Tuesday, June 21, 2005


I thought I would tell you about my day.

As most of you know, my wife and I are the proud parents of an adopted fifteen month old girl. She's doing great. She's running circles around us and starting to understand words like 'blanket' and 'cookie.' It's amazing to see the lights switch on in a human life. We're blessed to be her parents.

Our daughter's adoption was closed. Her birthparents are anonymous. This has presented us with a challenge as far as securing proper legal documentation beyond the court adoption case -- that's all settled. But a big hurdle we had to clear was getting her birth certificate, which is usually tendered at the hospital where the baby is born. In our case, that couldn't happen because her birth certificate needed to have the birthmother's name expunged and ours added to ensure anonymity. That amounted to a one year process where we finally got our daughter's birth certificate with our names shown as the parents.

My accountant filed an extension for us last April because we lacked a social security number for our daughter. And that was impossible to get without the birth certificate. I went through many hoops and hurdles to secure her an interim number called an ATIN -- Adoption Temporary Identification Number. In applying for her ATIN, her form got lost in the bureaucracy of the IRS. I spent untold hours trying to locate her lost form on the phone. I found myself pleading for help from a loop of friendly, apologetic bureaucrats who ultimately could do nothing, sending me off to the next one, who could also do nothing. It was a world where there was no hierarchy -- like an army of corporals, with no other rank. Eventually, because of a lucky fluke, I talked to a bureaucrat who located our daughter's lost ATIN application, and within a day we had her ATIN number. I needed this to do taxes, or so I believed.

I now understand from my accountant that in order to take full advantage of certain credits and deductions, I really do need that social security number anyway, not just the ATIN. The Machine won't accept a mere ATIN number. Since last April, our daughter's birth certificate had arrived, so today was the day I figured that I would trot down to the Social Security office and walk away with my daughter's new Social Security number.


Instead, after waiting in an enormous line, I learned that there was a difference in my wife's first name -- between the one on my daughter's birth certificate, and the name on my wife's Social Security account. So this means that we have to either file to update my wife's Social Security account with a new name, or my daughter's birth certificate needs to be changed.

Are you still with me here? Even writing this confuses the heck out of me.

So clearly, the layers of bureaucracy were upon me, and I stormed out of the Social Security office with only a blank form and black cloud over my head. I was two towns away from home, got lost in traffic, and found a circuitous route to the freeway through a suburban neighborhood. Man, I was mad. All I wanted was a stupid number for my daughter so I could pay my taxes and be a good citizen.

I think I was raving in the car, out there in suburbia. Then behind me came the siren and the flashing lights. Yep. I was being pulled over for something. My anger about the Social Security thing instantly vanished into a new crisis. The policeman had me park in the Burger King lot.

"Do you know why I pulled you over?" he asked.

"No idea," I said, looking perplexed.

"You ran three stop signs and you were speeding," he told me.

"Oh," I muttered. I was staring out of the driver's window at his shiny patrol car. I gave the officer my license and car registration, which he ran into the computer system.

"Did you know your license has expired?" he asked.

"Uh... no?" I sputtered.

I thought I was dead. So here it comes. The family car gets impounded. I go to jail. My wife and child wind up car-less and I lose what's left of my license to drive California's deep boulevards. The Social Security debacle was a million miles away now.

The polite policeman asked if I lived in a town I never been to, since it was shown as my address on my license's account profile. Now I was flummoxed. I never even heard of that town. So I have a license associated with an address I never lived at.

Well, this account of my day is getting long. It turns out that there was a clerical error at some point. The digits got switched on my zip code, putting me in another town at the same street address. That explains why my license expired -- because I never received a notice to that effect. And why I never got car registration stickers until I asked for them.

The cop said that he was obligated to impound my vehicle, but he felt that the clerical error worked in my favor. I think he saw the child seat in the back of the car, too. He still gave me a ticket for speeding through a stop sign, and told me to go straight to the DMV.

So, I spent the rest of the day at the DMV, getting my license updated. I had to pay a fee to have it fixed, even though I think it was their fault. If you want to keep moving through the lines, you just don't ask about whose fault it is. I had to take a driver's exam. I missed the question about DUI alcohol levels, erring on the side of caution at .05%. Actually, the limit is .08% in California.

Almost seven hours after I set out to get my daughter's Social Security number, I still had none. Instead of solving that problem, I wound up solving one I didn't know I had. I got home and poured myself a nice glass of Sangiovese. And another.

This isn't much of a post. I'm just sitting here, complaining. Thanks for listening. It's days like this that has me wondering about bureaucracy. On some level, it's unavoidable. But it can be such a circus at times. Standing in all those lines today, I wondered if I felt like a European, or perhaps a Soviet. It's true that everyday of my life isn't spent in lines waiting for lard rations; so what I tasted was only the blandest flavor of Soviet. But I do think such systems need temperance. Some part of our humanity gets lost in the vast beadledom of modern ministerial life. It seems to be thickening around us, no matter who's in charge.

Being penalized for running stop signs after getting bricked-in by Social Security's polite wags seems apropos. I'm sure I'll pay.