Insiders and Outsiders

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Jim Vallet, for the Fernley Reporter

A recent series of trips to the Social Security offices in North Las Vegas and Reno got me thinking about more than my own problems with the system.

My wife and I witnessed a young woman who had come to the Social Security office to collect benefits that she claimed her daughter and she were entitled to. However, she was not able to collect, or even sign up for, anything because she had no identification at all. No Social Security card, no driver’s license, no birth certificate, no state ID, no passport, not even a student ID. The woman (whom I judged to be around 20) claimed to be a high school graduate, though she could not prove that, either. As time went on, the woman, and her mother, became quite belligerent, and even threatened, “…blood on the floor…” if she was not awarded her benefits. I don’t know the eventual outcome, because I was (thankfully) called for my time with the harried employees in the office that day. But that is not my point, either. 

My thought was: How can anyone in the United States today get by with NO IDENTIFICATION AT ALL? How can you cash a check? How do you get tickets at Will Call? How do you drive a car? How do you vote? (Never mind, you don’t need ID for that.) How do you pay for anything? And then I realized, there are two distinct societies in the United States, today, and rather than call them rich and poor, or haves and have-nots, or whites and blacks, I think we have Insiders and Outsiders.

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Insiders are people that worry about things that could affect them and their communities. Insiders pay traffic tickets, register for school on time and try not to move during the school year, vote even if not overly excited about any candidate or issue, give time to their communities, answer the door on Halloween, keep their property looking as good as they can, drive sanely even if they don’t see any cops, check out what time offices open and close so they don’t end up pounding on the doors, clean up their dog’s poop on doggie walks, quiet down their party when asked to do so by the neighbors, stay in line rather than push ahead, try not to use profanity when around children and women, give money back when the cashier gives them too much change, believe that dressing tastefully is better than showing parts of their bodies no one wants to see, have jobs and try to treat most people with respect because all humans deserve it. Insiders believe in a strong work ethic and really don’t want what they don’t believe they deserve.

Outsiders are different, but not always the opposite. Outsiders are Outsiders because they stay “outside the loop”. Whether they do it on purpose or not, Outsiders don’t know how to get what they want in Insider society today. Outsiders don’t call ahead to find out the hours anything is open, much less what they’ll need when they get there. They don’t even know about the deals and options they may have available to them, so they can’t think of what they’ll need to get them. They are more likely to get stuck in traffic jams (like the Roundabout closing) that they could have known about and avoided. Since they don’t have Insider knowledge, Outsiders have to hustle and stress more, which leads to more disagreements with others. And, most seriously, they don’t seem to think about, or plan for, the future. 

I am not the first person to write about this topic. Among others, S.E. Hinton wrote very perceptively about people outside of most society in her book, ‘The Outsiders.’ In that book, high schoolers seem to be separated by wealth, but Hinton several time writes that it’s more than that: It’s attitudes; It’s emotions; It’s the heroes both groups have; It’s the way both groups live their lives. It’s not that Hinton, or I, have anything against Outsiders; in fact, Hinton’s chief protagonist is an Outsider. The Outsiders in the book of the same name are not bad people, but neither are they accepted members of “Insider” society. Maybe, in this information age, it’s because Outsiders lack Insider knowledge of how to “grease the wheels”.

I don’t know what happened to the ID-less, angry young woman. But, at 12:40 p.m. on a Wednesday, as we were leaving the Social Security office, an older woman with a walker was slowly approaching the entrance. The Reno Social Security office closes at noon on Wednesdays, which we knew because we looked up the hours online before leaving home. This woman did not know that and was very upset when security would not let her enter, crying that she could not eat or pay her rent. As we drove away, we could hear security threatening to call the police if she didn’t stop violently banging on the door.

Jim Vallet and his wife Melanie moved to Fernley from Moapa Valley in June. He will be writing occasional columns about Fernley from the perspective of a newcomer, as well as stories about local people who are making a positive difference in the community.

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