Mistakes were made

New York City meets Munich

Social Stupidity

November 16th, 2004 · No Comments · Stupidity

Some time, several moves, and perhaps one country ago, I lost my social security card. This wasn’t a huge concern for me, since a social security card isn’t something you really need to have. It’s just a piece of flimsy cardboard with a name, signature, and a number on it.

Alas, times change, and whereas once a social security number was meant for limited use, now it has morphed into a quasi-federal ID. One that, sadly, New York state requires to get a driver’s license. Of course, you have to provide the actual social security card.

This matters because some time, several moves and precisely one country ago, my New York state driver’s license expired. I was living in Bermuda then, and in possession of Bermuda driver’s license. Now that I’m back in New York, I want to get a driver’s license again, since my Bermuda one isn’t valid now that I’m a resident of New York. Even though I once held a valid New York license, and even though I have a valid Bermuda license, in the eyes of New York state apparently I have been abducted by aliens who have wiped all traces of driving knowledge and experience from my memory. I must start from scratch: learner’s permit, written and road tests, the whole lot.

First important lesson: never let your state driver’s license lapse.

So, the first step in becoming street legal again is getting a social security card. Our tax dollars make this a free service, amazingly enough. According to the Social Security Administration web site this simply a matter of

  1. Filling out a brief one page form
  2. Submitting proof of identity
  3. Sending the form and the proof of identity by mail to the Social Security office
  4. Receive a new card, via mail, a few weeks later

What could be easier?

I pulled out my sharpest crayon and filled in the form, and rummaged around for a proof of identity. According to the same web page, acceptable proofs are:

  • Driver’s license

    I doubt they’ll take my Bermuda license.

  • Military records

    Since these are classified, I can’t send them in.

  • Adoption record

    Mom insists I’m not adopted.

  • Life insurance policy

    While I have life insurance, it’s through work, and I don’t know where the “policy” is.

  • Passport

    Mine is being renewed, sadly.

  • Health Insurance card

    If I send this in, I know a medical emergency will occur, so that’s out.

  • School ID card

    Alas, the School of Hard Knocks has no ID to speak of.

  • Marriage or divorce record


Certified copy of the marriage license I have, and I even know where it is, so we have a winner. The application and the marriage license go into the envelope, and off it goes into the mail.

Two weeks later I hold in my hands a reply from the Social Security folks! How prompt! How ungovernment-like! I open it. Contained within is my marriage license, my application and a letter, telling me that my proof of identity is insufficient.

How asinine! What is insufficient is either (a) the SSA web site or (b) the idiot who handled my application.

At least now I have gotten my brand spanking new passport. I resubmit my application with my passport, my marriage license, the letter from the SSA, and their web page printed out with the instructions highlighted. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, is a voice warning me about trying to correct a bureaucrat. Actually, it’s not the back of my mind, but my wife. But it sounds like the back of my mind at the time, so I mail it in.

Two weeks later I hold in my hands an even fatter envelope from the Social Security administration. It contains my passport, my marriage license, my application, and a new letter. This time, I am told, that my birthday has changed. My passport, my marriage license and my application form don’t agree with what they have on file. I must now submit proof of birth.

Why this didn’t come up the first time is a mystery. A mystery named “incompetence” I think.

I get a bigger envelope and enclose the passport, the marriage license, the birth certificate and my application. This time I do not enclose any other correspondence containing my thoughts on the matter at hand. I am tempted to enclose a stool sample, but better judgment prevails. Her name is “Conny View definition in a new window.”

Off these documents go. In spite of my frustration I am confident I will finally win. And two weeks later, when an envelope containing my original documents arrive, I sense victory. At last, the Social Security office has all it needs, and has run out of excuses and screw ups. It is only a matter of time before the fruits of my labor arrives.

After a month passes, I begin to wonder how long does it take to issue a Social Security card? Reluctantly, I call 800-SSA-BOZO or some such support number for Social Security. After a mere fifteen minutes or so on hold, I reach a helpful agent who informs me that 1. there’s nothing on file for me getting a card issued and 2. the Social Security agency has two databases, and I have a different birthday in each. One is the correct one, and one is a month off.

I am no match for the Fed. I concede, and realize that I will have to go, in person, into the Social Security office, if I ever hope to get a card. I probably should have included a stool sample in my last mail, while I had the chance.

On prudent advice, I venture to the Social Security office one hour before they close (which is thirty minutes before they close the line). In fifteen minutes, a clerk is processing my application.

I’m informed that “since 9/11” corrections to things like date of birth take a lot longer to process. Apparently, a certified copy of my birth certificate issued by the State of New York is a questionable credential. The Social Security office will only make the correction after getting direct confirmation from New York State Department of Records.

So even though their own system is clearly incorrect, since it has two dates, one of which matches my passport and my certified birth certificate, they want to be extra sure I’m not trying to pull a fast one over on them. Because how else can they be 100% sure I wasn’t actually born one month later. I hear this is precisely the kind of thing terrorists are doing to get two free birthday desserts a year at Applebee’s. Luckily, the Social Security office has clamped down on that. Either that or perhaps New York kids have ready access to fake certified birth certificates and are using them to amend their Social Security cards so they can go buy cigarettes.

In these times, you can never be too safe, I guess. Or too stupid, if you are a government agency.

At least I have a case number I can follow up with now. But if all goes well, I could soon hold my own Social Security card, if you define “soon” as two or three months. Which I don’t.

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