The US Consulate, Guadalajara
Needs to Improve its Hiring
February 6, 2010
Your government at work: Recently, having become legally blind as a result of early misadventures in the Marine Corps, I was notified by the Veterans Administration that my stepdaughter Natalia qualified for education benefits, but that she needed a social-security number. She should apply for said number at the nearest US consulate, in Guadalajara. All she needed was identification and proof, in this case the letter from the VA, that she needed the number.
I had an uneasy feeling about this. It should have been routine, but I had met two women from the Social Security section at the consulate. Both had been borderline rude and not at all helpful. I expected obstructionism, and got it. Since I have what are called anger-control problems when encountering deliberate uselessness, and suspected that some stuffy law forbade dismembering a federal bureaucrat, I wrote a letter to the Federal Benefits Unit, which ignored it. Finally, after an hour of trying, I managed to telephone one of the women.
I told her that the VA had granted Natalia eligibility for education benefits as a result of downstream consequences of my getting shot in Viet Nam ("defending your sweet ass" I would have said were I rude, which I emphatically am not, and anyway we weren't defending anything, but just killing Vietnamese.) She barely listened, asked to speak to Natalia (at eighteen understood to be an adult, I suppose), told her that she could not have a social-security number unless she were an American citizen, and then hung up before I could get the phone back. Natalia, though rocket smart and the best student in her high school, is still a teenager and has no idea how to handle hostile bureaucrats from another country.
I have various ideas, but all would get me a life sentence.
Having encountered this woman before, I was not surprised by her attitude. However, in response to an emailed question to the Social Security Administration, I had received the following:
"If your child lives outside the United States, we can assign the child a Social Security number if the child is: (1) a U.S. citizen or (2) a noncitizen lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence. Otherwise, we can assign the child a number only if a Social security number is required by law as a condition of receiving a federally-funded benefit."
Since the VA told me that she did need a social-security, the last sentence would seem to fit Natalia exactly. Three possibilities exist: (1) Either the Veterans Administration or the Social Security Administration doesn't know its own regulations and so gave me an incorrect answer. This seems to me unlikely. (2) The Social Security representative at the consulate has never read the Social Security regulations. (3) She knows the regs, but doesn't like either Mexicans, veterans, men, or some combination thereof, and intentionally wanted to harm Natalia. Take your pick. If any other explanation is available, she showed no interest in providing it, or even in being civil.
In any event, she brushed the kid off. Not good. If she didn't like me, fine. But for all she knew, she was denying Natalis a university education. (The VA benefits are not huge, and I'll get her through one way or another, but Miss Charm didn't know that. Or care.)
What earthly reason might there have been for her behavior? Easy. On a Kentucky-windage estimate, both of these Social-Security aces belong to that category of gringas who, disliking men to begin with, have lost their looks with the onset of middle age and become yet more disagreeable. They face many years more in dead-end mid-level jobs. They are angry. They take it out on anyone sufficiently defenseless. Natalia.
For reasons I cannot imagine, the word "motingator" comes to mind. This is a useful Southernism sometimes defined as "a change-of-life alligator with the hives."
Anyway, lots of expats are helpless against unfriendly 'crats. The consulate is almost impenetrable to us. Phone numbers are hard to find and tend to be eternally busy, out of service, or to empty into "for this press that" recordings that give no access to a human being and don't answer any but questions you aren’t asking. For people who have not dealt with the federal government, being told "no" by An Official and hung up on is intimidating. To whom do you complain? The Secretary of State? The consul? Where do you find his number? A retired master sergeant likely regards a consul not as a human being who might actually want to help, but as a remote and awesome being, like Blackjack Pershing or Elvis.
Which brings us to another problem. Employees of the State Department are not evil, and not stupid, but they run to white wine and cheese, Holyoke and Princeton. They are slightly upscale and more comfortable with people like themselves than with enlisted veterans, who make up a fair part of the expat population. You don't see State's folk at El Gavilan, hooking down Herradura and remembering the good times in Chiang Mai when Murphy picked up this hooker with three thumbs, yeah, no shit, three.... Soldiers are blunt, say dirty words, and don't have much respect for office pogues. The styles are too different. Federal gringas typically make Mormon missionaries look like party animals. The chasm is unbridgeable.
Questions from vets ought to be handled by a vet, but where would you find one of those at State?
To an angry and frustrated gringa, of whom there are many hereabouts, veterans embody everything they detest. If a grunt who was at the Rock Pile or Khe San says "my stepdaughter," the aging gringa figures him for one of those dirty old men who marry pretty Mexicanas looking for submissive wives. (I haven't encountered these submissive Mexican women, but never mind.) They resent the wife for being young and pretty and perhaps happy, and, should there be an application for federal benefits, they suspect the step-daughter of being a wanna-be parasite.
The wine-and-cheese effect has consequences. During the lead-up to the fall of Saigon, I went to the embassy for some reason (being then the Southeast Asian stringer for Army Times). The NVA was rapidly coming south and the city obviously was going to fall. Thousands of American men were still in Saigon with Vietnamese wives, legal or not, and often with families. State was puzzled that these men hadn't flown out, not understanding that men do not leave their wives and children in toppling Asian cities. Of Vietnamese women, I heard one of the embassy gals say, "I don't see how anybody could marry one of them."
"Let's see," I thought. "The Viet women are smart, instinctively
classy, feminine (consult your dictionary), don't bitch constantly, are beautiful,
sexy, endlessly self-reliant, and tough without being masculine. Uh...what
was the question, lady?"
If somebody smarter hadn't decided to allow men to take their families out, the NVA would have had thousands of hostages.
Enlist, and serve your country. Miss Charm awaits you.