Not Dead Yet

The form letter came in the morning mail, addressed to the family of…

Followed by my name. The local voter registration office was sorry for our loss and was dropping me from the ranks of registered voters because I was had died on…

When exactly?

I became concerned. It’s one thing to prove that you’re dead: you (or someone who is handling your postmortem affairs) gets a death certificate from the county. But, once a government agency assumes you’re dead, how do you prove otherwise? The closest thing we have to a “life certificate” is a flimsy social security card and number, which has no picture. I know I have a birth certificate but I’m old enough NOT to know where to look for it if I ever need it.

Then there’s the uncomfortable possibility that insurance companies can cancel my numerous policies, some necessary for health care and prescription drugs. What about my driver’s license?

I thought of the small pile of cards, paper, some laminated, some wrinkled, folded and fading, that say I am what I am (and, to quote Popeye, “that’s all that I yam.” I remembered numerous pre-internet science fiction novels and thrillers about sneaky operatives who are “off the grid,” that is, technically nonexistent so they can create fake identities at will. This sounds like fun until you consider Terry Gilliam’s dystopian film Brazil, when one agency makes the equivalent of a typographical error (on a genuine typewriter!) that brings chaos down on our poor hero because, in the future, the many bureaucracies have reached attained a web-like state of interconnection (symbolized by the pipes and wires that burst and dangle from the film’s nightmarish sets), so that when one makes a mistake, they ALL make the mistake.

My wife checked the voter registration list on line and found that her name was on it. Mine was not.

Was this because of the way I voted, or for whom I did or did not vote in the last election? I recalled a trend sweeping the country in which a political party was purging voter registrations in such a way that those who had voted and still wanted to vote had to somehow prove that they existed.

My wife advised me to gather my ID cards and my passport with the morbid letter and visit the agency in person. We parked in the visitor space. I entered a moderately impressive lobby and turned right into one of those bleak, windowless rooms where rows of desks are defended by a broad, featureless counter where you can almost feel the frustration, agony and irritation of all the not-yet-dead folks arriving to complain.

Except I was alone. A supervisory person assumed an arms-folded, defensive posture behind the counter. I had, after all, arrived without an appointment.

“I’m thinking of changing my middle name to Lazarus,” I began, displaying the letter.

A smile, and then an explanation as another person who may or may not have sent the letter arose from the wilderness of desks. Records were checked and, low and behold, a person with my first name and last name died a few months ago in a different town within the county. He had a different middle name but whoever put his name in the records and hit the button that sent the form letter to me, didn’t check middle names.

The person apologized for my confusion. I was assured that this would not affect any other records with my name on them, within the county, state or federal government.

“Does this happen often?” I wanted to know.

Not often. I was told, but occasionally, when names are similar.

I thought of the dozen or so people I had located on the internet who had my first and last name. I had sent some emails. Now I know why at least one of them didn’t respond.

Then I was thanked for helping them train new voter registration office employees, and others in the country, to compare middle names. I would get a letter soon confirming that I was placed back on the voter registration list.

I stood still for a moment. Then I asked, “should I do anything else to make sure everything is okay?”

“You can celebrate your birthday. You now have two of them.”

I decided to take the rest of the day off.