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Copyright © 2017 by Ralph Robert Moore.
Return to lately 2017.
god's indifferent eye is such an encouragement
december 1, 2017
When last we left us, Mary and I were trying to renew our Texas driver licenses.
I managed to renew mine.
Mary had a problem because she has aphasia, caused by her severe stroke back in 2002. The stroke did significant damage to the language center of her brain, so that she has great difficulty putting together a sentence, or understanding a sentence. There's an important distinction I want to make: Mary's cognitive abilities are not affected at all. Her reasoning is in fact better than mine, and she can often find a solution to a problem when I can't. She just has difficulty expressing that solution. Within her mind, she does in fact speak perfect English. But channeling that perfect English through her speech center is where the problem arises.
Because she had trouble understanding the driver license clerk's questions, he and his supervisor decided she needed to take a written exam to prove she knew the rules of the road, and also take a driving test to establish she could, in fact, drive.
Which was a problem. Mary knew, for example, how many car lengths she was supposed to be behind the car in front of her on a highway when both cars were going sixty miles an hour, but because of her aphasia, she wouldn't understand that was what she was being asked, or how to convey the fact she knew the answer. Likewise, getting in a car with a stranger to switch lanes, parallel park, etc., would cause her a great deal of stress, the last thing in the world to which you want to subject a stroke patient.
So she and I talked it over, and decided to not get her driver license renewed. I always drive us wherever we're going, anyway.
Mary did need some kind of official identification, for when she went to a doctor's office, so we decided to get her a Texas ID Card. Which is legally as valid as a driver's license for purposes of affirming someone's identity.
You would think an ID Card would be much easier to obtain, but in fact, perhaps because of 9-11, it's much harder, and requires far more documentation.
Obtaining the documents we needed turned into a scavenger hunt that took about a month.
We needed Mary's driver license number from every state in which she lived, plus the years she held each license.
Prior to Texas, Mary lived in California, where she grew up, we met, and fell in love; and Maine, where we ended up after we drove cross-country in 1982 to find a new home.
So here's the catch 22.
In California, your driver license number is part of your 'driver record'. And you can buy that driver record from the state of California online. Which is great. But in order to buy your driver record, you need your California driver license number. So…not so great.
You didn't need your license number to buy your driver record from the state of Maine, which was great, but Maine's driver license records only go back 10 years. The last time we lived in Maine was almost 30 years ago. Not so great.
So we're fucked.
God's indifferent eye is such an encouragement.
Some couples document their lives together. Some don't.
We have large accordion files that contain hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of momentoes from the decades we've been together. Photos, letters, projects we've worked on together, board games we've invented about our lives, menus, matchbooks, videos, audio tapes, swizzle sticks with red mermaids atop, and in the deep pocket of one of our accordian files a black and white tin box that once held the oval elegance of Sobranie cigarettes, but now preserved the wide beige circle of a single condom, and neither of us know now what its significance is, but apparently it was important for us to archive it all those decades ago.
So each day we spent two or so hours going through all these accordian files of our past, hoping we'd find in one of them Mary's California and Maine driver license numbers.
Which was not unreasonable. If we saved a resume from 30 years ago, wasn't it likely we also saved our old driver licenses?
Finally, after so many afternoons of dragging yet another heavy set of accordion files from the filing cabinets where we stored them in our garage to our black breakfast nook table, listening to classical music on WRR, smiling to see again this or that memory after so many years, passing the artifact from one set of hands to another, birds and squirrels outside the picture window of the breakfast nook flitting down or bouncing up to the green table we set up out in our backyard, pyramided with the different brown shades of peanuts and seeds, we came across the faint blue ink of a lease we had signed 35 years ago for an apartment in the San Francisco area. And it had both our driver license numbers. Yay!
One down. One to go.
Our dishwasher crapped out. And don't they always, over time? We've had different dishwashers over the decades, and the thing is, of all the major appliances, they're the ones that are most likely to eventually disappoint you. You think you can rely on them, you've invited them into your home, for God's sake, you like the wet steamy warmth between your fingertips of the white dinner plates you lift out of the blue vertical racks in the washer's lower section, placing that glisten in the walnut cabinets over your cluttered black counter, and then one day, sure as fuck, they let you down. Refrigerators and stoves are stout, loyal and sincere. They'll go out of their way to solve your problem with them. Sinks are like dogs. Tell me what you want me to do, and we'll find a solution. Gotta respect that.
We have a wood plank floor in our kitchen. Each time we ran the dishwasher, at one point in the cycle it spilled hot soapy water across the wood.
Wood does not like water.
Our dishwasher was under a warranty through Sears, so I called them up, and they agreed to come out to fix the problem (which turned out to be a burnt-out motor. A few hundred dollars if you don't have a warranty; zero dollars when you do.)
While the two repair guys worked on the washer (young white guy, middle-aged black guy he was training), I used the opportunity to sit at the breakfast nook table and go through some more accordian files.
And lo and behold.
Halfway through an accordian file for our months-long stay at a Holiday Inn in Portland, Maine during the off season, when their rates are quite low, I found a check Mary had written at a local Maine supermarket from 30 years ago, and on the back of the check, God bless him or her, the cashier had written down Mary's Maine driver license number.
So now we had both driver license numbers, for California and Maine.
We needed Mary's birth certificate. I ordered it online, from California. After a few days of figuring out what her mother's middle name was.
You have to have two recent mailings which give your name at your current address.
Not as easy as it sounds.
Texas suggests you use utility bills, but utility bills no longer have a postmark date on the envelope. I don't know why. And the part that gives your name and address is the part you mail back to the company with your check. So that's out.
I finally realized we could use our property tax bill, due at the end of the year, $2,500, and our proof of car insurance cards from our insurance agency.
So we finally have all the documentation Mary needs to get her Texas ID Card.
In my last Lately I talked about the hell of going to the cavernous Texas Public Safety (TPS) office to obtain our cards.
And now we were going back.
The day we chose started out with cold, cold rain. Loud, sliding down our windshield. We left our warm home early in the morning, around eight.
Once we drove through the side streets of our rural neighborhood past the 'Goats for Sale' sign at the corner of one property to the two-lane road heading towards the nearest highway entrance, traffic started backing up. It took us twice as long to finally get up on the highway, only the first leg of our journey, and once we were on the highway, the cars were frozen. Like the highway was glue.
Half an hour passed, and we've barely advanced a mile.
Hands on the steering wheel, I turned my face right, towards Mary. "To think my sperm succeeded, out of the millions of sperm swimming to get to the egg first, and here's where it ends up for all its vigorous sideways tail whippings, stuck in rush hour traffic on a rainy Wednesday morning."
Once we got off the highway, we became hopelessly lost in the downpour and multiple lanes and endless obscure side streets.
A half hour later, we finally pulled into the TPS' vast parking lot. I thought it would be fairly empty given the severe weather, but in fact it was even more packed than our last visit, and we had to park even further away from the wide entrance.
We walked over to the back of the first long line, to register.
When it was finally our turn, I showed the clerk all our documentation, passing it over the elevated counter down to her, to make sure we had everything we needed for Mary's ID card, because I didn't want us to wait hours here, and then be told we were lacking a crucial piece of paper. While she was waiting on us, a man walked up to the counter next to me, started asking the clerk some questions. She answered them. After he left, putting his gray hat back on his head, she glanced at us. "I always get nervous when someone cuts in line. You never know."
We walked over to the endless rows and columns of benches in the endless waiting area, and sat. As a disembodied female voice called out different alpha-numeric combinations every few minutes.
This time, everyone who sat next to us was annoying. Either they wore an absurd amount of clothing which would be more appropriate if they were appearing on stage in an eighteenth century opera, the sheer bulk of which violated our personal space, or they argued bitterly with each other, but with mundane, uncreative insults. I finally wound up with a black-haired guy next to me on my left. I was doing Sudoku puzzles to pass the time, and at one point, looking up from my pen, the paper, I saw his glistening eyes were staring at the puzzle in my lap.
"I'd put a 5 in the upper right square."
I smiled. "It's more fun if I solve the puzzles by myself."
"For sure! That's why I haven't been saying anything."
"Except, you just did."
"So, you don't want any help with it?"
"Thanks for understanding."
Four and a half hours passed, us sitting on that bench, waiting for our code to be called by the disembodied female voice. Four and a half fucking hours!
I gave Mary a kiss, stood up, walked to the end of the registration line. When it was my turn, I told the clerk we had been waiting almost five hours. Did we miss our code being called?" I was nice about it. Civil tone. It rarely helps to lose your temper.
"It'll come up, sir. You didn't miss it."
Sat back down next to Mary.
Five minutes later, our code was called.
We walked deep into the dungeons of the department.
And from that point, it went smoothly. The woman examined our supporting documents, approved them all. Had Mary stand up, press her small thumbs against two square panes of glass to record her thumbprints. Had Mary stand up straight, remove her glasses, for her photograph.
"When should we expect Mary's ID card?"
"Usually about 10 business days." She handed us a temporary print-out of Mary's ID card we could use in the interim.
We stopped at McDonald's drive-through on the way home, bought a couple of fish fillets, two orders of French fries, Mary holding the white-bagged warmth in her lap as we drove through the downpour.
Two days after our visit to the TPS, I got deathly ill. Couldn't stop coughing, until my sides hurt horribly each time I barked, and I started shaking each time I had to get out from under the covers to pee. The following day, it hit Mary. Evidently, we had caught something while in the crowds at the TPS.
For a few days, the better part of a week, we lay in bed all day, not eating anything at all, just drifting in and out of sleep, getting out of bed just long enough to use the bathroom, get more ice water.
When we finally started feeling better, we watched a movie late in the evening, after all the windows were dark, we had recorded before our illness, Why Him?, with Bryan Cranston and James Franco. It was a dumb movie, but I have fond memories of it, because we were finally able to eat something, I forget what, something simple, and we realized, as happens so often in life, we were at last coming out the other side of whatever illness we had.