Disregard the personal stuff.  This is a saga of raging against the machine, of the relentless struggle of the individual against the nameless, faceless bureaucracy.  Beware The Man.  This was the e-mail I sent to friends and family, which my mother felt was such a perfect description of my personality she subsequently forwarded it on to many others.

Car (Carrie, old friend), I don’t have much of a house at all, and I love it. It is home. Where The Man can barely get me. 😉 

To the Hayden’s (best friend’s family) on the string, I have included Mom’s family and some friends, because I’m only going to write this once. So if you’re thinking of coming out of the closet, or revealing your murderous or otherwise embarrassing tendencies, think twice before “replying to all.” (That goes for the ones I added, too.)

I DID get my passport in exactly 10 days from dropping it off at the P.O. They told me 4-6 weeks, but of course offered to hurry it up to me for a fee. My trip was 4 weeks away. I didn’t pay it, and in fact told the lady, “I’m not paying another DIME to keep trying to change my name to my name.” She and I were laughing at this point, because she remembered my original failed passport application. (I can’t tell whether to be worried or impressed with the security. They couldn’t have done anything but the most elemental check. Way to promise low, and deliver high. I concluded it was a money scam…X% of people will cough up when asked for the speedier version.)

Long story, but the Reader’s Digest version is that I’ve been working under an alias for 43 years or so, courtesy of misplaced adoption papers (I know for a fact there was paperwork.) around 1962, when of course nobody cared, particularly in a small rural community. I was born John David Perry, and the name was never formally changed. So it became tough to get a passport for my cousin’s wedding in Mexico. The longer version is below.  Basically, I had never used anything but my adopted last name, ever, since it all happened when I was roughly 3 years old. After hassling with this for 2 months or so, when I showed up at the Courthouse I felt I was READY. I had done everything they told me to do.

In short, I was trying to change my name legally to the only name I had ever used.  Horrific, funny bureacratic events ensued.

I show up, go immediately to the correct place, after blowing it on my fact-finding mission 6 weeks earlier (I KNEW I couldn’t get it done on the first pass). It’s a big building, a county courthouse in a Chicago burb.

I stand in line, give the lady the stuff, and she flips through it as though everything is good, then gets to the last page and says, “You have to get this notarized.”I say, “I’ve talked to a lot of people and no one’s told me that, but that’s fine, go ahead and notarize it.” Guessing what the charge will be.

She says, “We don’t have a notary here.” This is in the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, and there are 20 people behind the counter, at least. If the DMV is a trailer park, picture your first apartment complex. A slight but clear step up.

I say, “You don’t have a notary?” And I’m laughing, this was not done threateningly at all, throughout. I only got really mad once, later.

She says, “Oh, we do, but that’s in the (exact opposite part of the building, where I had wasted a half-hour to find out I was in the wrong place in my reconnaisance mission a few weeks earlier.) I laugh again and start walking.

OK. It’s a pefectly glorious Friday afternoon, I’m not going back to work, just go get it notarized. You’ve come this far.

I make the trek, and stand in line again. Finally, I’m told Barbara will help me.

I say, “Hi Barbara,” just as nice as can be and tell her I need this document notarized. She says OK and asks for a driver’s license. I hand it to her, she looks at both for several seconds, and says, “I can’t notarize this.” I grin and ask her why not.

She doesn’t have a valid “John David Perry” signature to compare to the name I’m trying to change FROM. I start laughing again because of my epiphany: I’m going to have to explain the whole thing to everyone I deal with. So I explain it to her, and I can see her mentally flipping through the rulebook in her head to no avail, and the funniest thing in this sequence was me feebly and hopelessly, truly knowing it was in vain, handing her my birth certificate, to which she says, “That’s no good. You didn’t sign it,” to which I replied, “I was a little young” and I’m trying to get her to see the absurd Catch-22 of it all before finally, to her credit, she came up with the elegant bureaucratic solution of just writing down both names in places on the document there was only supposed to be one. Leave it to the judge!

That’s fine with me!

I march back to my original line, hand over my large wad of cash, and was handed some more paperwork while being told where to go.

I get to the courtroom, and it’s small claims court. There are 30 people in there, most of whom could be described as “down on their luck,” or, “losers.” The judge gives no quarter to ANYONE. It is fun and scary to watch. I’m going to be a piece of cake!

Finally, “Perry” is called and I go before the Judge and he shuffles through some papers and says, “They should have given you a decree down there.” They did, in fact!

I hand to it him, he takes a look at it, and says, “This isn’t filled out.” (For me, who fills out what on a legal form is often open for interpretation) But it will only take me 30 seconds or so.

He says, “Sit down and when we’re ready we’ll call your name again. Oh, and I need three copies of it.” I sit, this time feeling a little stupid and starting to frost up a bit. I fill out the forms and wait another 15-20 minutes. I am called again. I am still perfectly silent and respectful, I hand him the papers, he shuffles through them again, going through his routine automatically, “Do you declare that this is the name you want to be…yada yads,” and then he says, “Wait, I can’t read this. I can’t read your handwriting.” And a few more sentences on how was he supposed to change my name when he couldn’t read what I wanted to change my name to.

Not all of you know, but my printed characters are way on the upper end of the curve in terms of legibility.

Because of this I am dumbstruck, silent, which retrospectively was good. Nobody has ever told me this before. THIS is when I start getting mad. The pen sucked, it was not my best effort writing on a slanted wooden pew, but it was (and is) perfectly legible. It occurs to me in my building fury and amazement that I could have done a better job by getting on my knees down in the pew, but the only way to do that was butt towards the judge.

So I would’ve gotten flogged either way, I supposed.

Anyway, this is when the Judge goes Full Patronization: He literally holds up a piece of one of the papers on his desk, with big block all-caps on it, and he says, “See this? This is how I want you to write it, can you do this? Sit down.” There are still 10-15 people left in the room, and they can’t see and have never seen my handwriting. The urge to show the thing to everyone, asking them if they can read it, is near irrestible. I resist.

I am officially pissed off at this point. Plotting revenges that wouldn’t get me in too much trouble; weighing costs and benefits.

Much more time goes by, and finally left in the room are the Judge, the Bailiff, the Court Reporter, and me. I’ve cooled off, he’s not going to get the best of me, I have not come up with a way to mess with him (The best I have is, “How’s the career going, Your Honor?”), and I am casually and coldly looking off in the distance. He waits about as long as he could without me laughing at him genuinely and openly (he’s starting to earn my respect, though on negative levels, and I’m willing to take a chance improvising what I was laughing at), and he waives me back up.

He can read it. He says, “OK, now you have to go to the SS Office and get your number moved.” I couldn’t help it, I grinned, and said, “No, Your Honor, I don’t. My SS# is under my new name.” And I just leave it at that.

Of course he asks how that can be, which leads inevitably to another story-telling. This time I have an audience of three, so I turn to the Bailiff and Court Reporter, who is laughing because I’m throwing in tidbits of what it is like to try to change your name to your name during my story, and finally even the Judge warms up and smiles, I’m his last case, and says “Well, hopefully you’re on the straight and narrow now.”

Not done yet, though. Instead of having one of those little hand embossers handy, I have to go back to my original line, on the exact opposite side (including triangularly) of the building. But I can taste it now.

I get back in the line I now know like the back of my hand. I triumphantly present my paperwork to the lady, tell her I want the certified versions, to which she replies, “OK, it’s $6 for the first copy, and $15 for the second.”

This strikes me as weird but I again just laugh, as at this point I’m only a couple sawbucks away from ending the ordeal, so I’m reaching for the wallet in wonder over the whole thing, thinking–this is all taking place in an instant–and one of the things I realize is that I could easily come back before or after a visit to Cliff and Jackie.

I say, “Is there anything that would stop me from coming back at some later point and just requesting a single copy?”

She says, “Oh, no. That’s fine.”

I lean over conspiratorily, because I know the answer, and say in an our-little-secret stage whisper, “OK, so how about I give you $12 now, you give me two copies, and everyone saves a little time?”

She obeys The Man and says, “Oh no, I can’t do that.” We’re both laughing again, it’s the same lady for the third time at least, and she advises me to take it up with the County Clerk whose signature she is stamping.

Again, I am close enough to know that I am going to survive the whole thing, and I’m having fun again, and I ask, “Is there anything stopping me from just getting back in line and buying another single copy?”

She says without a hint of irony or self-awareness that would be fine!!!! No problem!!!!

So, in full view of everyone, I get back in the line I’ve spent what seems like forever now, and go up and purchase another $6 copy. I am free.

I get back to my car, and the keys are IN THE IGNITION, and the radio is blaring out the open sunroof. I’ve been gone 3 hours, and Waukegan is not a crime-free town.

I gotta tell you, that was quite a relief, and a perfect end to the nightmare. But such is my love of dealing with bureacracy when I know the details won’t fit the Training Manual. Freakin’ out so bad I left my keys in my car with radio easily audible from outside the car.

Morals of the Story:

Read the 5-10 pages of 6 pt. font that could be directions. There are probably explicit instructions buried someplace in the fantastically boring and largely irrelevant to normal humans legalese, though they wouldn’t have come close to applying in my circumstances, anyway.

Don’t leave your keys in the car’s ignition.

Never underestimate the power of a dedicated bureacrat.

Beware The Man.