How To Conquer a Bureaucracy!
Contained herein is a very informative yet generalizable document (woah, kind of like good code). The purpose of this document is to orient the reader with various strategies used in avoiding a slow death by fluorescent light in an anonymous hallway in a collosal and inefficiently heated building. The first and most important thing to know is that one cog in the machine can prevent you from getting what you want. All it takes is one measly stamp-wielding cubicle terrorist with a bit of bad faith and you're through. The other caveat is that this HOWTO is written with real people in mind. If you have to mail in forms (this is the way most people try to keep the IRS at a safe distance) this document will be of little to no use, because you never get the opportunity to stand in front of a desk and obfuscate the whole matter for a poor clerk, which is the point after all.
- Know what you're getting into.
That's right. You'll be applying for a visa, getting a social security number, medicare, or engaging in any number of other inconceivably complicated tasks. You need to figure out how to do this first. I recommend using the web. Try googling "OBTAINING VISA UNITED STATES" or something equally obnoxious in caps lock.1 You should find a link to a decrepit web site, preferably ending in .gov or .us, that hasn't been updated or even thought about since Mosaic came out. Good. Now find the section that says something like "required documents" and write down what you'll need. Note: actually possessing these documents is of secondary importance. We'll get to that later.
- Pack smart.
Even the best bureaucracy-dodgers can't work their magic all the time. Be prepared. Bring a backpack (a day pack might be fine, but you might think about bringing a 2,000-4,000 ci Arcteryx on the off chance that you have a long wait. Water is obviously most important. Bring a quart or two. After that is food. Most people are content with some crackers or a candy bar, but I say soy nuts, beef jerky, and gorp. A propane/butane camping stove might be a good choice. A tent if you have to wait in line outside the building, but otherwise this seems a bit overboard. You will also need a pencil and a stamp of any sort. I mean the type of stamp you used to play with when you were five. Yes, a dolphin or a stegosaurus is fine. Oh, and a good book. Now you're ready to go and confront the people behind the people behind the institution.
- Once inside the building...
First of all, make sure you're there at least two hours before the time of your appointment. You're going to need to find the right stairway, the right hall, the right door, and eventually the right cubicle. If you're lucky there will be a desk with actual people at it. In this case, if you speak the same language as the people at the desk, you're in the clear. Unless they're lying androids, in which case there are two possibilities:
- Ask one of the androids: Where would that other android tell me to go?
- This is where the second quart of water comes in handy. Pour the water on one of the androids, causing him to short circuit and scaring the others into pointing you in the right direction.
It might be the case that there is no desk and there are no people. If so, there should be a sign. This sign will be somewhat vague but after enough wandering, you should at least find a desk behind which is a knowledgeabe-looking person. Warning: If this "person" is in fact an android, the same caveats as before still apply.
Finally, if there is neither a desk nor a sign, you have to resort to extreme measures. Hopefully you have a compass in your bag, because you should have one on you. Always.
- The REQUIRED DOCUMENTS section
You'll remember that I said you wouldn't actually need the documents that had been suggested by the HTML-1.0 compliant web site. Well, you can take this advice to different extremes. If you want to defeat a bureaucracy completely, you might want to start reading this. If you're going to do the deed with your own identity, you'll have to be careful. After you have obtained the location of the proper office but before you've entered said office, take a seat in one of the chairs that's undoubtedly a relic from the 1970s, preferably near a photocopier, and get out the "required documents." The web site will have told you what documents you need and more or less where to get them; download, a visit to your local post office, whatever. You should have these documents. This is the time to either: a) fill them out, or b) embellish them, if you've already filled them out. The embellishing mostly involves the photocopier. First, make a test copy of one of the pages of the documents. The copy machine should be at least ten years old, and it should have gotten some pretty heavy usage in that time. With any luck, the test copy will come out almost entirely black, streaked, spotted - in short, illegible. If the agency in which you are occupying a lonely hallway requires that you have an official-looking stamp on one of your forms, bust out the porpoise or dinosaur and stamp, initial over the stamp, and then make a copy. Presto, immediate credibility through obscurity. If the copier isn't sufficiently abysmal, apply a light layer of pencil shading, copy, repeat until satisfied. To increase the chances of success within the monolithic organization, burn or eat the originals.
- Breaking down the door (or, waiting in the hall)
If you've gotten lucky, it hasn't taken you long to arrive at the right door. This is fine; the reasons for arriving absurdly early are manifold. The first thing you're going to do is barge in the correct door and ask - nay, tell - whomever is in charge that your appointment is for (insert current time plus five courtesy minutes). Make it very clear from the tone of your voice that you can't afford to waste any time. If the person at the desk says that you're not actually penciled in, insist on the contrary, and provide no proof but your word. Eventually, you'll find out that the First and Most Important Caveat that I mentioned at the beginning can actually be reversed and worked to your advantage. In this case, the cog sitting at the anyonymous desk in the labyrinthine building that figures so prominently in his futile Kafka-esque life is your sole hope of jumping ahead in line. Make it very clear to this cubicle-bound life form that every second he makes you wait in the corridor is going to be another gray hair on his head. He will then promptly make the unauthorized executive decision that his time is too valuable to spend hours yelling at someone who is obviously well read, and he'll let you in early.
- Givin' it up
Now it's time to hand over your papers. This is really quite easy. Since all you've got is your wicked bad photocopies. There is a ninety-five to one hundred percent chance that the person behind this desk will ask you for more documents. This is where you cite the site (Sorry! Sorry, okay?!). You have all of the required documents, according to thefallaciousinformation the bureaucracy has given you. Ask the desk-man to pull it up on his government-issue 8086 and he'll see. You'll have to argue with this guy just like you did with the previous one, but if you use the right strategies, such as occasionally saying "I don't speak English" or just simply beginning to cry, you'll get your way soon enough. I know that this part of the method doesn't involve as much finesse as it does bad acting and brute force, but when you're just one person going up against an entire army of pencil-wielding figureheads, it's the best you can do.
At this point you should be happily moving along a line normal to one of the surfaces of the building; you should be fleeing, getting the hell out of Dodge, as it were. The papers you came for should be secure in your pocket or briefcase, and the flowers and munchkins should all be dedicating their celibratory songs to you as you click your heels and disappear into the sunset. If for some reason you were denied the papers, don't hang your head - you just have a little more reading to do.
No, of course I don't -really- condone this stuff. I figured it might be best to put a disclaimer.