Thursday, April 28, 2011

Everybody's So Jumpy Nowadays

Dear George,

I can’t remember a time when so many people were angry at the government. Sarah Palin used rifle targets to post bulls-eyes on congressman that Republicans should get rid of. Michele Bachmann encouraged her followers to be “armed and dangerous” about Obama’s global warming ideas. That’s not even mentioning the craziness by militia groups, Tea partiers, Klu Klux Klan members, homegrown jihadists, abortion clinic bombers, Florida preachers, etc.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, when I went down to the Federal Building to apply for Medicare Part B. I’d never been there before. It’s a mammoth place, taking up a full city block on Main Street, with a modernistic silver eagle swooping down its side. I walked through the revolving door and immediately found myself in front of a metal barricade manned by four uniformed armed guards. One of them motioned to a bin on the table and asked me to empty my pockets. I took out everything containing metal. He pointed to my shirtpocket and asked me to take the pieces of paper out that I had there. “It’s just paper,” I said. He repeated his request and I complied. Then he asked me to put my baseball cap in the bin. I did that too.

The guard looked over my belongings. Along with the normal stuff, the contents also included a bright orange Napolean Dynamite talking keyring. I’d bought it at a yard sale to use at the fitness center. It was attached to the bar code strip that I use to check in at the front desk. While it sounds a little neurotic, I bought the largest key ring I could find so I could avoid any accidental finger-touching intimacy when I exchange it with the fitness personnel at the front desk. The security guard looked at the plastic object suspiciously. “What’s this?” he asked in a stern voice. I said it was a keyring. That may have sounded suspicious because there weren’t any keys attached to it. “It’s a Napolean Dynamite talking keyring,” I added. I immediately regretted saying something that might connote explosive ingredients. “I use it to check in at the fitness center,” I quickly added. The guard picked it up, turned it over, held it up to his ear, shook it, and looked it over again. I guess he finally believed me because he waved me forward.

I walked confidently through the metal detector, but, to my dismay, I set it off. Another guard hurried up with a wand and did a full-body scan. Not finding anything noteworthy with his wand, he asked me to pull my pants legs up to my knees. No weapons there either. The guard commented that probably my belt buckle had set the machine off. Then he asked me for my driver’s license. I showed it to him in my wallet, but he wanted it out, and I struggled to remove it from the tight-fitting leather compartment in which it was encased. It felt like it took two minutes. The guard looked at my photo, looked at me, looked at each one more time, then gestured that I could move on. I was glad to pass the inspection, though I felt some mild annoyance from being treated as a potential terrorist.

The Medicare office was on the second floor. There were two armed guards at the entrance to the room, one seated, one standing. I fantasized that if an elderly Medicare recipient tried to attack one guard, the other guard could gun him down. The seated guard asked me my purpose for being there, and I said that I’d come to apply for Medicare. He instructed me to touch box number 6 on his computer screen and take a printed number. My number was B246. I went and sat down in an empty seat in tenth row. The dozen or so clients all looked poor and oppressed, and I wondered if I looked that way too. I only had to wait about five minutes. I was relieved to see that the Social Security employee who helped me at his window wasn’t armed, though I don’t know what he might have had under his counter. I got done with my business pretty quickly. I nodded to all the armed guards on my way out. I wondered if they hated their jobs. Then I reluctantly concluded that it’s probably best that they be there. You’d have to agree, it’s definitely better than being blown to pieces.



G-Mail Comments

-Phyllis S-S (4-29): Dave, When I went to apply for Medicaid they told us (those patiently waiting) that a few months prior to my visit someone had walked into a medicare office with a molotov cocktail and set it off - I don't think these things always make it into the newspapers. Best, Pss

-Jennifer M. (4-29): Quite a story. Did showing your license pass you through because your last name isn't Arabic? What kind of information was gained from that exercise? And what security is gained from all this "security?" It's craziness if you ask me.

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