I had occasion today to visit the local Social Security Administration. Call it an exercise in making sure that, when I retire, a decade or so hence, my entire 2008 income is factored into their calculations. Should make for an extra 3 bucks a month!
This was my third visit to the SSA. The first was the day after I arrived in the US, to show them the immigrant stamp in my passport and get my social security number and card, with the all important *lack* of an endorsement, the one that says 'not valid for work authorisation'.
The second visit was to show them my newly minted citizenship certificate and get moved off the non-citizens list.
I have to say that, as government departments go, they're not bad. Reasonably efficient for a walk in and the waiting times aren't astronomical. They compare very well with any of the motor vehicle departments I've had to deal with, here or in Australia.
I don't think I've spent more than half an hour on any occasion with them.
As one walks in through the door one runs the gauntlet of the ubiquitous uniformed fat guy who fulfills the role of security. Pretty friendly so far as it goes, one explains the purpose of ones visit and he touches a few areas on a computer screen and out pops a ticket. Then you go sit and read whilst waiting for them to call your number.
Except that first he asks a few other questions. You understand that there's no metal detector; no rectangular frame to walk through. Nope, just the questions. 'Do you have a cellphone?'. The answer is affirmative. 'Does it have a camera?'. The answer is negative. The guy in front answered yes to both and was told to turn it off. Since mine doesn't have a camera I was permitted to leave it switched on. I imagine they don't want you photographing the staff.
And then they ask 'do you have any sharp objects?'. Now I want any NSA or FBI or CIA wonks finding this via google to understand that this is said in the spirit of sarcasm, as an illustration of a point! I have every intention of sticking this blade in my pocket into the neck of the person behind the counter, but, being asked that question, I realise the futility of my plan and run away! 'No'. 'Ok', he says, 'take a seat and wait till they call your number'.
So just what is the point of even asking the question, if you're not going to verify the answer *before* allowing the suspect into the waiting room? A legal out? 'Yes, your honour, we did ask the fiend if he had a sharp object'.