“You and your husband have the exact same birth date?” the woman behind the counter asks me, a quizzical look on her face.
She’s examining her computer screen where our marriage registration with the Comune di Milano shows that we were both born on Alberto’s birthday — such a romantic coincidence, but in reality not adorable at all.
“No, no, we don’t,” I say, showing her my passport while a nice cup of anxiety brews in my belly.
“Someone entered it in the system wrong; I can’t give you a valid copy of your marriage registration. Sorry.”
Wait, that’s it? Signora, please, help me. I need this for my permesso di soggiorno.
“Well, you can go upstairs to Room 149 to see if they can fix the error; they probably can’t do it today.”
“Was it the United States’ fault or Italy’s fault?” Renzo demands.
“Probably us,” she admits.
We find Room 149 and enter. “You can’t just come in here,” its dwellers say. “You must go to the other side of the building to get a ticket. Wait till your number pops up on the screen.”
I procure my third ticket in two days. Now we’re in the waiting area with the newborn baby registrations. At least I’m not that woman breastfeeding on the bench while she waits for baby Gino to get his papers.
Renzo decides to pop his head into Room 149, unauthorized yet again, while I wait in the hall. “They all went out for coffee!” he reports back.
ND-10 is finally called. We walk up to the desk, and I begin a new plea. The woman barely says a word and starts tap tap tapping her keyboard. “Mhh. Mhm. Mh.” She prints off a data correction request form for me to sign. It reads: “Christine.”
So now, not only is my birth date wrong, but my name, too. She went and pulled a Lenny on me. “Signora, that’s not my name.” She takes out a blue pen and scribbles on an “A.”
“We’ll call you in a week or so when your birth date is fixed.”
“A week? No. Two days,” Renzo negotiates.
She takes out her red pen and adds an -ISSIMO next to the URGENTE stamp on the document, which turns it into VERY urgent — URGENTISSIMO.
If my cross-cultural sarcasm radar isn’t mistaken, I’m quite certain the signora was giving Renzo a middle fingerissimo. As her ink dried, we gave each other knowing, loaded looks. Good luck to you, the berated paper pusher, and good luck to you, the woman who shall never get her papers.
In one last Hail Mary (this is the pope’s land after all), I attempt to explain the time sensitivity of my status and how this error is going to send my permesso application into delinquency, but I grew exhausted trying to find my words. I stop mid-sentence, sigh and say, “I just can’t explain any further in Italian.”
The signora and Renzo look at me with blank stares; they’re also speechless. So, I thank her for her time and we leave, stopping at the bathroom because I was afraid to pee while in red tape purgatory.
As we take the tram back home, an English-speaking woman comes up to me to ask for directions. Apparently I have a she-speaks-English look about me or something of the sort; years ago in Milan, an old man thrust his index finger toward me and exclaimed, “Americana!”
The woman wanted to know how to get to the Duomo, a request which I was able to fulfill as an unofficial resident and longtime tourist. The government might not be ready for me but I’m claiming your city whether you like it or not, Milano!