On this first day of Trumptopia I struggled out of a bad sleep and made my way down to San Francisco’s Mission District for my long scheduled meeting at the local Social Security Administration office. Why? After all, my business could have been transacted on the SSA website. But I am a retired guy now, which is to say, wanting a schedule, and there is some pleasure to be had from experiencing the in-person world.
With the ominous Trump still ringing in my ears and my stamina reduced to something less than four cylinders…everything was difficult. Fatigue. Fatigue with the country and with my countrymen. I had to concentrate mightily, being in one of those drained and distracted states they can lead to a traffic accident. That wouldn’t be good. I’ve had enough car wrecks for this particular Wednesday.
The Mission office of Social Security occupies a corner building with a pleasantly rounded neoclassic look to it. It was almost certainly once a neighborhood bank. Wheelchairs use a slightly obscure side entrance. Never mind. There was a switchback ramp inside and I took it into the packed waiting room. Mine was hardly the only wheelchair. But something about this visit made me determined to be the cheeriest cripple of them all. I struggled briefly with the door, Just long enough for a middle-aged black guy to start down the wheelchair ramp and see if I needed help. No I told him, all warmth and eye contact, but thank you very much. The woman with him moved her wheelchair out of the way to let me pass. There wasn’t much way, but what there was we shared. All of us shared something, I was thinking, on this first Trump day. The lame, the halt, and the blind…the black and brown and the Asian. Most people were here to deal with critically needed benefits, many disability-related. I had the luxury of having waited until I was 70 to get the full retirement pension. I am 70 next month.
I went to the wrong desk. All the explanatory signs are positioned by the front (non-wheelchair-accessible) steps. Someone told me to check in using an airport-style touch screen. Sorry, I told the receptionist, it’s too high for me to reach, not wheelchair-accessible. She did not bat an eye. And even knowing that my observation was somewhere between nominal and futile, I felt glad for doing it. Maybe this is my role. Being one of the lucky, economically secure disabled people…who speaks up.
Mr. Wong ushered me into his cubicle. He sat there keying in information while I watched. There wasn’t that much to key. But I was glad there was a Social Security. We all need a little security. Its not much, but It’s something. Mr. Wong hands me a printout of my life’s earnings. The figures are all over the map, some surprisingly low, others remarkably high. I can’t remember what was going on around any of these earning years. But I can vaguely see a graph of Silicon Valley’s booms and busts. As for the experience, I have mostly forgotten it. And none too soon.
Now I will remember this, Mr. Wong, a thirtysomething émigré. I compliment him on his English. How did he learn so well, I ask. He tells me that in Canton he used to play tapes. Well, I assure him, you have learned an irregular language full of grammatical pitfalls…very well. He smiles shyly. I smile back proudly. I shake his hand. We are both Americans.