Sorry, Doug, this one is all words.I applied for my social security number today (Monday). When I first arrived here in Texas, the guys here told me that I would not be able to apply for my SSN until 20 days had past. So, I patiently waited 20 days (hopefully you noticed the day counter on the left of the web page).
During my lunch break I made my way into Greenville. Now, Greenville is probably best described as a farming community town. In that it is quite small and rural. Not much in the way of skyscrapers if you catch my drift. I went up through the main street and eventually found the Social Security Administration office. Kind of strange seeing residential houses still in what would be considered by most to be the centre of town.
I double-checked all my papers: DS-2019, I-92 affixed to passport, letter from the CIEE and a smile. That was all I needed. I had already checked this many times before, but it pays to be careful.
I went into the office and approached the security guard, who directed me to a keypad: “press 1 to apply for a replacement or new social security card”. I became number A27 for half an hour and amused myself by looking at pamphlets that had something to do with food stamps. The real excitement came when I was summoned to window number 4.
“Social Security Number” the woman at the counter barked.
“I don’t have one” I smiled as sweetly as I could.
She looked at me a little surprised.
You see, without a Social Security number you aren’t supposed to exist in America. I, however, have bought a car, got a license, insurance, rented a condo and I am working all without that magic number. How you ask? Well, I pay cash, smile a lot and speak in a funny accent. It’s amazing how much people don’t care about stuff like that if you pay cash. They only really use it so they can data-match you in their enormous credit history databases anyway.
“You see, “I continued placidly “that’s why I am here: to apply for a Social Security Number”.
“Ok, let me have all your papers” she prompted
As I handed them over to her she continued: “You on an F1 visa?”
“J1” I explained
She looked at me as though I had just told her I was an apricot, I don’t think they get many of these in old Greenville.
She rifled through my papers.
“That is my DS two-oh-one-nine” I prompted helpfully, pointing at the form in her hands. I had become well-versed in these numbers by now.
“No, this is your DS twenty-nineteen” she corrected
“Where’s page 3?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Page three of this form” she brandished the DS2019 “it’s missing”.
Now, I counted three pages, but I guess it’s because it was double-sided.
“But there are three pages” I insisted.
“No, no, I need a letter with a signature on it certifying that you should be able to work in the US”
“How about that one?” I pointed at the letter in her pile headed “Dear Social Security Officer”.
She read that briefly.
“No, no, it has to certify that you can work here in the US, this doesn’t say that, I need a letter from your sponsoring company.”
Feeling just a little panic well up inside, I pulled out another letter I had, addressed to me.
“No, no, she said after glancing at that, it has to be addressed to me. As far as I can tell, you don’t have any authorization to be working in the US.”
She handed my forms back to me.
“Well, someone goofed big time” I suggested as jovially as I could under the circumstances. Dealing with bureaucrats is just like dealing with rabid dogs: you can’t show any fear. “So, where do we go from here?”
“I need a letter, from your sponsor.”
“And what would that look like?”
“It would give your sponsor’s name and address and say that you are here in the US for the purposes of training, it should be addressed to me.”
“How about this one?” I handed her the original letter, the one which said “Dear Social Security Officer”.
She read it again.
“Oh, yes, well, this would do” she conceded reluctantly “but I don’t have your certificate which gives you approval to work in the US”
“Isn’t that the DS two-oh-one-nine?” I handed the form back to her.
“This is your DS twenty-nineteen she correctly me sternly as she took it from me a second time “oh, yes, this will do.”
“Great” I smiled as placidly as I could and let her get to processing my documentation.
I have had a lot of experience with bureaucrats and I have discovered the key is to speak their language (use form numbers and formalities) always have all original documentation, never raise your voice, never give up and above all: always smile.
“South Africa?” she exclaimed when reading my application, which has to have my mother’s maiden name, my date and place of birth among other things.
“Yes, I was born there.” I added helpfully.
She carried on processing and then a puzzled expression crossed over her face.
“I am confused, you have a South African birth certificate but you have a New Zealand Passport, why is that?”
At this point I became angry. People don’t often get to see me angry unless I am under a great deal of stress. The strain of this transaction was beginning to take its toll and I started slipping into The Voice.
I picked The Voice up from my father. It was the voice he would use to chastise us when we were really naughty. It’s a low, slow, level tone that you would use when talking to someone who is mentally challenged. It sounds really calm and that’s the scary part: it is too calm. Sarah says that when I use The Voice on people who (for example) mess up my order for coffee it sounds like I am about to pull out a gun and start shooting.
“I was born in South Afrika in 1979 then im-mi-gra-ted to New Zealand in 1997.”
“Oh, well that explains it then” she smiled nervously.
“And now you’re here” she added as though filling the silence with vapid words could make up for general incompetence.
“Yes,” I slipped back into my standard response: “my first time living above the equator.”
The rest of the transaction was relatively painless, I gave her my Texas Driver’s license which apparently helped a little. I will receive my social security number in the mail in a fortnight. Here’s hoping it comes in time for me to get paid this month.