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OpinionOpEd

Ready for my close-up at the DMV

Two driver's licenses of Eileen Melia Hession.

Two driver's licenses of Eileen Melia Hession. Photo Credit: Eileen Melia Hession

I've taken some bad photos in my life, but none as bad as the one on my driver's license. My hair looks chartreuse and poufy. What happened at the Department of Motor Vehicles back in 2000? Was the photographer so jealous of my beauty that she messed with the camera? Was it bad lighting? Do I really look like that? At least I don't think so. What I do know is that I've had that picture forever. Renew your license by mail and they use the same old photo.

Licenses are not just for driving. They're used for identification. I've asked security guards at the airport to "try not to look at my hair." Bank tellers have asked me to remove my thumb from the photo. My passport photographer said, "We can't do worse than that."

I've never heard anyone say, "That doesn't look like you at all." Nor has anyone ever held the license up to my face, and looked back and forth from photo to me, murmuring, "This can't be . . ."

Then in 2012, I lost my license! Not because I was speeding. I just misplaced it. This would mean a trip to the DMV, long lines and surly bureaucrats. But it would also mean a new photo!

I carefully fixed my hair, applied makeup and got on the road. I brought an expired license with me as a form of ID.

The line at the DMV in Westbury extended to the street. No worries, I happily joined the queue. What is it about lines at government offices? Everyone appears forlorn and bedraggled. Not me. I radiated enthusiasm.

Once inside, I watched the routine: I'd hear, "Next in line," and someone would approach the window, submit paperwork and have his or her picture taken. Not one person smiled. I'd change that.

I checked my lipstick and hair several times. At last a man took my papers and told me to sit down and wait.

"What about my picture?" I asked.

"No need," he said. "We have one on file."

I showed him my expired license, the neon hair.

"Please," I begged, "take my picture."

He looked at me, looked at the license, and said, "You need this. OK."

Yes! I stood on the line, raised my eyebrows and my chin, and smiled for the camera. Click!

One definition on the Internet describes a bureaucrat as "an administrator concerned with procedural correctness at the expense of people's needs." But get this: My name was called. A woman looked at my papers and said I didn't need the new photo. I held up my expired license and she said, simply, "Oh." She typed my name, pulling up my information. Seeing my new photo, her face darkened.

She turned the computer screen toward me. Impossible! The new picture was worse than the old! She looked back and forth from me to the old photo to the new one. Several times.

Sadly, I said, "Use the old one."

"No," she said. "Don't give up!"

I said I could live with it. I'd have to.

Obviously I had an exalted opinion of my looks and would have to adjust my self-esteem.

She scanned the cavernous room and whispered, "Go to window 17."

There she snapped my picture, looked at it and said, "Let's try one more."

She did four retakes before she was satisfied. I didn't ask to look. I figured if she was happy, I would be, too -- and I wouldn't dare ask her to take another.

We went back to her window and I paid the bill for the license. I wish I could've tipped her.

The definition of photogenic? Not me. The definition of bureaucrat? Not her. Not by a long shot!

Reader Eileen Melia Hession lives in Long Beach.

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