Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

How I joined the largest and least selective group

By Dick Hirsch

Little did I realize the significance of the moment, that morning so many years ago, when I was inducted into membership in what is the largest and least selective organization in the US. Reflecting on it now, I realize it was one of those defining moments, a true milestone, but its importance was unrecognized at the time.

I got my Social Security number.

An office clerk bestowed upon me the red, white and blue card that is such a familiar document. I was still a teenager and I had been involved in a variety of moneymaking enterprises before, but they had all been cash deals, with no records kept. I shoveled driveways in the winter, cut lawns in the summer, delivered the weekly shopping news and worked for my Uncle Bob, packing orders of merchandise for shipment.

I was part of the cash economy, working off the books and no one seemed to care. Certainly the Internal Revenue Service couldn’t be bothered with people like me. But I was looking for something more corporate, a position that would last, something that would occupy me for the entire vacation period.

My friend, Mike, seemed to be settled into his job at the shipping department of an envelope company. I asked about the details of his job, how much he was being paid, and whether they needed anyone else. He told me they had not been hiring, but he agreed to inquire. That same evening he called to report that there was a vacancy and he had arranged for me to show up for an interview the following morning. I was ecstatic: although envelope sorting didn’t sound very challenging, the pay sounded very attractive.

The next day, a friendly woman looked me over, asked a few questions, and told me to complete a job application, which I did. She looked it over and immediately noticed a blank space.

“You didn’t fill in your Social Security number,” she said.

“I don’t have one,” I replied, suddenly concerned that I wouldn’t be hired because I lacked a number.

“So Mike sent me somebody who isn’t socially secure,” she said. “Tsk. Tsk. Well, we can take care of that.”

Things were simpler then. She went to a filing cabinet and returned with some papers, an explanatory booklet, and the card which would elevate my status as a wage earner and remain with me for the duration, and I mean the duration. The induction procedure was all over in a very few minutes; she handed me the card, I signed it, and put it in my wallet, without paying any attention to the numbers. Then she walked me back to the warehouse where she introduced me to the foreman, Rudy, a slender red-faced man wearing a Yankees cap, and explained that I was friend of Mike’s. Rudy put me right to work.

I spent the entire vacation there, sorting envelopes, by size and by paper type. Most were the familiar No. 10 size, but some were No. 6 3/4, either plain or with a cellophane window, and others were for social stationery, like the A-2 or the Dagmar. With the end of the school vacation my involvement with envelopes concluded, and as I walked out of that factory for the last time my enduring memento of my time in the envelope industry was my Social Security card.

I had not the slightest notion of its importance. Oh, sure, I understood that sometime in the distant future the government would send me a check every month. But who could have imagined that I would ever be able to memorize those nine random digits and recite them on demand years later? In addition to my name, that Social Security number has become my most distinguishing and identifiable feature, known not only to the government but also to countless other businesses and organizations. As students, we worried about conformity and about having our status reduced to a number. There is no sense worrying about that anymore.

Just the other day I needed a service call and the person asked me a few questions, the final one being this: “What are the last four numbers of your social?”

I recited the numbers.

“That’s not correct,” she replied.

“Of course it is,” I said.

“It’s not what we have,” she insisted, sounding suspicious.

I tried to convince her that I was right and she was wrong. I failed. Will I be investigated? I’ll keep you posted.



Post a Comment

<< Home