(Written in March, 2011)
My passport expires in June, so I need to re-apply. Piece of cake. Fill out some paperwork, write a check, and -- uh oh! -- here's the hitch: include two, unsmiling, poorly lit photos that make criminal mug shots look glamorous by comparison.
I visit my friendly neighborhood pharmacy, scooting into the restroom to apply lipstick. To avoid looking like death warmed over, I dab some color on my cheeks. Then I run my hands (a.k.a. comb substitute) through my hair. Voila! I'm ready. The face reflected in the mirror isn't pretty, but it shouldn't scare the pants off or the be-jesus out of anyone.
I find the photo counter and the sweet 20-something who takes the pictures. He poses me in front of the white background, which helps create the desired effect.
Click. I examine the image: horror-film zombie.
Help! I've been face-snatched!
This can't possibly be me! Have I inherited my neck from a patchy, scaly, mottled dinosaur? Whose eyes are these? They're staring in different directions, indisputable proof of human evolution from a close insect-ancestor. Wrinkles I never noticed crease forehead and cheeks. A plethora of wrinkles -- maybe they've somehow moved from your face to mine. Hurry! Check the mirror! Maybe you are now wrinkle-free!
I am gazing at an unfamiliar map, crisscrossed with previously unchartered rivers and deltas, all etched in hi-def display. Freckles and shadows and dark discolorations vie with each other on an ashen background, coalescing in a patchwork quilt of splotchiness on what once I considered my face.
"Is this your first day?" I ask the photographer.
We give it another shot.
This time my eyes peer in the same direction, but I look as if I'm either facing a firing squad or viewing my own corpse. My hair, equally alarmed, stands on end.
I am visibly, as well as visually, distressed.
The camera man, momentarily perceptive, tells me that no woman is happy with her passport photo. Whipping out an album from behind the counter, he shows me a parade of highly disturbing and disturbed visages.
"That one's not bad," I say, pointing to the photo of a blue-eyed blond -- probably not at her photogenic best but passable -- about 20 years my junior. "I'll take it!"
Camera guy snatches the book from my hands. "You can't do that!" he admonishes.
"They won't let you use somebody else's photo. That doesn't look anything like you!"
"I prefer to think that's what they're going to say if I pull out the photograph that you just took," I reply and add, "Please do not say anything that is going to get you killed."
Of course, that's his invitation to say, "You don't really look THAT bad."
"You don't have a wife or a girlfriend, do you?" I ask him, sweetly. He shakes his suddenly pale-faced head, his eyes darting around the store like balls on a billiards table.
Female readers will understand with no problem that this fellow had just confirmed that I look terrible. But I must interpret his "manguage" into language that camera guy, himself, can comprehend. "This is not a compliment," I explain. "There is nothing, I mean NOTHING, that you can say to make me feel good about this photo except that your camera is obviously defective and that you don't know how to take a picture. Or you can just close your mouth and leave the building."
The poor kid is in shock. I pay for the photos, but only to console him.
I am depressed for the rest of the day.