Vanity & Government Don’t Mix

‘Happy Birthday To Me’


“09–26–16.” A date I had been looking forward to for nine long years. And not because it would commemorate another anniversary of my arrival on the planet, but because it was when my driver’s license would expire and I could finally get a new picture taken.

I hated the 2007 picture as soon as I saw it. The ‘photographer’ had taken me by surprise when she gruffly commanded that I put my hair behind my shoulders because my face had to be completely uncovered. “You don’t understand,” I thought, “shaking my hair out in front of my shoulders is my signature pre-picture move!” She caught my startled, too-eager smile spread across my new-found moon face framed by Huge Puffy Vest Shoulders. A classic photograph, rivaled only by my high school freshman ID card.

So September 26th, 2016 was this mythical, far-in-the-future date it would take an eternity to reach. Thirty-something year-old me? HA! I have no idea who SHE is. I’m in my TWENTIES. In your face, 2016 Me.

Nine years and a few major life events later and here we are. Around March of this year I started becoming aware that The Date was approaching. It moved from my periphery to a real item on my to-do list. Friendly folks at the establishments I like to frequent often pointed out that my license was about to expire. Many told me I could easily renew online and save myself the trouble of the DMV. I would nod politely, never revealing Operation Picture Redemption.

Making sure not to deviate from Classic Me, I still managed to procrastinate the task to less than three weeks to expiration. And then logistics started to play a role. On the days when I had the time, my make-up or hair job just wasn’t acceptable enough to completely erase the pain of the last nine years.

Then, one afternoon I was on the right side of town. I was having an unplanned good hair day, and made the call to get it done. I took a number. I waited for 30 minutes while trying to nonchalantly gloss my lips. Then it was my turn. Within 30 seconds I learned that since I had recently moved, I would need to provide two different proof of address documents and I would not be completing my near decade-long mission on this day. “You can do it online so you don’t have to come back here,” said the clerk. I couldn’t tell if she was suggesting it for my convenience or for hers.

Now I’m down to the wire. License expires in six days. I’m going to have to make this a whole planned-out ordeal.

I choose the day. I gather a minimum of five proof of address documents. I set my alarm early. I exfoliate. I bronze. I curl. I used a volumizing eyebrow tint, y’all. I wasn’t going to half-ass this.

Podcast downloaded. Headphones packed. Grab one of toddler’s individual serving Goldfish packets. I’m excited. I’m prepared to wait and to shine bright like a diamond when my name is called.

I walk in. There is not a single person waiting. It’s just me (and the girl I quickened my pace to beat to the door to make sure to get a number before her). It’s happening! It’s meant to be!

I’m a little too nervous and too eager to answer her questions. I pop two orange Tic-Tacs in my mouth, then panic that I won’t finish them before the picture and that they will make my smile look weird so I chew them up and swallow. We get through the questions and she tells me to take a seat and wait until someone calls my name for the picture.

I don’t care how vain I look now. The waiting room filled up while I was lying about my weight and changing my address. I pull out my mirror and check my teeth for lunch debris. I gloss. I fluff my hair.

A man calls my name. It’s time. I had noticed this man the last time I had been here because of how unusually sour his expression was. Without exaggeration, his mouth literally looks like an upside down capital letter U. I honestly don’t know if he could physically smile if he tried. His mouth was a real life permafrown, most closely related to the frown face found in the Emoji 2.0 update circa 2015. I soon learned why.

He tells me to step back in front of the hanging white background panel. It’s happening! This time I’m prepared when he flatly tells me to put my hair behind my shoulders. I casually toss my curls, knowing some shorter ones will stay in front. He sternly repeats himself. Now I’m getting flustered but talking myself down. Just hold it together for the smile. You’ve got this.

He tells me where to look. I break into my best cheek-bone defining yet not-too-much-this-is-still-a-government-issued-ID-photo smile. He loudly announces to me and Everyone Behind Me that I cannot smile.

WHAT.

I fall apart. Immediately the smile falls into Who Knows What the Hell Closed Mouth Facial Expression I’m Even Making Right Now. I raise my eyebrows in some odd way of acknowledging his command in surprise while rebelliously inserting disbelief at this policy. Then I drop my eyebrows when I realize OH MY GOD I CAN’T HAVE MY EYEBROWS RAISED IN THIS PICTURE FOR THE NEXT NINE YEARS. How is this happening? How are there not informative bulletins about this posted all over the place? IF I HAD KNOWN, I WOULD HAVE PRACTICED MY NON-SMILING SMILE FACE.

I hear it click. This cannot be good.

I mope back up to the counter while he waits for the picture to load on his screen. His permafrown doesn’t move, but I detect emotion when the full image appears. Dear God, if I’ve made The Man Who Never Smiles visibly react to the same picture of a stranger he takes all day, every day, this really cannot be good. “That’ll do,” he proclaims. I see a hint of a glimmer in his eye. Great.

He hands me the temporary paper copy of the new license. I can only sneak a glance and it’s black and white and grainy and I can’t see much except for that it’s definitely terrible. He puts my old license in a perforation press and emphatically jerks the handle down. The motion feels like it has a dual purpose: to render the expired license useless, and to physically illustrate how he crushed my picture-taking dreams with a finality I can almost taste.

I shuffle out to the parking lot slowly, delaying the full reveal until I’m in the privacy of my SUV. I pull it out.

(Dramatic Pause)

If you look up Resting Bitch Face in the dictionary, this would be the picture used to illustrate it. My crestfallen smile fell naturally back into my turned-down mouth corners and unintentionally superior sneer that I blame for never being approached to be someone’s date for a dance throughout middle AND high school. (That eight year awkward phase clearly had nothing to do with it). Best described by my sister after I sent her the epic failure of an identification card, it “looked like my mugshot after I just got busted for something I won’t EVER apologize for and other bitches wish they had the guts to commit.” Apparently my hair had heard the commotion ensuing with my face, panicked immediately, then played dead and lost all of its volume. And for added effect, my whole head is one and a half times closer to the camera than last time, so we’re talking about a really nice, zoomed-in shot here.

I opened my hand and found the old license, violent holes now perforated through my young, smooth, tanned, smiling face. The picture I thought I hated for so long.

And what do I have to show for all of this time and energy spent on vanity, other than just time spent in vain? I have a bewildered and grumpy, wilted and confused, grimacing yet smirking, older picture of myself next to a numerical figure that’s now fifteen pounds closer to my real weight.

Well played, DMV. I’ll see you in 2025.