Friday, October 16, 2009


My face was bloated and misshapen, like the slowly melting head of a late-March snowman. My smile--crooked and off-center even on my most presentable days--was punctuated by soda-stained teeth dropping haphazardly out of my gums.

And my eyes.

My eyes. One of them had burrowed into my face, the other bulged in a way that made me look like a puppy mill Pug.

Basically, I looked like ass. And I would continue to do so for the next eight years.

"That'll be thirty-two dollars," he said, dropping my new driver's license through a slot in the plexiglass. "Make the check out to the North Carolina 'Partment of Motor Vehicles."

I resisted the urge to ask how to spell 'partment'. Sometimes, I make decent decisions, quietly adding the "D" and "e" he'd apparently packed away with his collagen and summer clothes.

My old license had expired on my birthday--four solid months ago--but because I'm made entirely of Irresponsible, I didn't realize it until the Door Guy stopped me on my way into a concert downtown. "We're not supposed to take an outdated ID" he said. "But you're here all the time."

It was true. The only reason I ever mash the Cash Back button at the grocery store is so I can deposit it directly into this club's cash register. Also I'm pretty sure the only reason he continues to card me is because he knows it makes my day to think that I'm not too old to wear leggings as pants."I'm not sure I can do this next time though," he said, stamping my hand with a black star.

I thanked him, filing my license in my wallet beside the other worthless pieces of plastic, with my over-maxed Visas--plural--and unpaid car insurance card. Either I was going to have to fork over my passport the next time I ordered an Absolut-soaked bad decision or make a trip to the seventh circle of hell--The DMV--a place outweighed in Awful only by the customer service line at Walmart and my last relationship.

A friend of mine suggested that I ignore the office in my home county in favor of the slowly rusting outpost in the county that rubs suggestively against my own, one better known for its commitment to trucks without mufflers and some of the state's more recent cases of rickets. It took a solid thirty minutes to get there, the cruise control set exactly on the speed limit lest the day take a turn for the O.Henry, getting me busted for speeding and an old license on the way to score a new one.

I reached the last line on my Mapquested directions and pulled into a parking lot with only one other car. This was a good sign. A bell jingled against the metal door as I stepped into the office. It was empty, save for one woman lazily thumbing through a faded copy of a magazine with a turkey on the cover.

"C'mon back," said a man who'd probably been filed under H-for-Hot at sometime during the late seventeenth century. I briefly thought I recognized him from the state seal. He directed me toward a vinyl chair in front of his desk, pausing to adjust his blue-on-blue uniform before taking a seat on the other side.

We were the only people in the back half of the office. He put on a pair of oversized eyeglasses that could double as a welding mask, picked an invisible thread off the M in his DMV patch, and asked for my old license. It had been issued in mid-2002, the picture commemorating my brief flirtation with mock turtlenecks and glitter eyeshadow. I looked like either an over-eager kindergarten teacher or an off-duty hooker, and I cringed every time I passed it through my open window to whichever officer had just tagged me for doing 74 in a 55. Again.

After reading the twelve-letter clump on the eye test, he asked me to look at four different shapes through the viewfinder. "Tell me what each of those are," he said, his accent thick enough to bread, fry, and serve with white gravy.

"A red octagon, a yellow rectangle, yellow circle, and yellow triangle."

"Well, that's a first," he said, tapping his pen against the side of the desk.

"What? Nobody else knows what they are?"

"Nope. Nobody else ever jus' give me the shapes. You're s'posed to tell me what the signs are."

"Oh." I was less embarrassed than I was delighted that I'd done something no one had done before, even if it was stupid. "A stop sign., a traffic median, maybe, like the one in the mall parking lot? Or a Children Playing sign like in that one subdivision, the one where all of the houses look like vinyl-sided Monopoly piece--"

"And the next?" he interrupted.

"Uh, that one's a railroad thing where you're supposed to stop. You know, I had a great uncle who was hit by a train."

He blinked, almost audibly. "Continue."

"Well, apparently he got lost on the way home an--"

"With th' signs. Continue with the signs."

"Oh. Maybe a falling rock zone? Or, like, Bridge May Ice Before Road?"

He said nothing, carefully laying the pen beneath the word October on his desk calendar. He took a deep breath, staring at his hands. When he looked up, he focused on the place where my boobs would be--assuming I'd ever grown a set.

"Is that a catfish? A catfish wearing a top hat?"

I glanced down at my shirt. It was, in fact, a catfish wearing a top hat, because it was screenprinted with the cover of Captain Beefheart's 1969 album Trout Mask Replica. Yes, that's exactly how I wanted to be immortalized for the next eight years.

"Yes sir, it is."

"Well, it sure does make your eyes sparkle. And you don't have to call me sir, but I sure do 'preciate it. Now come have a seat for your picture...Bright Eyes."

I never thought that manners--and a fondness for borderline-unlistenable albums--would serve a purpose but apparently they do. Also, an anthropomorphized fish somehow makes me more attractive? This I found disturbing on a number of levels, but made a mental note to turn one of those singing bass from Spencer Gifts into an oversized pendant.

Bright Eyes or not, my picture made me look like the Elephant Man. It would be another five minutes before I knew that though, five minutes while I waited in the lobby with the woman who was still wrapped up in her turkey magazine. I was about to take a seat when I noticed one rogue strand of someone's hair weave coiled menacingly on the plastic chair beside me. I decided to stand.

"That'll be thirty-two dollars," the man said, knocking on the plexiglass to get my attention. And that's where we came into the story.

On the way home, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up dinner, another sodium-drenched single-serving reminder that I live alone. The end of the aisle advertised a sale on Mike's Hard Lemonade, which I like because it combines my love of both sour beverages and breath that could melt plastic.

The cashier slowly dragged everything over the scanner, stopping briefly with the six pack.

"I'm gonna need to see some ID," she said, grabbing the Mike's before it could finish riding toward the plastic bags.

"Yes ma'am," I said, smoothing the wrinkles in my Beefheart tee. "I've got my driver's license right here."


sassafrasjunction said...

You got nicknamed something from a Bonnie Tyler chorus. That would have been the best day of my life.

miss. chief said...

I went to renew my license last week and because I was changing provinces she surprised quizzed me on things such as:
"What's the difference between somebody driving a motorcycle and somebody driving a car?"
Doesn't that seem like a trick question?

"What do you do when you come upon a blinking green light in an intersection?"
I didn't know so I said yield. Then she told me the answer.

I think she helped me because I made jokes instead of being grumpy.

Ellie said...

That's awesome.

Phil said...

I last renewed my driver's license four years ago, a few days after my former wife and I decided to divorce. Not only am I not smiling, I look like I'm about to get run over by a subway train.

I'm feeling much better now, thanks.

AlexMac said...

Is it bad/pathetic that the first thing I thought once I stopped laughing was that I have to send this to my mom?

Your way with words makes most published authors look childlike in comparison. I look forward to each story and this one is going to be my new favorite for awhile.

And hey, you might look like your mother had an affair with a puppy-mill pug, but at least you're the right gender. My poor friend Chris had to explain to ever officer and clerk that looked at his license that yes, that was his, and no he was not really a girl, it was a DMV typo. No, really, the long hair did not automatically make him female. (Despite what the DMV clearly thought)

Michael said...

You are so full of awesome, it slops over the top and gets on my carpet. So stop it.

Kathleen @ ForgingAhead said...

Bright eyes! I love it. What an adventure and beautifully told.

Anonymous said...

I've read your whole blog and love it... I can so identify with some of your life moments. This is the first time I've ever responded.

Just 2 things; I'm now training for a 5k, even after I read your boston marathon posts.

2. The DMV can actually use a U for unknown instead of a F or M on the sex question. Just in case they are afraid to ask the person standing in front of them what they are...

A Vapid Blonde said...

First time reading...very funny! My license...oh sh*t is expired. No seriously I just realized it this very moment. I turned overthehill 10 days ago. Now is my chance to stop showing people my Bambi Mugshot Impersonation.

A Vapid Bllonde said...

Also I just looked a picture of Bambi and I look nothing like her. Really I am not a stalker.

Anonymous said...

i miss lolhouse

Ed. said...

Awesome. Very difficult to find favorite lines in your posts filled with favorite lines. But today was easy:

He blinked, almost audibly. "Continue."

"Well, apparently he got lost on the way home an--"

SJB said...

I wish I was in line behind you, you make my day brighter. I too would have had an expired license had this wonderful state not sent me paperwork basically telling me not to be a cog in their efficient spokes this weekend or any forthcoming weekend and just send them a check for 32 bucks and they'll let me keep the picture of me that illustrates what a Nigerian mother who is constantly disappointed in her daughters looks like.

Calamity Jill said...

The DMV is where pedophiles go when they die, right?

Joe said...

First time here, and I will definitely be back, that was a great story.

Titanium said...

I'm hooked. God, that was funny.

First time visiting, and it left me howling with laughter, teeth chattering and muttering...

NatalieCottrell said...

Your use of adjectives as nouns is amazing. I heart you.

That is all.

Kitty said...

I think all driver's license pictures have to be horrible. I'm pretty sire it's a rule...That's how they tell if your a person or some kind of cyberbot.

Scott Nelle said...

I last renewed my driver's license by mail, not so much because I dislike the DMV, but because my old photo only sort of looks like a mugshot and I didn't want to take my chances on a new one.