Standing in line, I tried to ignore the tickle in my throat from the B.O. and stale cigarette smell. A cell phone kept chiming, nestled in someone’s pocket toward the back of the line. I keep my eyes averted, staring at the same word in the novel I brought with me. It turns out the chairs are for those who need a new title, or other more important business. The niggly little registration renewals were directed to the “Express Line,” which is PC for the slowest cue in all of the land.
Posted over the teller windows was a set of instructions. Renewals needed to be paid by cash or check—no cards allowed; a four dollar process fee must be paid, along with renewal fee; all renewals need to show photo ID. They want to physically identify the people they steal from, I guess. Why the little notice isn’t enough, I don’t know.
When I finally found myself standing in front of a grandmotherly teller, I slid my renewal notice and emissions paperwork through the slot in the Plexiglas. I pulled the check I brought with me out of my wallet, and then set it purposefully on the counter.
After I slid the check through the slot, I waited. Would she ask for my ID? What would I do if she asked for it? The time and care she took paper clipping my registration and tab sticker together lasted an eternity.
“Have a nice day,” the woman said, a smile planted on her holly berry red lips. I held my breath as I strolled out of the office. Will she ask for it, loudly, as I reach for the door handle?
Sitting in my car, I enjoyed the excitement that rushed through my veins. I didn’t automatically obey, and she didn’t demand, “Papers, please!” Maybe it was a fluke on her part, I’ll never know; but my actions were deliberate.
Big whup, I didn’t automatically show my ID to some lady in a grandma sweatshirt in a smelly office. And, what if she did ask for it—what would I have done then? I was prepared to not show it, inside, but with the ever-growing “Express Line” would I have maintained the fortitude to say no?
After my registration renewal experience, a personal essay I read in the Nov.-Dec. 2004 issue of Utne
took up residence again in my inner monologue. I hadn’t thought about it for a long time. Betrayed by the Angel What happens when violence knocks and politeness answers?
by Debra Anne Davis is about how girls and women are taught to be polite, demure and avoid being rude at most any cost. When a man bent on criminal intent knocked on Ms. Davis’ door, this line of teaching befuddled her as she tried to deal with the man. See, he was intent on raping her.
Through out the essay, Ms. Davis illustrates her point through personal experiences, examples from television, Virginia Woolf and what went through her own mind on that horrific day. After I originally read her essay, her point of view, and the way I thought she blamed herself, preyed on me. I’d think about it at the oddest times, my inner bowel tightening. The sorrow, resignation and regret, so often leveled at herself, flooded my senses, until I couldn’t stand to think about it anymore and I resolutely sought something to distract my mind.
Before I went in to pay for my tabs, my car required an emissions test. Dutifully, I drove to the next town over from mine and cued up to get my car tested. This line probably would tie with the Express Line for slowest in the land. To speed up the process, I had my renewal slip, cash and the little card provided at the entrance all filled out, ready to go. In a bit of an ironic twist, I brought Claire Wolfe’s I’m not a Number
with me to read while I waited. When it was finally my turn, the gal in the booth grinned as I handed over my little pile.
“You’re prepared. Are you a teacher?” she asked. I shook my head no. Feeling unfriendly, I offered lamely, “I just wanted to be prepared, to move the process along.” She replied with a gravelly, deep laugh, probably the product of the cigarette I watched her suck down while I waited. From the time I handed her my papers, until I was pulling out of the parking lot, only five minutes passed. A machine okayed my gas tank, another scanned my VIN number and a third plugged into something in the doorframe of the car, to tell her all sorts of things about my car. A paper popped out, with numbers printed all over it, announcing I passed. The gal even asked me to step out of my car for the thirty seconds she plugged this thingie into my doorframe. Why did she ask, and more importantly, why did I obey? What purpose did it serve?
The emissions experience bugged the hell out of me, from the teacher comment to the fact I went along with the whole thing, even driving there and subjecting myself to it all. I think it's stupid, a waste of time and money. Plus, it's extremely intrusive and evidence of the growing data monster eating our country alive.
Ms. Davis sought after Virginia Woolf to learn how to suffocate her own angel, to deny it the oxygen that kept it alive and messing with her mind. She wondered if attacked again, would she defend herself, and would she strike back out of anger or fear. I ask the same questions about myself, and to be honest, I’m not sure of the answer.
Ms. Davis is a college professor, and she asked her class one time, “What did (your parents) teach you that you won’t teach your kids?” One young woman replied that they instructed her to be kind to everyone, but that she wouldn’t teach her own kids that because it isn’t prudent to be kind to all people.
It is important to think about these two questions, not just for your children’s sake, but also for your own. What things do you need to re-educate yourself on? What do you need to let go?
I need to rethink my stance on obedience. I’ve stood up before and said no to handing my kids over for high-stakes testing. It was hard and unpopular. People thought I was weird. When it came down to it, when it counted I didn’t say no. Because it might possibly hurt my kids, I didn’t want to them to pay the price for my fight. But, have I done them more of a disservice by caving in?
When asked for my SSN, I’ve fought giving it. I’ve scratched it off urine bottles at the doctor’s office and given the receptionist a verbal bitch-slap about it being there in the first place. But when the DMV started to demand it before your license could be renewed, I looked at the floor while I whispered it to the hag behind the counter. Then I said it louder when she screeched, “What? I can’t hear you.”
I’ve counseled my daughter to ignore the teacher that assaults her moral and religious beliefs. “We have to learn to live with people who rub us the wrong way,” I’ve told her on several occasions. I must correct the misinformation I’ve passed on to my girl. The guy is an arrogant waste of skin that doesn’t care a whit about honoring other’s beliefs, while demanding reverence from everyone else. It might be hot for a short period of time, but how will it empower my daughter, in the long run, to stand up for herself, for her beliefs?
While it is not a big thing, to not automatically produce ID when I know it's expected, it was challenging for me to abstain. I should be proud of myself that I said no, even if it was an easy no. With each step of resistance, with each order I refuse to obey, it is one step closer to refusing to open the door when someone bad knocks. I think that’s what seized me the most about Ms. Davis’ essay. In the same scenario, I probably would have opened the door, too, and I’m not sure what I would have done when the man walked inside. If faced with the same knock, my kids might open the door, because I perhaps have taught them to mindlessly obey. I can’t live with that. I need to destroy my angel and teach my kids that it is okay to refuse to open the door.
With each small act of resistance, I hope I can re-educate myself, and thus show my own children, to fight the bastard off with every scrap of strength we can muster.