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Thursday, August 9, 2012

How I Spent My Last Day on Earth Before Being Chopped Up Into Iddy Biddy Pieces

Don Quixote by G. A. Harker
The Department of Motor Vehicles, aka HELL.

A friend invited me to go swimming yesterday. I love swimming and this might be my last chance.

While I was swimming I gave her my wallet for safekeeping. When I got out, the wallet was gone.

Tomorrow: showtime.

I will be under the knife.

I really need the driver's license that was in my stolen wallet. The hospital will use the driver's license as my identification. No driver's license, no surgery.

Today is my last day in the body I was born in.

I wondered how I'd spend today.

Listening to sitar music, in lotus position, contemplating the big truths? Rereading old diary entries and reviewing my life? Contacting loved ones and sending them spontaneous poetry praising our connections? Watching "Hitler finds out" videos on youtube, that always make me laugh? Or in uncut hedonism: dancing boys, booze, slots, chocolate?

In fact I spent the day, from eight a.m. to three p.m., non-stop, running around the ninety-degree streets of Paterson, NJ, and Haledon, and Wayne, on an empty stomach – not allowed to eat before surgery – doing what I could to replace the contents of that stolen wallet.

I started at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

(Non-American Readers: the Department of Motor Vehicles is the bureaucracy that issues drivers licenses. It is also hell.)

I carefully studied the list of requirements for the replacement of a stolen driver's license. With the theft of my wallet yesterday, I have very few of the required documents left, but just enough: my old license, a passport, a bank statement, and a few other items.

Here's the thing, though. Government bureaucracies lie, and don't function properly. They are a monopoly, and when the DMV doesn't live up to its promises, you can't go across the street to its competitor. It has no competitor. That, in a nutshell, is why I don't support Obamacare.

I arrived at the Paterson, NJ, DMV at eight a.m. I showed the clerk my documents. She refused to accept them.

"These documents meet DMV requirements," I said.

"I don't care," the woman said, baring her teeth at me. She really did. She bared her teeth.

"You're getting angry. You just bared your teeth. May I please speak to your supervisor?"

Maritza, the supervisor, arrived. She, too, would not accept the documents. She said she wouldn't accept the bank statement because it was not in its original envelope.

I pointed out that the printed DMV requirements mention no envelope.

She told me to leave.

I walked to the office of Congressman Bill Pascrell.

I was searched and put through a metal detector.

I walked into Congressman Pascrell's office and was met by a plump-cheeked, thick-haired, hyper healthy looking white boy wearing a blinding white shirt and a tie as conservative as Pope Benedict.

Without changing a hair of his physical appearance, this young intern could easily play the part of Rolfe, the young Nazi, in a "Sound of Music" revival.

My words rushed out: "Achtung, Rolfe. I've just been diagnosed with cancer. My wallet was stolen yesterday. Everything was in there: credit card, driver's license, money. I need the driver's license to be ID'd at the hospital tomorrow. I have all the required documents as listed in the DMV official pamphlet, but they won't issue a license to me. They are using bogus complaints like that my bank statement is not in the original envelope. Please help me."

And Rolfe told me to leave.

Rolfe is one of those people born handsome and healthy and hale, who, when he opens his mouth to speak, without any of his features changing one micrometer, becomes unbearably ugly. "We can't help you. That is a federal issue. This is a state office. Go to Benjie Wimberly's office."

I collapsed. I turned to go. Somehow, I found some gumption. I turned around again, and became very heavy, too heavy for Rolfe to move.

"Here's the thing, Rolfe. People in this office know me. I've been here many times before. You know I really am Danusha Goska, not one of the many imitators. Wimberly's people don't know me from Adam. Help me, Rolfe. Or at least let me speak to someone."

Rolfe said I could sit and wait for Nancy Everett. I did.

Nancy came out. A lovely African American woman. She took me to a conference room. Photos of Bill Pascrell with lotsa famous people.

I splayed my identifications out on the conference table. I told Nancy the whole story. And then I put my head down on the conference table, shook, and sobbed.

Nancy said something interesting, "The facts are not important here. What matters is that you have the required ID."

She picked my IDs up off the table and left the room. I heard a fax machine. She re-entered.

"I'll call you," she promised.

I believed her.

I went back outside into the heat and ran around Paterson some more.

Paterson is poor. Many of us don't have cars. We live on the streets. The streets throng. An African American woman in flip flops and her daughter carrying home, to the projects across the Passaic River, a large pizza pie. Muslims in Pashmina shawls. Very, very thin, old people. I wonder who these thin, thin, old people are. Dying? Heroin? Life? I always smile at them. You must smile at people so thin, and so old, forced to conduct their business on, to escort their bird bones over, Paterson's teeming streets.

Went to the library. Saw the very gorgeous, very sweet, bald, African American guy who mans the front desk. "Miss Danusha," he greeted me. He always calls me "Miss Danusha." "How have you been?"

I was just there to replace my library card, but his face is so spiritual, so deep and so kind, I had to blurt it all out. "If I get better…" I started to say.

"You will get better," he insisted. "You will."

Ran through the fetid air and over the bloodied sidewalks of the "live kill" markets stocked with living chickens and pigs and fish, waiting their turn to audition for someone's dinner table. Heard the phone ring. Answered. It was Nancy Everett. She was as good as her word.

"Go back to DMV," she said. "Go back to Maritza. They will give you your license."

"Thank you!" I shouted into the phone, louder than a nearby chicken being strangled. "Thank you," said, emphatic, in all caps.

I went back to the DMV. I expected them to shoot me death ray looks. Instead, they greeted me practically with cheers.

"She's back," someone said. "Get Maritza." Maritza came forward. She was actually smiling. "Thank you," she said. "Because of you, because of what you did, from now on we will go by the pamphlet. Trenton called us. Our policy is now changed."

Wow. Wow. 

One of the new photo IDs taken today.


  1. Wow. Your strength and perseverance are phenomenal. And your new ID photo, after the day you went through, is pretty good! (you just look a little hot) ;-)
    Best wishes for a successful outcome tomorrow. My prayers will be with you.

  2. Shame on them, those bureaucrats at DMN! Wwhat exactly they are going to change? And I really admire you for sticking.

  3. Best of luck, Danusha! And "off kilter" is right--you look damn good in that photo!

  4. God bless Nancy Everett. And you spent that terrible day, which I very much hope will not be your last day on earth!, achieving something which is going to make life easier for so many people.

  5. This really is a wonderful example of who you are, Danusha. When the world tries to crush you, you fight and persevere. I just wish the world would stop it! And give you a break. (I'm also wondering why you didn't study law and become an attorney?) Love and hugs to you. I think of you daily.

  6. Wow is right. "Wow. Wow." is righter. This world profits from having you in it. God bless you, indeed.