First, it's been a month since I have posted anything here, and I'm a little embarrassed at my general indolence. Understand, however, that I came to Florida for the express purpose of being indolent. I count the last month as a measure of success. So fuck it, let's get on to something useful.
I visited the Social Security Administration office in St. Pete today to jump through hoops. Understand that I am an educated fellow, with three different degrees in hoop-jumping. Different genres of hoop-jumping at that. And for the past twenty-three years since that third sheepskin, I have jumped through hoops at the professional level. I'm inexplicably proud of that. None of this prepared me for the hoop-jumping that the SSA requires of ordinary people.
I took a number and waited in a room with no clocks. I melded into the congregation of supplicants, all of whom - well, most of whom - were entitled to some form of government benefits after having paid their hard-won money into the system for years or decades. Some were supplicating due to age, some due to physical infirmity, some due to other more depressing incapacities. Supplicant No. A-496 looked as though may have fallen into all three grim categories.
"A-495," came the call from the clerk behind Window No. 1. "Yo!" and A-495 strolled victorious to Window No. 1, where he commenced to doing whatever business he came to do. I was evidently in another queue, waiting for E-210. Whatever happened next was no skin off my nose, you know what I mean?
A-495 eventually rose from his chair at the window, vaguely disappointed, as - down deep - we all expected to be, and wandered off. The clerk behind Window No. 1 called, "A-497."
An old gent sporting a beige suit with soup stains, onyx skin stretched tight over prominent facial bones, and slicked-back white hair, stepped forward. He was tall and spindly, and he walked like a praying mantis or one of those other stick-bugs you sometimes see on the National Geographic Channel, slow, graceful and particular where he put his feet. "Excuse me," he said to the lady behind Window No. 1, "but you forgot to call A-496."
"Did not," said Window No. 1. "Go back and wait your turn." The old gent blinked in confusion, but turned back to his seat. It took him a while. I was pissed on his behalf at the petty rudeness, but he himself did not portray any outward sign of pissedness. Someone bearing the lucky A-497 ticket slid up to the window and was seated.
I had read the sign on the government-green wall: "You may not be called in strict numerical order because not all clerks are trained to handle all cases. You may need to wait for a specialist." I understood the system - that's the benefit of all this education - but the old gent probably did not.
Another lady, this one behind Window No. 2, called, "A-498." The old gent stood up, blinking again. He walked in his stately and deliberate gait to Window No. 2 and said, "You forgot to call A-496." Wisely, he betrayed no outrage. This was, after all, the Government he was dealing with. In a quiet corner of the room, watching, stood a big man wearing one of those uniforms that are worn by people who always wanted to be police. I could not tell if he carried a sidearm. Let's assume so. The Window No. 2 lady said, more gently perhaps, "No, you will have to wait." The old gent walked his stately walk back to his chair, chagrined and perplexed.
Folks, there were only three windows in the place. It took no great leap of logic to see that the old gent's expert must lurk behind Window No. 3. He, of course, didn't get that. Sad.
Finally, the call came. "A-496."
It was the lady behind Window No. 1.