Your Government at Work             


Judith Nakken 

Copyright 2016 by Judith Nakken   



Photo of Elvis Presley's social security card.

We changed banks, after 17 years. The new-building bank right there in Marysville was anxious for our business, and made the transition as smooth as possible. Social Security, however, in its infinite wisdom in the past month, had mandated that banks could no longer fill out the transfer of direct deposit of Social Security monies as a convenience to elders. The payees now must go to the local Social Security office. No problem, thought I, and asked the new accounts girl to notarize Dale’s statement authorizing me to do the transfer of both our miniscule remittances for fifty years of mostly hard work.

I was number A-84 at 9:20 A. M. and was glad I brought Lee Child’s new Reacher novel when the PA called number A-72. Engrossed in Reacher’s shenanigans, including his aversion to carrying anything but a toothbrush and his purchase of a new set of clothes from the skin out every three or four days, I only heard the final call for A-84, at 11:40. Still A.M., though.

I apologized profusely to Michelle behind her glass window, which I was soon to decide was bullet-proof. “What can we do for you today?” she queried in the most bored, sixty-years-old-and-sick-of-it-all voice I have heard in many a year.

With a big and usually disarming smile I fluttered the paperwork in my hand and answered. “We have changed banks and I have come to change over my husband’s and my direct…….”

I got no further. Her hands came up, palm outward, in front of her face. “Oh, no, no, no. You can only transfer your own.”

Still smiling and kissing up, I replied, “I have a notarized authorization from my husband to do his, also.”

She didn’t put her hands on her hips, but her voice did. “We are the Government. We do not take authorizations from the state.”

My smile was frozen. Would enlisting her aid work? “What can we do, then?”

“Let’s take care of yours, first. Please send one piece of identification and your social security number and birthdate through the window. (That’s an inch opening on the left hand side.) I sent my Washington State driver’s license and my A-84 ticket with those numbers to her. “Very good,” she softened and replied, holding the state’s authorization to drive in her bony hands. “Where are we transferring?” she asked after bringing the old information up on the screen. I sent the new accounts deposit folder for savings through the slit. She got rigid again.

“We have to have a check. This is a deposit slip.”

My face hurt. “Michelle, my social security goes into savings. It doesn’t stay there very long, but that’s where it starts out. There are no checks. That account number on the bottom of the deposit slip is the new account.”

“Well, okay,” she said and began tapping the savings account numbers into her keyboard. “But if it doesn’t work it isn’t my fault.”

I was afraid to ask her to read back the numbers.

After asking me to write my husband’s date of birth and social security number on the same crowded little piece of paper, and surely always knowing she wasn’t going to do anything about them, she brought up his screen. “Oh, I can’t let you transfer his,” she said. “You aren’t authorized by power of attorney. Why can’t he come in?”

“He’s 90 years old, Michelle, and can’t sit around or stand in line for long times. He’s had three prosthetic hips.”

A spark of joy flashed in her eyes, albeit gone in an instant. She caught me in a lie! “How can he have THREE hips,” she nearly screeched.

My mouth now didn’t know where to go, and my teeth wouldn’t unclench. Just as I worked up a reply – it was difficult because any truth could only indicate how ignorant she was – she got it. “Oh, he had to have one replaced, right?” Softer again.

She slid two business cards out to me – one with a national number on it and one with the local office’s number. “Have Dale call in to either of these numbers and make the transfer himself.”

My fertile imagination worked overtime on the freeway ride home. Couldn’t accept notarized authorization from the wife, huh? Wife could now go to the No-Tell Motel where her lover waits to call a number and impersonate Dale, using all the information gleaned from his paramour. Transfer all of the poor old husband’s checks for a few months into a run-away-to-Mexico account. I was trying to think of an O Henry ending to my story when I handed Dale the national card in our kitchen. “You have to call,” I said, preferring not to deal with the local office again. What if he got Michelle?

He got Tom, after a 45-minute wait. Tom, no doubt sitting behind bulletproof glass in Washington, D.C. and further insulated from the hassle of personal interrelations by the telephone lines. Tom asked his full name, his social security number, his birthdate, mother and father’s names, and then asked his address. Dale gave our address in Tulalip, 98271. Dale is silent for a long moment, then begins to babble. “Do you want me to say Marysville? Is that why you’re cutting me off? It was Marysville when we started with our last bank, but now the same address is Tulalip.” He listened, then with raised voice tried to remind Tom that he had worked for 70 years for these dollars, and that Tom would be speaking German or Japanese if elders like Dale hadn’t served for years in World War II. Finally I heard Dale say “Okay .. my wife can give you the information if I authorize it?” Silence, then Dale yelled: I .. authorize .. my .. wife .. to .. give .. you .. the .. information ..!” and handed me the phone.

Tom had heard enough. As I began to speak, he interrupted. “Ma’am, I am not authorized to tell you what information your husband got wrong and there’s nothing more I can do. I suggest you try again at another time.” Air time silence.

I had already changed over some direct ACH payments, so we had to get this done. Dale calmed down, and we dialed the local number. The exact transcript follows:

Dale: I need to transfer my social security to a new bank account.

Local Clerk: What is your name and Soc? Okay. What is the old bank number?

Dale read off the old number – I knew it by heart and gasped. He omitted a number.

I guess it was close enough for government work, for she now said: And what is the new number? Dale read it off to her. Complete, thank all the gods.

 Local Clerk: Okay, that’s it. (About 12 seconds had elapsed.)

Dale, dumbfounded: Hello, hello, what else? That’s all? Why ….. thanks.

He is certain that his February social security check will be in the new account on February 3rd as promised. I have to wait until January 27th to see if my January check gets there.

If it doesn’t, it will be my fault.

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