Say Cheese! (But No Smiling)
Whenever I mention to someone that I’ve never been out of the country I’m always met with a blank stare and then a, “Oh… like, you mean… besides Canada?” to which I’ll then affirm that I do indeed possess the knowledge that the region to our north is an individual nation and no, I have not even been there. I will soon end this repeated dialogue once and for all, as I am traveling to Prague in a few weeks to attend orchestra sessions with the City of Prague Philharmonic, one of which will be to record some of my own musical compositions. It doesn’t really matter whether the sessions takes place in a European capital or the South Pole – I’d be ecstatic either way – but going to an exciting city like Prague is a plus. As I learned from my traveling millennial friends, the first step to going out of the country is to apply for a passport, which requires a unique passport photograph.
* * *
The day the trip was finalized, I headed out the door to Walgreens. I had been like a junior high girl on school picture day, carefully choosing my outfit, arranging my hair, and applying my makeup. As I drove, I imagined what it would be like:
I would walk up to the counter and say, “Good morning! I need to get a passport photo.” The employee at the counter would say, “Oh really! How extremely interesting. Where you going?” and then I would say, “To Prague!” and he/she would say, “What a miracle! I don’t recall the last time anyone went to Prague. Why are you going there?” to which I would reply, very modestly and shyly, “Well, if you must know, I am going to record some of my musical compositions with a symphony orchestra.”
What would ensue would resemble the opening number of a Broadway musical. The employee at the counter would call out, “Did you hear that ladies and gents? She’s going to Prague to record with a symphony orchestra!” Then the other employees – probably about thirty of them total, all tap dancers – would appear with jazz hands waving. There would be ten different light cues, five costume changes, and a key modulation at the end as the scene culminated with the company handing over a photograph of yours truly resembling Grace Kelly on the cover of the 1955 edition of Life magazine. To say that I had high expectations for my local Walgreens’ customer service is perhaps putting it too lightly.
* * *
I walked into Walgreens and saw a sign at the back of the store that read, “Passport Photos.” I went to the counter where a high school-aged boy stood, his hair falling into his eyes.
“Hello!” I announced, “I am here to get a passport photo taken!”
“Okay,” he said. “Stand over here.” He pointed to a white wall behind him, looking slightly bored.
I was taken aback by his lack of interest; perhaps this was a more common ordeal than I had thought. But no matter – nothing was going to injure my enthusiasm. I obediently stood against the wall. The boy raised the camera, then lowered it.
“You better take those off.” He motioned to my sparkly silver earrings.
“Oh, right! Sorry,” I said “Okay.” I took them off.
“And your hair,” he continued. “Tuck it behind your ears.”
I regretfully pushed my carefully assembled strands behind my now naked lobes. But I was unaffected, and cranked out my best Walt Disney World-ready smile to make up for the missing elements. The boy lowered the camera once again. He looked just a little more bored than when I had first arrived.
“No smiling.” he said.
“Right!” I said, “Got it!” It took a minute to register that this would mean changing my current facial expression. “Oh! Like, stop smiling. Like, just… look at you. Okay.”
It briefly flashed through my brain what my sister had told me a few years ago when she was on a Project Runway kick: “Smile with your eyes; at least, that’s what Tyra Banks says.” So I tried to emulate Tyra’s peepers while also trying to turn my mouth up just slightly, also fighting the urge to grimace as the boy thrust the camera what felt like ten feet too close to my face. You can imagine the incongruous countenance this created.
“Okay,” the boy said once he had clicked. “Now you can wait for about ten minutes while I get this processed.”
I meandered around the store feeling a little deflated, but also recognized that, even if the boy had asked where I was going, he really didn’t seem like the tap dancing type.
It wasn’t until I was alone in my car that I actually pulled out the photo to take a look. I gasped in horror. Surely this woman pictured could not be me! Forget Grace Kelly and replace one of the Marx brothers, complete with furrowed brow. Yikes! Tyra’s advice had certainly not done me any favors. I considered my options: burning it, shredding it, or mailing it to Timbuktu. In the end, practicality won out over vanity.
* * *
I am now the proud owner of my very own passport. I have allowed only a few select loved ones to view it, all of whom I feel confident that the photo will not alter their opinions of me. While they remain loved ones, they do agree that it is a terrible likeness. Of course, they don’t outrightly say this; the conversation usually goes something like this:
ME My passport photo is the worst picture ever taken in the history of humankind.
LOVED ONE Oh, it can’t be that bad.
ME Believe me, it is.
LOVED ONE Let me see.
Loved One looks at photo and attempts to stifle some sort of animated expression, usually the widening of the eyes.
LOVED ONE Oh! (pause) Hmm.
That “Oh! Hmm” says it all. Fortunately, the only humans needing to see the photo will be total strangers who I will most likely never see a second time. Then again, maybe airport security will stop me because they will refuse to believe that such a lousy picture could really be the image of the charming girl they see in person. I, of course, would take this as a compliment, though I’m sure my travel party would be less than enthused. However, it certainly would make for a very entertaining musical number.