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Does Your Driver's License Look Like Your Evil Twin?

By Marty Rauch

Hate that picture on your driver’s license? Could it be your evil twin? Do people hand it back to you with a sympathetic chuckle?

Mine is drop-dead gorgeous!

Oh, I’ve gone through photos so unappealing I had to conceal them from my therapist. Surely that squint-eyed, wrinkled head askew on a deformed neck pictured on that precious little card is not the real me. Many others, glimpsed accidentally or disclosed shame-facedly, are so unattractive they generate conspiracy theories about the Department of Motor Vehicles. Is this a concerted effort to put us in our places? To prove the naked power of the department and its ability to reduce our self-esteem?

How did I latch onto the Francesco Scavullo of DMV photographers? Not the Richard Avedon, who stands his subjects against a blank background, though there is a similar lack of background frivolity at the department. Critics discuss how this strips the subject of all pretensions, revealing warts and all honesty. This is supposedly fraught with meaning. I doubt this is the goal of the DMV. Certainly there is no Annie Leibowitz whimsy in this straightforward, look-at-the-red-light sort of picture.

I’m not big on conspiracy theories; it seems unbelievable that that many people could organize themselves that well. Still, I couldn’t understand the sudden demand that I remove my glasses for my photo. How could I be identified minus the glasses I’ve worn since I was 10 years old? I wear them on my first trip to the bathroom each morning. On January 17, 1994, the day of the Northridge (California) earthquake, I remember putting them on while it was dark and shaking. Why take our picture sans specs? Who can recognize our naked faces?

Naturally, when we tote restricted licenses, we are required by law to wear those glasses when operating a motor vehicle. I agree that wearing glasses, or contact lenses, is not a prerequisite for cashing a check or charging Farragamo shoes, but that is the picture ID so often used at the airport and at some HMOs. What if I like rhinestone rimmed fashion eye-wear, super-sized? Could you still identify me?

I’ve stood in those long lines, a smidgen stressed, holding a purse, my keys, and assorted pieces of paper; I’ve stepped on the line, looked straight at the light, and gone on. I’ve watched people, seventh or eighth in line, suddenly noticing it is time to do something about their hair, like combing it. I heard the plea from the surprised woman who said, “Oh, I wasn’t ready. Please take another one.” She didn’t get sympathy, let alone another pose.

I’ve owned the picture: wrinkles, unflattering angle and light, expressionless, depicting my great resemblance to my mother, never before noticed. Pared down to the bone structure, that’s what I would look like in 25 years, should there be no surgical intervention.

Now comes the renewal morning when I am first in line. I go through the paperwork and stand before the camera. He snaps and I prepare to leave when the amazing photographer says, “One more; you wouldn’t like me if we go with that one.” Stunned, but always obedient to the DMV, I pose for one more. He makes approving sounds. But I’m curious. How come?” I ask. “Well,” he says, “there’s no waiting, and I give three chances for a good one if I have the time.”

My picture so flatters me that I pass it around at dinner parties to prove extra dimensions in human behavior. I didn’t look that good 15 years ago. I’m very relaxed, having this charming conversation with a delightful person who tells me the no-glasses directive is to eliminate glare from the heavy-duty flash in DMV cameras.

Of course, I don’t know the photographer’s name and didn’t even know the quality of his work until that license showed up in the mail six weeks later. Francesco is at the DMV office in Santa Monica, California. Go very early, before the DMV and the photographer collapse from the crowds, and you too can look great for four years.