I've spent much of today in a series of meetings learning about the various services that the S.C. Employment Security Commission and other state agencies offer to folks in my situation. Yesterday, when I made the appointments, I was told to bring my Social Security card.
Uh… I haven't had a Social Security card for about 35 years, since I was in college. I don't know what happened to it. (At first, I said 25 years, but my wife says I haven't had one as long as she's known me, and we've been married 34 years.)
And in all these years, this is the FIRST time anyone has asked to see it.
Oh, I've meant to get it replaced over the years — at one point years ago, it occupied a "to do" list slot on my old Palm Pilot for more than a year before cleaned the list up and deleted it. I thought it might be important to have one at some time — theoretically — so I should get one someday. But it was very, VERY easy to put off. I downloaded the form once or twice, and even filled it out, but never got it down to the Strom Thurmond Bldg.
A few words about that form, which you can find here:
- The actual form is one page. But there are four pages of instructions preceding it.
- You can't fill it out electronically. You have to print it out, and fill it out by hand (with a blue or black pen), which to my mind is just a step or two removed from having to chisel it on a rock.
- Not all of the answers are immediately obvious — to me, anyway. For instance, they want your full name at the top. Fine. Mine is Donald Bradley Warthen. Then, near the end, it wants you to state your name as it appeared on your old card. Well, I don't have the slightest idea, after all these years, whether that original card said my full name, or "Brad Warthen," or "Bradley Warthen," or "Donald B. Warthen," or "D. Bradley Warthen," or "D.B. Warthen," all of which I have used for various legal purposes in the past.
On that last point — I asked the guy at the window at the Social Security office, and he said it was OK that I didn't fill it out. In any case, he was able to confirm that it was my full name. So I worried over that needlessly. But the thing is, I DO worry about things like that, which is why I really HATE filling out forms, especially if there is no one at hand to ask such questions of. And when there IS someone to ask questions of, I drive them crazy. Because I can always see way too many possible ways to fill out a form. That's how my mind works. When I'm writing a column, I see lots of ways that it could go, lots of possibilities for each word of it — but then I just pick the ones I want. With a form, you have to pick the ones THEY want. What if I screw up? They might do something awful to me — like make me fill out another form.
I did that blasted form three times. Once, I messed up and put my mother's married name instead of her maiden name. Then I filled out another copy, and did it fine, but left it at the office — and I planned to go by the SS office on my way to work this morning. So I printed it out last night at home, and did it again.
Then, I started obsessing about my passport. Near as I could tell from the instructions, I didn't NEED that, since I'd had a card before. I just needed a photo ID. But what if I got an extra officious clerk? Wouldn't it be nice to have backup? I think I was feeling guilty about having let this go for 35 years, and I felt like they would make me pay for my laxness or something.
So I tore up the house last night looking for my passport, finally finding it at the very bottom of a box full of junk I had filled one time when cleaning out my briefcase and clearing my desk. It had a five-pound note in it (in case I ever took it to Britain). I wondered whether leaving the five quid in the passport my grease the skids when I presented it, but decided I'd better not.
When I got to the federal building this morning, my papers clutched in my hand, I emptied my pockets into a little tin plate before going through the metal detector. The guard looked at the itty-bitty Swiss Army knife on my keychain, and said "You can't bring that in here." I asked if I could leave it with him. He said no. I asked what was I supposed to do — I had had to park a block and a half away. He said it didn't matter what I did, as long as I left it OUTSIDE the building. So I went outside, took the knife off, and stashed it under a concrete bench. Then I went back in, and in those few seconds, a line of four or five people had formed at the metal detector.
One of them was a homeless guy (I'm assuming here), who had to take off two layers of coats and other stuff, with a discussion about each layer, and then still set off the machine, and they had to use the wand on him.
So by the time it was my turn, I was ready. I put in my two cell phones, my weaponless keys, my belt I was told to take off, a pen, and four quarters I had for parking meters.
As I was stepping onto the elevator to go to the 11th floor, my Blackberry rang, and it was Nikki Setzler, calling to express his condolences and support. I warned him that he might be cut off in the elevator, just before he was cut off.
Finally, I got upstairs to the SS office on the 11th floor. As you walk in, a security guard tells you to turn off the ringer on your cell phone(s), and if you have to make a call to do it out in the hall, then explains how to take a number. I waited in a short line to get my number, got it, and went to find a seat at the back of the room.
Seeing that there were several customers ahead of me, I did what I ALWAYS do when I have to sit still for a moment. I took out my Blackberry to get some work done — check e-mail, read this or other newspapers online, check my schedule for the day, etc. Trying to decide which was more urgent, it hit me that poor Nikki, my senator, had been cut off. So I called to apologize, and we talked for maybe 30 seconds, when the guard yelled across the room, "Sir! Sir! I told you no calls in here." I told Nikki I'd have to cut him off again, thanked him, hung up, and explained that I had misunderstood; I thought the problem was RINGING… then, as soon as I said that, I remembered the part about having to go into the hall if I needed to make a call.
I saw the sign saying no cell phones, and wondered why. Did it interfere with some delicate equipment, or did it just irritate someone? It's not like this was a restaurant or something (where I agree that phone talking is extremely rude). This was a busy waiting room. But I decided I was in enough trouble; no point asking "why."
So I started to check my e-mail, all the time wondering whether this would get me into trouble, too. And I glanced around my extremely institutional surroundings — saw the homeless guy and the other citizens, looked at the multiple windows and saw the electronic display with our numbers, heard the loudspeaker summoning the next number in harsh tones, and for some reason thought of the film version of 1984, with John Hurt and Richard Burton. I watched a big chunk of it one night recently online at Netflix. And I began to mutter inwardly to myself, "I love Big Brother. I love Big Brother…" Just to get my mind right, you know.
Then my number was called, and a very nice guy was helpful and assured me that I had filled it out fine. It was even OK that I had started to put my mother's maiden name AGAIN and scratched it out and corrected it. We talked a bit about music — he's really into it. And when he found out where I worked, he told me he had been trying to find something in old newspapers about a concert Led Zeppelin did in Tampa back in 1977. I offered to see what I could find for him, although urged him not to be too optimistic, since that was way before newspaper databases went online. He gave me his address. (And no, I wasn't currying favor with Big Brother; I do this kind of thing all the time. Over the weekend, my Dad and I played golf with a guy who flew jets in the Navy over Vietnam, who was asking my Dad if he knew how he could look up information on a guy he flew with who he thinks later went MIA. I interrupted to ask, "What's his name?" He told me, and I found a bunch of stuff about him — a Medal of Honor winner, by the way — on my Blackberry while we waited to tee off. I later e-mailed it all to him. I like doing stuff like that for people, and in this case it was truly an honor.)
Finally, my card was ordered. It'll take two weeks. In the meantime, the nice guy gave me an official document to prove my Social Security legitimacy, which came in handy later in the day.
Yes, there is a point to this story: If you've lost your Social Security card, go ahead and get it replaced. Don't wait until you need it. You don't want all that hassle at that time, no matter how much you love Big Brother.