What It Was Like To Be Free

We’ve all heard them, the jokes that begin with Two men go into a bar …image

For my mom and me today, it was not a joke and went something like this … Two women walk into a Social Security office in suburban St. Louis … no drinks, but a truckload of bureaucracy. I’ll back up a minute to explain.

My dear mother is legally blind as well as hearing-impaired. (She handles these challenges without complaint.) She needs regular blood tests to avoid future episodes of DVT, so she’s a familiar face at the nearby hospital. But the last couple times at her appointment sign-in, they’ve been adamant she needs to have her records changed (Medicare) to conform with the name on her birth certificate. (She’s been called by her middle name all her life.)

Hence, the trip to the Social Security office. Paperwork had to be completed and filed, executive orders had to be approved. There was no blood required, but we brought ours … just in case. The required paperwork had already been mailed to her. I filled it out. Then she needed to bring the paperwork, plus suitable ID to the SS office in order to process the necessary name correction. Should be simple, right?

If you think that, you would be wrong.

My first impression upon entering the building was of a class in session. Inside the room we entered, a group of people (maybe 30-35) sat in chairs, face-front. I expected upon entering the room to find a moderator standing before them explaining … orating … waxing eloquent … something! Instead, everyone’s attention was riveted ‑ yes, I say, riveted ‑ to a television monitor flashing messages and information (all related in some way to Social Security) on that screen! There was a sense that these face-front automatons were quietly and subtly being programmed (or re-programmed) for suitable entry (or re-entry) into the collective!

But we weren’t allowed to slip into a seat UNTIL we had received our more-precious-than-gold number, of course. A private security guard greeted us, directing us to another  computer touch-screen where I was instructed to choose between English and Spanish, check the box indicating we needed a replacement Social Security card and then enter my mom’s Social Security number. Once we’d jumped through those hoops, a printer spat out its golden identification number that would eventually be called so our request could be processed.

BUT before we could sit down, the friendly security guard moved to search our purses. Immediately, I realized I needed to leave because I was carrying my Smith & Wesson (I have a permit). I ended up taking my purse back to my vehicle.

My initial observations after sitting down in this reprogramming center (oops, waiting room) had to do with the messages on the television monitor. In various different languages (there must have been 20-25), the messages promoted and praised Social Security.

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Take a look at the photo above (not great quality, I’m afraid). There are two windows visible in the upper left. I was unable to capture the two additional windows located to the left of those. One of the four windows was open for activity. I mused to my mother, how typical it was (at 9:45 a.m.) that only 25% of the slots available for Customer Service was actually being utilized. We found out later there were other windows in back, but only about half were manned.

Eventually, our number was called, but predictably, we were unable to complete our task. The driver’s license my mom has used for ID expired in December of last year. This almost 88-year-old woman ‑ who needed nothing more complicated than a card with her full name listed and whose expired driver’s license has a photo ID on it verifying she is who she says she is and who no longer drives ‑ was disqualified because her photo ID was expired!

Next trip? DMV. Once we got the ID card ($11), we were on our way back to the Social Security office to go through the exact same drill in order to earn our seats at the reprogramming center … I mean, waiting room. That image will stick with me, frankly, because as I sat there (another 45 minutes), all I could think about was how every single person in that room had become a government cog.

Reduce you to a number? Of course, we’ll be glad to! Separate you from us behind bulletproof glass? Of course, we know you’re going to be fighting mad from all the red tape we’ll throw your way. Allow us to rifle through your purse? Of course you will or you won’t be allowed entry! Why would anyone object to standard operating procedure?

I’m not sane as I write this. My interactions with government bureaucracies have been (thankfully) limited, but this experience was a disconcerting demonstration of how maddening, impersonal, disconnected, and invasive our government has become! I am grief-stricken because I recognize I’ve only had a superficial look … and I don’t feel comforted knowing there’s much more disturbing stuff I will probably never know about.

When I watched woman after woman timidly allowing the security guard to rifle through purse after purse, I wanted to scream! I’m reminded of the 1976 film Network where the man yells, I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking it anymore! When, oh when, are all of us going to say No More! No More!?

President Ronald Reagan once said:

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.

After what I saw today, I’m afraid we’re seeing the sad entry into our sunset years.

Renée