Registered Displeasure


The Bureaucrat, José Guadalupe Posada, Smithsonian American Art Museum


In February I drove a friend to Portsmouth, NH so she could buy a car. The other day I drove a friend to Naugatuck, CT so he could buy a SUV. I would now like to tell all my friends that automobiles are sold in Massachusetts.

Speaking of the Commonwealth, I’ve got a story about the Registry of Motor Vehicles. This was also back in February, but my fear is that what with the subsequent pandemic, my inconvenience may have gone unremarked.

It happened like this. I bought a used car off a friend, and went in to transfer the title. But the friend had written the mileage on the wrong line. I was told that I’d have to obtain from her a notarized letter that she did so in error. So I went and got that – which was, believe me, no bagatelle – and returned that afternoon.

This time the gatekeeper asked if I had proof of insurance. I pointed to the insurance certification stamp on the paperwork. “An insurance certification stamp is not proof of insurance!” she said.

I did not know how to reply. It seemed to me this declaration would be acceptable only in a philosophy seminar. But I stood there and nodded slowly, hoping to convey both that I recognized the import of what she said, and that I was a simpleton in need of charity. Happily, instead of dismissing me again, she sent me to a computer terminal to print out the necessary proof.

Once there I was of course promptly flummoxed, and sought the assistance of another employee, who, after informing me that my previous interlocutor didn’t know what she was talking about, bade me take a number and sit. An hour later I was out with the necessary documents.

I was reminded of this passage in Joseph O’Neill’s estimable Netherland, about a trip to the Herald Square DMV that concludes less satisfactorily:

The man shook his head. “Sorry,” he said, unapologetically pushing my documents back to me.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I can’t take the credit card. It’s got someone else’s name on it.”

I looked. My name, which by a miracle of typography was fully spelled out on my social security card, is Johannus Franciscus Hendrikus van den Broek. My credit card, for obvious reasons, identified me merely as Johannus F.H. van den Broek – exactly as my green card did.

“That’s my name. If you –“

“I don’t want to talk about it. Go see the supervisor. Counter ten. Next.”

I went to counter ten. There were three people already in line. Each had an argument with the supervisor; each went away in a rage. Then it was my turn.

It goes downhill from there.