By John Toth
My passport expired because I have not used it for 11 years. I’ll just renew it, right?
No big deal, until it came to taking a passport photo.
To save a few dollars, I got on the Internet to find out how to do it. That turned out to be a bad idea.
I’m no stranger to getting passport photos. My first one was taken in 1965 in a dark basement of an apartment complex late at night in Budapest, Hungary.
My mother had me wear a sweater backward so it would look like a pullover. I never figured that part out; the rest became obvious over the years.
My mother got a passport and tourist visa for herself to Vienna, Austria. Hungary, at the time, was part of the Soviet Iron Curtain. It was not impossible to get out of there, but after the Russians began occupying the country in 1956, it became next to impossible.
My mother had a plan. She paid people who knew what they were doing to add me, her 10-year-old son, to the passport and visa documents. It was a lot like forging.
I have had other passport photos taken, but that was the most interesting one. This latest one is definitely in second place.
I paid my fee online, read some of the directions and set out to make a homemade passport photo. It was not as adventurous as the basement one, but it was more frustrating.
“Attention: At this moment, our expert additionally verifies if your photo meets the official requirements, so that we are 100% sure that the photo will be accepted by authorities without any problems,” came the first of many emails.
Great, these experts are looking out for me, I thought.
“The photo was not taken frontally.” “Don’t tilt your head.” “You're squinting your eyes.”
“You’re smiling and showing your teeth.” How picky the experts were.
I clicked on the link that would let me try again, but it took me to my phone’s photo folder. I needed to take another photo of myself and do it right this time.
All this time, I was wearing old jeans, a white shirt, and a brand new tie. The photo was not going to include my pants.
I decided to take the photos and store them in my camera since I saw no other way to do it. I took a bunch. That’s a great feature of digital cameras. I can take 25 photos, use one and kill out the rest. It was not like that when we still used film.
The expert was verifying my photo again. I took my dress shirt and tie off, thinking it should be fine this time.
“After human verification, we would like to notify you that the photo may not be accepted.”
That was not good. I had to get halfway redressed to try again. I also noticed that the “expert” had become “human verification.”
“Too short trunks,” it read. “You’re squinting.”
Nothing is ever good enough for you guys, is it?
If I had opened my eyes anymore, they would have popped out. I already looked like some 1950s crazy movie character who needed a jolt of electricity to stay alive.
I put on some better-looking jeans, got in the car, and drove to Walgreens, where a friendly clerk was ready to snap my passport photo - except the background screen would not roll down. That figures.
She called the manager, who came and yanked on it really hard - fixed. Now, onto the photoshoot.
“Are you sure these are going to work?” I asked the clerk, who took about 20 seconds to snap my photo.
“It should. There was only one warning,” she said.
“Was I squinting my eyes? Was I tilting my head?” I asked.
“No, it should work. If not, we’ll take it again.”
I paid for the photos and left. They looked good to me. We’ll see if they look good to the passport bureau people.
Another email was waiting for me from the Internet passport photo critic’s corner when I got home: “Thank you for the purchase. Your order number is: (there were a lot of them.)
I wound up paying for the photos twice, once online and then at the store, but so be it. I had what I needed. We’ll see if they work. I’m just a little paranoid.