Sometimes, a picture can be downright criminal

Posted 1/3/19

I don’t take a lot of selfies. Check that – I don’t post a lot of selfies.

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Sometimes, a picture can be downright criminal

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I don’t take a lot of selfies.
Check that – I don’t post a lot of selfies.
There’s the very occasional photograph from a bike ride or a special event that goes up on my Instagram page or is taken to savor a family occasion (like our Christmas gathering last week). And the temporary but also-rare pictures I exchange with my few (four) Snapchat buddies, pictures which forever vanish into the ether after they’re seen.
Fact is, I’m just not one who makes a regular practice of holding my cell phone at arm’s length, pointing the camera at myself, finding the most attractive angle, then snapping away and uploading a nicely-edited version to my social media accounts. Aside from the fact that I don’t find my mug attractive at all – how in the world did I get so gray, so fat, so old? – the vain notion of habitual self-portrait photography rankles me for some reason.
I remember settling into a window seat on an airplane a few years ago waiting for take-off when I noticed the woman in front of me moving around her seat at odd angles. I peeked between the seats and realized what she was doing: posing for a series of selfies. For a full two minutes, she snapped picture after smiling picture of herself, at least 25 of them in all. She was so intent on what she was doing that she probably didn’t realize I was in the background, checking out her checking out herself.
Don’t misunderstand me. Not taking selfies doesn’t mean I’m not as vain as she was – I mean, who among us doesn’t like a good picture of ourselves?
I was reminded of that this week after I got a new glimpse of a photo taken of me by a U.S. Customs agent.
The backstory: because my wife Lee Ann and I do a fair amount of air travel, we decided to apply for the U.S. Customs Department’s “Global Entry” program, which allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers expedited clearance when arriving in the United States by air.
The application process includes a questionnaire and a background check and then an in-person interview with a Customs official. At mine, a year and a half ago, I sat in front of a dour agent who took notes on his keyboard in response to his questions about my travel habits. Then he suddenly says, “OK, look here, because we have to get a picture of you.”
Say what?
“Where do I look?” I asked.
“I already took the picture,” he said. And just like, that the interview was over.
Lee Ann’s interview – with a female customs official – was much more cheerful than mine. Her agent remarked effusively on Lee Ann’s purse (a birthday present from a few years ago from me) and chatted her up like they were just-reunited friends. She then prepped Lee Ann for her photo, giving her plenty of warning.
If you’re granted a Global Entry card, you’re supposed to be considered low-risk. But when the cards arrived in the mail, the photo of me on my card looks anything but: my head is tilted slightly to one side, my expression sullen, my eyes spacey and distant. It’s the kind of picture your home-security camera might take of someone at your door in the middle of the night, trying to ascertain whether you’re at home and whether it’s safe to break in and steal your toaster and your jewelry in order to buy more drugs.
I look hideous and scary. My wife laughed about it for weeks after they arrived.
A few weeks ago, my wallet was lost and, alas, I also lost my Global Entry card. I found out you can apply for a replacement card online without having to go through the interview process again, so this week my new card arrived. But nothing changed. While Lee Ann’s card photo looks like a Glamour Shot, mine’s straight out of a police lineup.
I’m not sure when we’ll use the card again. Whenever it is, Lee Ann has promised NOT to laugh.


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