Monthly Archives: January 2010

the facelessness of bureaucracy

form B-12/alpha, please

In Amurka, there are companies called ‘credit bureaus’. They keep track of your borrowing habits – not very accurately, mind you – and make up a number to say how financially irresponsible you are.

They operate a supremely closed-off scheme. Trying to talk to a human at one of these places is nigh-impossible without making some kind of offering; usually pumping them with cash for access to your details. Your details basically consists of a number, but they dress it up with exotic branding nonsense along the lines of the CreditPeep 5000 CashSpunker Plus. I’ve spent a month or so pissing around with arch-cockhandles Experian, and convincing them that some other guy with a similar name is not me, and can they please take all his nefarious dealings off my record, thank you very much.

Long story short, that’s now done. If you need to deal with credit bureaus, I can offer some effective voodoo.

Just when I thought all the form-fiddling was done, Amex call to say they’re not 100% convinced of my identity, and could I please fuck off down to the Social Security building and get a note proving my social security number. Well of course, nothing would give me greater pleasure.

If you’re thinking dealing with the Social Security (SS for short – YOU SEE?) would be a patience-mangling, Kafkaesque nightmare, you’d be totally correct and would in fact win a biscuit.

The downtown building squats massive and intimidating. It has FEDERAL BUILDING spackled all over it and cops everywhere. There are 15 entrances and only one is the right one for you, and you have to know what the department name is, exactly and without using synonyms or cheating. You have to negotiate with guards who speak only rudimentary dolphin. Once I found the right entrance I gained 2,300 experience points.

Once in the door you are welcomed with a warm and friendly metal detector scan and body-furtling.

There are 50 floors. Your correct floor is listed in Greek using a 6-point font on a tea-tray stapled to the wall behind a pillar in the lobby.

Once you find the right room, things look more familiar – clerks behind bulletproof glass, people waiting. You dither slightly trying to figure out the waiting system, before a security guard with a table of forms waves you over. He appears to be first-generation Namibian and has only the vaguest idea of what is going on around him. He delivers his opener with all the twinkling intelligence of a poached egg:

IN WHAT BOAR YOU LEAVE?

Sorry?

IN WHAT BOAR… YOU LEAVE?

[Long pause while my brain executes intense pattern matching algorithm]
Are you asking me… where I live?

YES

Ah, Manhattan.

PRESS 1 ON MACHINE

A ticket! Result.
Next, a long wait; expected. Then, called to the desk! I have rehearsed what I will say. The lady is short and first-generation Chinese. I get the first word in:

Hello, so to be clear I already have a social security card [brandish my card] – I’m just looking for -

YOU NEED APPLICATION FORM!

Whoa.
Sorry, for what?

YOU NEED APPLICATION FORM!

But I already have a card, here -

YOU NEED FORM! TALK TO GUARD!

I need a form to speak to you?
[There is a pause]
[People in the waiting room have gone quiet, amused by the exchange and my desperately clear enunciation]
[Clerk looks for the fifth time at the card I am holding against the glass, and in the cold lonely void a lightbulb illuminates]

AH YOU HAVE NUMBER! YOU NEED LETTER!

Normally you go up to clerks on the assumption they know more than you do, cap in hand. I instead walked out full of dismayed sympathy, but relief at accomplishing the mission.

The frustration in dealing with these muppets reminded me of the constant satirising unleashed by Douglas Adams on this topic, both in his books and also in the 80s text adventure game Bureaucracy. Actually the AI in that game surpassed most of the humanoids I dealt with this week.

P.S. the post title is from the Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out classic, here preserved on your intertrout.

P.P.S. So I don’t forget, my social security number is [WPRESS exception in db.getHandle() - too many connections]