Let me tell you about my day. Let me preface it by saying that I lost my California Driver’s License when I moved from the Upper East Side in Manhattan to Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, and I’ve been venturing around New York City sans ID for the past two months. This is not a safe practice for many reasons.
1. You never know when you may be attacked or murdered, and it is always helpful for law enforcement if you have an ID on you.
2. You never know if you’ll be served in a bar when you go out, so you need to pick your establishments with precise, which generally means you can’t frequent the more uppity of lieux.
So, finally, after much deliberation and a few overnighted FedEx packages from my mother in California, I finally went out to procure a new ID. I’ve been living in New York for a year and three months, so I am long overdue for a state-issued ID card. (after 90 days, you’re considered a resident of New York…) I went on the website, printed the application form, filled it out to perfection, and collected my necessary paperwork to prove identity: Birth Certificate and Social Security Card (thanks, Mom), health insurance card, and bank-issued debit card. The website says I only needed “4” points: 2 pts for my social security card, and one point each for the debit card and health insurance card. The Birth Certificate doesn’t actually hold any point value, but is useful to provide evidence of my birth – which is just ridiculous because look at me: I’m here; I’ve been born. And before any of you throw out that it’s proving that I was born in this country, halt! Because it’s not! They don’t care if you were born in this country or not.
Anyway, so all my paperwork neatly stacked, clipped, and stowed, I went to the DMV in Midtown Manhattan. I walk in and announce my business to the bored-looking man near the information kiosk.
“You need six points.” he says with a drawl.
“The website said four.” Me.
“You need six,” he repeats.
Then he starts listing off other options, and when he gets to “pay stub” and “credit card,” I say “YES! I HAVE THOSE! Thank you! See you tomorrow!”
And I run out of there and text my mother immediately to recount my failure.
“Why don’t you renew your passport?” She texts. “You can fly with that.”
“Where do you get a passport?” I text back, passing the beautiful monstrosity that is the New York Post Office.
“The Post Office.” Her.
“PERFECT!” and I run inside.
The colossal foyer of the New York Post Office is marble and echoing. It feels so regal with its gold bars at the teller windows, its impressive American Flags hanging at each end, and the seal of the State of New York in the center on the ground. I wait in line with a few impatient customers, dancing to and fro, tapping their feet and fingers on their packages. After 20 minutes, I approach the bench when called and ask “How do I get a passport?” The guy directs me to the opposite end of the long, narrow foyer, where I find a young guy at a podium.
After a series of seemingly non-sequitur questions, he gives me a few forms to fill out and lets me know he’ll be available to help me when I’m done. Ten minutes later, having finished my forms, I look around me for this young guy, and he’s nowhere in sight. I walk up and down along the closed windows in the passport section, walk out into the foyer, walk back into the passport section, trying to peer through any cracks in the windows. Nothing. Nobody.
After a few passes stalking around, looking for anyone who could possibly help me, a slightly older gentleman surfaces from a door in the passport section. He comes up to me and asks me if I’ve been helped. I affirm and proceed to explain my situation again. He was very accommodating and helpful. He offered to copy my paperwork (for $0.50/ea) and looked through everything to be sure I have all the information I need. He then asked for my picture ID, at which point I explained that I didn’t have one, and that is precisely why I’m here looking for a passport. He told me that’s no problem, I just need somebody to come down and sign witness to my existence – somebody who has known me for two years. I chuckle to myself at the absurdity of that, and call my roommate and ask him if he can make it down here before work at 5pm. He obliges, kind guy that he is.
Once he arrives, I try to get somebody’s attention again, because – once again – the podium attendant, my dear older friend who was so helpful, has disappeared. I catch a middle-aged woman with a caribbean accent behind the window where the camera is. I ask her if the attendant can come back out – I’m in need of assistance. She says someone will be right out. I say “We’re in a slight hurry.”
“Yes, ma’am, someone will be right out,” she repeats, same tone.
“Terrific.” Brandon and I walk back to the podium and wait.
We help two other people who are looking for the passport center.
“Yes, it’s right here.”
“No, ma’am. behind us, please. we’re in line.’
“Yes, sir. It’s right here.”
And we wait.
Finally that same Caribbean woman of small stature comes waddling out and sits down at the podium.
“How may I help you?”
“Well, I was being helped by two of your colleagues. They know that’s going on. Are they back there?”
“Okay. Well I’m trying to get a new passport – and I don’t have a photo ID, so I have my friend here to give witness. He just needs to sign the witness form so he can go.”
“No, ma’am. What do you have? Show me what you have.”
“Yes, here it is. I have the application form, my birth certificate, and my friend here to sign the witness form –”
“Ma’am, you’re reporting your passport as lost.”
“Yes, I am. I don’t have my old, expired passport, and don’t know where it is. So your colleague said I should report it stolen first, and then apply for a new passport.”
“Do you have your pictures?”
“Yes, ma’am, your colleague took my picture.”
“You have to have your pictures.”
“Right. your colleague took my picture about 30 minutes ago.”
“You have to make copies of these papers.”
“Yes, your colleague did that — really, ma’am, your colleague already knows my case, it would be easier if you could just find him, please, and you can help the people behind me.”
“I need a photo ID.”
“As I explained to the two gentlemen who helped me before you, I don’t have one. My roommate is here to give witness to my existence.”
“I still need a form of ID with a picture.”
“Ma’am, I explained to your colleagues that I don’t have one. That’s why I’m here. To get one. I have other forms of ID iwth no picture. My health insurance card, credit cards, bank cards, bank statements…” and I lay out all those forms.
“No, ma’am. I need a form of ID with your picture.”
“I’m sorry; I just don’t have one.”
“High school ID –”
“Don’t have one.”
“College ID with your picture–”
“Don’t have that, either.”
“I really don’t have an ID with a picture of it.”
“Ma’am, I need –”
“I understand that you need that,” I say, my patience wearing thin. “Your colleagues said all I needed was my roommate-” I point to Brandon “-to testify my continued existence.” People are starting to stare.
“Ma’am–” She began again, shaking her head.
“Oh! You have my expired passport on record! My picture is on that. Use that!”
“We don’t have that.”
“You have my passport on record,” I say, a bit bitingly, my patience wearing more and more thin as the moments pass on, my ears getting hot.
“At the state department, ma’am.”
“My mom has a picture of my passport! If she texts me the picture, can I just show that to you?”
“Yes, ma’am.” (!!!) Terrific!
I step aside with Brandon to let the people behind me get some help. I text my mom with a few profanities and a lot of angst, and she responds very quickly with two pictures of my passport book, opened to my information page.
I then step forward again and wait for the current customer to finish with her business. After many questions that had nothing to do with passports, I slide my phone under the attendant’s nose. “Here!” I say, triumphantly.
“Terrific,” she says, with a smile. “Now go across the street to Kinko’s and print it.”
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!”
And I leave.