I Got My Identity Back With a Trip to the Zoo

Time Passes Slowly at the Zoo

Speaking figuratively, of course.

After 9/11, I received a letter from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles correctly listing my legal name, date of birth, and social security number. The letter informed me that one of those items of information didn't jive with the information provided by the Social Security Administration and I would be denied a license renewal until the conflict was resolved. Yak! In today's world, no driver's license, no identity.

The demand for proper information on a Virginia driver's license is, I suppose, completely understandable, given that all of the 9/11 hijackers were traveling under forged Virginia driver's licenses. The state is tightening up. Good for them. However, my name and birth date have not changed for over fifty years, since, um, my birth. For that matter, my social security number and name, established when I was issued my social security card in the early 1960s, haven't changed since then, either. Look, believe it or not, I still have my original Social Security card and the stub which state all this info, CORRECTLY.

I made the usual attempts at phone and internet contact with the huge, sprawling SS administration but gave up temporarily after wandering down countless phone-mail menus and internet pages to dead ends. Then, fortuitously, my benefits statement arrived from Social Security, addressed to one "Bob" Womack. "Bob" is my nickname, not my legal name. And where was my middle name? *Light bulb*

I made another fore' into the arcane halls of the SS voice menu system, deciding to use the "Survivor" television show strategy and simply "outwit and outlast" the menus by surfing the ‘net while I waited on the phone. Lo' and behold, *forty minutes later*, a lady agent, giggling from a joke told to her by the agent in the cubicle to her left, actually picked up the phone. When I explained my situation, she said I'd need to fill out an application for a new Social Security card and provide my birth certificate to sort this issue. “What?” I replied, “You want me to send my birth certificate in the mail?” “No, no, no. You’ll have to go to your local office,” she giggled. The local office is also protected by an impenetrable wall of voice-mail. Preparing to send an application for a new card to me, she then double-checked my name and address, stating my name as “Robert”. Hello? Mailing name and subscriber name are different fields in the form. This can only be sorted with a birth certificate. I was required to produce a new copy of my birth certificate from my home state, to the tune of $50.

So, knowing that government only understands the power of the sword, I took a half-day off to visit the local Social Security office. Bureaucracy is the only constant in the universe. Remember folks, a true bureaucrat can no more understand customer service than he can understand the mystery of hiring on the basis of qualification. Remember that when you consider turning over healthcare to the government. And thus began my trip to the zoo. My wife has taught me the basic skills of "people watching." When all else fails and you forget to bring a book to the government waiting room (as I did), you can always people watch. In the waiting room, the only smile proffered by a person associated with the enterprise belonged to the pleasant female security guard at the door. Her comely smile and bold sleeve patch immediately identified her as a representative of a private, contract security firm. She issued me number “82”. I looked up at the counter boards to discover that they were currently on “67”. Right about that time, half of the agents went on lunch break. Hoo-boy. I settled into a seat in the middle row of the waiting room facing the service windows, with their matching “INTERVIEW IN PROGRESS. DO NOT DISTURB!” signs.

In the row ahead of me was a guy we’ll call "Mr. Hip-Hop". This young, white fellow had on the obligatory baseball cap perched at the obligatory odd angle, with the obligatory, multi-color “****-you!” logo, front and back. His obligatory black t-shirt, above obligatory oversized jeans, sported two hands on the chest: one making the thumbs-up gesture, the other making the common single-finger rude gesture. Nevertheless, and oddly out of context, young Mr. Hip smiled ingratiatingly at all around him. In the row behind, "Mr. Punk" growled and grimaced at all. The thirty-something Mr. Punk had a three-inch mohawk haircut, died pink, and sported the obligatory chains, piercings, keds, and cammo, to identify him as bad to the bone. Do you have a problem with that? The scantily clad young lady two rows up, we’ll call her "Ms. Trailer," was called up to the window. She leaned 'way down to place her elbows languidly onto the frame and then spent her entire “interview” with the agent, pushing onto her tiptoes and wiggling her hind-quarters high in the air for the whole waiting room to watch.

As I enjoyed the great American spectacle, I began to realize that my brand new sneakers rested in something really gooey on the floor. Right about the time I decided to take another seat, a family of seven slid into the five seats beside me, pinning me in place. My new next-door neighbor was a guy about my age. He looked over at me with a benign, pleasant smile and nodded. I downshifted into small talk: “Well, at this rate, we can expect to be here over an hour,” I offered. Mr. Nextdoor beamed his pleasant smile and replied, “Man, mmmngln nglmnm blgtln ftlgltn!” and bobbed his head approvingly. I nodded what I hoped was a comprehending smile, and offered, “Well, you know government waiting rooms.” His face lit up again and he replied, “Snuglntm tflwoftnm mmmgln grftnum,” once again beaming at me. At that moment, I knew my wait would be fulfilling. From then on, whenever I got bored, I would smile and seed next-door guy a line, just to bask in the utter lack of communication we enjoyed.

Some hour and a half later my number came up and the fun had to end. I approached the unsmiling agent and cracked a joke about rescuing my identity, receiving her snicker with relish. I explained my situation and showed her my original Social Security papers from the early sixties with my proper information. She didn’t recognize the original stub and issuance papers (am I that old?) but immediately took the point, stating, “I can see how things could have gotten confused. Your nickname and legal first name are very close.” I pulled out my birth certificate to prove my citizenship, and she said, “Oh, you didn’t need to bring THAT...”

"All I need to see is your Drivers License.”