Written by Jim Heffernan for The Duluth NewsTribune/Saturday, November 27
The Man Who Never Was
Today I was going to discuss issues of vital concern to Americans, such as the end of Britney Spears’ conservatorship and Taylor Swift’s split with Jake Glyllenhaal, but decided instead to feature The Man Who Never Was — me. Yours truly. Moi.
So let me begin at the beginning. I am born. My parents don’t have a name yet so they put “Baby Boy” on my birth certificate. I, of course, did not know this. My folks always had said I was named after both my paternal grandfather and a recently departed uncle and that was that. I figured it would say my full name on my birth certificate if I ever saw it.
Let’s jump ahead now to something over half a century later when, planning a European trip, I applied for my first passport. I needed to prove that I am who I am, so I got my birth certificate proudly proclaiming the arrival of…“Baby Boy?” Oh for crying out loud! What happened to James?
Not good enough, decree the passport people reviewing my birth certificate; got to have some other proof of your existence. They suggest that old school report cards would be acceptable. Well, I have some of those from my earliest years at Duluth’s old Lincoln Elementary.
So I fished a few early report cards from a family history file and was astonished to see my “marks” and teacher comments. The comments are highly complimentary of my singing ability (soprano at the time) but that I spend too much time dreamily staring out the window and not paying attention to learning such things as reading, writing and arithmetic that you might need later in life. Who knew that?
Of course I’m humiliated to show this to the passport guy but I went ahead with it, chagrined at such revealing (if true) traits attributed to me. It worked. The U.S. State Department, which issues passports, apparently accepts Americans who stared out the window in school.
Onward. Well, actually, backward. Facing the military draft after completing my education in the 1960s (I gazed out the window a lot in college too), I joined the U.S. Army National Guard, which didn’t care what you did in school as long as you could spit-shine boots.
Many of the men I served with recalled being “sworn in” when they enlisted in the Army. Sworn in? Oops! They forgot so swear me in when I joined. I hadn’t promised to uphold the Constitution or defend America from enemies real or imagined or whatever they say when you raise your right hand, but there I was in boot camp conning other recruits into spit-shining my boots in exchange for me ghost-writing love letters to their girlfriends. Several got married right after they got out, I learned.
But what about me? I’m the man who never was…sworn in.
Oh well. I muddled through it all anyway, Army boot camp, six years of weekend warrior duty and released. So, a couple of years ago, reading about all the benefits veterans qualify for, I checked with the local veterans office to see my status. “You are not a veteran,” I was told, because I hadn’t served enough time on active duty.
Well, well. The soldier who never was.
And now, at long last, let us move to the present. A few weeks ago, to be precise, I was informed by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety that my driver’s license had to be renewed by my birthday. (You remember my birth described above. Name? Baby Boy.)
While I was at it, I decided to apply for one of the new super-duper licenses that can get you through domestic airports to the satisfaction of customs officials who never smile and confiscate pocket penknives from innocent travelers. The licenses are called “REAL ID compliant” and require applicants to submit all kinds of proof that they exist (take that, man who never was) and that you are a real American (take that, non veteran who served six years in the military).
No problem. I was able to submit certain personal identification documents, the main one being my hard-earned passport.
Weeks pass and then a letter arrives from the Department of Public Safety. In essence, I was informed there was some problem with my passport and they wouldn’t issue my REAL ID driver’s license without other identification.
Whew. The man who never was again. Getting used to it.
So, with trepidation I went to the St. Louis County courthouse to obtain my birth certificate, terrified that it might ID me as “Baby Boy.” I guess I had fixed that back when I applied for a passport, because the certificate was perfect, with my full name and the great seal of St. Louis County. They only cost 26 bucks. Frame not provided.
Now I’ve been informed that I will receive my new super-duper driver’s license in a couple of weeks. We’ll see.
And to think Britney Spears and Taylor Swift think they’ve got problems.
As the man who never was, though, I do want to add briefly that they forgot to include the wedding vows when I got married. You know: “Do you, Baby Boy, take…” and so on and so forth. But now I’m going to look in a mirror and see if I’m there.
Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and maintains a blog at www.jimheffernan.org.
Dear Baby Boy,
This column was one of my favorites…who would guess something so simple could have such lasting effects!
Hey thanks... one of my favorites too. Those hassles end up being fun. And thanks for reading.
Jim, I've so enjoyed your recent columns, keep up the great work!
Thanks, Jon! Appreciate the feedback. Hope you and Beverly are doing OK. Enjoy your holidays!
Ghost-writing love letters in boot camp?
Now we know where you developed and enhanced your wordsmith skills!
Did you respond to many "Dear John" letters?
Let me check with some of my Military associates on conducting a retroactive swearing in ceremony. You could then void the "soldier who never was" stigma.
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