It has been years since I read Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, but damned if I don't feel as if I'm living it, these days.
If you've never read this classic tale of bureaucratic stupidity and the dehumanizing oppression often exerted by governments, I'll give you the going-from-memory-nutshell version:
The main character is continuously being told by members of the bureaucracy that he is guilty...they just never get around to telling him what he's guilty of, mostly because no one is quite sure, but the paperwork all seems to be in order.
Eventually our hero is stripped of his humanity, becoming smaller and smaller after each encounter with the mindless bureaucracy until he literally transforms into a cockroach.
I was reminded of the overriding theme of Kafka's masterpiece yesterday, when, for something like the fourth time in the last three years, I found myself standing in line at the NY State Department of Motor Vehicles in yet another futile attempt to prove that, yes, I do fucking exist, you Assholes!
See, I'm trying my damnedest to obtain what has become the Holy Grail of my existence: A simple, state-issued photo identification card.
Mind you, that's not an actual driver's license (I haven't had one for 15 years, or so, and quite frankly, don't miss it. Talk about reducing your Carbon Footprint? Take that you Tree-hugging motherfuckers!), but just a simple piece of plastic that says "Yes, there is a Lunatic, he is a solid mass that occupies a point in time and space that cannot be occupied by any other object simultaneously, therefore, he exists."
(Please, don't start with the arguments over existentialism; it's enough, at this point, that someone acknowledges that I do, at least, represent a physical expression of basest matter.)
Somehow, this idea -- that I am a human being, that I am who I say I am, that I do, in fact, have an address, that I am standing in front of you with six pounds of paper attesting to these facts -- presents the typical, Mouthbreathing Doofus with a G.E.D. and a pulse (read: Government Employee) with an interesting conundrum. I say "interesting" because it has become obvious during the course of this Odyssey that it is probably easier to prove that someone has died than it is to prove that someone is alive.
Mostly because the proof required is so minimal that it would make you laugh.
Anyway, let's start at the beginning, because you won't believe this story if I start anywhere else.
See, about 10 years ago I got sick. Very sick. It wasn't cancer, diabetes or the heartbreak of psoriasis that got me, but rather 19 Muslim Douchebags (sorry, that's redundant) with a death wish, a flawed ideology and hijacked airliners. I happened to be at Ground Zero when the World Trade Center was rammed by the first of the two aircraft that would eventually destroy the entire complex.
Thankfully, I survived that day with no physical injuries, but the mental toll was too much; you can't watch 3,000 people die in that sort of horrific way and not be affected by it. My mistake was to believe that other people were affected in the same way -- that is to say, with great sadness and a healthy dose of fear -- only to be shocked to discover the callousness of my fellow bags of protoplasm, which frankly, freaked me the fuck out even more.
We can skip most of that, if only for brevity's sake.
The diagnoses back then were Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Clinical Depression, Agoraphobia and Anxiety Disorder. Eventually, these would combine to ensure that Your's Truly would become a complete hermit, a shut-in, for virtually seven years. During this time, when I was hiding in closets, trying to figure out why the hell my head kept buzzing every time I took my daily 350mg of Zoloft, or downing enough Xanex to send me into a 16-hour nap or, alternately, kill an elephant, my identification documents had all been allowed to lapse.
Specifically, this meant my U.S. Passport, because as I've said, I haven't had a driver's license in donkey's years.
However, you do need to prove that you're a U.S. Citizen in order to work -- unless you want to be an "independent contractor" all of your life, which trust me, sucks the big one -- and according to The Law, a simple birth certificate will not suffice. What you need is a state-or-federal-government-issued, photo-included identification document.
No problem, one would think. Except that we live in a post-9/11 world, and true to form, politicians and bureaucrats of all stripes have conspired to ensure that the only people who can get these documents rather easily are non-English-speaking illegal immigrants. I say this because, frankly, both the DMV and the local Department of Labor (a.k.a the Unemployment Office) are simply lousy with them. And somehow, they all have Social Security Cards, Drivers Licenses, and that stupid "Matricula" card that the Mexican government issues it's citizens and for some reason the United States recognizes.
In any case, one of the (over-) reactions to 9/11 was to ensure that no potential terrorist could obtain an American passport or driver's license by requiring so many forms of identification at the time of request that they might as well start tattooing serial numbers on our forearms, or stamping us with bar codes, or maybe put those microchips you implant in your dog in case he ever gets lost, and just fucking dispense with this bureaucratic bullshit already.
But then hundreds of thousands of complete idiots would starve to death in the streets, and their unions would cease to exist. But, I digress...
Suffice to say, you simply cannot walk into the DMV in New York City, present your goddamned birth certificate (proof of live birth), a couple of utility bills to prove address, and whatever other identifying documents you might have (a passport, even an expired one), and get yourself a NY State Photo Identification card.
In fact, NY State requires six (6) points of verification, and one of them simply MUST be a valid photo ID. In other words, you need a valid photo ID to get another valid photo ID.
Guess who doesn't have a valid photo ID because his passport expired?
Now, granted, this is largely my own fault: I let these things lapse, and the fact that I was sick and didn't even leave my own house for three years is no defense...at least according to the bureaucrats. Subsequently, I have had my request for a photo identification card rejected four times, each time with a bit of helpful advice:
Next time, bring your W-2's
Next time, bring an old work identification card or student ID
Next time, bring a credit card with you (guess who gave up all his fucking credit cards?)
Next time, maybe if you tap dance and perhaps do a striptease with Roman Candles jammed in your ass, I won't say "NO" quite as fast
According to the DMV Hotline in Albany, NY, I can, in fact, work around this seemingly impassable obstacle if I simply "ask for the office manager, who has the ability to use his/her discretion"; in other words, the Office Manager is empowered to make an actual decision, provided they are reasonably sure that I am, alas, who I say I am.
Of course, the four times I have asked an office manager to use their discretion, they have...only not in the way I'd like them to. They keep saying no, and one of them, at least, was kind enough to explain why: I'll paraphrase:
"The one time I say "YES", is the one time some guy flies an airplane into the White House, and somehow, you just know I'll be the one who made the decision to give him a driver's license which gave him the ability to roam unfettered across the country, and support his terrorist activities by milking the Welfare system. I'll be a target of public approbation, I'll lose my job, and my pension, and I'll probably end up dying in an alcoholic stupor in a dank alley, someplace. It's just easier to say NO, and remind you that Rules is Rules. Have a nice day, Jerkoff"
Okay, fine, I can understand that,. But really, I may be fucking ugly, but do I really look like Al'Qaeda? I've got 5-and-half points here, can't you let it slip? Of course not. The first rule of being a good government bureaucrat with a cushy post-work lifestyle is "don't make decisions...you don't get paid to make decisions..."
At this point, I must back up a bit in my sorry tale, because this is simply the most incredible part of it all. When you read this, you'll shit yourself, and then you'll grab the handiest weapon and start hunting government employees (even if that term is an oxymoron, we still don't recommend that you do that).
Oh, about five or six weeks ago, This Lunatic was admitted to a hospital suffering what appeared to be all the classic symptoms of a heart attack. Thankfully, it wasn't a heart-related problem, but a recurrence of my Anxiety Disorder, from which I had not suffered very much for almost six years.This Lunatic, because he's chronically underemployed, does not have private health insurance. The hospital took the liberty of sending a "Financial Expert" down to help figure out how I would pay for my $10,000-a-night hotel room and $54 aspirins; to work out some sort of payment plan for when I was released.
Imagine my surprise, then, when just last week, I received an envelope from the State of New York, which contained...get this...my Brand-Spankin' new EBT Card which entitles me to Medicaid, Food Stamps and Housing Assistance. Wait, this gets better.
I never asked for these things: the hospital signed me up for them.
It gets even better, I promise.
The only identification I ever gave the hospital was...my expired passport and social security number.
So let me get this straight: for the purposes of obtaining Welfare, an expired passport counts as a valid form of identification, but for the purposes of obtaining a valid photo identification card, it means jack? And the same state that says it is valid for one purpose says it's invalid for another, provided that second purpose is simply to prove that you exist?
Now you know why the Welfare system is so notoriously easy to cheat, I figure.
But wait: we haven't gotten to the really, really funny part yet.
If you take that EBT card to the DMV, complete with the letter with State Letterhead on it, and your address on the front of it, and try to use it as identification, it doesn't work. Why?
Because the EBT card doesn't have a fucking photograph on it!
But, you can get one, sure enough. Just take your unblemished-by-a-flaming-photograph-plain-ass-garden-variety EBT card down to the local Welfare office, and swap it out for a shiny new one with your ugly mug on it, free of charge.
We're fucked, as a country, when this sort of stupidity is allowed to continue.It's time for torches and pitchforks, my friends, because while the government in my city and state are worried about how to keep people from eating Twinkies, and defending the sanctity of it's identification cards and driver's licences with a shitpile of bureaucratic obstacles, we have a system which drains vital tax dollars with enough holes in it to put a piece of Swiss cheese to fucking shame working overtime to undermine the entire thing.
Oh, and by the way? I still don't have an identification card, which is really going to suck when I re-register to vote (when I moved to North Carolina, I registered to vote there, and have been sending absentee ballots), but I figure if I speak Spanish and use a crutch they'll probably waive the identification requirements and then offer me a rent-controlled apartment and all the free-bi-lingual-third-grade-reading-level-City-College-education I can handle.
I'm often accused of being extremely cynical; come check out my antennae and tell me if my exoskeleton is on straight, because somehow, I get the feeling that I just might be extraordinarily justified in being that way.
By the way, my next stop in this little voyage of futility is to my City Councilman. if he manages to get someone to do something with just a fucking phone call to the right person, I might have puppies on the spot.