Cancer Bitch Meets the City Clerk

Warning: This post contains minutiae about red tape.

Today I went downtown so that the endodontist could finish his part in the root canal. It was uneventful, except that I found out why he works only one day a week in the office. The rest of the time he teaches at a dental school. That reassured me and it explained, too, his play-by-play about what he's doing. I like the play-by-play. I appreciate it, and prefer it to small talk about other stuff. And I love it when dentists talk about gutta-percha, which sounds so exotic because its word origin is Malay. It makes me think of British colonies and Mary Poppins. I don't think there's gutta-percha in the Poppins books; I think I'm thinking of plasticine, which is modeling clay, but I have that association anyway.

After the root canal I walked across the street to the Cultural Center, and leaned against a bronze statue of a cow while I called the city clerk's office to see if I could come by and get my annual zoned parking permit. People kept coming by to read the plaque by the cow and I felt self-conscious but I wanted to lean on something in case I had to write something down.

I'll try not to make this tedious. Since I live in a high-density area, most of the streets in the neighborhood require parked cars to have a special sticker. You have to be a resident to get the annual sticker. Residents can also buy one-day stickers to give to guests. (In February I wrote about trying to buy more than one book of stickers at a time because of my impending surgery. I failed.) Every June I get the annual sticker for $25, usually by mail, but at least once by going to the alderman's office. The tricky thing is that you have to buy the city's annual sticker first. I bought that on-line last week, and printed out the receipt. On the phone, I waited and listened and punched several buttons, and finally got a live person who said that the receipt would count as proof of purchase, and that there wasn't a wait.

So I walked the few blocks to the City and County Building and found people lined up in the hallway. A staff person stopped me at the entrance to the clerk's office and gave me forms to fill out and said to go to Window 8. The line was short there. The woman behind me in line said, That's the city clerk, walking in the middle of the room. I saw the back of a man in a white shirt. When I got to the counter, I was told that my address wasn't in the system and I needed a letter from my alderman to get the permit. I explained that I'd never had to do this before. The woman said I could go to the third floor and get the letter from the alderman if he was there. Sigh. I was afraid that I'd go up there and he wouldn't be there and I'd be a frustrated and hungry Cancer Bitch. I turned to go and saw the man in the white shirt right there. I asked, Are you the clerk? just to be sure, and told him my story.

He explained that I live on a "buffer street," which does not require the parking permits, and so I'm not eligible for the annual permit. I told him I'd always gotten the permit, etc., etc. I couldn't remember if I'd received a green permit form in the mail. We ended up going around and through and downstairs and stopping at a worker's computer, where she discovered that one of the people in my building had the residential permit. That was enough for the clerk and we went back upstairs and he told me to wait while he went behind a door. About five minutes later he returned with my permit and *two* packets of guest permits (which I paid for). I asked him if I should call the alderman so other people wouldn't have to go through this, and he said I should call J on his own staff.

A moment later J appeared by chance, and I told him my tale not of woe exactly, but of annoyance (though I was calm and not whiny or annoyed). He explained that in the past people who live on buffer streets have had to get the alderman's letter, but sometimes that was waived because it was too much trouble. Next year it should all be worked out.

So--if you live on a buffer street, be sure to contact your alderman.

I felt justified in asking the boss to help me, probably more justified than usual because I have cancer. But he's a public servant, right? I don't know if it's obvious that I'm cancerous. I'm bald except for little stubble poking up. My head decorations were fading and I didn't have my Cancer Sucks pin on my backpack. I told him I voted for him. Which is true. I urge you to, also. His name is Miguel del Valle, and he will probably be running unopposed.

But can you imagine *wanting* to be head of all this permit-issuing and form-sending-out and tending to frustrated people in lines? Of course, being city clerk is about being part of the Democratic power structure. Del Valle was a state senator before this and who wants to spend time in Springfield? (Our governor hates going there. If he weren't so unpopular he'd probably propose making Chicago the state capital.) City clerk might lead to something else. The *county* clerk is David Orr, who was interim mayor for about one week in 1987 after Harold Washington died; he got that job because he'd been the alderman who was the vice mayor. Orr was a reformer, a progressive, and he stepped aside to let an African-American be elected acting mayor (by the city council); it didn't seem right that a white guy would be mayor after Harold Washington. The affable (African-American) acting mayor was later elected by the voters. Was Orr too nice? He's now in charge of all the county's endless forms about everything: death and taxes, elections, marriages, births. A friend of mine, a political animal, says that Orr was afraid of risk. You could say he sacrificed himself for the good of the city. If I were David Orr, I'd keep kicking myself.