#984: Life and Death for $15

September 24th, 2018

Below the bowels of the Daley Center courthouse, in an office where the website lists one address next to a photo of the building across the street, a man in a uniform sits behind a desk shuttling incomers by their business.

Marriage, go this way. Birth and death, go this way. He shunts people to lines marked with barricades connected by ribbons made of seatbelt fabric and, when people complain about the $15 fee, reminds them how much worse it could be.

“In Wisconsin, it’s $25,” the man said over his shoulder to the line. “New York? $40.”

Whistles, groans, “hmmm” and “dang” rustled through the crowd as we waited for our turn at the front.

We live in public records. Every move, every mailing address or traffic ticket, every time we stand in front of a state official or rabbi and say we’re never going to split up and every birth, death and divorce is charted, quantified and kept on file for decades to come.

My task was a happy one, but personal. When I was called up as next, I stood next to a phone-flicking woman and a giggling, happy baby who turned unprovoked a moment later into wails and shrieks, as babies do. The new person’s records obtained, the woman made way for a stout, fussy white man in a suit seeking access to the death certificate of his client.

A woman behind the desk typed at breakneck or at least breaknail speeds. She never looked at me, just took my request, information, confirmation, signature, payment, signature and copies with machine efficiency. I could have asked for birth, death, life, marriage and it all would have been the same as the clock clicked on and the line advanced.

What is more life than this? What is more a symbol of our existence than this life under fluorescence in the office of the only local government official running a tight ship? Our loves and births are kept here. Our deaths and new humans.

We’re kept under fluorescent light in the bowels of government buildings. Behind barricades and ribbons we wait in line for a chance to pay $15 for a certified official copy of ourselves.

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You are currently reading #984: Life and Death for $15 by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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