Maybe I read too much Kafka growing up. Whatever – I hate and fear bureaucracy; I always assume having anything to do with it will be hell. So I ignore and neglect it as much as humanly possible.
Naturally therefore I filled out my retirement benefits application wrong – and wrong in a very — I hate this word — impactful way. I paid reasonable attention to what I was doing when I filled it out, but that wasn’t enough, and I made one significant mistake.
I ignored the first few letters from SSA alerting me to the rather expensive implications of my fuckupery; when I finally held my nose and began reading further letters, I realized I had to try to fix what I’d done. But how? Would the SSA even allow me to change the form?
So … the rest of this narrative is going to be as UDesque as what I’ve already written. What you are about to read is in fact echt–UD.
I decided my best bet lay in action directe. Forget phones and internet: This would have to be face to face in a local SSA office. No doubt the office itself would be appalling and the wait (in order to be told to fuck myself) would be all day. Fine. I deserved the punishment.
Washington Avenue, Rockville, was all I had by way of location, but I figured I’d get to the vicinity and check my phone for the exact address. Except that my phone for some reason wasn’t connecting, so I had to keep walking and reading the fronts of office buildings… And there it was.
I entered exactly the crammed immiseration chamber I anticipated – six packed rows of seating from which you stared at numbered windows and a computer screen above them which told you what waiting list digits had just been called. I drew a deep sad breath, took my number (C395), and sat down with an article about the war in Yemen.
To my left, in a little alcove, hovered two genial but hawkish policemen: If your cell phone rang, they rushed over and told you to put it away or leave the room. When a large Chinese family loitered for a bit at the exit, they hurried them out. These two kept the room quiet and orderly.
I also noticed that the SSA clerks dealt calmly and efficiently with people — even disheveled, confused people.
My number was called way, way before I figured it would be. I gathered my pathetic paperwork, mentally rehearsed the terse sob story I’d prepared, and drove forward to window 3. I expected one of the following outcomes.
1. You’re in the wrong office. You need to go to Silver Spring, Baltimore, New York…
2. What? I don’t understand.
3. Once you do what you did on the form, there’s no going back.
4. You have to file an appeal. Here’s a list of fees, forms, and attorneys…
5. Come back tomorrow with more documentation.
I had just watched the woman who asked my name and age handle a befuddled shuffling young man who said to her by way of introduction I’m very sensitive…
Rather broke my heart, if you really want to know, but she was kind and patient and solved his problem. Maybe she could even make some sense of ol’ UD.
Did I just hear that? Did she just say in answer to my convoluted hopeless entrapment in the deathcogs of the machine that she was about to reattach my positive negalator to my negative posilator licketysplit and all was well?
“But tell me,” she said, trying to smooth out the incredibly creased pages of my passport so she could read them for i.d., “why did you make that mistake?”
“Because I’m dumb,” I grinned.
She didn’t grin.
“You know,” she said, “I have a bit of an issue with uninformed clients.”
What followed, as the immiserated masses waited their turns behind me, was the talking-to I mentioned in this post’s title. This was the sort of thing I was expected to know; it’s not all that difficult to understand what to do. One shouldn’t be afraid of bureaucracies. One has to deal with them sometimes. Etc. Etc.
I didn’t begrudge her. Au contraire, I deserved it; there were actual needy people all over the room, people not floating along on high FICO scores, lots of SSA money, and several other sources of funds. Why the hell was I clogging up the works?
I mean, she didn’t say that last stuff; that’s me talking. She simply – and kindly – told me to face the music.