Friday, January 6, 2012

 Private Sinners, Public Saints

I was having a smoke outside the laundromat this afternoon and was reading the front page of the Albuquerque Journal through the glass door of the newspaper vending machine. The governor's proposed budget "rests on two pillars," said one story, a big wet sloppy kiss on the governor's big broad behind that I'll bet that reporter has reread at least five times since getting home from work.

Actually, the governor's budget rests on three pillars if you count not giving state employees a raise, again, four if you count the bullshit that started piling up in the state capital when the governor said the days of the state living beyond it's means are over, when the state is running a surplus.

At the top of the page it said there was a special New Mexico centennial section in the paper today, so I put two quarters in the machine. I detest the Journal but I like New Mexico history, and I wondered if my famous friend Jim Baca would be in the special centennial section.

The top paper in the stack was separated into the individual sections, as if someone had taken it apart and put the sections back in the machine. There were papers underneath it, but since it was on top I picked it up, and found that the special centennial section was missing. Holding the vending machine door open with one hand I used the other to check the paper below it, to make sure it had a special centennial section in it. The special section was missing from that one too, and the one below that and the one below that. It was missing from every paper in the damn box. Some pissant had taken the special centennial section out of every damn paper.

This is the same laundromat where the time before last someone stole my jar of quarters. I had put it down in my laundry basket, which is tall and deep, and was outside having a smoke, right outside the damn door, when they stole it, ten or twenty dollars in quarters.

You may be thinking, if I didn't smoke I wouldn't have got my quarters stolen, and I wouldn't have noticed there was a special centennial section in today's Journal. Could be, but smoking had nothing to do with my license plate being stolen the day before yesterday.

The day before yesterday I went outside after work to find that someone had stolen my license plate from my pickup truck. I go in at midnight, so my pickup sits on a dark side street in an industrial park until 12:30 or 1 pm the next afternoon. What kind of little pissant steals license plates? If you can't afford registration, but want to drive, or have to drive, and you're really stupid, you can steal a license plate and hope you never get pulled over. It might get you by for awhile, but I'll bet that if you do get stopped you'll get more than one ticket, and depending who you are, you might spend a night or two in the Bernalillo Hotel downtown.

It pissed me off. I wasn't feeling lucky, and I already have way more points on my CDL than I should have, so I drove straight to the nearest Motor Vehicle Division, which happened to be the one at San Mateo and Montgomery, the most crowded MVD in the country, and I know, I've been to them all.

I was at that one numerous times a few years back. They had put new Commercial Driver's License requirements in place, a 9/11 thing, although it took them six years to finally get around to doing it, and everyone at every MVD was afraid to give you a comercial license. You had to shop around. You had to keep going back. No one at MVD seemed to know the new rules for sure. No one wanted to be the one who gave a CDL to a terrorist.  No one wanted to be responsible when they played images over and over on TV of a semi truck flying into a building.

I finally got my CDL renewed at an MVD further up the hill. I'd gone to the one right downtown first. They wouldn't give me the time of day. They sat behind the counter staring straight ahead with their jaws clenched.

One nice thing, when my license plate was stolen, I got a free year out of my emissions inspection. I hate emissions inspections. I always drive old pickup trucks, and they never pass the emissions test. I hated emissions tests when I lived in Wisconsin and had to go back two or three times to pass the emissions test. When I moved to New Mexico, I lived in Moriarty first, where you don't need an emission test. After I moved down to Albuquerque, I kept my pickup registered out in Moriarty for as long as I could, so I wouldn't have to face the emissions test, but when I renewed my CDL I had to change everything to Albuquerque.

I buy two year plates, so I only have to deal with the MVD and with emissions tests every two years. When my plates were stolen the other day, I looked at my registration and noticed it expired in March, 2012, so when I went to the MVD I asked if I could just renew my registration. The young woman behind the counter said I could, if my emissions test wasn't expired. She looked in the computer and said she could only give me a one year registration because my emissions test would expire before the second year.

Then she gave me new plates and registration that are good until March 2013, and as I was walking back out to my pickup I realized that she had given me a free year on my emissions test. Last time I renewed I had gotten a two year emissions certificate, so it should have expired this March, but now it's good until next March.

I wanted to run back in and kiss the young woman. No, I wanted to go back inside and thank her, but I didn't, because it might have been a mistake and I didn't want to embarrass her, or maybe she did it that way on purpose. Sometimes they will do that. A kind, elderly lady at the MVD in Cottonwood Mall let me go on the eye test, I'm sure, and another woman gave me my CDL when I had the same stack of paperwork that everyone else had said wasn't enough.

When I'm at the MVD, and trying to get a CDL or a two-year registration or trying to pass the eye test which I can barely pass if I cheat a little, and if it's a woman behind the counter, I call them Ma'am at the first opportunity. I say Ma'am and then correct myself and say Miss. That way I get credit for both Ma'am and Miss. Ma'am shows respect, and when you say Miss it's like you just noticed they're too young to be a Ma'am.

That's my theory, anyway, and I noticed that when I corrected myself from Ma'am to Miss the young woman almost imperceptibly nodded. Of course, I was responding to a question about whether or not I wanted to be an organ donor, and it could be she nodded because the customer, me, finally decided what he was going to call her and answered the question and now she could move on to the rest of the registration and when that was done maybe she could finally go on break.

I was ecstatic, though. The emission test is that onerous for me. I start worrying about it as soon as I realize my plates are going to expire. Same with the eye test. I dread having to renew my CDL and start dreading it months beforehand.

Outside the MVD I was walking to my pickup and kept reading and rereading the registration. It was fun to read "expires Mar 2013." She had even fastened the sticker in the corner of the plate for me. She didn't have to do that.

I think about that, and I think about how Republicans demonize bureaucrats, the public sector, how they are going after the public sector because it's the last stronghold of unionized workers in the country. I think about the attacks on public sector employees in Wisconsin and Ohio last summer, followed by similar attacks on them in many other states. I think about New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez making a big show of spending $1 million to catch two illegal voters in order to burnish her anti immigrant credentials with the national Republican party but not wanting to give her own public employees a raise.

I think about our steadily declining standards of living and declining wages, and how the party of the rich won't be satisfied until we're a third world country. I think about that nice young lady who extended my registration until 2013 and the old woman at Cottonwood Mall and how despite the demonizing and the scapegoating and the job insecurity they have to live with every day now, they can still retain their humanity, be polite, be nice, be helpful, give a break to someone like me, someone who is just like everyone else they see from the time they unlock the door until quitting time, someone who doesn't care about anything but getting what they want.

That pleasant little experience happened in between my quarters being stolen and my license plate being stolen and some pissant stealing all the special centennial sections out of all the Journals in the box outside the laundromat, and it happened in between the daily grind of my dead-end, low paying, pathetic job, where no one wants to do their own work and where they leave it for me to do if they can, all of which make me quickly lose what little faith I have in the goodness of mankind. I kept reading and rereading my registration and admiring my shiny new license plate with the 2013 sticker on it and thinking about that beautiful young lady and I was damn happy. A car coming down the long driveway to the MVD off San Mateo almost ran me over and I didn't even care. I hardly even noticed. I'm good until March of next year.


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