"Sure," he said, "What time do you have to be there?"
"One," I answered. It was about quarter after twelve at the time.
"Do you mind if we stop by Long's so I can get a passport photo taken?" he asked. (Long's is a local drug store that, among other things, offers a passport photo-taking service.)
"Yeah, that shouldn't take too long," I agreed, and off we went.
Note to self: never, ever, under any circumstances, say the words "that shouldn't take too long" when you have to be somewhere at a certain time.
Some time later, I was at a nearby checkout stand paying for some very cute thong sandals, when I heard my Dad's voice from the end of the counter saying, "Maybe my daughter could help you out with that."
Now, understand, I hear "maybe my daughter could help you out with that" a lot, mostly when it concerns anything to do with computer technology. Network down at the doctor's office? "Maybe my daughter could help you out with that." DMV software giving refusing to look up a VIN number? "Maybe my daughter could help you out with that." Wireless Internet demanding a login and password? Well, you get the picture. Usually, though, this phrase is greeted with a bit of a chuckle and a "No, that's okay," and so that's what we tend to expect. It's a bit of a family joke by this time, so I paid it no mind.
I finished buying my shoes, and wandered down to the end of the photo counter where Dad was waiting.
"What's up?" I asked him.
He waved vaguely in the direction of two store employees turning a digital camera over and over, handing it back and forth, and otherwise fiddling with it whilst having what appeared to be a somewhat heated discussion.
"They can't figure out how to work the camera," Dad confided. I looked back over to the employees, who had moved into earshot.
"No card," one of them, whom I'll call "Mike," said, "how can it say 'no card'? I just put the card in there? Look, it's in there!" He popped out the card and popped it back in as a demonstration. The other employee, whom I'll call "Mabel," agreed that indeed, the card was, in fact, in there.
I cleared my throat. "Um ... maybe it's in the wrong way," I said.
Mike and Mabel whirled around to glare at me. They then looked at each other, and back at the camera. Silently, Mike pulled out the card, flipped it over, and put it back in the other way.
"Oh, THERE we go," he said, triumphant. "It must have been ... um ... dusty. Or something."
Mabel nodded vigorously in agreement, glancing at me sideways to see if I was buying it.
"Okay, sir, if you'll just stand up against this post here, that'd be great," Mike directed Dad.
Dad moved up against the post. At this point, Mabel came out from behind the counter holding a piece of white cardboard measuring about two by three feet, and attempted to hold it behind Dad's head as a backdrop.
At this point, I think I should mention that Dad is six-foot-two. Mabel was about five-foot-nothing. I regarded the spectacle of Mabel attempting to frame Dad's head with the cardboard for a few seconds while she struggled with it, and finally, couldn't take it anymore.
"Hey, can I help you with that?" I asked. "You know, I could just get the other side and ..."
"I'm fine," Mabel cut me off with a frown.
"But I just thought ..."
"I said, I'm FINE," she reiterated. I expected her to growl at me like a wolf defending her territory. She didn't, but I backed off nonetheless.
Meanwhile, Mike was attempting to fit Dad's head into the little passport-photo silhouette on the digital camera's screen. He moved backwards, and forwards, taking pictures here and there, and attempting to show each one to Mabel before it disappeared. Unfortunately, once you snap a picture with a digital camera, it only stays on the screen for about two seconds before turning the screen back over to the viewfinder. For the next few minutes, it went something like this:
"Okay, how about ... damn."
"Mabel, do you think this ... dang it!"
"I think I got ... SHI-I-mean shoot."
Frustrated, Mike began attacking the camera. "I don't know how to get the pictures OUT of this thing!" he muttered frantically, pushing buttons and switching switches. Mabel put her backdrop down for a moment, and came over to offer aid and comfort, mostly by tilting her head at different angles and saying things like, "Hm," and "Um," and "Uh huh."
"Maybe my daughter could help you out with that," said Dad.
I started laughing, but stopped when Mike and Mabel both turned to me with an air of desperation. "Do you know how to work one of these things?" Mike asked with a look of hope and potential despair in his eyes.
"Um. Well, I can probably figure it out," I said. "Most of these things are pretty similar as far as settings go."
Mike shoved the camera at me before I could blink. "I can't get it to show us the pictures it already took," he said morosely. "Can you ..."
But I was already examining the camera. After a few tries, I found the slideshow setting, and turned it to that. "Here you go," I said. "If you want to see what's already on there, just set it to this little red triangle, and then to go back to passport picture mode, set it to 'P' again." I went on to explain how to scroll through the pictures with the appropriate buttons, and suddenly I knew there would be no more glares for me from Long's employees that day. To the contrary, both Mike and Mabel gazed at me in awe and wonder as though I were their savior. And, that day, perhaps I was.
While scrolling through the pictures, though, it became apparent that none of the ones Mike had taken would work. The cardboard backdrop, despite Mabel's valiant attempts at holding it up to Dad's height, was lopsided, and part of the background showed in every picture. Their shoulders sagged a bit in defeat. "None of those are going to work," Mabel pointed out. "You can't have any background in there other than the white."
"Would you like me to give it a try?" I offered. "Then both of you could hold the cardboard and maybe we could get one.
"Oh, WOULD you?" Mike cried. "That would be great!"
I suddenly found myself with a new career option: passport photo-taker at Long's. I tried a few angles and attempted to take the photo at various distances, but unfortunately, there was one obstacle that we simply couldn't overcome with the tools at hand. Put bluntly, Dad's head was simply too large for the little piece of cardboard to successfully provide the plain white background required by the passport people.
Mike, forever the optimist, downloaded the photos and attempted to crop them, but no matter how he tried, there remained an unacceptable sliver of background. "Okay, let's try again," he said.
At this point, Dad and I looked at our watches, and found that we only had about ten minutes to get me to my appointment.
"Sorry," he told Mike, "but I've got to get my daughter to an appointment. Maybe I'll come back later."
I gave Mike one last refresher course on the workings of his camera, and we left the store.
I looked at Dad. "You know," I said, "I don't think I've ever had a problem getting a passport picture taken. Usually, you just go in there and they just do it. I hope this isn't an omen."
Dad glanced over at me with a grave expression. "Me too," he said simply.
Later that evening, I caught up with Dad and asked him if he'd gone back to Long's.
"Naw," he said. "I went to Walgreen's. They had a nice screen that they just pulled down, took the picture, printed it out, and that was that."
"Cool!" I said. "I hope those guys at Long's remember how to work the camera."
He laughed. "Well, anyway, that's done. Now all I have to do is go down to the post office with my birth certificate, and get the ball rolling on the passport."
"You do have your birth certificate, right?" I asked him.
"Oh yeah," he replied. "I found it yesterday in the last place I'd ever expect to find it."
"Where was that," I joked, "in a file folder marked 'birth certificate?'"
"Not exactly," he said, holding out an envelope marked "birth certificate."
Well, I was close. It seemed that everything was starting to go smoothly.
[to be continued here]