So, after sitting in the DMV for two hours, to register my car in California, that happy moment arrived when they called my number "B128 - counter 18." Clutching my heft of paperwork, I went 18-ward, arriving with a cheery "Hello!"
"Grunt," said Miss (Ms?) Counter 18.
I explained what I wanted, and she asked me what paper I had brought. I opened my folder, and presented her with the wonders within: a document from Homeland Security! Another document from Homeland Security! A document form Honda! A document from the dude outside who inspected the car! A document from Nova Scotia! A document from my new insurer! My license! My lease! My smog inspection certificate!
"Grunt," said Miss Counter 18, obviously rendered speechless by the splendour of my muniments.
She proceeded to thump away with some ill-humour at her computer which, judging by her repeated appeals to her coworkers, was not able to cope with the ineffable foreignness of my car. Judging by the sub-voce imprecations afterwards directed at her coworkers, their advice was not helpful.
At one point, one of her passing colleagues dropped by to offer a hand. As she explained the difficulties the mysterious stranger from the Great White North was posing to her database, he eyes lifted, first to me, and then to a point somewhere over my right shoulder. I stood still, worried that perhaps my cowlick was acting up again, perhaps assuming some obscene form on my head.
"Hey!" he suddenly yelled. "What are you writing?"
"Nothing," said a Russian-accented voice behind me (not my cowlick - phew!). "Just... something personal."
I turned. All of us in the DMV that morning turned, desperate as we were to counter the shattering ennui of waiting, waiting, without even some piped-in smooth jazz to alleviate the torment. The Russian was a big man, in a t-shirt with an airbrushed logo for a heavy metal band, clutching a pad of post-its and a pen to his chest, jaw thrust out defiantly.
"You were copying the eye test chart," said DMV guy.
"I was not. Besides, it's a free country," said the Russian.
"You can't do that. Go sit down over there," said the DMV guy.
"I can write what I want. You can't tell me what to do! It's a free country!" said the Russian.
The exchange continued like this, until a security guard finally came out and escorted the man off the premises. The last I heard of him, he was yelling "I'll sue! I'll sue!"
Disappointed, all of us in the DMV went back to inspecting those points in the middle-distance that had occupied our attention before. I looked up at the eye chart - it was suspended from the ceiling, about ten feet behind the counter where I stood. I could read it easily with my glasses on. I asked Miss Counter 18 where one normally had to stand to take the eye test.
"Right where you are," she said, as she entered my address in her computer with extraordinary viciousness.
I fell silent. The Russian had been standing about 20 feet behind me - three times further than he needed to be to pass the test. If he was copying the numbers from there without aid of a telescope, why did he need to copy them at all?