Thursday, February 25, 2010

don't be a cripple

My younger son and I will go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles for the fifth time tomorrow morning. He turned 16 and wants to get a learner's permit, which means he can drive as long as there is an adult in the car with him.

I know he knows how to drive ... I taught him. But the state has yet to recognize his ability and his school mandates a fairly expensive driving school for the kids (what a great racket for some auto driving school!)

The first time we went, two days ago, his birth certificate did not have the required raised seal.

The second time we went, yesterday, the building in which the registry is housed was blacked out -- the victim of a snow storm.

The third time we went, this morning early, the computers had still not been brought up to snuff. There was no direct telephone line that would allow anyone to find out when, in fact, those computers were working.

The fourth time we went, this afternoon, there were "about 10,000 people waiting," according to my son, and both of us knew how long a wait that might be.

So we'll try again tomorrow morning. Early.

Each visit required a ten- or twelve-mile drive round-trip. Each disappointment caused my son's face to go still with anger and frustration. He had no background in bureaucracy, in rules that are laid out but not very well administered, in the ways of a world that can disappoint the hell out of you.

From his point of view, it seemed such a simple request: He had filled out the papers, had the proper documentation, had gotten a check for the appropriate amount from me ... he had filled his part of the bargain. But the institution that implicitly promised to fulfill his wishes was dragging its feet like a crippled dog.

I knew his frustration and anger. I had felt its sting in the past, failing to understand why, if someone made a promise, they didn't either keep it or take responsibility for not keeping it. But bureaucracies, like the people within them, are not rife with promise-keeping: A promise is something they make in order to feel good about themselves. Taking responsibility would mean not feeling good about themselves, so ....

The best lesson anyone can learn from the crippled dogs is ... just don't be one. Let others promise and feel good and renege if they want to. No need to fault them. Just don't you be a cripple.

But that doesn't mean I can't sympathize with my son.

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