I had my own little Pickup Artist / Brazil day

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I’ve been reading The Pickup Artist, by Terry Bisson. There’s a point in the book where Shapiro (the main character) is calling to find out how his sick dog is doing. There is so much bureaucracy in his world that he gets in this ridiculously long series of phone calls in which he gets the run-around about how his dog is doing, hears recorded platitudes, has to be transferred to grief counseling before he’s even told his dog has cancer, is upsold on a new miracle life-extending drug for his dog which would keep her just barely alive for up to two years (HalfLife™), in case a cure is developed within that time-frame, but then is told his insurance won’t cover it, and has to wait so long on hold to get through to anyone that he dials in the morning, and then carries the phone around with him all day on speaker phone, waiting for somebody to pick up. This is a futuristic story, but so painfully true. The novel reminds a bit of Brazil.

I had my own little Pickup Artist / Brazil government bureaucracy going on today. First of all I spent an hour and half or so waiting patiently at the DMV, just so I could pay them $40 to spend 30 seconds glancing at my  paperwork and various forms of i.d., have me double-check their data entry (twice), and take a new photo. They were, to their credit, very friendly and efficient once I got to the counter. As a bonus I got to try to read while crammed in a room with about 60 other people, many of whom had also been waiting for a couple of hours and had brought along various loud and/or obnoxious family members. I’m surprised nobody busted out a picnic basket. At least I didn’t get picked by the lonely and somewhat confused elderly lady who talked the ear off of the teenage girl next to her. But I did have to listen to her, because, well, she was shouting.

Then, because I’m masochistic, I decided I also needed to call the IRS today. I had already tried to fill out an online form with them on multiple occasions over the last week or so, only to receive an unhelpful error message. I had also tried to call several times over the last week, only to be told that the wait would exceed ½ hour. Today, I thought I better bite it and just wait on hold. So, I put the phone on speaker and carried it around the house with me while doing various things like feeding the animals, going to the bathroom, preparing lunch, etc. Over 45 minutes later an agent finally answered. Things were going along just fine until the IRS employee decided to give me a canned lecture on the importance of remembering that money owed to the government is owed when it is earned, and what did we plan to do differently next time, seeing that we were being gifted this magnanimous extension plan? And no, getting a job wasn’t the right answer, and if I didn’t indicate “compliance,” or basically, state that we had learned our lesson, he would have to put a note in our file. Say what?! {And this is over a very small amount of money owed.} It was condescending, to say the least, and I told him that I knew it was his job to say his script, but that I did not appreciate being treated like an idiot. Poor guy. How would you like a job that required you to be a jerk to people who are unemployed and just doing the best they can to pay their tax bill?

{This upset me almost as much as the day the lady from the unemployment office called to harass me because I hadn’t responded immediately to a job possibility she had emailed me—for a job with a company that I had previously interviewed with and been rejected by. Of course I wasn’t going to apply with them again! “Well, are you even looking for a job?!” she said. Uh, yes. In fact, I had just gone through an interview the previous day. “You’re supposed to get back to me right away, every time.” She sends me another job opp—I email her back within a half hour. Never hear from her again. I have other examples. Here’s a classic from another agency: Me, “Let me check my calendar really quick to make sure I can make that appointment.” Agent, “You’re supposed to be unemployed, so you shouldn’t have anything on your schedule.” OK… so I don’t have 3 step-kids to juggle and a ton of volunteer work. And one car to get 5 people to all of their various activities. If I’ve made an appointment with somebody, I’ve made an appointment—I can probably reschedule, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t have commitments. WTF?}

In spite of the above, over the last 6 months for every one bureaucratic cog that has made me want to cry or pull my hair out, I’ve probably dealt with 3 that were kind, efficient, had a sense of humor, or went out of their way to make things go as well as possible.

What’s your favorite bureaucratic interaction story?

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