TLC at the DMV

th-3   Avoidance of the dreaded DMV visit had to end. After all, legally, our transfer from Illinois to Connecticut should have happened in 30 days. But, that didn’t take into consideration hotel life for 17 months, the not-sale of our IL home, and the continued “temporary living” status we enjoyed for most of 2008 and 2009.
But it was time. So on our first 80 degree day in April, the air-conditioned DMV seemed like a good place to escape the heat. 🙂 Right?

My first DMV line happily placed me next to older teens who knew a lot more than I about DMV lines. They must have noticed my old-lady lost look, and they took pity, telling me I really didn’t have to do this particular line, and could go directly to kiosk (GO)–although no mention was made about collecting any salary–and in fact, the kiosk wanted me to swipe a card, get my picture taken (not for the license–who knows for what!) and obtain a receipt which would allow me the joy of skipping over to the inching centipede–thousand-legger line on the other side of the building. This line was for those wishing a CT drivers license, update, driving or eye test, or replacement license.

Thank you teenagers! The pre-kiosk line had only cost me an initial ten minutes, rather than an additional hour.  th

But, this was still an hour and a half until my turn at the desk where I had to show ID, an address with my name on it, and surrender my passport and Illinois license. Didn’t know I needed a proof of address. Raced to my car, tore off a cardboard box address label that thank God was still in my car, raced back to the desk and presented it.

Noooooo. It was NOT a piece of mail.

“Oh come on!” I mistakenly called it a UPS box, instead of the legitimate USPS. They sound so similar, and after calling on an officer of the law to accept this–which he would not as UPS, but okayed as USPS I heaved a “whew!!” I was in.

I sat back down in the eye-test waiting area and listened in on various conversations–parents and teens, new residents, disgruntled people who didn’t think it was a good idea to waste April’s first 80 degree day.
My turn at the eye test. I was really stressing out the binoculars. We already know from my trip to Holyoke that I have challenges with my amblyopic situation. My testing officer was a dear man, about my age. Don’t these police people have crimes to solve? Never been to a DMV that used police officers for eye tests.

“Um. Can’t do the binocular thing,” I confessed. “Which eye would you like me to use first?” I think my innocence was a plus.

“Left eye, please,” he said. “Okay, then.” Numbers, not letters–aced it.

Then the dreaded right eye, which is yellowing, according to my optometrist, but not enough for cataract surgery yet. 🙁 “I slipped on prescription sunglasses.) Aced this one too.

Then he said, “Which sign is closer?”

“Oh-oh,” said I. “Also a binocular question. I have no idea.”

“Try again,” he prodded, not able to process my dilemma.

“Um. Ok. But, they all look the same.”

He gave me one of the most tender looks I have ever seen, even outside of a DMV. Well I have actually never seen a kind look inside a DMV until this day.

“But, then how do you see which car is closer?” he asked, totally genuine, concerned for my welfare (which we all know is well-placed concern. See Finding My Way–scroll back).

“Well, I compensate,” I told him. “And, I don’t drive at night, and I don’t do Interstates, and I don’t put myself in situations where this might be a problem,” to which he gave me a look of incredulity but still kind.   th-1

“I probably don’t see it as well as you do,” I offered, hoping ego-boosting (for him, not me) would help my case.
In the meantime, dear Jay decided this was a good time to check in, and my cell phone blared Santa Baby by Eartha. Now the sign at the desk clearly says no one can have a cell phone on. I forgot to turn mine off. Santa Baby played its whole theme because I wasn’t audacious enough to answer it, or even reach to turn it off.
The USPS approver walked through our eye test area, leaned in, and exclaimed, “You have just made my day. I love that song.”
I was so happy to have made someone’s day!! Christmas in April. Who knew? Santa Baby on a contraband cell phone!! At the DMV!

My officer was writing some things on his paper, winding up my test report, when he threw me another curve (which I could see).

“Were you using prescription glasses?”   Unknown-1

“Um. Only on my right eye. I assure you, I use my left eye more. So pleeeeease don’t put ‘Needs correction’ on that paper. I haven’t had an accident that was my fault in 40 years of driving,” I said, hoping this too would comfort him. (After leaving the DMV, I realized I have been driving a tad longer than 40 years. Oh well. I didn’t get the math genes. And, that made me sound younger.)

He sighed. I wasn’t sure what he wrote, so I pushed my luck.

“You aren’t writing glasses on that, right? Cause, really, I mostly use my left eye.” I don’t think that had been a sigh of relief, but rather of resignation.

“No,” he said, shaking his head, and still that look of, “I hope she’ll be alright.”

I took my seat for another wait–this time the real picture. Only two hours and I was more than half way through–so I imagined.

It only took a half hour to get to the picture–and these people are nice.

“You’re way too nice to work at a DMV,” I said to my final desk gal. “How do you explain them letting you work here?”

“They let us drink,” she said straight-faced.

“Nice, and a sense of humor!” Unbelievable.

It took six tries to get my picture with the hopes my left eye wouldn’t turn in, as it does when I am tired. The two hour wait wore me down. I was tired. My left eye turned in. 🙁

“So I have to wait till the renewal for a new picture?” I asked. “2016?”

She smiled. She had tried. I couldn’t ask for portrait quality, even from this obviously caring soul after her six tries to get my eye right.

Oh well. Only a final half hour to request the procedure for me saving Jay from this two and a half hours of waiting, which another very nice desk person explained and gathered forms for.

Armed with power of attorney, registration forms for two cars, a motorcycle, and a temporary registration for getting the motorcycle from Massachusetts to Connecticut for its real registration, all that remained was getting insurance on the vehicles, and double-checking the list of must-haves: copies of Jay’s license, address proofs that matched each vehicle, and bank checks in the names of all participating registerees. Sounds easy, easy as pie, right? But, then it’s the DMV, which I have to say was not as odious a visit as I had anticipated, but still not the way I usually spend the first 80 degree day in April.

NOTE: This post originally appeared in April, 2010 on It is reposted here by request.

A pause for the comma

I believe I suffer from comma phobia. You heard me right. I have a sincere wish to avoid the little rascals altogether. They frighten me. I think it started when I proofread school papers for my daughter, and she would get downgraded from my removal of her commas. This was then exacerbated when my best friend, Gail, a former college professor, raised her eyebrows at my journalistic use of commas, far sparser than her academic comma usage.

Let me also tell you, it is a point of honor for me that I scored 99th percentile in punctuation and grammar on my high school achievement tests. Every year. It is the only academic area where I can say that–except for my ability to recognize and name every instrument in the orchestra. But, that’s irrelevant here. I could diagram sentences with the best of them; I rarely got below A+ on any English grammar, spelling or punctuation test.

So it rattles me that I am insecure in my use of the innocent comma.
I think some of the confusion stems from the transition from high school and college writing to journalism, where different expectations for comma usage exist, as I have already said. But, something inside tells me it is more than that.

Lately I find myself insecurely adding commas where commas have never gone before. It’s a mixture of respect for Gail and her ilk, and fear of seeing them furrow their brows at my dearth of commas. I can almost hear the clicking tongues of the schoolteachers as they read my well-thought out commas.  th
th-1 I am no longer sure whether or not my meaning is clear without them; I end up giving the comma the benefit of the doubt, then I subject myself to more pain and suffering by re-reading my text and wrestling over whether to remove many of them.
I realize I cannot have this conversation with just any Tom, Jane or Sally, but I know you care. I implore you to consider how much anguish we writers endure for the sake of clarity versus creativity, and accuracy versus enjoyable reading. Therein is the real problem: for some, enjoyment has nothing to do with accuracy; for others it is the very rock on which they stumble when their rules are not followed, and they cannot, for the sake of incorrect grammar, allow themselves to enjoy even an artistic sentence or phrase. It’s the old chalkboard squeak or the symphonic dissonance that they just cannot bear.
th-2Much of the dilemma has become clearer to me in the reading of Lynne Truss’s delightful book, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, where she devotes an entire chapter to the worthy, small, but mighty, comma. (Truthfully, she is mostly an apostrophe kind of gal, but she does wax humorous in the comma chapter). Since the title of her book belies her disdain for misuse of the comma, I guess those little dears are important to her too. I mean, in case you haven’t figured it out, her title refers to Pandas who eat shoots and leaves. But, if the comma is erroneously inserted where it doesn’t belong, you will think the Panda has visited an eatery, had some dinner, shot the patrons, and exited. All because of a comma. Imagine!
Truss carefully explains that where the college student (or professor) might write: red, white, and blue, the journalist, me, would likely (definitely) spare you the “third degree” and write: red, white and blue. Actually, I get as frowny over Gail’s excessive use as she does my lack of. It seems to me that Gail and her colleagues simply insert commas, willy-nilly; I pride myself on deciding whether inserting that comma will better clarify the meaning of the sentence or not. If not, I restrain myself. I consider that a virtue.
The most illuminating part of Truss’s explanation is the origin of the little mark, and how it was used as much to allow the reader the proper tone, like in music, where pauses became part of the joy of reading aloud, as much as it was used for clarity. She points out that the whole problem began when we started reading silently.
th-3   So, now, I really get it. This is the pith of the matter: I write for audio–always have. My stuff is meant for radio, bedtime sharing, reading aloud to one’s self. I think audio. Maybe that is why I need to be alone to write. I can’t have other noises around, or I don’t know what my words will sound like.
There you have it. I am giving myself permission to place commas only where they will “sound right.” I will know. Hopefully, you will agree. Not sure I will persuade Gail though.