Monday, August 18, 2008

Retarded Pt. 2: Identity Crisis

I don't know what my problem is, but if you hand me a 2x3x0" piece of hard plastic, I will lose it within a few weeks. And the worst thing about losing one's identity is that in order to get a NEW identity, one must provide a photo I.D.

Early attempts to skirt the I.D. issue had failed spectacularly:

I was fifteen, and awkward. Picture me with a cowlick, mismatched clothes, broken glasses, and so awkwardly skinny my school counselor had put me into a support group for kids with eating disorders. And I'm trying to rent the Lord of the Rings game for my Super Nintendo on my mom's Blockbuster account. My name was on the account, but I needed a photo I.D. So I brought the game to the counter, holding my hands down by my waist, hoping the big brassy black woman at the counter would just forget to ask for my I.D. She didn't. I reluctantly brought my hands up to the counter, revealing what I'd been holding. "Here, does this work? Look, I'm right here," I said, pointing to a tiny photo of myself. "See?"

She sat there for a few moments, eyes bugging out of her head, and then she started winding up that spring-loaded neck of hers. I braced myself for a tongue lashing. But when she opened her mouth, it was in flat, cruel peals of hoarse laughter. Haaa haaaa haaa haaa. Hooo Haaa Haaaa. Like that. She doubled over, facing the ground, supporting the upper half of her body with her palms on the counter, one of which was slapping the formica for added effect. I just stood very still, trying to not let this become any more of a scene than it already had. The lady had other plans. She grabbed the phone.

"Darnell!" she said, still laughing all the while. "You have to come out here. This white boy just Hoo Haaa Haaa Haaaa. Okay, this white boy just tried to use his HIGH SCHOOL YEARBOOK as his I.D. You gotta come look at this white boy. Hooo Hooo Hooo Haaa."

Soon Darnell was there, with some other employee, and the three of them were looking at me, looking at my yearbook, and falling all over each other in laughter. I didn't feel this was very professional, and in an attempt to remind them of their duty to their customer, I tried to get Darnell's attention. "Excuse me sir? Is this going to work? I missed school on picture day, but this is me in the beginning choir, see? Third row, seventh from the left. One two three four..." In my anger, I doubted Darnell could have counted to seven even if his eyes hadn't been full of tears of laughter. But nothing I was saying was making him laugh less, for sure. Suddenly I was a white guest star on "Martin," pushing my glasses up higher on my nose, nasally imploring the guffawing trio to stop laughing at me, and using white people words like "imploring" and "guffawing." To this day, I can't really be offended by whiteface Wayans-brothers-style comedy, as I know I have done my small part to contribute to the stereotype. At any rate, I eventually had to just grab my yearbook back off the counter and exit, silently. I have no idea how long it was before they noticed I was gone.

My point is that I had had very little success with legal forms of identification. I still didn't have any form of I.D. at all when it came time to get my passport so I could go to Chile on my mission. A kind Polynesian woman from church agreed to drive me down to Costco so I could get a membership and the accompanying photo I.D. Resourceful, right? I don't know why I thought that would work. When we got to the post office, they revealed that they had a list of pre-approved documents, and "Costco card" was not among them. Fortunately, we found some sort of flaw in the system, and the kind Polynesian woman from church, who did have proper identification, ended up having to perjure herself on some legal document declaring that she was my aunt, and that I was actually who I said I was. Surprisingly, that worked, and nobody ever tried to verify my relationship to her. Terrorists, take note.

By the time I was 22 and living in Utah, having very recently decided that maybe it was time to get my driver license, I again had lost every form of I.D. I'd had, including that passport. I can only imagine with dread the black market value of a passport that belongs to a white American kid who happens to look middle-eastern. That aside, I started to look into what was required to get my license in Utah, and found that one of the first things I'd need was a legal photo I.D. Of course. A quick call to the DMV in California revealed that they still had me on record there, and if I could come in, they would be able to pull up a picture of my face in their databank and print me a new one. I decided to get my Driver's permit while in California, as well, since I'd need to have it for two weeks before being eligible for my license. So only a few weeks after having moved to Utah, I found myself on a bus bound back to California.

I have to confess something at this point. I've always wanted a photo I.D. in which I was making a funny face. I know that's not allowed, but I knew there had to be a way, and I figured it out during that long bus ride. I marched through the doors of that CA DMV already making a face. I figured if I made that face the whole time I was in the DMV, they'd just think that was my face. Even if they had their doubts, who was going to say anything? So there I was in the DMV with the right side of my upper lip pulled up, my left eye squinting, and a simpleton's glee beaming from my entire countenance. My brother Randy was there with me for moral support, which was good because I soon ran into problems. The main problem was that I was filling out an application for a California legal I.D., but I needed it to be mailed to my new home in Utah. So I hesitated, and finally decided to put down my new address and just hope that didn't cause any problems. Randy was watching over my shoulder to make sure I didn't do anything stupid. "What about your zip code?" I had no idea what my new zip code was at all, so Randy suggested I leave it blank, and if they really needed it, we could somehow look it up in the moment.

After several hours of sitting in those hard plastic curved chairs, making that face the whole time, it was finally my turn to approach the counter. I was attended to by an irritable Indian gentleman, who gave me the distinct feeling that he was sizing me up and realizing I was going to take a lot of his time. And it's true, I was. And I think that look is a job requirement there anyway, so I proceeded with the original plan. "I need to get my I.D.," I told him. Holding my mouth all crooked like that does funny things to my voice.

He breathed loudly out through his nostrils, his mouth a hard-pressed line, then snatched up the paperwork I'd filled out. I leaned over to watch as he started copying my information into his computer. When he got to the part about how I lived in Utah, he stopped and smoothed down his sideburns with his palms before turning to look at me. "You need to be a California resident to get a California identification," he told me.

I hadn't gotten residency in Utah yet, so I clarified things for him, by saying, "Hey, do your impression of an incredulous lizard."

At least, that's what he must have thought I said. It was a really good impression, too. What I had actually said was, "I AM a California resident; I just live in Utah." Randy jumped to my defense. "He just needs it mailed to that address. Please, he doesn't have any other form of I.D."

Somehow, with his eyes, the man was able to wash his hands of the entire matter. He simply shook his head and resumed typing, muttering under his breath. I watched as he got to the zip code, and as I saw him preparing to ask me, I got my response ready. "What is your zip code?" he asked, but as he turned his eyes toward my face and saw me preparing to say I didn't know, he quickly muttered,"Never mind. Doesn't know his zip code. We'll just put all zeroes."

And that was it. He took my picture and sent me away with the promise that I'd receive my I.D. in the mail within the next week to ten days. I got my Driver's permit right after that. I admit, I cheated. I'd misplaced my glasses right before the trip, and I'd had to have Randy read the eye chart to me while we were waiting in line so I could memorize it, but that's another story. The point is that my scheme worked, and with one unforeseen bonus....

You see, what I hadn't realized at the time, was that the face I was making in that picture didn't just look like a funny face. It looked like a retarded face. It was a legal California I.D. that wasn't a driver license, with a Utah address and 00000 as the zip code, a printed signature, and a picture of a retard, all with my name on it. Which was serendipitous, as otherwise I never would have been able to get my license just two weeks later....

(I'll get a clearer version of this up here soon)

To be continued....