Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" Ecclesiastes

The proof of my own vanity is in me thinking I am beyond it, never had it, or am too over-the-hill to put any energy in it. And yet, it comes to this: me... almost crying at the DMV as I got my new Illinois drivers license.

I have put off getting an Illinois license. I liked my California one, it's so sunny and California-like. Bold colors, shiny and modern. You can almost hear the soundtrack playing, "California, here I come" when you look at it. But mostly I liked it because it had a picture of me that looked really great... from about fifteen years ago. They never insisted I get another picture and so I just renewed and renewed and every time my old picture came back. It's funny, but the picture of me on my California license seemed to get better as I got older. Of course, I was getting older, that's the point. But it actually did truly and honestly seem to get better - a Dorian Gray driver's license picture - my lips got redder and my hair a richer shade of brown just as my own hair got duller and thinner and my own lips began to fade slightly into the rest of my face.

There was that moment at the airport when the person inspecting my license looked skeptically at me. I was older, larger and much grayer than the picture purporting to represent me. But c'mon, that was me, right? Right? I remember we both laughed a little, but he let me pass on by.

I procrastinated about getting a new license once I moved. But, then my car insurance company wrote, admonishing me for still having a California one - in fact it was a bit more dire than "admonish me," I guess if I got in a car accident here my insurance could be invalid because I needed to show I was an Illinoian.

I was afraid of the test. One is required to take a written test and then, if you don't pass it, you not only have to repeat the written exam, but you could be asked to take a driving test, too! And although I'm a good driver it all just scares me because I think they try to get you to fail by making everything so convoluted.

I had fears at night. True or false? A, B, C, or all of the above or none of the above? These words danced above my head as I tried to go to sleep.

Plus, these kinds of questions can get me pondering for hours. Multiple choice questions that are not clear and obvious can become existential jumping-off-points for me.

I got the pamphlet you're supposed to study and came home and promptly lost it. I asked Nadia (who babysits and lives in an apartment in back of our house) to pick up another one, and she did. I promptly lost that! I couldn't get myself to really even open the pages of the pamphlet. Just thinking about it made me want to lie down in the fetal position.

So, yesterday, I set out to get my driver's license, GODDAMNIT!

I went into the DMV, got the little book and sat down, right there, for two hours - from 9 to nearly 11. I read every word of the book. I took the test questions at the end of each chapter of the study-booklet. I corrected my test questions and I had missed only four out of fifty or so. I reviewed. A DMV worker teased me gently for sitting so long. Another one recognized me and came up to say she enjoyed my "work." Oh god, the pressure was on. Work? This is my work!

I watched many others come in and take the test. Many of them failed. You can only get 7 wrong out of over 50 questions. You have to wait a week to come back to take it again. Oh god, oh lord in heaven.

I finally took the test. I wanted to write "JMJ" on top of the test, which is what I put on top of every school paper and test I turned in, in my Catholic grade school. It stands for Jesus, Mary & Joseph.

The questions seemed much - well, I won't say "harder" than the booklet. I would say more confusing. For example the law states that if you're under 18 you cannot have any more other people in the car you're driving than one, except if it's a sibling or if you have special permission from the Secretary of State of Illinois. How do you answer this question: how many people can a person under 18 have in the car under any and all circumstances? One, Two, Three? There is no answer "It depends." This is the kind of question that can have me sitting there for twenty minutes.

I passed the test. I was overjoyed. And then I remembered, I had to get a new picture. I didn't have lipstick with me. OH SHIT.

They took away my California license. I was so sad. They handed me back a license that had a picture of an older gray haired lady with a thick neck and a badly fitting sweater. I got a lump in my throat. I felt I was trading in my youth and getting an official You're Old card.

Of all the things: getting married, moving here, turning 50, none of those things phased me at all that much. But this license... turning in my old brunette California girl self and receiving my matronly midwest membership card, dear Jesus, Mary & Joseph, it turns out I am vain after all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Chris HUghes said...

I can sympathise... turning 70, I had to apply for a new licence, and for the first time it had to have a picture on it (Previously UK licences were simple paper affairs that lasted for years without the need to renew). Just out of the hospital after an operation in which I lost half my left lung, I had a picture taken -- I looked like some old geezer arrested for stealing frilly underwear from clothes lines... and that is the licence I carry today!

helensotiriadis said...

it's not easy for any of us.

Anonymous said...

Vain? Pushhhaw! You can't be that vain or you wouldn't be able to admit all these very human reactions.

Your ability to describe all these evolving revelations and insecurities are what make you such a great writer and such a funny and touching artist! You rival Bombeck I must say :)

No geritol or rocking chair for you, EVER....

Meredith said...

I imagine that only after 50 can you achieve the wisdom and self acceptance you demonstrate in every entry. I can only hope for as much. Oh, and you're beautiful, too. Your smile betrays a true love of life!

Petra said...


I have to renew my license this month. I, too, have had the same photo since I moved here - ten years.


Turning 40 didn't bother me, having my son turn 10 a few days later did. I quickly got over it. THIS, however, might be a downer for me. 41 shouldn't be different from 40. Tell that to the guy taking my DMV photo!

: ) P

Anonymous said...

Look at it this way: if god didn't want all to BE vanity, vanity would not be all.
For those who think god doesn't really give a damn there is the Darwinian imperative: vanity must play some part in the perpetuation of the species...
There are two things that tell you (and the world) that you are really old: one is when your own children turn 50,(how did THAT happen?) and the other is when you DON'T have any vanity left.... cutting holes in sneakers to accommodate bunions, and wearing them to the opera.

And then there's that moment when you start balancing the cost of a cosmetic against the time you think you have left to use it.
Now THAT'S a tough one and you have to steel yourself for the shock of it.
But, hey, you aren't there yet.. not even close.
So relax and slather on the expensive may not help but it can't hurt.

MediaRex said...

I know the new license picture can be scary but being stuck with a bad picture is even worse. In '02 when I left Oklahoma for New Mexico I had to open a new bank account and got my picture taken for my debit card. I thought the bank teller told me it was taken but as I leaned toward one side to start to get up, there went the flash. So, there I am, lopsided on the debit card picture (like I was drunk and couldn't sit up for a pose). Every cashier who has handled the card over the years does a double-take (a few even laughed). I finally resorted to a meek shrug because I got tired of explaining what was going on. Fast forward to this past weekend, when I was sent a new card by the bank (I now live in Vegas). New card, but that same lopsided guy with the goofy grin. Oh well. The new Nevada license picture was bad enough but at least I'm upright in the photo...

Ann H. said...

Oh god, I'm with ya, Julia. WHO is that lady looking back at me from my new license as a 50-yr-old? Ack and ugh and, well, moving on.

Michael Stanton said...

You rock Julia! When we moved to Germany I had to get a German license and turn in my Washington one (which I liked a lot). I was stressed out taking the picture, because you have to do it yourself at a pay booth, and they said if you smile at all it will be invalid. Looking back at me in the photo was my grandpa. Oh no...mother of all bad license photos!

Froggymama said...

I've been in LA ten years with the same ID...finally added a new picture and ten, okay fifteen pounds. The DMV guy subtracted five pounds from the truth. I love him for that. And the woman taking my picture said I had a beautiful smile. I couldn't believe I was standing in a DMV feeling so loved. I thought I'd feel sorry letting go of my 22 year old self. But it was liberating. The wisdom of ten years was captured on that photo. And I'm proud of that.

Paige Orloff said...

Oh, do I feel your pain. For years, YEARS, in CA, I had a license that, swear to god, made me look like a redhaired Veronica Lake. (I look nothing like Veronica Lake.) It felt good to whip that baby out. When we moved to NY three years ago (just like you left Julia J, I left her neighbor, Chris B-have you been forgiven yet?, because I'm still a little in the doghouse...) I got my new license, and damn, I have three chins. And I don't have three chins, honest, no matter how fat I get. It's not fair. I aged 15 years in one day, all for my new home state's need for validation...Harrumph. said...

Of course, the writer is completely fair.

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