Tuesday, May 4, 2010

#22 - Run-Around, Part 2

So there I was, glaring at Haggatha, and Haggatha was glaring at me. This was getting us nowhere, but it was very soothing to release hate vibes in her direction. She was a horrible, cruel woman, and I wanted her off the face of the planet. This did not immediately happen.

I feebly tried to take a stand. “I don’t think you set this machine up right. I want to take the test again on a different machine.” Then I stood up, and tried to channel Sally Field in “Norma Rae”.

She was not impressed. “You can want all you want. Not gonna get you anywhere. You failed the test. You can’t take the test again until you’ve had an eye exam. Now, you’re wasting my time, and you need to leave.” Then she turned and went through another door. I’m assuming it was a locker room where she keeps her soul.

I stood there for another minute or two. Was this really happening? How could she get away with acting like that? Why wasn’t I getting to triumph like Sally Field did when she stood up to the big guys, with all my peeps shutting off their machines and rallying around me?

I glanced at my peeps. They were all avoiding eye contact, and pretending to carefully study the next question on their monitors. Not getting any help from those slackers. I guess they didn’t see the movie.

Sighing, I made my way out of the testing room. Once in the outer waiting area, where there were still hundreds of people standing in line or filling out forms, I felt another rush of “power to the people” surge through me. I cleared my throat and announced to the room at large: “Don’t get in Haggatha’s line! She will NOT help you. Save yourselves!”

Crickets chirped.

Okay, then. Not getting any support here, either. I banged through the front doors and out into the parking lot. I worked my way across the asphalt, carefully avoiding the shifty people who were still standing around and looking suspect. (Really, WHAT are those guys waiting for? This is obviously a poor part of town. If you want a handout, shouldn’t you try to panhandle in a place where people have money? Like Connecticut?)

I finally get to my car, and discover an amazingly-large dollop of bird poo on my front windshield. Great. Like I need something else to devaluate my existence. I find a Whataburger napkin in the glove box and whack the clod off the glass. I’m seriously not having a good time, and could give Sylvia Plath a run for her money on downbeat poems.

I get home, and immediately dig out all my insurance crap. Since my vision has been crystal clear until about two hours ago, I don’t have any eye doctor lined up. I don’t even know what type of optometrist to look for, since the news of my blindness is still fresh. I pick a random name out of the approved list and make a call.

Receptionist Person: “Thank you for calling the Happy Eyes clinic. Can I help you?”

Me: “Yes, I need to set up an eye exam. Apparently I lost my vision today.”

RP: “Excuse me, what was that?”

Me: “I’m sorry. I’m a little frustrated. I went to renew my driver’s license today, and I somehow failed the vision test. Until that moment, I had 20/20 vision.”

Slight pause, then RP: “Did you take your test in Irving?”

Me, somewhat startled: “Why, yes I did. On Sixth Street. How did you know?”

RP: “We know lots of things. You’ll need the Haggatha exam. Can you be here tomorrow morning at 9?”

Totally flummoxed, and feeling slightly surreal: “Um, okay. Yes, I can do that.”

RP: “See you then! Have a great evening.”


Did that just happen?

The next morning, I traipse into the Happy Eyes clinic. I fill out the appropriate paperwork, and then sit around and wait forever until it’s my turn. I’ve never understood this disparity between what I consider to be an “appointment time” and how care providers define the term. I think it should be the exact moment when you will be ready for me to “step through the door on the right”, not the general day that you might be able to fit me in. Maybe some day the medical personnel and the time-keepers of the world will get together and come up with a better plan.

Anyway, it’s finally my turn and I go through that door. The doctor starts doing her thing, shoving instruments in my eye and running tests. It doesn’t take long before she reaches a conclusion. “There’s nothing wrong with your eyes.”

“I know this. I can spot a Taco Bell from 3 miles away. But they won’t let me get a driver’s license until I’m wearing glasses and can pass the vision test.”

She frowns. “I can’t even write you a prescription, you don’t need one.”

I slightly panic. “No, don’t say that, you don’t understand. I must get this driver’s license. It’s become a personal mission.”

She sighs. “Well, I suppose I could give you a little bump in your left eye. You might have a little trouble with that one in about twenty years.”

I relax. “Please do. And thank you.”

We finish things up, and a bit later I’m marching to the eyeglass place that just “happens” to be next door (LOVE that arrangement), clutching my sacred slip of paper. These folks do THEIR thing, and in a few hours I am sporting a pair of designer-knockoff eye-ware. I jump in my car and head to the decrepit building on Sixth Street, ready for a showdown with Haggatha.

Imagine my devastation when I learn that she’s not even working today. See, that’s how it always goes with me. I feed my hatred, stoking the fires of resentment and plotting my enemy’s destruction, and then they call in sick. I never get the revenge or validation that I need. This is why I’m bitter.

Anyway, the new lady pulls up my records to see what needs to be done. “Oh, it looks like you need to re-take the vision test. Did you get the glasses?”

I bite my tongue very hard, as I glare at her through the lenses that are clearly sitting on my nose. “Yes, m’am, I did.”

“Okay, then. Please step to the back and we’ll fix you up.”

Once more through the door.

I zip through the test with no problem. In fact, I’m kind of disappointed when we run out of lines to read. As a special flourish, I even tell her what the tiny copyright date says in the lower right corner.

She doesn’t care. “Let’s see. We’ve got that out of the way, so now you just need to take the driving test. Please take a seat and someone will be right with you.”

I do so. Once again, “right with you” has a different meaning for these people, but eventually someone does show. A tiny woman clatters out of the soul-locker and clears her throat. “Mr. LaGoose?” (People never even TRY to say my name right, got over it years ago.”

I stand up. “That’s me.” I smile broadly like we’re best friends.

I guess she’s not looking for new acquaintances, and she’s all business. “Pull your car up to the first slot on the side of the building.” Then she turns and vanishes back into the soul-locker. Well, then.

I traipse outside, climb in my car, maneuver to the designated slot, making sure that I am precisely parked in the exact very center of this slot, and then sit there with the engine idling.

Three hours later, Tiny finally appears around the corner of the building. To my surprise, she marches past me and stands next to the second slot. What’s up with that? I get out of my car and turn in her direction. “Did I misunderstand something?”

“Yes, I told you to park in the second slot. You’ll need to back up.”

Oh God, here we go again with someone who just wants to make things more difficult for no reason. Haggatha might have called in sick but she sent a replacement. I don’t even bother to argue and get back in my car. I very carefully ease backwards, because even though killing her could prove enjoyable, it just might affect my score.

She finally opens the passenger door, and she lets out a small squeak of surprise when the automatic seat-belt thing slides down and around the window frame, allowing her access. (Make note that this car had those things, it will prove critical in a bit.) She hops in, the automatic upper belt slides back up, and she secures the lower belt. “Exit the parking lot.”

I put the car in gear and head toward the nearest exit.

“Not that one. The one on the right.”

“But you didn’t-”

“Yes, I did. The one on the right.”

I grit my teeth. Great. She’s one of those people who has conversations in her head, only shares part of it with you, yet still expects you to get all the details. I pull out of the parking lot and we’re on our way.

At first, things go okay. She has me change lanes and turn corners and such, ticking things off her checklist as we go. But then she apparently gets bored with this and starts messing around with my car. First, she leans over and pulls up one side of the floor mat. (What the hell?) I guess she didn’t find anything of interest, because she soon lets the mat flop back down

Me, stupidly: “Can I help you find something?”

“You need to keep your eyes on the road. You’re in control of a moving vehicle.”

I grimace and get my four eyes back where they belong. But she distracts me again. Now she’s actually digging in between the passenger seat and the center console. (Is there gold down there?) After several moments of struggle, she pulls out a discarded straw wrapper and holds it up. “This is littering.”

In my own CAR? What is wrong with her? “Uh…”

Then she actually opens my glove box, throws the wrapper in there, and slams the little door shut. (Well, thank God, because I didn’t know how much longer I could last, knowing that tube of paper was on the loose.) I decide to just ignore the whole thing.

She finally looks out the window, after quite some time of not paying any attention to what I’m doing, despite this being a driver’s test and all. She doesn’t like what she sees. “What are we doing this far down the street?”

Excuse me? Aren’t you the one giving the directions? “Um, you haven’t said to turn yet.”

She lets out an exasperated sigh. “I told you we were just going around the block.”

No, you didn’t. You‘ve said more about the contents of my car than where we might be headed. “Which way would you like me to turn?”

“To the right. And keep turning right. That’s how you go around the block.”

My spleen ruptures on its own. I just want this hateful woman out of my car before one of us ends up dead. “Okay, I’ll just keep turning right.” Unless I see a cliff. Then I’m driving right over it.

Eventually, we get back to the decrepit building. She directs me off to one side, where there are some orange plastic cones spaced about. “Time to parallel park,” she announces.

Oh. Forgot about that. I’m NOT good at this. I decide to negotiate. “How is my score so far? Can I skip this and still pass?”

She looks at me in horror. “Why would you want to skip this?”

Because I hate you. “I always have trouble. I’ll probably fail this part anyway. Just being honest.”

She glares at me for a few more minutes, then sighs and reviews her clipboard. “You’ll pass by one point if you don’t parallel park.” It clearly pained her to say these words.

My heart surges. “Great. I’ll take it.”

“Then we’re done. I’ll turn in your paperwork and you can get your license.” She hurriedly gathers her things, ready to exit this evil vehicle of trash and sin where people don’t finish things. She throws open the door and starts to leap out.

The automatic seat belt whips into downward action. She’s already got her head out the door, so it catches her by surprise. No real damage, but in the midst of her sudden flailing about, the strap tangles in her hair and we learn that she’s wearing a wig, which is now half hanging off of her head. She disengages the seat belt from the runner, hurls it to the passenger floorboard, leaps out of the car, slams the door, and marches toward the building, her hair still jacked.

I smile for the first time in two days.


#21 - Run-Around, Part 1

While I’m generally one of those people who gets things done when they need to get done, I have certain fail-blog areas that have caused me considerable pain in the past. There’s just some psychological mis-wiring in my brain that keeps me from doing some things in a timely manner.

For instance, I cannot stand to renew my driver’s license. Especially back in the day, when you had to physically report to a run-down building on an obscure street in order to take care of this. There was just something about the whole experience that made my skin crawl. (Modern times are a little less traumatic, what with that online renewal business and all, but still.)

So, with that bit of necessary background detail out of the way, let’s travel back to yet another moment of angst and humiliation in my life. It’s the early 90’s, and I’ve just moved from Tulsa to Dallas for the THIRD time. (Long story.) And, of course, such an interstate move dictates that you have to get a fresh driver’s license at some point. This horrifying eventuality had me crying at night, alone in my cold and basically empty apartment. (Those were definitely leaner times.)

Now, there’s some type of grace period before you have to get the new license. I didn’t really care about that part. All I knew is that my Oklahoma license still had plenty of quality time left on it, and I was going to milk it for all it was worth. If, by chance, there happened to be an official inquiry into my law-violating tardiness, I had several standby falsehoods prepared, most of them involving puppies and/or my humanitarian efforts in a vague foreign country.

To be fair, I didn’t seriously intend to wait until the last possible minute. A few weeks before the impending Armageddon deadline, I actually called and spoke with someone in the decrepit building concerning what I actually had to do. Because I was coming from another state, especially a questionable one like Oklahoma, whose statehood has always been considered a blasphemous act if you ask any Texan, I would have to take the vision test and the written test.

“No driving test?”

“As long as your Oklahoma license is still valid, no. If it expires, yes.”

I glanced down at my license, doing the math. I had 10 days. Surely, this was doable. “Um, do I need to study the book for the written? Do you know if the laws are that different?”

There’s a moment of silence on her end, as she bites down on what she would really like to say to me, then: “I would suggest that you read the book. I’m sure there are some differences.” Her tone indicates that these differences are most likely major. After all, this is Texas, where we do everything right. Who knows what the laws might be in Oklahoma, what with the hillbillies and the tractors and all. Do they even HAVE a driver’s manual?

“Okay, where can I get this book?”

She doesn’t even try to hide her impatience at this point. I’m boring, a bit simple, and she has other things to do. “You can drop by and pick one up.” (Oh GOD no.) “Or I can mail you one.” (Hurray!) “But it will take a few days.” Translation: I will actually have to take your address and shove something in an envelope, and that depresses me.

I don’t care. I hate that building and I’ve never even been IN it. “Please mail. Please. And your dress is really pretty today.”

She sighs, gets my information, then slams the phone down.

A week later, not just a few days, the booklet arrives. (Well, THERE’S something we do a littler faster and better in Oklahoma. I guess we aren’t distracted by all the tall buildings and foo-foo restuarants they have down here.) I rip open the package and start reading.

Hmm. She lied. The rules are basically the same. Yes, there are a few differences, like how one is expected to behave when approaching exit ramps on highways. (And that mess is worth an entirely new blog post.) Oh, and every photo in the book seems to include a cow for some reason. Not sure about that. But in the end, I shouldn’t have a problem with this.

What I DO have a problem with is actually getting my ass to the decrepit building. As the days until the deadline dwindle away, I keep coming up with excuses. (Clean the apartment! Wash my car! Bowling!) As expected, I wait until the very last day and then I have no choice.

Wiping tears from my eyes, I turn into the neglected parking lot that is overgrown with weeds and those suspicious people who stand around and don’t seem to have a purpose in life, other than to serve as the “before” photo in laundry detergent ads. (I’ve never understood why the D.O.T. offices have to be so trashy. Maybe they’re nice and clean in other places, but they suck around here. Is it a rule of some kind?)

I park as far away as possible, because I don’t want repulsive people fingering my car, and then march to the door of the building. Throwing said door open, my senses are hit by a wave of unwashed beastliness billowing toward me. Yep, this must be the place. I step inside, while my eyes refocus after the bright, innocent sunshine outside.

There’s got to be at least 200 people in this room. Granted, some of them are sitting at little desks that dot the perimeter, but most of them are packed into several lines leading up to windows behind which government workers are doing things which apparently cause them to not smile. No one in line is smiling, either. This is a dark, dark place.

I sigh, calculate which line seems to have the best combination of fewer people and signs of intelligence, and take my place. Immediately, three babies start crying. No one does anything about it. At all. For a long time.

Hours later, I get to the window, and I am non-greeted by a woman who will soon become the focus of every ounce of hatred I have in my body. I politely explain that I need to renew my license. Could she assist me with that?

She just looks at me, debating on whether or not she even has the strength to respond. Finally: “Where’s your form?”

“My form? I don’t have one. Shouldn’t I be getting that from you?”

She sighs with such force that the lady behind me stumbles. “No. You’re supposed to get the form from that BOX over there and have it filled out before you ever get in line. Can’t you read?”

Wow. This little witch is bubbling over with attitude. I glance in the direction she is pointing with her bad-nail-job finger. Granted, there’s a tray on a table off to one side. And it appears that there are forms in it. But no indication what the tray or the forms are all about. I point this out to Haggatha.

“If you would just READ the sign, you would know what to do.”

I’m not letting her get away with trying to make me look stupid. “But I don’t SEE a sign to READ. Where is this sign?”

Hag slams down her pen, reaches up to whip her little window to the side, and leans out. (What, is she going to take me down for arguing?) She points again with more force, using all of her arm and most of her upper body. “THAT SIGN RIGHT-”

We both see what’s happened at the same time. There’s a piece of poster board lying face down, covered in hundreds of scuffy footprints. I can’t help but smile. “Oh, THAT sign. The one that NOBODY can read?”

The snake-woman just glares at me as she recoils into her nest, slamming the window shut. “Yes, THAT sign. Get the form and fill it out. Next!”

As the woman who was behind me in line breaks into tears, I snatch up one of the forms, then look around for one of the little desks that might be empty. Of course they’re all full. Filled with people, I might add, who aren’t filling anything out. Just sitting there. Fine. I end up using the back wall as my desk.

Once I’ve scribbled in all the details, with penmanship that looks like I’m a psycho-killer, I turn around and head back to Haggatha’s window.

She stops me before I can even open my mouth. “NO! Oh no you don’t. You get back in line just like everybody else.”

“But I’ve already BEEN in line and-”

“Get BACK in line. Do you want the license or not?”

I stand there for a second. Is this real? Then a frazzled-looking man beside me whispers: “She made me do it, too. She don’t play.”

I consider just getting in another line. Then I realize that the other lines are all much longer, probably because people have been fleeing Haggatha’s line in total fear. No prob. I can deal with her again. I walk to the end of the line and assume the position.

Eventually, I’m face-to-face with Medusa once more. She snatches my form away, studies it briefly, then barks: “Go through the door on the right for the tests.” I head toward what I hope is the correct door (still no signs, people, what’s up with the signage?). As I open it, I hear Haggatha saying “Letha, take the window. I got this.”

She’s got this? What the hell does that mean? Is she going to give me the tests, hoping that I fail so she can have the satisfaction? Damn, she’s a bitter woman.

And yep, I round the corner and there she is, standing next to a primitive (by today’s standards) computer. “Sit here.” I do. Then she punches something on the keyboard, and we get a display reading “The Texas Department of Transportation Welcomes You!”, which is a total lie, considering the devil spawn breathing on the side of my neck. “Get started, you have 30 minutes.”

And then she just stands there, watching me.

I take a deep breath and start punching in answers, hoping she’ll just go away. She doesn’t. There are 20 other people in the room, also taking the driver’s test, but she couldn’t care less about them. Cheat away. She’s only got stink eyes for me.

Despite the pressure, I only miss one question. (And yes, there were at least two pictures that included cows, if you’re keeping score.) This thrills me, and I try to think of the most enjoyable way to rub this in Haggatha’s face. But my victory is short-lived.

“Vision test. Follow me.” And she marches off.

We go to another part of the room, where we have more ancient equipment lined along a wall. These look like giant viewfinders from back in the day, those things you held up to your eyes and then clicked through boring, tiny photos. I take a seat in front of one of them.

Haggatha flips a switch, and the machine comes to life. “Look in there and read me the letters.” I start to lean my head down. “Wait, hang on.” She starts fiddling with some dials on the side of the machine. “Now do it.”

I peek inside. It’s an eye chart. And instantly, I know something is not right. It’s that first row with a single letter that is usually an “E”. But it’s already fuzzy. I’d never worn glasses in my life up to that point, perfect vision. I pull back and look at her. “It’s an ‘E’, but I don’t think this thing is set right.”

She just scoffs. “I know what I’m doing. Do YOU work here? No. Finish the test.”

I lean back in. The second row is difficult, I’m guessing on half of the letters. By the third row, I can’t tell what anything is, just blurry spots. I look at her again. “I’m telling you, this is not right. I can’t see anything.”

She smiles for the first time. “Then I guess you need glasses. And until you get them and can pass this vision test, you can’t have a license. And look here, your Oklahoma license expires at the end of the day. Which means you’ll also have to take the physical driving test if you want a Texas license. Hmmm.”

I am furious at this point, convince that she’s jacked the test. “I want to talk to somebody in charge.”

She keeps smiling. “I’M in charge. This is my office. And I need you to leave now. You can go out that door over there. Or can you see that far?”

Hoo boy. This game was ON.


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