I recently had the joy of sitting at the social security office for many hours, clutching my number and waiting—not patiently, for it to be called. As legal guardian for a relative, I needed to present myself with some paperwork. That’s fine, but damn, the wait was long.
I made a few acquaintances, played a lot of games on my phone, read the paper, and periodically got up to stretch my legs and relieve my aching back from the hard metal chair. On one trip around the room, the concrete floor doing a swell job of relieving my aching feet and back, I stopped to read through the signs posted on the wall. One caught my eye. I’m giving full credit to “someone in the government” for writing the below. No plagiarism laws broken here, baby.
It’s a federal offense to kill, kidnap, forcibly assault, intimidate, or interfere with designated federal employees while they are engaged in or on account of the performance of their official duties.
Violators are subject to criminal prosecution.
The reason I remember the exact words is because I took a picture of it. At the time, I smiled as I looked down at my phone but then got one of those creepy feelings that someone was looking at me. I pulled my head up and realized everyone in the room was looking at me, especially the security guard with the gun.
This is the type of moment where things can run off the rails for me. I wanted to just announce to the room that the sign was hilarious, and we should have a big discussion about it, but it didn’t seem to be that kind of crowd. The security guard actually raised a brow in my direction. If there was going to be an altercation with someone, it would begin with him.
Naturally, as a citizen, and breaking no laws (that I know of) for taking a picture of a sign in a federal building, I felt I was on the moral high ground and could champion my right to do whatever I want. But then I thought about the sad state of fear and anger in our culture and I decided instead to sit the F down.
But the sign….I mean really? This thing was pretty big, about 12×12 and had a large WARNING sign in red above the words. It was laminated. Why do I need a reminder that it is a federal offense to kill? Is that not a regular state offense too? What about morally wrong? Also, kidnapping? Hey fellas….no kidnapping in here! Remember that when you walk inside! No assaulting the employees in front of the armed guard, or behind their bulletproof glass, or behind their locked doors either. Remember your manners!
So those warnings were ridiculous, but it was the next words that really got me worried. Intimidate? Interfere? Let’s look at those definitions. Dictionary.com defines intimidate partly as such: to overawe or cow, as through the force of personality or by superior display of wealth, talent, etc.
My personality breaks the law every day. Not through display of wealth or talent, but through force. Believe it or not, I can come on strong.
Looking at the security guard, the warning words shot through my mind at lightning speed, and I got cowed, worrying about the arbitrary nature of a possible offense. What could actually be considered as breaking the law? Everyone in the room was being so quiet. The placed reeked of paranoia and fear. People would poke their heads up and glance at others, but not for too long. The place screamed desperation. And the big-ass warning sign on the wall was put there to remind us to Shut the Fuck Up and Mind Our Manners.
Why so hostile, government? Why does this place have to be soooo grim? Isn’t it bad enough that half the people waiting had to practically take a day off work to wait in line? Why do you hate us?
I gave the security guard a big fake smile and took my seat. Head back down, I googled the definition of intimidate and breathed in and out. Bored again, I eventually spoke under my breath to my seat companion who had been sitting next to me for several hours playing poker on his iPad. “Any luck there?”
He was one number ahead of me, we’d swapped that information, and I knew by his body posture and physical pain from the chair that he was just as miserable as me. He said, “Yup. I’ve had some luck.”
“Shh,” I whispered. “For God’s sake, don’t make a scene. We don’t want Johnny Security over there to think you’re flaunting your wealth or circumstances.”
He looked at me like I was nuts. “What are you talking about?”
“Intimidation man. Look it up. It’s against the law. The sign says so right over there.” I gestured with my head.
The guy squinted his eyes and read the sign. “You can’t intimidate the staff. I’m not intimidating anyone.”
“I don’t knooow. Can’t be too careful.”
The guy shook his head and got back to gambling.
Beyoncé would not be encouraging people to put their middle finger up in this place, but now that I think about it, she’d be awfully intimidating. Imagine that spectacle. She’d be arrested on the spot! Or what about a Kardashian? Or Cher. Or how about some other fabulous somebody swanning around, dressed in couture, instructing their staff to find them an ass pillow for their chair. Would being too much get you the cuffs?
But then again, what would they be doing at social security? And just like that, the dream died. But damn, the thought of it really helped pass the time. Thank you, Divas everywhere. You’re doing God’s work.