For the past couple of years, I’ve stared at my passport photo and wondered who that person was. Her hair was short and a different, darker color. She looked younger. Sometimes, the security guards at the airport would stare at the photo, then at me, then back.
That all stopped when my passport expired. I’d need to apply for a new passport and get a new photo, even if I wasn’t going to be moving to Canada like most of my liberal friends if the election went south.
“Go to one of those postal centers,” my husband told me. “They take passport photos.” He loves to try to boss me around, especially any time international travel is concerned. He considers himself an expert since he’s traveled more than I have.
I went to a postal center. As it turns out, they don’t take passport photos any longer.
“Go to the drugstore,” the guy behind the counter at the postal center told me.
I went to the drugstore, happily enough, since I’d be able to tell my husband he’d been wrong about the postal center. In the corner of the drugstore, where people take their photos, you can see all kinds of bright, happy family pictures of people who never seem to stop grinning with their blindingly white chiclet teeth.
“Over here,” the photo guy told me.
He flashed a couple of bulbs. I tried to keep my eyes open. I also tried to look reasonably happy, even though I hate having my photo taken and I knew I’d never look as good or as happy as all the people with the big smiles and chiclet teeth.
“Does this look OK to you?” the photo guy asked a few minutes later. I’d spent about 10 minutes hanging around the drugstore, waiting for my photo to be developed. Fortunately, they had a magazine display and I’d been able to sneak a look at People magazine, which I almost never look at, except when I’m waiting in the dentist’s office. All I can tell you from that experience is that celebrities might look a lot better than the rest of us, but believe me, they have a lot more problems. Would-be celebrities are even worse messes. (I’m talking about you, Lynn Spears, mother of Britney and Jamie Lynn, babbling about your great family life.)
But, anyway. There was my photo. It looked pretty dismal. Kind of like every bag and wrinkle on my face had been spotlighted. I looked like I had just washed up on Ellis Island or something after a potato famine.
But, wait. Who cared? This wasn’t vanity. This was a passport photo. Every time I lurched off a long flight, sleep-deprived and jet-lagged, with blotchy, swollen ankles and the latest communicable disease, didn’t I look precisely just that bad? Yes, I did.
So I took the photo and filled out the passport application and sent it off. Job done. Congratulations.
Except for one thing. I just got a notice in the mail a few days later. My photo had been rejected. Overexposed, the accompanying letter said. Get a new one. Or don’t travel anywhere, no matter who wins the election.
“Have you ever heard of anybody getting a passport photo rejected?” I asked my husband. No, he hadn’t. I stared at the photo. Sure, admittedly, let’s be honest, it looked like shit. But, what did they mean, overexposed? Since when had the State Department gotten into photo aesthetics? Were they hinting that overexposure had something to do with terrorism?
Good lord. The week is young, but the stock market is tanking and it still hasn’t rained and I appear to be the first American in history whose passport photo has been rejected.
Overexposed? Hey, the State Department should check this week’s issue of People. If anybody’s overexposed, it’s Lynn Spears. Not me.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)