Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sweating before the judge to become who I am

Patrick is not my real name. I actually have an incredibly ethnic name, in the style of Annunziato or Ermenegildo. (But neither of those. But just as bad.) And I've always hated it. I mean no disrespect to the grandfather for whom I was named, it's just that in the 1970s where I grew up, having a name like Zanibuono DiJusto (not my old name, but just as bad) simply wasn't healthy.

About 5 years ago I decided to legally change my name, to the point of getting the forms and obtaining a birth certificate. But back then, you also needed sworn statements from people who had known you as your new name for x number of years, and I got lazy and never collected them.

But since then the rules had changed. According to the website, all you needed now to change your name was to fill out some forms, drop them off at the courthouse, pay $65, and in about three weeks you could be a new person. The forms were on line and there was even an interactive program that assumed you were as intelligent as a third grader and would need a great deal of help and handholding to get everything right. It couldn't be this simple. Could it? I dug out my birth certificate from the aborted 2005 name change attempt, printed out the name change petition forms, and jumped on the subway.

At the Jay Street station, people were clustered at the bottom of the stairs. That means only one thing. New York had been having a horrendous heat wave for the entire month of July; one for the record books. I had spent the past week indoors sitting at the confluence of three fans, hoping for rain. Now I was out and about with places to go and things to do and ... rain! Sweet summer rain, pouring down the subway stairs. I arrived at the courthouse soaked to the skin.

I emptied my pockets into a filthy plastic bin, walked through the metal detector and asked the guard where I could drop off the forms for a name change petition. As soon as he heard me say "name" he said "ninth floor", but since I was still saying "change petition" I couldn't understand what he said, with the result that I had to ask him again where I could drop off the forms for a name change petition. Again, he said "ninth floor" as soon as he heard "name", but this time I was expecting it, and even though I still insisted on saying "change petition" I understood what he said. "Sounds like you said 'ninth floor'" I said. As soon as he heard me say "ninth", he said "yeah, ninth" as I was still saying "floor". I probably should have just strode up to him and yelled "NAME!", but Officer Dummkopf would probably have just tazed me.

There was a small line on the ninth floor. One woman with a thick Slavic was in despair as the clerk spoke in a low monotone. "No," the woman said "I didn't know you had to bring that.... No, they didn't say I needed that... Why can't you use this?... I don't have that with me...." and so on. Poor thing. If she had only used the idiot proof interactive website, as I had, she wouldn't be in this mess. The other clerk called my number and I strode up to her window.

"Hi!" I said cheerily. "I'm here to submit the forms for a name change petition. Here are the forms, all properly notarized. Here is my certified birth certificate. Here is my sixty-five dollars." I glanced over at the Slavic woman. Maybe I could serve as an inspiration to her on how to do things right.

"You used that website," the clerk said, looking over the forms with a frown.

"Yes ma'am," I said with a winning smile.

"Did it tell you the other things we need?" the clerk asked.

"N-no," I said. "Like what?"

The clerk sighed. "It never does. We need a photocopy of your government ID, like a drivers license, passport, military ID."

"I didn't know you had to bring that," I said.

"We also need proof of residence in Kings county, like a letter addressed to you. Do you have that?"

"No, they didn't say I needed that. Why can't you use this?" I said, handing over my driver's license.

"We're not permitted," the clerk said. "Did you bring a letter addressed to yourself?"

"I don't have one with me," I said.

"Ok, the clerk said. Here's what you do...."

[continued in Part II]

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