Our Bureaucracy Fix for the Day

Raj and I took a little jaunt down to our local Social Security Office today. We don’t have much occasion to visit government offices here in the U.S. In fact, I haven’t been anywhere since I went to the DMV to get a Florida Driver’s license almost exactly one year ago. I like to think of enduring these types of visits as a sort of bureaucracy tax we pay for the privilege of living under an organized government, except that instead of taxing money, they’re taxing our time and patience.

Our first reason for going was fairly straightforward. I lost my Social Security card a few years ago. I have the number memorized, so it’s not a huge deal (as long as someone hasn’t found it and used it for nefarious ends). Nor is this the first time it’s been lost. In fact, my Social Security card has been a victim of both my lackadaisical organizational skills and Tony’s compulsive organizational skills. I’ve lost it on my own a couple of times (I’m still not sure how; it just disappeared like magic in a pile of something or other). After we got married I romantically changed my last name to match Tony’s. When my new Social Security card arrived in the mail, Tony made sure to throw it away that very day–along with all the rest of the junk mail.  That was a few cards ago, and today I was back at the Social Security office again, hoping to get a new card.

Our second order of business was getting Raj a new Social Security card. His has never been lost. But when we originally filed for his birth certificate, they misspelled his name, and the birth certificate spelling automatically carried over to the Social Security card. Instead of Dominique, his middle name came out Dominigue. Only if you purposely gave your child a name containing the letter “Q” can you truly understand how deflating it is to have it turned into a “G.” The birth certificate was easily enough amended. But when we took it in to the Social Security office to change the spelling on his Social Security card, they informed us that a birth certificate was not sufficient documentation to change the mistake (despite the obvious fact that it had been sufficient documentation to make the mistake in the first place).

They told us we needed to bring in further documentation establishing his identity, like a passport. Unfortunately, we spent the next few years dealing with much bigger bureaucratic problems like immigrating to different countries and obtaining Italian citizenship, and obtaining a new Social Security card for Raj just didn’t make it up on the list of priorities. So it wasn’t till last January that we finally got all our paperwork together and went down to the Social Security office to get new Social Security cards for me and Raj. I needed mine because we were filling out rental applications for houses, and we just thought it would be nice to finally get Raj’s. Unfortunately, we did not yet have a permanent address in Florida, and it was one of those catch-22 situations where you need a Social Security card to get a permanent address, but you need a permanent address to get a Social Security card. Do bureaucrats sit around rubbing their hands evilly and thinking up these sorts of conundrums? In the end, we were unsuccessful at obtaining the cards, but they gave me an official print-out with my number on it, which did enable us to move into our house.

Today, since I have been in possession of a permanent address for quite some time, I decided it would be a good idea to finally get those Social Security cards. So we hunted down all of our paperwork, and Raj and I went down to the Social Security Office together. I let him press the buttons for us to obtain our number, and then we settled down to wait. He was quite amused by the “Social Security Television” that they were playing. I was somewhat less enthused to watch hapless fish and birds vainly chasing after cartoon Social Security cards to keep them from becoming lost. It just hit too close to home, especially when they moved on to smugly proclaiming in English and Spanish the two easy steps to keeping your Social Security card from getting lost. Finally, they called our number.

We accomplished my errand quickly enough. They didn’t even want to see my birth certificate. The officer just looked at my driver’s license and then gave me a printout informing me I’d be receiving my card in the mail in 10-14 days (don’t worry, I’ll give Tony a heads-up that I’ll be receiving some non-junk mail from Social Security).

Then it was Raj’s turn. I produced the form, along with his birth certificate. For some unknowable reason, the officer informed me that he was going to need to send the (authenticated) birth certificate away to be authenticated. Maybe they just don’t see a lot of Washington State birth certificates here on the opposite corner of the country. I have to say that without either fancy gold seals, embossing, or even a multicolored background, those Washington State birth certificates should probably be redesigned for the better comfort and aesthetic sense of official document-loving bureaucrats everywhere.

He asked for an identity document, and I handed over Raj’s passport. It unfortunately expired last August, and I’ve been meaning to renew it, but also kind of putting it off because of the racket that is the U.S. Government’s policy on passports for minors (i.e. they must be renewed every five years to the tune of $105 until the age of sixteen. Do the math, and you’ll see that if you happen to let it lapse for a single year somewhere in there, you save yourself the hassle and expense of a whole five-year renewal). I thought maybe he wouldn’t notice it was expired. He did. Always one to be prepared for every bureaucratic encounter with multiple peripherally relevant documents, I pulled out Raj’s unexpired Italian passport.

The officer scrutinized the second passport dubiously, and told me that it didn’t work either, because it didn’t properly establish his identity. How a passport can fail to establish someone’s identity, I have no idea. However, another thing I’ve learned is that you get nowhere by directly arguing with the person across the counter, who has the power to make your dreams (or at least your paperwork requests) come true, or not. Forlorn and wistful questions work much better. Or just forlorn and wistful glances.

He asked me if I had any school records. I replied that Raj had only just turned six, and hadn’t been to school yet (judiciously omitting the fact that I am never planning to send him to school, because that wouldn’t really help my case). Well, how about doctor’s records. Did I have any of those? Well not really, I responded, adding for the sake of establishing my responsible parenting credentials that we’d recently moved (well relatively recently. Like less than two years ago. Also I only take my kids to the doctor if they’re really sick, and Raj just doesn’t happen to have been deathly ill in the past few years).

The officer finally gave up on the questions and went away with my documents. Why does this always seem to happen? We’re always the ones with something weird going on, who need to be discussed with the supervisor, usually over coffee while we wait in the waiting room. When he returned, I fully expected to be sent on my way, having been told that my request remained as unfulfillable as it had been six years ago when I first made it. Experience has left me with very low expectations when visiting any kind of government office, and I was happy enough to have accomplished even one errand.

I was pleasantly surprised when he tucked away copies of all my documents, and printed Raj the same sort of receipt he’d printed me, promising that his card would be arriving in the mail in the next 10-14 days. Mission accomplished after all.

And I have to say, there’s nothing like a successful encounter with Bureaucracy to really invigorate your day.

photo credits: social security insider, building

7 thoughts on “Our Bureaucracy Fix for the Day

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  • June 26, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Amira and Bridget – glad to know we’re not the only “weird” family. We had all our documents authenticated before we went to Italy too, but there is no way the U.S. government needs an Apostille on a U.S. birth certificate to give a U.S. citizen a passport.

  • June 26, 2013 at 12:52 am

    Ooooohhhhh I sympathize. We are always the weird ones who need exceptions and can’t answer those straightforward questions like everyone else. Frustrating. I know that authentication thing he’s talking about, by the way – we had to do that for all our birth certificates and university degrees before we moved to the UAE. It’s lots of fun (not) and the stamps are so pretty!!

  • June 25, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Silvia – Have you ever seen the Egyptian film Terrorism and Kebab? It is a hilarious depiction of mindless government bureaucracy on a grand scale.

  • June 25, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    With my husband and I being both immigrants who went from visas to green cards to citizenship, and my girlies dealings with the Spanish Embassy, *which wasn’t bad at all, just peculiar*, and the surreal dealings with bureaucracy in Malta, where my husband is from, I think I could write a novel, mystery, surreal, or comical, I don’t know. Maybe a mix of all those.

    Congratulations, it must be a great relief for you.

  • June 25, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    very sweet story! amused to hear that the same sort of things happen in us as in europe!!
    we miss you, it was a super beautiful day at the beach today!!!!!!
    love to you all from your friend in Hammamet

  • June 25, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    It’s so nice to read about families who are as weird as mine. 😉


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