“I need what?,” I asked the woman behind the counter in Durango’s Driver’s License Department where I tried to renew my expired New Mexico license with one from the State of Colorado.
The employee, a pleasant-enough-looking woman, knitted her brows. “Proof of E. Sorry.”
My current license bore a middle initial, E, which was not on my birth certificate, required to prove I was not an illegal alien or a Middle Eastern terrorist, I guess, since I was a former resident of New Mexico.
“Well,” said I, “of course the E isn’t on my birth certificate. It was a confirmation name. But you see, I left the Church when I was fifteen, and I haven’t used that middle name, Elizabeth, since then. So can I please have a new license? I’m making a hundred-mile round trip to get this done.”
“We still need proof of E. Sorry.”
“You’re kidding, of course.” I even smiled politely. But the words that were stuck in my throat migrated to my brain. Gimme a break over here, will ya, lady!
“Uh,” I began, “maybe we can scratch out the E?”
She shook her head solemnly.
“Well, how do you propose that I get proof of E?”
“A marriage license.” She even consulted another employee, who came forward to agree. “Oh, yes. Proof of E. You need a marriage license. Sorry.”
“But my husband passed away eighteen years ago and I no longer have a marriage certificate. I don’t even remember the church we got married in. I was lucky to find my birth certificate.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” the first woman said.
I breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, good. Can I have a new license now?”
“Oh, no. You still need proof of E. Sorry.”
“But you just said ... “
“Contact New York. They can send you one. Sorry.”
Finally I could hold back no longer. “Do you realize how ridiculous this is? The height of bureaucracy?” Not to say insanity.
“I’m now driving around with an expired driver’s license and if I get stopped by a cop, I could get a ticket!”
“Yes,” she agreed. “You could. Sorry.”
When I was a kid, I loved the Coney Island carousel. Round and round, atop a painted horse, to tinny music.
As I departed the license department, I thought I heard the tinny music and felt my mind going round and round. The horse’s name was Bureaucracy, and horse sense was not its strong suit.
Wait! I thought. What if I go through all the trouble and expense of getting a marriage certificate from New York and it turns out there’s no E on it?
Round and round.
On my way home, I stopped to pick up my mail. I had sent a check to the Pagosa Springs MVB and my expired handicap sticker to cover my new registration and a new handicap sticker.
There was my old handicap sticker in the mail with a letter explaining that I’d have to go to New Mexico to get a new handicap sticker. The carousel speeded up, the tinny music became a cacophony. I was sucked down into a vortex where I found myself at the looming gates of a red landscape. The words across the portal read, Bureaucracy Hell: Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here!
A sirocco wind at my back forced me through the yawning gates. There before me stretched an endless counter, and lines of haggard souls, each clutching forms, that disappeared into red, roiling clouds. Devils manned the counters, with pointed tails that whipped at anyone who asked a question; with fire that streamed from their laughing mouths to singe the eyebrows of those whose forms were not correctly filled out. From what I could see, no one’s forms were correct.
“Go to the back of the line!” The devils screamed out fire.
The closest one turned his red soulless eyes to me. “The back of the line!”
I felt my eyebrows heat up and reeled down the line to find the end. Only to find that there was no end!
And so, you people of blessed Earth above, before you go head to head with the bureaucracy, remember to sign line 263 on your form as it rolls out like the Dead Sea Scrolls. If you have a middle initial, beware!
Because here in Bureaucracy Hell, the punishment fits the line!