A month and a half ago, on my very first summer Friday of the season, I decided to be practical and spend my free afternoon taking care of business. I went to the Brooklyn DMV to get my license transferred over to New York. I just received it in the mail today (after some calling and reminding them that while I'm very happy that they were able to process my organ donor status, I would still like to be allowed to have my license, thankyouverymuch.) Back in June, I knew to expect some kind of soviet comedy routine of bureaucracy, a mundane nightmare of ridiculous proportion. Because that's what the DMV is. I thought, knowing this, I could steel myself against the brain-razing effects of such a necessary evil. Not so.
I arrived at about 2:00 pm, walked into a massive room filled with angry, shuffling people, and tried to find the right place to put myself, trying not to look lost in a room full of people looking lost. I soon figured out that there was actually only one line, the line in which everyone must wait to be told where to wait next. I learned this because every three or four minutes, a woman with a voice perfect for shouting came on the loudspeaker to warn all of us lost people that there are a great number of ways to screw up everything. "If you step out of the main information line FOR THE WRONG REASON, you will have to RETURN to the main information line. If you are here to renew your license, and you have a current New York State license that has been expired for no longer than two years, and you can recite all the state capitals in reverse alphabetical order, please STEP OFF the main information line and go to window 83..."
There are approximately twelve reasons to step out of the main information line. There are approximately five hundred reasons that you have stepped off the main information line in error, or you have returned to the main information line in error, or your documents are wrong, or you are standing too close to the person in front of or behind you. I waited in this line for an hour and a half, at the end of which my reward was a number. A number that was about 50 numbers after the number that was currently being called.
After I had been in line for about an hour, a large, sweaty man elbowed his way into the line directly in front of me. He said to me dismissively, "I was here, I had to move my car." Um, no. I told him he was mistaken, I had been standing directly behind this striped polo shirt for an hour, he was most definitely not just here. He protested, his car was going to get a boot on it, he had to go move it. I replied, trying to keep my voice even and hold my library book in a way that would make me look tough, "I'm sorry, that's not my concern. If you step out of the line, you have to go to the end. It's been over an hour and I've never seen you before." He looked at me like I was a very silly girl, and told me I could go in front of him, if I was going to be like that. Yes. I was going to be like that. He crowds me, to show me how unkind I'm being. Not ten minutes later, he taps me on the shoulder: "Could you just hold my briefcase for a minute? I need to go over there and get a form." Really? I tell him I'm not holding anything for anyone, he pushes his briefcase at me, thinking maybe if he invades my personal space enough I'll feel some kind of obligation to my fellow man. This does not work. He sighs at me, leaves the line and runs across the room to get his form, runs back, and crowds me again. Then he asks me if I know whether this is where he should be to renew his car registration. I'm baffled -- have I given this man any indication at all that I'm going to be even the least bit helpful or accommodating? How is it that I'm his target? There are a hundred other poor souls in this same interminable line -- some of them might actually be kind.
Finally, I get my precious number, and am granted the privilege of waiting on the other side of this room, this time in a milling crowd instead of a line. I'm a slave to the number, I can't miss my window. I can't read anymore, I can't focus. There is a fragmented crowd of hasidic boys getting their license for the first time. They're fidgety and don't speak to one another. There's nowhere to sit, and only a few places to stand where I have a direct view of the beacon of the number board. My number comes up, and at this point I've been there for two hours, my mind has emptied itself out, my throat is dry, my back hurts. When the clerk asks me if I'm ready to have the picture taken, I mumble something incoherent, I forget to smile. She shoves my documents back over the desk, tells me to go sit down, wait for my number.
Mercifully, a seat has opened up in between a woman reading edifying christian literature and a hasidic boy davening spastically in his seat. He notices our numbers are in the same category, and pauses his nervous praying to say in heavily accented English, "Excuse me, miss, do you know what happens next?"
I want to say, "Oh, honey. You're going to get married, have lots of babies, one of your boys is going to be molested by an elder in your community and when you report it to the police you'll be shunned by everyone and you won't understand the meaning of this injustice, and you may leave but you won't know how to live your life in the outside world, and you'll grow old and confused and then you'll die."
But instead I just told him: "I don't know. I think it's almost over."