Did I die or am I just at a government office?

A couple weeks ago, I realized that I was missing some important identification papers. Fortunately, I don’t need them immediately. I realized they were missing about the same time that I was starting and ending my resolution to organize my paperwork.

Over the last couple years, I have had to move twice. Both times I found out that I had to move earlier than expected and used the “everything goes in trash bags” method of packing. This differs from my normal packing method of “everything gets jumbled together in random boxes” in one critical area. I use garbage bags instead of boxes. Unfortunately, during the first move, I dropped my fireproof document safe down the stairs. Apparently fire-proof is not the same as “hitting multiple concrete stairs”-proof. I had to pull all my “important” documents out of the safe.

Some people may have noticed the quotations around the word important in the previous sentence. My important papers consisted of an unpleasant blend of important and irrelevant papers. I had my military discharge papers, my car title, and a couple other things I consider important enough to keep. I also had tax records from 2001 (you should only keep tax records for 5 years, especially if you claim no deductions), letters from credit cards from 2000, requests for donations to a charity I stopped contributing to in 1999, and (most importantly) envelope address labels from a charity I did not donate to with an address I never actually lived in. Imagine my joy as I unearthed these “treasures”.  My joy only continued as I dug deeper in my now broken fireproof safe. While I had tax records from up to a decade in the past, I did not have the records from the previous three years. I had an old passport that had been replaced by a new passport (holes punched in, letters all over it that state that it cannot be used ) but no current passport. I had a receipt from when I ordered my last birth certificate, but no birth certificate. And I had a copy of my old cable provider information from when I lived in Hayward, CA (Ten years ago). I did not have a cable account in Hayward. I used my landlord’s account. 

If you are like me (and I doubt it) you thought, “wow, I hope he shreds all that old stuff so that no one can use it in the commitment hearing”. I tried to think of why I would have that old stuff. As with any odd thing in my life that I could have fixed, I assumed a form of laziness was involved. Then I remembered the Tale of Lost Stuff.  After my divorce in 1998, I got a storage unit. Due to some, let’s call them financial irregularities, the credit card that I was using to pay for the unit was not properly charged. The unit got auctioned off, probably for about 10 dollars. I lost all of my personal belongings except what fit in my locker on the ship. All papers, photos, books, and miscellaneous garbage from my life were sold at an auction.  Of course, I also lost my rollerblades that I had only used once, my collection of fanny packs from around the world (I wish I were making this up), and my chintzy kung fu figurines that were supposed to be from Hong Kong but were really from Chinatown.  I think losing these things made me keep old papers for no reason. That, or being too lazy to clean out the document safe. Looking back on it, it was probably that last one.

In order to replace my passport, I need to have my social security card. I looked in my document bag (not really like the ones that businessmen use, more like the ones that landscapers use) and was pleasantly surprised when I could not find my social security card either. Not so much “surprised” as “extremely disappointed in myself”.  I looked online, got the mandatory 20 page document for a replacement card, and headed out to the Social Security Office.

I have never been to Purgatory, but I assume that it would look something like a government office. Hundreds of people sitting, waiting for judgement. I thought I knew depressingly slow government offices based on my years of military service and going to the department of motor vehicles. Comparing those offices to the Social Security Office is like comparing a Lamborghini to a glacier.  In a scene straight out of Beetlejuice, I sat down with my ticket numbered 624 and listened to them announce “Number 411, window 3”. It is amazing how fast the human spirit can plummet.  I immediately imagined being in that office when I was old enough to apply to Medicare/Medicaid…still with the ticket numbered 624 in my hand. I was wrong. It only took four hours. Four long, depressing, random person screaming in a foreign language hours. 

When I finally got to the window, I thought “I will try to be nice to this person. Even though she made the mistake of listening to her high school guidance counselor, I am sure she doesn’t hate her job. Sure, she decided to quit or drop out of college and made a poor career choice, but that doesn’t mean that she is a horrible person.” I walked up and smiled and said, ” Hi, how are you?”. I have seen pictures of coal miners from the days of the Depression. The miners in those pictures had the joy and exuberance of a six year old girl getting to ride a unicorn compared to the woman behind the window at the Social Security Office. I tried to get the interaction over with as quickly as possible. I was afraid that she would suck the remaining bits of excitement from my life and make me only see the world in grays. There was a slight hiccup as I had to explain that I am the third of my name and that writing my name without the “III” was actually my grandfather’s name. This approach was quickly abandoned as I saw the confusion on her face. I ended the conversation with “So I will get my replacement card in two weeks, ok” and ran away covering my mouth, nostrils, and ears so that she could not suck out more of my soul. As I was leaving, a poor old man pulled a ticket numbered 801 out of the sign in booth.  I wept for the poor man and laughed hysterically as I fled the building. 

I have never had more incentive to enjoy my work. The Social Security Office is extraordinary in that respect. While not the greatest way to spend a day off, it makes me look forward to my next day at work.  If only I could shake these nightmares of horrible blond monsters trying to rip out my soul using government forms…


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