Friday, December 14, 2007

Social Insecurity with The Bureauman

So, I finally made it down to Social Security today. I have to admit that it was much, much harder than it seemed to be when I set the appointment. I had it set in my mind:

Social Security employee hears I have arrived
Social Security employee invites me in
Social Security employee accepts documents in pile
Social Security business done.

But we all know things that are sad are never quickly dispensed with. No, we are forced to linger over the minutest details in an excruciatingly slow, deliberate process, then wait. So how did the process go?

I checked in at a computer which found my appointment. A receipt printed with a random-looking set of numbers on it. I waited about 15 minutes. The wails of a mentally disturbed man gave a depressing audio backdrop to the pained and sad conversations around me.

"Well, we didn't know we had to apply then, we thought we had to wait until we were homeless..." a woman said to a bored-looking woman in a leopard-print jacket.

"I did buy Medi-gap coverage, and they were supposed to help me with hospitalization," an elderly man rasped ever more loudly to a sympathetic African American man. "I can't pay $15,000 on social security for that bill, and they say they are going to use my check for the next five years. I'll starve! Hell in a handbasket! Hell!"

"His daddy got me 'pregnit,' but he got blasted in LA," one very pregnant Latina told a very Wonder-bread looking intake guy. "I'm supposed to get some money for when he gets born, right?"

I want to correct her, since her boyfriend has been "blasted" and I can't stand ignorance anyway, but I keep my mouth shut. She's suffered to some degree, and she needs all the self-esteem she has.

"Francis Pruett," a voice from an open door calls. "Pruett?"

Finally. I handed the man my papers as I walked up.

"Just hold onto all of that, we'll get to it," he said.

I do and follow him into the maze of cubicles with identical desks, identical computers, identical plastic furniture, identically lacking in personal items, identically sterile, identically institutional, identically empty, identically oriented workspaces. Still, it takes him a long time to find the "right" one for us to sit at, which he motions to.

"Well, Mr. Pruett, first of all, Social Security wants to express to you our sincere condolences on your loss," he says, logging into the workstation with no eye contact whatsoever. "We know this is a difficult time for you, and we appreciate you reporting your loss to us."

I started to ask him a question and he interrupted me.

"We are going to fill your application out and then I will have you certify under penalty
of perjury that all of your answers are correct after you review it," he said, looking at me as if I had planned to lie, suspicion and derision in his gaze.

I nodded.

"May I see a picture ID, please?" he asked.

I showed him my license... he nodded and tapped into his computer as if his first ruse had failed him. "Damn! He has ID!" he must have thought.

"May I see the death certificate?" he asked.

I gave it to him, then my birth certificate, hers, our marriage certificate, which conspired to choke me up. Then, a copy of her memorial book fell out and I reach down... the whole pile of things I carry with her paperwork hits the floor, old pictures, her degree.

I thought to myself "I just spilled my Marcie." I gathered her up silently. The stuff had spread far and wide. There is no help from Bureaman, though. Just his impatient silence.

"Did you live with the deceased when she passed away?" he queried, staring angrily, defiantly at his screen.

"I took care of her to the last minute," I said.

He huffs and moves his head a little. "Did you live with the deceased when she passed away?" he repeated, his hands poised to clack at his keybord.

"Yes," I said. I wanted to add, "Yes, I lived with her as she died, I lived with her as she lived, I lived with her for a few hours when she was dead and I lived with her around fuckers like you who I would rather not let fucking live you fucking nitwit."

I didn't.

"Did you ever apply for Social Security benefits? Did she ever apply for benefits? Oh, I see she had disability benefits. Did she ever serve in the military? Work overseas? Work for the railroads? Work for the federal government?"

Yes, no dice, but they made me work, I wasn't crazy enough yet. Yes, that's what she... No. No. No. No. No, she had a soul.

"When did she become eligible to receive benefits?" he asked.

"I don't know," I respond. "It was a while ago."

"I see," he said, tapping loudly, frustrated that he has to look it up. "She became eligible in 2005. She worked one year on disability and made $13,000."

Wow. Bureaman can do his own homework. Good for him.

"I am going to print out a copy of your application. After you review it, we'll certify it," he said, getting up. He walked a few feet away and snatched each piece as it printed.

I scan the paper slowly and read the details. I notice him drumming his finger and not looking at me.

I nod and had it back over. "It looks OK," I said.

"Good," he said, whipping the paper around and into a folder which he snapped shut as he stood abruptly.

I stood as well but he had already turned and walked to the door, which he opened well before I got there. I took my time walking to it, noting him getting frustrated.

"It will be thirty days or so before your check arrives," he said. "Maybe faster."

Thanks for the $255, USA. Mighty white of you.

Fuck you, Bureauman.