Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Encounters with the Nation-State

Yesterday, I had a parking ticket withdrawn. A conscientious policeman, having noticed that my registration plate was wrongfully displayed (the sign had fallen off to be precise), had stuck on a ticket for $55 on my windshield, thereby rendering me rather footstompy at the end of a taxing work day. In atypical bravado, I decided to contest the ticket, especially since I had painstakingly renewed my registration a month ago and given up my beloved Texas number plate for a Wisconsin one. All that sacrifice in vain, I thought. Of course, given Rick Perry, and the brutal summer, it hasn't been that bad I think. But oh wait, there is Scott Walker. Ah well, this is the world as we know it after all. We exchange one evil for another. All the time.

But yes, my story. So I decided to contest and submitted the following online:

"I received a citation of 55.00 for unregistered vehicle/ improper display. My vehicle is indeed registered it is no longer xxxxx but xxxxx. The display had been taped onto the back but seems to have fallen off due to weather conditions. I was not in town on the day and did not have occasion to use the car until back in Madison hence I did not notice. Kindly consider waiving the citation or alternatively reducing my liability. Thanks so much."

How polite we are in our conversations with the state. How extra polite in fact. And how much scorn lies hidden in that politeness. We function "as if" we are polite. The economy of the "as if" that then takes on the the place of reality. And this reality is powerful. In that very scorn couched in politeness, lies the compelling nature of power...

After sending this in, I waited. Even as I thought that all this waiting was in vain and that in fact I would receive a cold note telling me in Kafkaesque fashion that the citation would have to be paid, this being my debt for owning a car, and functioning in an irregular, ignorant manner, I held off paying the ticket. I had done all the right things; submitted a contestation within ten days of receiving the ticket, been superbly polite, and crossed my fingers. I had prayed to the Gods, and kept away from sin. No word. I steeled my nerves a little further. Apocalyptic thoughts of my car being taken away, or my being stopped at every signal, or worse, steely eyes following my every driving delinquency did cross my mind. Alright, I admit I was caffeinated.

However, on the day when I was almost ready to give up, give in, and do my time, my inbox beeped at me with this ominous title "Parking ticket". The mail said "The applicant's claim has been recognized and the ticket withdrawn". (On an aside, have you noticed that despite American averseness to the passive voice, the American state continues to deploy it? With much effect if I may add.)

And of course, scorn notwithstanding, I was ecstatic at my claim being recognized. It helped that I didn't have to shell out any money. But the location of such ecstasy also lay in the fact that the state had recognized the veracity of my claims. It had just told me that I was a good citizen. Gold star.