Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, Justin wrote Iceland, a blog about his band’s American tour. Justin isn’t on tour anymore, but Iceland continues, twice a week, on City Desk.
“I am a musician-cum-U.S. citizen,” I informed a representative of the United States Social Security Administration. I had traveled to the Social Security office at 7820 Eastern Avenue NW to make an inquiry in person. “Next month, I have a show in France. The French promoter informed me that I need to secure a TAJA1 form from my country’s Social Security Office. This form, a.k.a. the S5GA1 form or the ‘Baltimore form,’ serves as proof of exemption from social security taxes. It is from you that I request this treasured document.”
“Hmm,” replied the SSA representative. Without a word, the SSA representative began hunting and pecking on his computer keyboard, navigating the Internet with his PC in search of the mythical TAJA1 form. He searched for thirty minutes as I sat before him. The sound of his clicking and clacking reverberated off of the many flat, shiny, surfaces in the empty Social Security office at 7820 Eastern Avenue NW. I had arrived at the office near the close of the business day, and besides the SSA representative, a security guard, and myself, the office was deserted. No one has ever come into this office asking for a TAJA1 form before, I surmised, and, after I leave, no one will ever come here looking for this form again.
“No one has ever asked for this form before,” commented the SSA representative after 30 minutes, “and I cannot find it.”
“When I first arrived at this office, I was intimidated by you,” I confided to the SSA representative. “I thought you were an all-seeing, all-knowing, Oz-like figure. Now, you are revealed as another hapless bureaucrat in the United States’ peculiarly Soviet Social Security system.”
Five minutes later, I was escorted from the Social Security office at 7820 Eastern Avenue NW by its lone security guard. Because the business day was over, the door of the office was locked. The security guard had to unlock the door to release me from the building.
“The form you seek is an IRS form, not a Social Security form,” the security guard commented as she released me from the building. “You should contact the IRS, not Social Security.”
“But the sources I consulted on the Internet indicated that the TAJA1 was indeed a Social Security document,” I replied.
“Your sources are mistaken,” the security guard replied. “Consider what you seek. You are an entertainer—-that is, a private contractor—-performing a few shows in France. You need proof that you are covered by US Social Security so that you do not have to pay into the French system. This is an IRS issue—-not a Social Security issue.”
“I am blinded by your insight,” I replied, “and wonder aloud why you are employed as a lowly security guard and not as a highly paid SSA representative.”
“Are you kidding?” the security guard replied. “I ask you—-would you want to work for Social Security?”