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Brendan's Identity Crisis


I guess it started with my perverse love for Lyndon. Good old dirty-mouthed, ham-fisted, arm-twisting Lyndon. I know he wasn't perfect. As time goes by, I may learn that he wasn't even good. But he was the last of them who had the guts to pick up a dog by the ears and I loved him.

So when my third and last born came to the planet I named him Lloyd Brendan James. At the time I convinced his mother that Lloyd was a revered family name. A good Welsh name. Lloyd James, in fact, was my great uncle. He was a urologist who, to the family's embarrassment evermore, died of kidney disease. Whenever I hear or read "Physician, heal thyself," I think of Lloyd.

I never laid eyes on him, and I had no intention of calling my son Lloyd. Not even for a breath. He always was to be Brendan. But had we named him Brendan Lloyd James, his initials would not have been LBJ, and I would not steal from him such a rich legacy just for the sake of nominal simplicity.

Nearly all legacies have sharp edges, however -- some readily apparent, some hidden. One of these has presented itself.

Brendan is now 17. He has one foot in boyhood and one in manhood, and his parents, sometimes successfully, are trying to stay out of the way so that he can make the choice as to which foot should carry his weight. And he is confronted at this tender time with one of those bureaucratic absurdities which cause grown men to throw their brief cases.

He has lost his driver's license. Not taken away. Lost, as in "I don't know where it is." The last time he saw it was when he allowed his wrestling coach's 2-year-old to play with his wallet. The next time he looked for it was when the trooper pulled him over on the way to Ocean City and he got a ticket for not having it.

So he takes himself off to the Motor Vehicle Administration office in Westminster to get a replacement. The first time he goes armed with only his personality. He learns that is insufficient. He is told to come back with his birth certificate (original) and his Social Security card.

Dad goes to the safe-deposit box at the bank, retrieves these precious documents and Brendan goes back. But, no. He is only 17. His application must be co-signed by a parent.

Dad co-signs. Brendan goes back for a third try. Oh, dear. His birth certificate says Lloyd Brendan James, sure enough, but his Social Security card says only Brendan James. Unacceptable. He is told that he can bring in his passport, if he doesn't have a proper Social Security card.

Daunted, but not yet defeated, Brendan returns to the MVA with his brother-in-law in tow. Brother-in-law also is in uniform. Brother-in-law is a great big Maryland state cop who says that this kid, in fact, is his brother-in-law, Lloyd Brendan James of such-and-such address, etc. Both of them are informed that this vouchsafing is not a "primary" form of proof. The MVA officer explains further that he could lose his job if he issued the license under these circumstances.

"Primary" forms of proof (along with the birth certificate, Social Security card and passport) include an out-of-state driver's license or a variety of documents which are generated by immigration to the United States. Obviously, one is at an advantage at the MVA if one is not a Marylander. Brendan is just going to have to get his Social Security card fixed.

Among the magnificent facets of the gem of bureaucracy is the fact that in years past no proof of identity was required to obtain a Social Security card, which is one reason folks who cash checks won't accept it as proof of identity. Brendan's mother calls the Social Security Administration and is told that she may not use his birth certificate to verify his correct name because that was the document used to obtain the Social Security card in the first place. She thinks that isn't so and she questions why, if that is so, the Social Security card does not have the full name on it. That type of question, of course, is what lawyers call "irrelevant and immaterial."

More to the point, what can be used as proof of identity? Why, Brendan's driver's license, of course. Or a letter from his doctor or an insurance policy. (I was thinking of getting a doctor friend of mine to send me a letter addressed to Richard Milhous Nixon so that I could get a Social Security card establishing that I am he. But that would be wrong).

A call to an MVA supervisor in Glen Burnie has engendered the concession that Brendan may be issued a 45-day license so that he can drive legally while he goes about the business of getting a new Social Security card bearing his full name. And get this, folks. He can use the temporary license to establish his identity for the Social Security card he needs to establish his identity for the permanent license.

In short, Lloyd Brendan James can thank old LBJ for an educational experience to which most of us are not exposed until sometime later in life -- the lesson that the business of government is law and order, not truth.

I'm so pleased I think I'll go home and lift him by the ears.

Tom James writes from Baltimore.

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