Friday, January 9, 2015

"I am done with the great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible, loving, human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of pride."  ~ William James

Have you been to the Social Security Office lately? No? Well, I lost my Medicare card somewhere, somehow, and so, as I was driving by the building, I thought I'd stop in and ask them to send me another one. 

Silly, silly me! Normally intelligent people call over there and make an appointment. Nominally intelligent people line up outside the door by 9AM when the office opens. Dopes decide to drop in at their leisure! And at about 10:15AM I wandered in through the glass doors.

It was the same short-tempered guard who was there the first time I was ever in that office, sitting at his elevated desk and greeting me with, "GO TO THAT MACHINE OVER THERE!"

OK, I went. No hard feelings… the guy must have to say the same thing a couple hundred times every day while he's on duty… maybe even more. (As a writer, I'm sitting here trying to think of other ways he could express the same idea… but I think he's nailed the only words that work.) 

That gray machine is as big as a full-grown man, and even has wide gray shoulders with a "head" that rises up between them. That's the machine's "face," and you poke him in the eyes and then the nose and finally where his mouth ought to be so he will spit out the square of paper with your call-number on it.

My number = D494.  The current called number = D404.  The other current number being called = A104. Who were these "A" people anyway? And why were "D" people soooo sloooow? 

Oops, as a teacher, I should have known. I had received a D! I know about D's because while in university, I'd decided I wanted a BS degree instead of a BA. Yes, I was studying art and English Lit, so a B of Arts was appropriate, but the B of Science sounded better to my freshman ears. My stupid freshman ears didn't realize that meant I'd be taking two semesters of Economics, though. Economics! Me! 7AM in the AM! Listening to a professor explaining how the concept of money worked all over this entire world! Bad, bad decision, Terry Kingston. I passed the first semester, but for the second semester I got the lowest grade of my entire college career = D. And that was a gift because the prof felt sorry for me, I'm sure.

But back in the Social Security office I found an empty seat in the second row facing the 5 windows and the one door that led back into a rabbit warren of offices and desks where I'd been taken the only other time I'd ever been in this place. A lady was sitting next to me, and after an entire 10 minutes of staring at the backs of people sitting in front of those 5 windows, and at the sign with those stupid numbers "D404" and "A104" that never changed in 15 whole minutes, I decided that I'd come back another day.

And then the lady turned to me and said something like, "Get comfortable. It's going to be a long morning!" or something like that. The thing is that she had a smile on her face and a glint in her eye that made me feel comfortable. So I sat back and settled in. And you know, I'm glad I did!

Her name was Connie and she had a funny take on the whole "waiting in a crowded office" experience. We chatterd and giggled and had a grand time, although it was a loooong time. A half hour went by, and then it was nearing an hour, but I was having such fun talking with this lady and laughing at our predicament that kept stretching on and on and on.

At some point a very, very tall man walked in with a lovely older lady on his arm, and he sat down beside me, and settled his mother into the seat on the aisle. Then he did what I'd done, stared straight ahead at the 5 windows that seemed to close down alternately of their own free will. He must have found that no matter how hard you stare at only 5 windows, nothing seems to change. Even that one door never opened. So he turned and looked at me, and decided that a talk was in order.

"How long have you been here?"


"That long, huh!"


Stimulating questions and answers like that were thrown around for all of 4 and a half seconds. And then we started to laugh. 

Connie started to say, "What's so funn…" and then she burst out laughing with us. 

And presto! Three complete strangers enjoyed wonderful, silly conversations for another 45-minutes. And we didn't talk about superficial things like the weather and how long we were sitting on those hard chairs. No! We talked about interesting things and asked questions of each other and were almost sad when Connie was called to a window, and then the man and his mother were summoned, and finally I was, too.

My transaction with the man in window #3 took 2 1/2 minutes, and I was done. My new Medicare card will arrive in the mail in a month, and, even though Connie gave me her phone number, I will never see Connie or the man and his Mom ever again. Life will keep going on and the world will keep revolving and summer will come. But I had a lovely day at the Social Security office, even without an appointment!