand of traveler's checks involved, except to say that it rhymes with ``Wisa.'' As I write these words, my son and I have both been calling the Wisa people for a week, and they still haven't given us a Final Answer on whether they'll replace the checks. It says on the Wisa website that you can ``easily get a refund if your cheques are lost or stolen,'' but in my son's case it apparently is going to require a vote of the full United Nations. For security and convenience, my son would have been better off carrying his money in the form of live cattle.

But never mind that. The main thing is, he's safely and legally in Europe, where he and his friend will be backpacking around for a month, relying on their common sense. So if there's a war, you'll know why.

Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.



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