But it always helps to have some company.
This week, after my third run at the windmill that is the Jefferson County DMV, I managed to get my driver's license switched and get my truck tagged in the Commonwealth. The last time I had a Kentucky license and a Kentucky tag was in 2001, when I landed back in the state after a year or so of living in New Orleans. It was significantly less complicated to get my license in 2001, because I was living in Menifee County. That meant I could go to the courthouse in Frenchburg, where I met a wizened old woman in a back room whose sole job was to give out marriage and drivers' licenses. In any other Office of the Clerk of Courts, she would have been kindly but firmly retired. In a place like Frenchburg, in a county like Menifee -- which once held the distinction of being the county where escaped criminals could go to hide and not have to worry much about the constable from any of the surrounding counties trying to come in and find them. Menifee is mountainous country, and like all mountainous country, it depends -- even to this day, I believe -- on the anonymity provided by the mountains and on the walking memory of those who live there.
The old woman in that small, dark wood-paneled room in the back of a courthouse that probably hadn't seen any updates since electric lights and indoor toilets looked me up and down, squinted at my Louisiana driver's license and squinted at me. For those of you who have grown up with the crutch of personal technologies, when an old woman or old man squints at you like that, it means that a complex series of computations is taking place. Not only are you being sized up, but if there's any connection between you and some folk or family in the region, that connection be ferreted out.*
Once she determined that I was neither related to troublemakers, sinners (that she knew personally) and that I was probably not on the run from anything, she went about transferring my license. The only time she hesitated when she looked at my weight a listed on my Louisiana license. I had lost a lot of weight down there with all the clean living and sweat lodge summer heat, and the number listed was clearly more than I weighed at the time. She only rolled her ancient eyes, shook her head, and finished the transfer.
For those of you not acquainted with the Dixie Highway Branch of the Jefferson County Clerk's Office, I invite you to watch the 1985 cult classic movie Brasil.**
There is no walking memory in a place like this, only the technological crutch of the Commonwealth's Department of Motor Vehicle's computer system, which is never wrong -- according to people who work there -- and simultaneously never correct -- if you ask at least 75% of the people waiting for their number to get called.
Now, while it might seem a bit unfair to expect a metropolitan city like Louisville to depend on the subjective nature of the walking memory via some lifelong resident rather than the imperfect nature of technological appendages, I submit that not doing so will do more long term damage than any computer virus. With our increasing dependence on these pieces of molded plastic and silicon, we are missing out on that grand opportunity to stand before someone who, in a single prolonged squint, will know more about you than the last person who saw you naked.
That singular experience, more than any, is a humbling and humanizing force. When we are dressed down, not only for our potential sins, but for any sins by potential familial connection, something of our true nature breaks out. I am convinced that somewhere out there, walks some living memory who will someday squint at me, and see my father, and his father, and his father. And to be honest, I shudder to think about meeting those wizened eyes, though the world is small enough that I will end up meeting them sooner or later.
With any luck, (and Dad, I think you'd agree if you were alive to say so) whoever it is will judge me by my mother's people. The outcome will be more favorable.