Wednesday, December 24, 2003



Must be genetic. I seem to have some ancestral propensity to expect logic in bureaucratic situations, particularly those involving Japanese bureaucracy. With some 300 years of closeted feudal practice of a depth and intensity unequaled in history, Japanese bureaucrats have perfected the fine and detailed art of dovetailing an essentially pointless box within a basically pointless box within a fundamentally pointless box within an utterly... you get the picture.

Anyhow, despite my having been here for decades thus far, this common-sense gene I have keeps popping up, causing me to expect straight lines to have generated spontaneously in the bureaucratic universe since my last visit; I can't seem to help myself. I'm a man of positive expectations, what can I say. As a result, I keep employing logic and asserting common sense where such things are alien and have no place.

As the most recent example, this morning I had to go to the immigration office at the local town hall to receive my new alien registration card. I'd gone there a couple of weeks ago with the postcard they'd sent me, bringing also my personal seal and some passport quality photos, my old alien registration card, passport and other required stuff. Filled out some forms several times with several variations of signature (don't ask) and applied, the lady said we'll call you in a couple weeks when the new card is ready, and she did, so today I set aside my morning and drove all the way over there, walked in and went up to the desk, old card at the ready to exchange for my new one.

The lady who had waited on me before, and who called my house, using the number I'd given her on my last visit, recognized me and went over to a big box by the wall and took out a smaller box inside which was a large envelope inside which was a smaller envelope, inside of which was my new card. New card in hand, she came over to me and said: "Do you have the-- right at that point that pesky common-sense gene kicked in and I whipped out my old card with my photo on it and my address and various other unmistakable details (needless to say, I am the only guy within 500 hundred miles of here who looks anything like me) -- absolutely essential piece of paper I gave you?"

And there I was again, suddenly spinning wild-eyed, limbs flailing as I whirled helplessly toward the black hole at the dark heart of the violently striped vortex of immigration procedure gone awry, with the off-key theremin wailing in the background, in midspin of which I wanted to say to the static, stuffy office air: hey, you know-- and I know-- who I am, and that I was here two weeks ago and filled out all the forms in triplicate and signed them each several times variously in various places, and that this card that I hold with my picture on it matches identically that card that you hold with my picture on it, who cares about some mickeymouse piece of paper-- and by the way (there it was again, the common-sense gene looking for some simple A to B in a universe of dark matter), it makes a LOT of sense for you to slip me a piece of paper to take home for a couple of weeks to forget completely about and then require that I bring back to you; why not just keep the damn thing on your desk for the duration, or better yet, just throw it in the waste basket and forget all about it forever, but I didn't.

Because from this old familiar vortexy vantage point I could now detect in the clerklady's eyes what I should have noticed right away, given my decades of hard-earned nitty-gritty immigration tooth-and-nail scrimmaging from which I still have the scars: it was not the look one sees in human eyes in the normal course of social interaction: it was the elusively opaque Veil of Bureaucracy, which foolishly I'd thought had become irrelevant, since she knew who I was ha ha, and we had even bantered a bit on my last visit ha ha, and were to all logical intents and purposes members of the same species on a shared planet, but suddenly the veil had descended with a vengeance, and I realized yet again that in The Bureau, all roads are dead ends.

Thus there was a deeper purpose in giving mere-mortal me a form that I was pointedly encouraged to forget, deeper than getting me to acknowledge the dead-end nature of my own behavior in this place: it was to prove the importance of the piece of paper, and by extension the importance of The Bureau. So I said, with all the autobureaucratic authority I could muster: "I shall return."

And so I shall.

As soon as I find that piece of paper.

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