Up To Our Knees In Lukewarm Bureaucracy

Kage Baker hated paperwork. When something came to her that required her detailed perusal – a contract, an interview, insurance or tax forms – she’d hold it up with her hands under her chin like a very sad squirrel, and make big eyes at me.

“Pleeease? Pleeease go over it for me?” she would wheedle. “Just tell me where to sign. If I look at this, my head will explode. I’ll do the same for you some day!”

Which last statement was a great and bald-faced lie, and I’d have been certifiable to let her try, too. I’d have ended up signing my internal organs away for alien research, or declaring I had 32 tax deductions, all of them adopted from Pitcairn Island. Or that my employment category was “spy” – Kage was always vastly amused by the father in Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel, and his response to the IRS begging him not to put that on his tax returns …

So anyway, I at least vetted most of her paperwork, all the way back to mimeographed surveys in school. As we grew older and Kage’s paperwork needs grew more varied, I mostly just did whatever was required and had her sign them – I did make her listen to an explanation of each one, but I strongly suspect she was making notes on the guild structure of Flame City at the time and just nodding at me on automatic.

Sometimes, it actually took both of us to figure out what was wanted on those endless forms, anyway. Every year, for example, Kage had to get her bank to swear that she, Kage, was an American citizen and not paying taxes to any nasty foreign power. Why the bank was considered an authority on this, we never figured out. Nor why, when she’d been with the bank the last year as well, either of them had to swear to it again. The Feds changed the form every year, too – and apparently never collated them with visa records or anything of that nature, which would surely have caught Kage out at her clandestine financing of the Duchy of Lichtenstein?

Her taxes were always a lark to do, too. Being self-employed is a pain in the ass, as far as taxes are concerned; there are taxes you have to pay just for the right to receive money as a free worker. God knows why – the money doesn’t go to Social Security; apparently, the government just taxes the wild and untrammeled to keep them in line. I figure the truly wild and untrammeled are throwing those requests for money in the trash, and going on their merry way … not Kage, though. She always filed, always paid. Even the year she made a grand total of $700.00. Ah, the glorious life of a writer!

I am currently up to my ears in paperwork, as I try to claim some of the benefits from the programs I’ve paid into for the last 40 years. I have always been a very good and orderly little rat in the maze of bureaucracy – done my duty in the pink collar ghetto, typing and filing and telling polite lies on the phone and buying presents for whomsoever’s birthday the boss forgot … now it’s Payback Time, Sacramento!

But first I must jump through lots and lots of paper hoops, many of them on fire. Many more are wet and the sides of the hoops have stuck together. Yet more require that I go through backwards, standing on my head, or waving certificates of not having conditions that the State would prefer to pay for if only I had them … so eager is the government to assist with possible illegitimate offspring or STDs that I am beginning to see why virtue is its own reward: no one’s gonna help you if you’re virtuous and get sick anyway.

Luckily, although I was a good girl back when it mattered, I am not really a very nice old lady; I see no reason to be polite to the army of clerks losing my applications for things. I scream and yell and make a lot of noise, which so far has kept me moving through the glacial peristalsis of The System. And I have Kimberly – whose printing is as neat as a computer font, who actually enjoys stacking forms so they all go the same way, who never runs out of good black pens! Kimberly is my shield and buckler against the hideous troops of bureaucracy.

Kage would agree – she always said Kimberly was the most organized of us all. And if we just pass the help among ourselves like this, there will always be someone to take over for whichever of us just ran off a cliff and is paddling desperately in thin air.

It’s a good system. Someone should tell Sacramento about it.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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2 Responses to Up To Our Knees In Lukewarm Bureaucracy

  1. Widdershins says:

    AS I recall, ‘Have Spacesuit, Will Travel’ was the first ever SF book I read. I still have a copy around here somewhere.


  2. Kate says:

    It’s still one of my favourites. The copy from the library when I was a kid had neat old black and white illustrations, and Kage liked those. She also liked it when, in the book, the IRS man begs the hero’s father not to put down SPY as his occupation, and the father asks reasonably, “How do you know I’m not?” I think that formed part of Kage’s general reaction to government ever after.


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