Thu, 11 Jul 2019
Earlier this week I reported on a good visit I had had to the Philadelphia offices of the Social Security Administration.
Philadelphia government offices, in my experience, are generally better than those I have visited elsewhere. I've never been to the New York DMV office (do they even have one?) but the Philadelphia ones are way better than the New Jersey ones I used to use. Instead of standing in line for forty-five minutes, you get a number and sit down until your number is called.
The passport office was the biggest surprise. I first went in to deal with some passport thing shortly after I arrived in Philadelphia, maybe 1990 or so. The office was clean and quiet, the line was short, I got my business done quickly. None of those is the case in the New York passport office.
The New York passport office. Wow. Where to begin? I want to say that it defies description. But, I learned later, it has been described by no less a person than Samuel Beckett:
Here's a story of the New York passport office told to me by a friend many years ago. He stood in the line for forty-five minutes, and when he reached the window, he handed over his forms. The clerk glared at him for a few seconds, then, without a word, pushed them back.
“Is something wrong?” asked my friend.
There was a long pause. The clerk, too disgusted or enraged to reply immediately, finally said “They're not stapled.”
“Oh,” said my friend. “I see you have a stapler on your desk there.”
“You're supposed to staple them.”
“May I use your stapler?”
“No, your stapler is on the table at the back of the room.”
At this point my friend realized he was dealing with a monster. “Okay, but I can come right back to the window afterward, right?”
“No, you have to wait, like everyone else.”
At that moment my friend felt a tap on his shoulder. A man a few places behind him in line reached into his suit pocket and handed him a stapler. My friend says that as he stapled his papers and turned them in, the look on the clerk's face was of someone whose whole day had just been ruined.
“Thanks so much,” said my friend to Stapler Man. “Why did you happen to have a stapler in your pocket?”
“Oh,” said Stapler Man. “I do a lot of business at the passport office.”