BY MARK KODAMA
Copyright is held by the author.
WE WAITED in line at the social security office. Robots . . . artificial intelligence . . . they’ve taken our jobs. About one hundred persons of all races and all countries stood in a line that extended out the front door into the cold. An older Asian man, his gray hair pasted to his head and flecks on dandruff spotted the collar of his coat, spoke Vietnamese to his fat wife. A young black woman stood behind an older Caucasian woman with close cropped hair. How did I get here? I paid my taxes all my life and now I am sick with cancer.
There were also dozens of people sitting in chairs, waiting for their names to be called. A heavy set black woman dressed in a white security uniform with a red shoulder arm patch waddled up and down the line and shouted for people to turn off their cell phones. I should have listened to my high school counselor way back when and majored in computer science. My cell phone began to ring. The security guard looked directly at me. “Turn off your phone,” she shouted. I turned off my phone.
The lines slowly moved forward. Three government workers manned the three open windows. The young black woman and older white woman with closely cropped hair stared at their cell phones as a large gap opened up in the line ahead of them. I remembered watching a video on how self driving cars were going to replace all the drivers. My nephew had showed me his new Telsa that was self-driving.
“Could you move up,” I asked the people in front of me.
“Some people are so impatient around here,” the young black woman said.
“Yes, selfish,” the older white woman said, smugly.
“Can’t you see there are people standing out in the cold,” I said, annoyed.
When I got up to the front of the line, the government worker, a woman in her 30s, yawned. “Yes,” she said sleepily. She stared at her computer screen.
“Yes, I came here to get an update on my case,” I said. “I’ve called here a half-dozen times and I have yet to receive a return call.”
“Name,” she yawned again, staring at her monitor.
“William Smith,” I said.
“What,” she asked sleepily.
“Smith,” I repeated. “William Smith.”
“Oh,” she said, as she typed my name in. “Social security number?”
I said my number.
“Again,” she said.
I repeated it.
“Mother’s maiden name?”
“Jones,” I said.
“Did you say . . . Jones?”
“How can I help you,” she said and looked up.
“I’ve called here many times about my benefits application and nobody can ever tell me what’s going on.”
“Well,” she yawned and rubbed her eyes.
“I have cancer and I can’t work now.”
She looked up. “Wait a minute.” She got up at disappeared and then returned. “Call this number.” She wrote a number on a post-it note and handed it to me.
She yawned and scratched her ribs with both hands. “They should be able to help you.”
When we got home, I called the telephone number. A young woman answered the telephone. After I told her my name and telephone number, she looked up my case on her computer.
When I asked her for a status, she refused to tell me over the phone other than to say to expect a letter this week.
When I received the letter from the Social Security Administration, denying my application, it said I was a robot.