July 29, 2004

Now Serving

I had an amusing experience at the Social Security office the other day. After unsuccessful attempts in the offices in New York City due to long unbearable waits, I got Mike to take me to the office in Arlington on condition that I register to vote in VA for him.

I walked in the office, and there are about 100 vinyl chairs lined up in rows. In front of the chairs is a teacher's desk with a take-a-number dispenser attached and a security guard sitting behind it, leaning back in his chair. There are two service windows open. To the left, a man and to the right, a Chinese couple being helped. Sitting in only one of the 100 chairs is one man.

I asked the security guard "Do I have to take a number?" as I looked at the 99 empty chairs.
"Do you have an appointment?" The sign on the desk says Do not ask the security guard any questions. He does not know anything.
"Well then you have to take a number."

I tore my number off the dispenser. Number 02. I look up at the display: "Now Serving" and in bright red lights "01". When the Now Serving number changed to 02 (and I believe it dinged), I went up to the available window. The guy behind it yelled at me. "ARE YOU NEXT?" he asked. I looked at the empty room behind me. The man sitting in the one chair had disappeared. The guy at the other window was gone too. The chinese couple had just left this window (they were probably number 01). I wondered, who would he think was next? Mike was the only person left, and he was sitting next to me before I got up to the window.

"Yes" I answered, all cheery.
"Are you number TWO?" he asked, like he didn't believe me.
"Yes," I said, holding up my dispensed ticket.
Five minutes later, after lots of grunting at me, and me being all "yes" "thank you" and "please"-like, he cheered up and told me to have a great day. And after 30 years, I can finally tell someone what my name is without a long speech attached.

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