Thursday, January 13, 2011

Who Am I?

Today I set about recreating my identity from scratch. Or, I should say (knowing full well there’s no such thing as any sort of fixed identity), my official identity.

Somewhere, somehow, in my move from Austin to New York last fall, I lost a small file case containing every one of my “important papers”: birth certificate, passport, Social Security card, and the title to my car, among others.

I should say, hoping not to sound too defensive, that, in spite of the instability that has characterized my adult life (or maybe because of it), I am not one to lose these sorts of things. I can’t remember ever losing my wallet, or keys, or credit cards, or plane tickets (back when there were plane tickets). I haven’t kept much stuff over the years, but the important stuff I don’t lose. And by “important” I don’t mean significant in any real sense. I just mean those things that are a pain in the ass to replace. So I’m baffled. I had the file case when I was packing in Austin, and I don’t have it now.

I left a few boxes in Austin, boxes of unsold Y’all and Life in a Box Soundtrack CDs. (Don’t ask me why I didn’t just throw them in a dumpster on the way out of town, except that they cost a lot of money to have made, a fact which, unfortunately, doesn’t make them valuable. It just makes me laughably optimistic.) But J looked in M & J’s house for the file case. It’s not there.

I left a few boxes with my parents in Indiana, to be shipped to me when I got settled, which is, more or less, now. Mom looked through those boxes. No file case.

I left the “Y’all Archive” with a friend in Austin to store. He was a Y’all fan before he was a friend. He’s also an American Studies scholar, and I think a bit of an amateur archivist. When I told him how for years I’ve dragged around all this Y’all memorabilia (posters, letters, master tapes of our recordings, videotapes, etc.) in and out of less than optimal conditions for preservation, he was visibly worried. When I couldn’t fit everything in my car in September, I called him, frantic, and he offered to take care of the boxes. He’s in Cambridge for the year on a fellowship, but he had a friend go to his house in Austin and look through those boxes. Not there, either.

So, having turned over every rock I can think of, this morning I submitted an application to the Lake County, Illinois clerk’s office for a certified copy of my birth certificate, which I will need to start the process of obtaining a Social Security card, which I will need to apply for a passport. Next I need to contact the Texas DMV to get a duplicate title for my car. So I can sell it.

The legwork is annoying, but not difficult. Just lots of phone calls, web sites, lines to wait in. The only possible hitch I anticipate is the issue of my last name. In my twenties, I started using my father and mother’s names hyphenated, at first only professionally but then I decided I wanted to use that name for everything. I didn’t change it by court order -- a lawyer friend told me that New York is what they call a “common law state,” which means that one can change one’s name simply by stating that one has changed one’s name. So, he prepared an affidavit stating my new name, which I took to the Social Security office and got a new card with the name “Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer” instead of “Steven Jack Cheslik.” With the new Social Security card, it was easy to get other documents in that name: passport, driver’s license, etc. But my birth certificate will still have the old name -- that is, provided they don’t give me a hard time about even getting a new birth certificate, since they require proof of identity in the form of a driver’s license, which has my new name on it. Because of course I need proof of identity to obtain proof of identity. I will postpone worrying about this little Kafka scenario until it actually happens.

So, who the fuck knows who I even am anymore? or who I will be once I have gone through this very surreal process? I sure as hell don’t. Essentially what this is all about is proving that I am still the same person that I was when I was born, that I was when I was 14 and got my first Social Security card, that I was when I got my first passport at 25. A lot of effort to prove something that I know is not true.