Why am I surrounded by idiots?
| My father stood on a stool inside the closed front door, painting the trim. A fine and neat painter was he. He was never a man to spill a drop; his edges were precise and the small glass panes in the top of the door did not have to worry about being spotted with white. As he worked his miracles with high gloss enamel, he gazed out those same panes of glass and saw a moose on two legs coming up the walk. It was brother Don, returning from his day at school.
My father, involved in drawing a straight edge with his brush, shouted at the approaching mammoth, warning him not to open the door. My brother, lost in a world of engineering, opened the storm door and not hearing a word, pushed on the inner door, dislodging my father from his perch.
"Waddya doing Dad, painting?"
For years, my father would tell this story to family, friends and strangers, to illustrate the lunacy of sending kids to college.
What comes round goes round. Earlier this week my sister was to arrive from the heartland for a visit. Her purpose was to take possession of my old station wagon. She would drive it back to Indiana. She stopped at my sister-in-law's house in Chester County, Pennsylvania and from there I received an email announcing that she would arrive Monday at five.
Monday afternoon I visited my local sawbones to check my spinal alignment. I was sure I would return by five, but just in case, I left a big note on the front door:
DOOR IS UNLOCKED, BE BACK SOON, GO RIGHT IN
Not finding any life-threatening problems, the doctor prescribed a placebo that I took to the pharmacy in the supermarket next to his office. I had to wait for it to be filled. I placed myself on a bench, put a frightening look on my face to scare away senior citizens, and settled in to watch pills being poured.
That grew boring so I observed the grocery shoppers. I was trying to spot a shoplifter and earn a reward, when what to my wandering eyes did appear but my sister. She did not see me; her eye was on the sign for the restroom. I stood, blocking the aisle. She noticed me. She did not run me over. She explained that she did not see my car at home and figured I would be here.
What divination led to that thought, I do not know. A lot of good writing a note did. I suspect had a door been between us, and I on a step stool, paint brush in hand, she would have barged in despite the note on the door.
I have to communicate with her through notes. She hears little. She is not deaf, but afflicted with ringing in her ears. She soldiers on, living her own life and deriving her pleasures from small things. Last June when she was here, I could not help but notice her car was held together with tape, consumed oil at an alarming rate, and might as well have been a convertible for all the good the windows did at keeping the weather out. My old station wagon, though filthy beyond all sense of human decency, runs well, keeps the elements out and surely has another five to ten years' life left in it. I offered it to her in an email, and hence she made the trip East.
The next morning we drove to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where the old car was spending time in a spa. Janet settled herself behind its wheel, adjusted the mirrors and followed me home. She pronounced the car to be just fine, and then began to clean it. I had found the title and saw that I could simply sign it over to her, but first I thought I had best tell my insurance company. From them I learned I might be breaking some law, and that I had best telephone the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The nice lady at DMV told me that Janet had to obtain a temporary permit from the State to transport her new car to Indiana. To do so she needed to have proof of insurance faxed directly to DMV. We could then come in to apply. Janet’s insurance company had given her a telephone number, but it was only good in Indiana. A Google search turned up the names of several agents, one of which she recognized. I called. They knew Janet, but she was not handled by their agency. They referred me to another agency in Indianapolis.
I obtained their number and talked to Sandy, who had dealt with Janet and knew her hearing impairment. She took down the information and promised to fax the required documents. I wrote an Interoffice Memo to Janet, who responded by pushing open the door with me on the step stool.
“We’ll go as soon as I get my jacket,” she said. I tried to tell her that the fax might not have arrived, but listen she would not. Bull-headed is a proper adjective for her.
We filled out the papers at DMV in Hudson, got in line and found no fax had arrived. I had been advised to bring my cell phone. I placed a call to Sandy and got Nikki instead, who told me that they needed more information. She promised to fax the documents, but it would take time. It was late afternoon, so we left.
The next morning Nikki faxed me copies of the acknowledgment that my old car was being added to Janet’s insurance. We set off for Hudson again, Janet driving her old wreck and I in her new car. On the way, we pulled into a junkyard. They separated her from her old car. Janet expressed reservations at giving up the title before the new car was in her name, but I could see no harm. WRONG!
“I can't find a fax for your sister,” said the clerk behind the window at DMV.
“I’ll call the insurance agency on my cell phone.”
“Please do it over there,” she said, pointing to an unoccupied window.
I reached Nikki. Within ten minutes I could see the DMV fax disgorging the same papers I had received, but by now our clerk was processing the requests of a man who seemed to be titling a fleet of trailers. Another clerk picked up the fax and motioned us over. She took our papers, my sister’s license, my auto tags and carefully checked everything out.
“This fax shows the car insured is a 1985 Escort, not a 1994 Subaru.”
“Yes, but look here on the second page, they are adding the Subaru,”
“That’s not what it says. It says the covered car is an Escort.”
“Beg to differ with you, but it says they are adding the Subaru, and besides the Escort is now in a local junkyard.”
“No this does not say the Subaru is covered. Its name must appear where the Escort does now. They have to give us a document showing that.”
With idiocy pouring over my shoe tops now, I suggested to her that perhaps it would be simpler for me to drive the car to Indiana and transfer title there. The clerk, aggrieved that she was having to deal with this dolt wearing a baseball cap during lunch hour, once again opened the door and knocked over the step stool.
“Go right ahead. They have to give us documents that we require.”
I dragged Janet away from the window and over to a table. Nikki received another call from me. Since I was in a public place, with a guard watching, I did not tell her that stupidity was running rampant at DMV. Nikki got the idea.
“What more can I do? It won’t change until the home office makes the change and that could take ten days. Let me make some calls and see what I can do. Stay there, I will call you back.”
I decided to goad the woman at the reception desk.
“We have a problem here. It looks like I am going to be stuck with my sister for ten days while we wait for the insurance company to change her policy.”
There is a good reason they call such people ‘Flak catchers’.
“All they have to do is get us the information we require.”
“It could take ten days. And these documents tell you she is covered.”
“All they have to do is get us the information we require.”
Someone had wound her up. The key was lost.
“Is there a supervisor I could talk to?”
“Yes, she will be back at one o’clock. Go to the first window over there at that time.”
At one, I dragged Janet over to the window, but we were behind a man whose wife apparently used their runabout to pull a bank heist. He was in danger of losing his right to drive. I watched him use his charm on this woman. I could overhear her and realized why she was a supervisor. She seemed to possess intelligence.
Our turn came after twenty minutes. She apologized for the delay. I had removed my hat, and by now I was not ashamed to use Janet’s hearing impairment for all it was worth. The device she carried to help her hear minimally was kicking in with neat feedback. It buzzed; it woofed, and it shrieked, while Janet apologized. I was very affable. I remembered Cagney dancing up the wall as George M Cohan and thought about trying that, but I did not need extra effort.
The woman had a head on her shoulders. I sweetly pointed out that I would hate to be a New Yorker going to another state and be treated the way my sister had been treated. She ate this up.
“Well, everything is here. It is a different format but she certainly has insurance. I wish they had given us a letter, but different places do things differently.”
“The clerk did see this cover letter that essentially says what you want,” I said, waving the letter at her. By now the clerk was at lunch. More than likely there would no hell for her to pay when she returned. This lady was too nice to flog her. I did not care, unless I could witness it.
Within ten minutes we had walked out with temporary tags. Because she doesn’t hear, Janet does not talk much, but on the way back she said, “Thanks for handling that; I would have lost my patience.” For once she looked before she opened the door. The house painter was safe.
Valatie, May 2, 2002