In my quest to get my son a driver’s license, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the DMV. For unexplained reasons, there are no magazines in the DMV waiting room. You’re not allowed to use your cell phone, you’re not allowed to converse loudly and you’re not allowed to be happy in there, so I guess a couple of old copies of Field and Stream just wouldn’t be appropriate.
So when you’re in the DMV, you’re pretty much forced to wander over to the bulletin board, where the Wanted posters are. That’s OK with me, because I have an unhealthy obsession with photo-related police documents. Maybe it’s the expressions on their faces in the mug shots (some are smiling, some are downright gleeful . . . or drunk), or the descriptions of the tattoos (one said, “He has a tattoo of the phrase ‘Dear God, Why’ on his neck), or perhaps it’s the way policemen can take something wild and wacky and turn it boring. (“During this incident, the suspect was only wearing a pair of socks.”)
In my next book, 150 Ways to Waste Time on the Internet,number 7 is going to be: Looking at pictures on the FBI Web page. That place is more fun than a box full of puppies.
You’ve got your Missing Persons, with age enhanced fake photos, which are a source of fascination to me. When I was a reporter in East Palestine, Ohio, where my actual job was to hang out at the police station, drinking coffee with civil servants, the police chief and I would spend whole afternoons leafing through pictures of unidentified dead people and artists’ renditions of what they may have looked like alive, with their eyes open and not lying on a slab in the morgue. Can you believe I got paid to do that? Fun times.
Then you’ve got your 10 Most Wanted Fugitives, which is chock full of fun facts about terrorists. Did you know that Usama Bin Laden is left-handed and walks with a cane? That his skin is “olive” and one of his nicknames is The Director? I suspect he also likes sunsets, long walks in the desert, and relaxing in front of a cave fire.
I promise you, anyone with a long list of household chores in front of them can waste a good three, four hours scrolling through these pictures. If you look at them long enough, you’ll start to think they resemble your garbage man, the kid who came to your house trick-or-treating as a pimp, or your kid’s Spanish teacher.
I swear one of the bank robbers looks exactly like the former mayor of Salem. According to the FBI, the bank robber “is reportedly allergic to penicillin, a lover of dogs, a flashy dresser and a big tipper.” Yeah, okay, the mayor had a cat. Can’t be him.
These things get me to thinking: How would I pose if I were in a mug shot? Could I keep from smiling? All those years of having school pictures taken by some moron who thought he could make us laugh by calling us Ethel and Edna (except for Ethel Mary Allen and Edna Furl, of course), have trained me to smile for a camera.
And if I were missing, what picture would my family provide to the FBI for the Web site? Probably not the one in the nice red dress at Kim’s wedding, where my hair looked great and I still had lipstick on. No, he’d pick the one from my last birthday where I’m reading my card with those big glasses down on my nose and wearing a wrinkly shirt, with a sink full of dirty dishes in the background.
Reading the descriptions of the missing person’s attire makes you want to dress more carefully in the morning, just in case you get kidnapped out of the grocery store parking lot that day. It would be just my luck to get snatched on the day I got dressed in a hurry: “Fitzpatrick was last seen wearing brown pants, a red and blue shirt, a lavender belt, her glasses from 1983, orange socks and black shoes with unstylishly pointy heels. Her earrings were silver and her watch gold, and her shoes didn’t match her purse. Does this woman deserve to be found?”