Last month L. waited until her birthday to go renew her driver’s license; it took an hour and forty-five minutes, which evidently wasn’t all that long for the process. They warned her to never go on a Monday or Friday as it’s much, much worse. Today is a Monday, and my birthday, and my license is expiring. Great.

I knew there was a small counter for licenses at the courthouse and I figured the line there would be shorter, and I was right: I had to wait about twenty seconds while the guy in front of me had his picture taken. Whoohoo! There’s a birthday present for ya.

I read two lines in the vision-o-meter to prove my glasses actually do something, signed a disturbing form for organ donorship (Yes, okay, if they’re any good someone in need can have my heart, lungs, liver, hepatocyte cells, kidneys, pancreas, islet cells, bones, connective tissue, skin grafts, blood vessels, heart valves, corneas, eyes, and small bowels – but did you have to list all that? Eeek.), signed the electronic pad for the license, had my picture taken, wrote a check for $24.50. A few seconds later and a machine spit out a new license. It’s terribly high tech now, with a fancy barcode on the back. The old one, even though it was issued just four years ago, still had a physical photo glued onto the license and then laminated in two layers of plastic, which was starting to come apart. I started to think this was the last state to issue such things, as when I’d get carded while out touring I could tell a lot of bouncers thought the thing was a fake.

I sort of suspected they take the old license and I had wanted to keep a copy, and while I’d cleared off my flatbed scanner before leaving the house, I neglected to actually scan the thing on it. I blame my sudden old age. I asked the county employee if I could see the old ID for a second; it had stickers on the back from when unannounced, I took my portfolio into Rolling Stone just six weeks after 9/11. To get into their New York office required a security check resulting in a sticker with the date on it. Stupid to want it, I know, but I’m like that. You should see my garage.

The woman was initially suspicious but relaxed when she realized it was for nostalgic purposes. “Some people are like that, I know.”

“Yeah, I’ve got old license plates and so forth too from way back.”

“Of course, then when you die someone has to clean out your house.”

I wondered if there was a hit planned for the parking lot – sign the donor form, get harvested immediately.

It took no time at all to realize those stickers weren’t coming off no matter what. I flipped the license over to see if I could memorize what I looked like in the old photo.

When I got the thing I swore there was no way I’d be here now; the original plan was for L. to graduate and go to grad school, and the grad schools that fit her studies were few and far between and not in this state. I was going to follow her; I thought this was a pit stop between things – physically between two big cities, perhaps, metaphorically between one past and one future. (Or the frying pan and the fire, something like that.) I hadn’t yet really shown my photos to anyone for work. I hadn’t had any credits worth much. I had no idea I’d follow U2 on tour for five months and take the photos I took. No idea I’d do all the live photos in Moby’s tour program. No idea I’d be able to exhibit some of my stuff as art. No idea I’d end up taking this license to about forty states, that I’d put everything into storage including my car and go tour for four or five more months and still come back, that I’d move three times and still be here. The 28 year old in the photo had no idea a house and a baby and a lawn mower was coming. The 32 year old looking at the old photo tried to remember what that sense of not knowing was like, and handed the license back.

I went across the street to the grocery store that was “mine” for the first three years I lived here, and kept getting lost because it’s completely backwards from my new store. (I used to think the new store was backwards, but evidently I’m past that.) I got whole milk for the baby, Life cereal for me and the baby. I ate it when I was ten and somehow, a few months ago, I got the taste for it again and now I can’t stop. Fortunately the baby loves it too so I don’t feel like a moron being this age and buying Life cereal. I debated some bread to get and selected a 98 cent loaf, even though I wanted to splurge on a $2.16 loaf, because I only had five bucks and Life is expensive. A woman with an infant stood near the chicken cooler, looking off towards the deli counter as though waiting for someone. The infant – two or three months maybe – looked also, but seemed a bit overwhelmed by the amount of stuff around it.

The radio on the way home had the end of Joan Jett on:

put another dime in the jukebox, baby

My baby was excited to see me through the front window, wiggling and pointing from her high chair in the kitchen. I showed the license to L. and she looked at the photo.

“You look mad. Like you don’t want to be doing this.” I don’t feel mad. Perhaps I was just irritated about the old license.

I’d chosen the four year license instead of eight years, partially because it’s cheaper but also so I will have that moment to look back. But already, I can’t remember who it was in the old license’s photo.


This was published on 21 Jun 2004.
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