How to get government benefits.
|999 word winning entry for "The Writer's Cramp" prompt: navigating a bureaucracy
“You got my age wrong. I only have a birthday on leap years. I’m old.” I laughed to take the edge off the mistake they’d made.
“I’m sorry?” The bureaucrat adjusted glasses on his pointy nose and sniffed. “Can you repeat that?” He did a tap dance on the countertop with his ballpoint pen. It said ‘official government property’ on it. I wondered if I’d be imprisoned for life if I forgot and kept one.
“I’m eligible for social security but my birthday comes on February 29th, only once every four years,” I explained hastily.
The man gave me a yawn, flapped a blank form at me. “Fill that out and come back when you’re done. You’ll have to wait in line again. You could have downloaded it off-line and brought it in, you know.”
I didn’t think I had broken through the glaze in his eyes. “You don’t understand . . . “ I began. The form was the same one I’d filled out and mailed in a couple of times already.
“You’ll have to use your own pen. We’re not allowed to loan out government property.” He motioned to the next person in line.
“Isn’t this form government property you just loaned out?” But he was so used to ignoring unwanted questions he didn’t bother looking at me. I got pushed aside by the next unlucky victim.
Thinking the next luck of the draw might provide me with a more receptive face I went to the back of the line. A bell dinged overhead. A light flashed. It announced all but one stall would be closed for an hour while employees got their lunch.
“No wonder they have armed guards at the entrance and metal detectors. I’m almost tempted . . . “
Before I knew it, I was marched outside, a well-muscled grasp at each of my elbows before I could finish my thought.
“I.D. Please.” I was pushed against a wall, patted down, and thumbprint taken before I could catch a hastily drawn breath. It looked like they meant to keep me.
“Here.” My driver's license didn’t look at all like me, but they never do, do they? I stood with legs spread apart and hands on the wall while one of the agents typed did a one finger punch on a laptop to check me out.
“You don’t look this young.” Eyebrows got raised at the disparity between my senior appearance and the age listed on their citizen database. “Something fishy is going on here.”
“I’ll say.” I nodded in agreement. I was finally getting some attention.
“Notice the date?” I moved a hand in slow motion to point at my birthdate. Next to it, the screen flashed an error where my current age was listed.
“Computers don’t lie. Only humans do.” The junior partner shook his head. “What was the reason for your visit, today?” He asked. The suspicion in his voice brought two more identically dressed twins racing to his aid.
“Problem?” Guns were drawn and aimed at my vital body parts. I couldn’t help shivering a little, hoping in mid-thought it might make their aim less reliable.
“Trying to get federal funds illegally be my guess. Says here she’s four times younger than she’s eligible for.” One security cop dangled my I.D. in front of another’s face.
“Must be wearing fake makeup. Looks old enough to be my grandmother.”
I wanted to wap the young upstart on the side of the head with my purse. It had been yanked from my grasp and was being upended in a search of contraband. Maybe I’d stolen a paper clip or something.
“We’ll let the courts decide. Let’s get her out of view of the public before she starts making a scene.” I was frog-marched into a back room. The door hissed shut behind me.
A walkie-talkie call for pickup and I was tied to a gurney, a sheet flung over me, and I became lost in the folds of an ambulance shrieking off to wherever displaced persons go. They didn’t play around. Why did I feel like I had become a terrorist or worse yet, a native American extremist intent on mayhem?
“Se habla Englis?” Said an icy voice as I was rolled into a bunch of Spanish speaking illegal aliens waiting for their court appearance.
“I’m afraid I do,”
I was quickly shuttled to another sign where I was first and the only one in line. Apparently, they didn’t have English speaking employees to deal with me. Probably a result of the government cutting funds and trying to go private.
I heard thunder and saw the flicker of lightning from the edge of a nearby window. At least the government provided a roof over my head. I was awakened from a long nap by another form fluttering in front of my face. “We’ve released one hand for you to sign this waiver. It will speed things up. Otherwise, you’ll be here we don’t know how long.”
“Geez. You speak English.” I got a confused look in return. Apparently, the officer had memorized his spiel. That was the limit of his bilingual training. I threw the pen and paper as far as my limited motion allowed. “I’m not signing anything.”
The cell they wheeled me into had all the comforts of home. I had my own toilet, bed, sink, and walls coated with interesting graffiti from past occupants. A couple of hours later, dinner was served and a blanket thrown in for added warmth.
Finally, I was getting some government aid. The forced physical wasn’t so bad. I felt encouraged. I couldn’t afford health insurance. It looked like that would be provided free of charge.
I might not live long enough to get social security, but I was getting benefits even it could not provide. I wondered how long it would take the government to fix that problem. With my luck, it would take no time at all.