Social Security's Sacred Secrets

`GOOD morning!'' she said with the affability of new- clover honey when I responded to the tingle-dingle. ``And same to you!'' I made reply in like manner. ``I was sitting here just hoping to hear from you.''


``Yes, the ennui of indolence frequently leads me into a mood to hear the telephone bell.'' In this way I sometimes generate amusement, but not this time.

She said, ``This is the Hyacinth and Daffodil Plumbing, Heating, and Piano Tuning Associates, and I'm wondering if we have your Social Security number correct?''

``Business must be dull,'' I offered.

``No, not really. This is our busy season.''

``That's good to hear,'' I said, glancing at the pile of figures I'd been adding for the IRS.

She said, ``I'm wondering if we have your Social Security number correct.''

``You just said that.''

``Yes. Do we?''

``I don't know, but I'm wondering why you might have my Social Security number at all - right or wrong.''

How many delightfully sweet old folks, like me, remember that day - wasn't it in 1935? - when every United States citizen went to his town hall to pass sub jugum in our first experience with enforced regimentation? That was the day our Republic ceased to be, and we went to bed that night secure in the care of Bureaucracy. There had been some objection to this numbering, so FDR easily allayed our fears by assuring us in a fireside chat that each number would remain a sacred secret `twixt Uncle Sam and the numbered citizen. Not even the FBI would know our numbers.

It was about two weeks after that when I bought a can of flat black enamel at Wally Clarke's hardware store, and Wally asked for my S.S. number. I told him my mother fetched me up never to memorize anything I could find in the library, and that has been my answer ever since. I wondered now how Miss Hyacinth and Daffodil came to have my number, if wrong.

So she said, ``You just ordered a space heater from us.''

``So I did. And when will your piano tuner come to set it up?''

``Just a few days, but I'm calling now about your S.S. number.''

``For why?''

``Well, I'm doing the paper work for this job, and when I give the number I have for you in the computer, I don't get any answer. The number must be wrong.'' (I finally wangled from her that she was seeking my credit rating!)

``Do tell!'' I said. ``Now, has it occurred to you that I may not have any credit rating?''

She chuckled at this absurdity and said, ``Everybody has that!''

``I may be an outstanding exception,'' was my considered answer to her.

A small silence before she spoke. ``Well, I've got to fill out these papers, and I just don't know - I've never run up against anything like this before.''

``Perhaps I can help you. I think I'd like to have you as a friend, because I don't have too many. So, forget the paper work, smile, and take the afternoon off. And when your piano tuner comes to set up my pot boiler, I'll give him something you'll find a good deal better than a credit rating. I'll take my usual two percent for cash, and give him a check in full that he can negotiate at the bank of his choice. And this may explain to you how come you can input my S.S. number and nothing outcomes.''

``Well, I hope so, but this is all new to me.''

``It probably will never happen again,'' I said. ``In this advanced age of the 18 percent on the unpaid balances, there aren't many of us ancient mariners left. Did you ever read any of Poor Richard's gems of wisdom?''

She said, ``Poor who?''

This was also the first time anything like this had happened to me, although I am not sure just what happened. I had no notion that Uncle Sam was in the credit-rating business - and if that, what else? Evidently, he gives me no credit for not using credit, and because he doesn't pay his bills he thinks nobody does. Then again, when the lady on my telephone said, ``Poor who?'' she probably gave us an answer.

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