Sunday, May 27, 2012

Another Tale From Kafka's America...

We live, I am convinced, in an America in which the state at all levels has become far too powerful, far too impersonal, and far too arbitrary in its actions. Let me give you one example of why I think this is so.

In July of 2009 I bought the first car I had purchased in years from Rensselaer Honda in Troy, New York, a Honda Fit. At the time that I bought it I still had a Texas driver's license. I had moved from Albany to Austin after I was laid off at SUNY Press where I was an acquisitions editor in the hope of finding a job. It didn't work out so I returned to Albany in 2006 to take up a lectureship position in History at SUNY Albany. I didn't immediately get a New York driver's license because my Texas driver's license, which cost me an arm and a leg, wasn't close to expiring and I wanted to milk it for all it was worth. And anyway, a New York State driver's license was even more expensive, if memory serves, than a Texas driver's license was.

My Texas driver's license turned out to be a problem in more ways than one. When Ren Honda submitted my title application to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles in Troy along with my two pieces of identification, my Texas driver's license and my passport, the DMV decreed that I needed to get a New York State driver's license before they issued me a title. Additionally, the DMV questioned my identity because my driver's license, which I gave to prove my identity to Ren Honda, gave my name as Ronald G. Helfrich Jr. while my passport, the other document I gave to Ren Honda to prove who I was, gave my name as Ronald Helfrich. Because of this inconsistency in my name the DMV refused to issue me a title. Welcome to the land of the surreal.

So off I went to the local DMV office on South Pearl in Albany to get a driver's license and to convince them that me, Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. was me, Ronald Helfrich. After several hours of pleading, cajoling, and hassling the DMV I finally managed to get a NY State driver's license thanks to my birth certificate and my social security card both of which confirmed that I was Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. and Ronald G. Helfrich Jr. They would only give me a driver's license, however, in the same name as that on my Texas driver's license, Ronald G. Helfrich Jr.

I thought this would solve the curious case of New York State not wanting to give me title to my car. Needless to say, it didn't. The DMV in Troy was still resisting issuing me title to a car I had already paid for because of the differences in my name on my driver's license, my new New York State driver's license issued by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, and my passport. Just as I thought the forty plus dollars I had paid for a NY DL was down the drain Ren Honda came through and finally convinced the DMV to give me title to my car. Miracles really do happen sometimes. Relief.

But it turns out I breathed a sigh of relief way too soon. I still had a passport that gave Ronald Helfrich is my name. I wanted to get the name on my passport changed from Ronald Helfrich to Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. Ironically, the passport I had before I renewed the one I have now in 2003 does give my name as Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. For some reason, however, the State Department changed the name on my passport when I renewed to Ronald Helfrich.

Since my passport expires next year in 2013 I have been trying to figure out what I need to do in order to get Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. restored as my name on my next passport. And if you think that that would be a relatively easy task you would be wrong. I recently contacted the Department of State Passport Office via email where I got very unhelpful canned responses and claims that the Department couldn't discuss the specifics of "changing" a name on a passport and promptings for me to call the Passport Office by phone given the lack of online security. Isn't it quaint that an office of the US government thinks that phone lines, the same phone lines they tap, are any more secure that the World Wide Web, the same World Wide Web they trawl for information? Only when I cajoled the Department did I get some relatively helpful information. And though this information brought down my anxiety levels about getting the name on my original passport restored a bit I still have a sneaking suspicion, given my experiences with governmental bureaucracies in the past, that getting my passport with the name of Ronald Gail Helfrich Jr. restored on it is not going to be easy.

So there you have it dear unreaders. Thanks to the America that has developed as a result of the Cold War and the "war on terror" I now live in a looney USA where I, Ronald G. Helfrich Jr. and I, Ronald Helfrich, are no longer, at least to some government bureaucracies and some government bureaucrats, the same. Welcome to Kafkaland.

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