“Have a Nice Day,” by Hugh Burgess

Apr 13th, 2011 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

So I head for the MVA Express Office in Kenilworth Mall with my foot in a cast to replace my missing driver’s license and I get there at ten to stand in line just long enough to read all the signs: We Only Do Licenses Not Tags, Leave Expired Tags Here, Register to Vote Here, and No Smoking Food or Beverages, and that was okay, me no longer smoking food or beverages.

When I come to the clerk with the cartoon ears, he says Sorry you can’t replace your license here because we only renew and don’t replace and that I should go to Bel Air, which is another twenty-five miles on the road without a license and I’m already breaking the law by parking in a handicap space with a sticker I bought in Office Depot and then he says Oh yeah you need to take your social security card.  Well I didn’t expect that and the card was in my missing wallet and he said Just go over to West Street and apply for a new card.

So I do–trying not to strain my bad Achilles tendon–and park at Soc Sec with my stick-person-in-a-stick-wheelchair still propped on the back window and I park in a handicap spot and do the Quasimodo half-step across the lot and ride the elevator to the fifth floor and take a number, Twenty.

Waiting to be called I ignore all the pamphlets How to Love Your Benefits and Medicare in Peace and War and stare at the crooked stenciled numbers on the back of the chairs and wonder why all the chairs are facing away from the counter toward the plate glass windows with the venetian blinds half closed to shut out the light but let the heat in and conclude that most of the people coming in here being old they need the extra sweat provided by this solar powered room.

When Twenty comes up, I dragfoot myself up to the man who says Do you have a birth certificate or passport?  and I say Yes of course I always carry a passport and he says Fill out this form and include your social security number and I say Sometimes I forget it and he says What’s your name, your ZIP? and he punches around on his computer and says 023440974 and I say Well I guess you already know me and you don’t need my passport and he says Is that a real cast on your leg or are you just using it for parking spaces? I say, It’s real and he says, Okay, then I need your passport.  You’ll get your card in the mail in ten to fifteen days.

Wait, I say, I need that card right now. The guy over at the MVA sent me here so I could replace my license and he said, The card is not for personal identification. You don’t need it; just use your passport. How do you know that? I said.  He said, Because people come in here all the time for the same reason as you and I send them to Bel Air and they never come back. Well thank god for good government I say, and head for 95 North which I take at 80 mph without a license.

The handicap space at Bel Air MVA threatens a $100 Fine for Misuse but I don’t care and hobble straight to Information, follow signs to Licenses and wait seven minutes for a clerk who is not there until I see a small sign that says Enter Line Here fifteen feet away and I hop-scoot over to wait for a form and directions to another line due north, which I find without assistance and face a girl person who says Next and Do You Have Identification? and I begin Well my social security card was in my wallet….  When she interrupts I flash my passport and she asks Was your license lost or stolen? and it takes several years of Sunday school training not to answer.

As she checks off boxes I ask Do you know why the MVA in Kenilworth can’t issue replacement licenses if they issue regular renewals?  They only do renewals, sir, she says, and I start to say, I know but do you know why…? when I see something growing between her eyes that looks like ice and I think Bridge Freezes Before Roadway as she says It is a Limited Service Facility, Sir and I say It certainly is, and she says Be-seated-over-there-and-wait-for-your-number-to-come-up while she folds a printout inside my passport and pushes it towards me with the deliberation of an army tank.

So I bump bummp over to the metal seats with perforated holes in them and sit until my number flashes red and I approach a counter lady who does not look at me but stamps my printout, hands me another form, and says Go to Window 18 and pay the cashier. Window 18 says Ten dollars go to Photo over there and I think maybe little Miss Limited Service Facility has passed the word along about a crotchety old guy with a limp.

Miss Flatline at Photo says, Take a seat look at the lens smile if you wish, and the light goes blooey almost knocking me off my chair and I’ve had enough of this so I say Can I get prints of that?  We’re not here for jokes, sir, says Miss F.  Take a seat over there we’ll call you when your license is ready.  And by the way, she says, people who need replacement licenses get special attention and we try to give them a memorable experience.  Check under your wiper when you return to your car.  The fine for illegally parking in handicap spaces triples when persons use illegal stickers. Aside from that, it’s been a pleasure serving you. The staff here at the Full Service Facility says Have a Nice Day.


Hugh Burgess has a background in teaching and has published poetry and nonfiction in a variety of formats. He served as assistant editor of the Maryland Poetry Review and while president of the Maryland State Literary and Poetry Society founded the Poets’ Ink Workshops, which aimed at bringing experienced writers and editors together with closet poets for mutual support.

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