I went to the Office of Vital Records to get a copy of my birth certificate. The building is several stories high and about half a city block, but the records office is just a very tiny area. The entrance and waiting area is about the size of a large living room, and there’s smaller room around the corner with a pair of “teller” windows.
The security guard behind the desk is probably in his 70s, and he was well rehearsed in his instructions. A young guy, probably a college kid, walked in right before me. When he stepped up to the desk, the security guard told him, politely, “Sign in on this clipboard. . . . One forty-seven. . . . What are you here for? . . . Just write ‘birth certificate.’ . . . Right behind you, on the table, take one of those clipboards and fill out the form. . . . Take one of those numbers off the rack to your left. Just give me the form when you’re finished, and they’ll call you back.”
When the young guy stepped away from the reception desk and to the table behind him, following the directions of the guard, I stepped up.
“Sign in on this clipboard,” he directed me. I wrote my name, then before I could check my watch for the “Time” column, he said, “One forty-eight.” I wrote the time.
“What are you here for? Just write ‘birth certificate.'” I noticed every sign in before mine, probably 20 names, were all for birth certificates. I wrote as instructed.
He continued, “Right behind you, on the table, take one of those clipboards and fill out the form. Take one of those numbers off the rack to your left. Just give me the form when you’re finished and they’ll call you back.”
The old guy was polite, but he spoke in a flat monotone that showed he has said these exact words all day long, every day, probably for years. The only thing that changed was the time.
I filled out my form and handed it to him. Then I sat down in the old steel chairs and waited my call. I read some of my book and played with my new cell phone. I took a couple pictures to “document” the place.
During a lull in people and call backs, the guard sat down behind the desk and closed his eyes. He could doze only a minute before someone new came in the door or the woman in the back called the next person.
Eventually, I was called back, paid my thirty bucks and received my birth certificate. It’s an interesting thing, a birth certificate.