Monday, April 24, 2006

Life's Little Instruction Bureaucracy

There are some difficult things in life that we all must go through, which virtually every American can identify with. Paying taxes. Getting stuck in the "15 items only" lane in the grocery store behind some oaf with a basketload of Cheetos and Cheez Whiz. Having some idiot who never quite "got" the laws of physics drive his 9 ton SUV about three inches from you rear bumper at 75 miles per hour.

I like to make sure the surglings get fully exposed to these things --- life's little lessons --- so that hopefully they will cope with them a bit better than I do. I mean, c'mon, there's a reason that dealing with the guy at the Best Buy checkout counter who asks me for the third time "do you want the extended warranty on this?" makes my blood pressure get high enough to crack walnuts with ease.

We had just such an opportunity a few weeks ago, when it was time to head to our friendly, customer service-oriented neighborhood DMV! What a learning experience for the surglings! What a great way for them to learn about the efficiencies of modern governmental bureaucracy! What a great way to blow 5 hours on a Friday!

I have reached that stage in life (most call it "the time when your ulcer starts to develop") when I have a child living in my home who can legally operate a vehicle. Not to be outdone, her little sister --- let's just say that we didn't understand that whole "ovulation" thing -- is only a year behind her. So, the day came when surgling number one needed to take her final driver's test, and surgling number two needed to take her driver's permit test. As we have entered the 21st century, and that I live in a city of a few hundred thousand people, it would be reasonable to expect that there might be a few DMV offices for us to choose from.

It would be reasonable. But it would not be reality. You see, in my fair town, there is only one DMV office that is sufficiently able to handle the complexities, the subleties, the hazards, the sheer strain of dealing with anyone under 21. So, being the good father, I traipse on down there on a Friday afternoon, arriving about 45 minutes before my wife arrives with all of the surglings in tow, having retrieved them from their respectful institutions of indoctrination. What I find is a line of people snaking out of the office a good 25 persons long, all of whom seem to be making comments along the lines of "I can't believe I've been here since 10 AM." A quick peek inside reveals another 50 people in line, along with a large sign stating that the doors will be locked at 4:30 PM, and no tests will be given after that time. Joy! Of course, according to regulations handed out with the code of Hammurabi, both SWIMBO and I had to be present, the entire time, to ensure that surgling numero 2 would be legally allowed to drive with both of us.

Fortunately, my oldest daughter has inherited the anal retentiveness that makes her father so pleasant to deal with, and had scheduled her test -- she got to go right in and stand in a shorter line, while daughter number two got to cool her heels with her parents (to her utter embarrassment) and her little brother (who delighted in her annoyance). We eventually passed over the river Styx and through the doorway, only to be treated to a collection of people one might normally only hope to encounter at the 5,786th midnight showing of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Look, I have seen a bigger collection of teeth in a nursery! And to a man, woman, and pregnant teenager holding her two-year-old, they had all been there the whole day.

So, we had several of what I might refer to as "teachable moments" during the next three hours.

  • "Dad, what do those funny letters tattooed on that guy's neck mean?" "Well, son, that's an ancient Chinese inscription that means 'I have hepatitis C!'"
  • "Dad, how can a teenager just now getting her driver's license have two kids and look so pregnant?" "Gee, sweetie, it might mean that she believed the notion that Britney Spears is a role model."
  • "Dad, why is it that all of these people in here are talking nonstop on their cell phones, but argue with the clerk saying they don't have the $5 needed for their document transfer?" "Well, try to think back to the Three Little Pigs, but in this case, the two idiot pigs had cell phones and the cable package with all of the HBO options instead." "OK, Dad, but what does the smart pig do?" "He pays a lot more taxes."
  • "Dad, why does that guy have his pants down so low that you can tell what brand of underwear he owns and what religion he is?" "That, son, is what is referred to as fashion. Or blatant stupidity. I'll leave the distinction to you."
Honestly, between the hand-checked permit test (it is 2006, and Microsoft has been a well known entity for a few decades), the surly gatekeeper whose entire existence consisted of badgering people about the lack of proper paperwork, and Ruprecht the trainee putting data into the 1970's era computer system, we were lucky to get done before summer arrived. All in all, though, I think the surglings learned more in that afternoon than in the entire preceding week. We reviewed the "take-home points" at dinner that night:

  • Jobs are good
  • Clothing is good, especially clothing that has been washed since the Eisenhower administration
  • Tattoos are an expression of a person's "inner spirit" -- as well as of their misunderstanding of the causes of hepatitis and the effects of aging & gravity
  • Sex really does have consequences, and those consequences can be noisy, time consuming, and cost a fortune in diapers
  • Teeth -- they're not just for show!
  • While we don't usually do this, Mom & Dad say "I told you so."