When dealing with bureaucracies my emotions run all over the place like water without a cup to contain it. For example, the Texas DMV has already started with my son and I think, That’s what he gets for entering his data in their system. Weeks after I’d blogged about his retest, where he passed and was to receive his driver’s license in the mail, the supposed license arrived. “What’s THIS?!” he exclaimed, dumbfounded. “They renewed my frickin TEMPORARY, which expired the day after I was there, on my birthday. WHY would they do that? It’s dumb. It doesn’t even make sense.” Although the department had laminated and spent postage on an obsolete document that had (a) expired weeks before they had mailed it and (b) been overridden with newer facts & his current permanent status when he passed all portions of the retest, I held my breath and kept my thoughts to myself—but it took him not one but two MORE visits to the DMV to get it straightened out—and then, they only issued it to him for one year (when he’ll have to turn around and repeat this process), not the customary four. You need this additional paper to verify that. . . The bizarre conclusion to this deal is that those documents that you fought so hard to acquire represent you in a scarey way, they become more solid proof of who you say you are than you do, in person.
Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Terry Gilliam’s film, Brazil, both classically tackle these octopi, the horrible mix-masters of modernity and what trying to survive in a grotesquely out of whack bureaucratic society feels like—which spells out ultimate futility and madness. You get tangled up in their out of date or chaotically fat books and then cannot extricate yourself or clear your name, and everything you say along the way in this infuriating process becomes inflammatory, which worsens the problem and deepens the accusations against you. You exert superhuman effort to play in their game by their rules, not because you are a masochist but because YOU HAVE NO CHOICE (unless that is to live outside the law): do it or pay—and that requires much more than money. You are summoned and then shoved into the labyrinth where the worker at this desk only has this ounce of control and/or information and so you wait in her line to get passed down the tube, where you wait at the next counter and then it’s rinse & repeat from there. Everyone refuses to get in the middle or to step out from behind their cubicles. No one will connect the dots. None sees the larger picture because the various stages of redundancy are viewed as job security, the root of all evil. (I don’t know what it is, exactly, that I do all day but it is my job. I have worked hard to get here, wherever it is that I am, and I have the right to continue to do it until they wheel me out of here. And your request is not in my job description. Now, shut up and sign on the dotted line.)
I am pingponging along one such system as we speak, thanks for asking, and what should have been two or three emails to nail down placement has spiraled into forty-five. I have gone from one contact to six different departments, none of which practice in-house communication and most of whom contradict each other. This one demands this many application forms and submissions sent in this particular format, while the next one demands the opposite. What one department’s webpage lists as required conflicts with the next, and each tells you to submit it to the next department so you get shuffled while your official papers get lost, although you ordered them sent in triplicate. What should have taken one week from start to finish is still bleeding you out going into a month, and with the reroutes, rewrites, and red tape you are exhausted before you’ve begun. (For as my friend, Barbara, puts it, "Every time I went in there, they had changed a rule. Or added one.")
I end today, pleading the rhetorical. If this were an isolated incident and not the case almost anytime you entered into negotiations with businesses or offices that had people working in them, then it might be less of a struggle, but what is the solution to a problem that did not develop over night (that so many minions seem invested in keeping that way), and how do you gain victory over an insane organizational style that isn’t?