December 8, 2009
A while back, a good friend reminded me that I was now old enough to get back some of the dough that I paid into Social Security all those years. So, I boogied on down to my nearest Soc.Sec. office to begin the application process. I should have been suspicious when I arrived there and found the clerks all ensconced behind heavy plate-glass windows and the waiting area overseen by an armed guard. What? They’re under attack here too?
No. They just know that the way they deal with people on a daily basis has the effect of infuriating a certain percentage of them. I was about to learn why. First, I had to jump over the hurdles imposed by the fact that my first name was legally changed in the early 90s. After decades of using my Sufi name, Murad, and still having my birth name on my legal documents, cards etc., I finally decided to make it all simpler. I never really liked my given name anyway: Frederick, aka Freddy, Fred, Fast Freddy, Freddy the Flash…the last two being nick-names derived from being a speedy hockey skater…not a sexual deviant, thank you.
I had a copy of the court-issued document. I also had an expired passport in each of the two versions of my first name…with my mug staring out like a deer on a freeway. The earliest passport had a much younger and friskier looking dude…with a full head of hair. Maybe that’s what threw the clerk for a loop.
Two trips down there later….and after providing everything short of a DNA sample, including evidence of my military service, my birth in Philadelphia, the home of American independence, and anything else I could think of…the clerk finally shoved a form under the bullet-proof glass and said, “Look this over and tell me if there are any errors.” Her tone was a mixture of boredom and mild annoyance. As I scanned down, my eyes immediately came to rest on “mother’s name”, and me dear old mum’s first name was, “Hannutia”, when it should have been “Hannita”. I slid the paper back under the glass and pointed this out. Her response was, “I can’t change that without proof.”
I was just a little stunned. First of all, why would I want to lie about my mother’s first name? I mean, what would be gained? Second of all, it was dawning on me that this apparent error on the part of some clerk who was as bored and incompetent as the one in front of me…could become permanent. I looked at her, and suddenly I became aware that the armed guard had slowly come up behind me. I turned my head and he looked at me askance, then said, “We’re not gonna have a problem here, are we?” I recalled reading the notice prominently posted on the nearby wall that any bad behavior in this office constituted a federal felony offense. I looked at him, and just shook my head.
At this point, I was debating my options. I asked what she needed to have as ‘proof’, and, completely straight-faced, she answered, “A birth certificate.” Since my mother was born in Chicago in 1919, and died in Florida in 1996, it seemed unlikely I would get a copy of that anytime soon.
Should I begin a discussion of how ridiculous the entire matter was? Seemed like a bad idea, given the big dude now stationed just over my shoulder, his hand resting oh so nonchalantly on the butt of his pistol. But, suddenly I was imagining myself telling the bored face staring through the glass, “Oh, yes, just a sec. I think I have her birth certificate with me. Let me just PULL IT OUT OF MY ASS!!!” At that moment, thankfully, my sane-self projected an image on the inside of my forehead…. of me….pinned on the floor being handcuffed. Better instincts prevailed.
I stepped back from the window, smiled and said, “You know what? My mother has been in her grave for over ten years now. I don’t think she’ll really care that your form is wrong. Just leave it as it is.” And the dull-face looked down and put a mark on the paper signifying that it was all good.