Robin Ames, of Coram, much prefers this photo taken of...

Robin Ames, of Coram, much prefers this photo taken of her by a friend. Credit: Joel Werner

fter getting my passport photo taken at a chain drugstore the other day, I’m in total agreement with the title of Erma Bombeck’s 1991 book, “When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home.”

My photo is so hideous that the authorities probably wouldn’t let me re-enter the ol’ U S of A, if I do decide to travel outside of its borders.

I have been lucky as far as ID photos go — I’ve had good, nay, flattering photos on driver’s licenses and previous passports. Unfortunately, this current photo has changed all of that.

The drugstore’s website states that walk-ins are allowed for passport photos (the post office requires an appointment), so that’s exactly what I did. I showered, applied makeup, brushed my hair and headed over to the Centereach store.

The young woman working in the photo department pulled a white screen down from the rafters and then instructed me to remove my eyeglasses. (But, I look horrible without my glasses.) My bare face shows tired eyes with drooping lids surrounded by all sorts of wrinkles. But rules are rules. Off came the glasses.

Next, the photographer said I needed to tuck my long hair behind my ears. (But, I look terrible when I do that!) I prefer to have my long, untamed locks hanging haphazardly, with any luck blocking some of my face. Sorry, the girl said. No can do.

Accepting this rule, I continued the process. The drugstore employee noticed my discomfort and said I could come back another time after I had “glammed up” myself. I tried to explain that I WAS glammed up. It wasn’t going to get any better than this.

Robin Ames, of Coram, had this passport photo taken at...

Robin Ames, of Coram, had this passport photo taken at a chain drugstore. Credit: Robin Ames

I had to laugh at the situation at this point. I mean, I didn’t even have international travel booked yet, and here I was, stressing out. So, smiling and chuckling to myself, I began to relax a bit.

The girl said, “You can’t smile.” Sigh. I wondered if Erma Bombeck had gone through this very routine.

Actually, the “no smile” rule was in effect when I had an ID photo taken for work. They did not want to see any teeth. I’ve since learned that facial recognition technology works best when the subject maintains a dull, vacant look. This is how I feel when I’m at work, so it’s quite fitting. (I found my old passport and noticed that I was, in fact, smiling, but that passport was issued back in 2006.)

After 15 minutes, the ordeal was over. I mailed the photos, renewal application and a check for $110 to National Passport Processing and waited.

A couple of weeks later, a large white envelope arrived from the bureau. I was surprised at the quick turnaround and eager to see the new passport.

Alas, inside the envelope were all the items I had originally sent, plus a note stating, “The passport photos you submitted are not acceptable.”

No reason was given. I guess they can’t say, “because you are too hideous to own a passport.”

I haven’t given up, though. I went to the post office in Selden and started the entire process again. The photos were taken by a clerk I’m friendly with. I thought perhaps the pictures would turn out better since I was semi-comfortable and not as stressed as I had been at the drugstore. Nope. This new set is also quite repugnant. I just need the courage to send them again.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering, “What would Erma do?”

Robin Ames,


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