The guy who sold me my car cancelled the plates the very next week. Luckily, I didn’t know that because there was a November expiration sticker on the plate. So the fact that I was driving the car illegally for three months did not bother me. Until now. But now I’m at the DMV.
I know your first inclination is to say that I’m an idiot for waiting until the end of November. But I really, really cannot deal with bureaucracy. To give you a sense of how much I can’t deal with it, I almost did not graduate college because I had too many library fines. I graduated only because my grandma made some calls.
I have found, in adult life, that bureaucracy only gets deeper and deeper, and for someone like me, with Asperger Syndrome, the rules, numbers and conversations that bureaucracy entails is completely overwhelming: IRS, health insurance, 401Ks, I actually have no idea how people cope with this stuff.
Which brings me to the DMV, to register my car, the day my sticker expires.
I have to fill in my age on the form, but there are numbers all over the form and all over the room and I can’t remember if I’m 41 or 42. I know the math problem is 2009 – 1966, but it would require borrowing and carrying, I think, because the 9 is so much bigger than the 0 and that’s where they will line up: the 9 under the 0. The numbers on top always feel like they are flying and I can’t keep track of them and I’ll never get the math problem right. At least not right now. So I guess.
I tell the DMV lady I filled out my form.
She looks to see if I filled in everything.
She says that I left the second part blank.
This is true. It looked like it was too much. Like, how could they want all that information? I just can’t believe it.
She says, “You need your VIN, color, make, date purchased and your signature.”
“Yes. Do you have it?”
“I forgot the car title stuff at my house. Can you look it up?”
“You came to register your car without the vehicle identification number?”
“Oh. Um. I thought I had it.”
I have to go home.
This is not easy. I can’t read a map, and I don’t know left and right, so I can’t follow verbal directions, so I have three routes I know well in Madison, and if I’m trying to get anywhere, I try to get to one of my three routes. For me, it’s not about the fastest route, it’s about not having to follow a new one.
But I’m on the side of town I never go to, so I can’t figure out how to get to one of my routes. I think I have a straight shot to my office, though. So I tell myself I’ll go to my office and then I’ll do my regular drive home, and get the title.
But I get lost going to my office. I would usually call Ryan Paugh for something like this but he’s on vacation. I review the social norms I know about vacations: usually, if someone is your friend, you can call them for help on vacation. But Ryan probably only helps me because I’m sort of his boss.
So I get lost going to my office, and then I go home, and then I take the same route back to the DMV, but it’s so long that I decide to stop at my favorite gas station.
It’s my favorite gas station for the coffee. Have I told you that now that I live in Wisconsin I have taken to drinking gas station coffee? I don’t know what’s come over me. So my favorite meal right now is French Vanilla coffee and a Peanut Butter Power Bar.
I have told you before that transitions are insanely difficult for me. This is one of those times. I am eating—so nice and easy—and going back to the DMV seems so terrible, and isn’t going to ever work out anyway. So I get another coffee and another Power Bar. And it’s so nice, sitting in my car, alone, with no noise, and I think I’m going to die if I have to go back to the DMV.
I do not die, but I do get anxiety and start picking at my cuticles. I have Googled a million times to see if picking cuticles is associated with Asperger’s because it’s insane that I do it. I mean, it hurts and everyone can see it, and sometimes, if it’s a really bad day, I get blood on a nice shirt. Which is today. Well, not really a nice shirt because I was so stressed about today that I did not change out of the shirt I slept in. But I am bleeding.
The only thing I found out from Google is that people with Asperger’s self-mutilate as a way to focus away from what is overwhelming. So it’s like cutting. That’s what’s going on here. I find Googling that another form of this sort of self-mutilation is anorexia, which I wish so much I could have.
Do not tell me this is not acceptable to say. It’s always the fat people who say that. Because really everyone wishes they could be anorexic for a few days, just to get their weight down. I’m just wishing I could be anorexic for the days that I’m picking at my cuticles. The food thing is so much more socially acceptable.
I bring my VIN number to the window where the lady is.
She says, “Hello again.”
Really. She says this. And I can only think of that part of the book Go Dog Go where the dogs say:
Do you like my hat?
I do not.
I always liked that part because I felt like Go Dog Go doesn’t just have work dogs and play dogs, and up dogs and down dogs. Go Dog Go also has Asperger’s dogs.
So I say, “Hello.”
I hope we are going to do the Go Dog Go script. I’m giddy with anticipation of having a real connection with the DMV lady.
She says, “Do you have proper identification now?”
I panic. I was expecting “Do you like my hat?” I thought she only needed the car stuff. I worry she needs a phone bill with my address on it or something.
I show her my stuff. She helps me fill in the form. She talks slowly for me, and it’s comforting.
She gives me a number and tells me to wait until it’s called.
I look around for people looking at numbers being called. I don’t see a crowd of people holding papers like mine.
Also, I hear a lot of stuff being called. I mean, there’s the Wisconsin ID department, and the driver’s license department, and the car registration people, and you can even get a passport photo taken here. There’s a lot going on. There are a lot of numbers here.
I worry that I’m going to miss my number while I’m trying to figure things out. So I go back to the woman and ask her how long she thinks it’ll be.
She says, “Not long at all.”
I say, “Not long like an hour, or not long like a minute?”
She says, “Five minutes.”
I go back to looking for where people are listening to numbers. I tell myself I have four minutes to figure out where the numbers are coming from. I look around and the place is full of sixteen-year-olds who are handling all the paperwork for their driver’s licenses. Their parents are reading books, taking care of young siblings, not paying attention to the forms and the numbers and the lines. The sixteen-year-olds are doing it.
Is this the DMV for the gifted-and-talented? Is it normal that all these teens can navigate the DMV? How do they know what to do? Where do they get their information?
I cannot figure out who is supposed to call my number. I am not hearing numbers. I so so so do not want to go back to the woman at the desk. I stare at the wall trying to figure out what to do.
The wall at the DMV is, actually, overwhelming. There are videos about immigration and posters about drunk driving, and there are LCD displays of numbers and letters and I have to find the only blank spot on the wall, in between the bathroom doors, to stare.
I tell myself that it will be fine to ask the lady at the window for help again. I remind myself about the airport. For years I was too scared to ask for help at the airport even though I could not read my boarding pass. I missed so many flights that Ryan Healy was not even surprised anymore when I called him from an airport to tell him I was stuck. Sometimes I’d be right there, sitting at the gate, watching the clock, but the clock is just more numbers, and still I’d miss the flight. Or, if I did not miss my flight, it took so much concentration that I would lose all my stuff; there’s too much commotion to navigate for me to also read numbers.
So I started asking the person at the counter to circle the gate and the time on my boarding pass. I say, “I’m dyslexic and I can’t read my boarding pass.” The person always has a moment of surprise but usually they watch out for me.
So I pretend I’m at the airport and I go to the DMV lady again. I say, “Can you tell me what to do with this? I can’t figure out how to know where to go with my number.”
She says, “What number?”
I hand her my slip.
She says, “These are all letters.”
I look. And it’s true. They are. But they are tricky letters for someone thinking numbers. Well, the H is not tricky, but the I and the O really threw me off.
I say thank you, and then I see there is an LCD above each window in the whole place that shows the number and letter sequence that is almost like mine but not really mine.
I watch. And then it’s my turn.
I go up to the counter. The woman looks over my form.
I am so nervous that I’m not going to have the right information that I have to look away. I look at the customer at the window next to me.
She has a folder of information. Everyone has folders for their car stuff? How can the whole world be so organized? How can the government require that you be this organized to get through life? Why is no one protesting?
My new DMV lady looks up stuff in the computer. She tells me I have a ticket.
This does not surprise me. I get tickets a lot and I forget to pay them. So I sort of think of all tickets, when I get them, as the amount on the slip plus the inevitable late fee.
I say, “Can I pay it now?”
She says, “No. You need to pay at the police station at the Capitol.”
I don’t know why I say this, because just getting the words out gives me so much stress that I think I’m going to have diarrhea right there on the spot. But I say, “Can I go pay it at the police station and then come back?”
“No. It takes up to seven days to clear in the system.”
“The system here needs to show you have no tickets before I can register your car.”
So I settle in for a week of surreptitious, unregistered driving while I wait for the system to clear.
Luckily this is not a day I have to drive to the farm. The farmer drives to my house.
And right when I am trying to get dinner on the table, he says, “Do you have a stamp?”
My first thought is, “It’s so annoying that are you are talking to me when I am trying to get dinner ready because it’s too hard for me to do dinner and kids and stamps.” Also, I think, “Who is still using stamps? What do we need stamps for in 2009 besides letters to Santa?”
He says, “I got a ticket today for parking in front of your house, and I want to pay it before I forget.”
Then I put down my pot, turn off the stove and walk over to give him a kiss. The important thing when you have Asperger’s is not to be able to do stuff you can’t do, but to surround yourself with people who can.