A true story from the archives. Enjoy!
By Christopher Pickhardt
– Copyright 2009
Last year, an idea was sparked in my head upon the realization that my driver’s license was about to expire. In the honor of good comedy, I felt it was incumbent upon me to mess with the system a little bit. So, in the tradition of comical pranks and inside jokes, I decided it was necessary to alter my appearance for my new license photo.
Given that idea, I did not want to just wear funny glasses, make a silly face or dress as a priest (as “Jackass” alumni Johnny Knoxville brilliantly did several years back) no, I wanted to take the idea much further. I figured if I am going to run with this idea, I might as well sprint with it. So, I chose to wear a wig; not just any wig, but a Bohemian-style wig I had purchased back in 1999 for a Qui-Gon Jinn costume I was assembling for the absurdly anticipated premiere of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (yes, I am a movie dork and proud of it).
This wig is wondrous; truly a cascade of flowing hair rivaled only by the manes of the most majestic lions of the Serengeti. The wisest investment I have made to date, bar none; this $40.00 special-ordered wig has paid for itself tenfold, as I have used it on countless occasions over the years whenever it was deemed necessary.
Whenever I wear it, I feel like the son of Sasquatch or some other starved, feral beast out to masticate the young of the privileged. Hear my roar! Upon placing the hairy crown over my scalp, I instantly feel the encompassing locks engulfing my face as strand upon strand either shoots up my nose like rebellious mustache fragments or taste them plunge into my mouth, aggressively caressing my drenched tongue as would a long full lover. Numerous bouts of spitting out hair, placement adjustments and glances in the mirror ensued as I secured the day’s prized adornment as a genuine element of my person. I even wore a rather captivating brown suit to further establish and project a grandiose image of myself to the subjects I was about to address within the stale, depressing walls of the local office of the Division of Motor Vehicles.
To pull off a stunt this brazen, one must confirm that all key elements are in place to secure proper execution. I could not leave anything to chance as the slightest oversight could bring my comedic masterpiece crumbling to the ground. The covert plot must be a success, so overcompensation and strict attention to detail was instituted to ensure personal hilarity. I went above and beyond my Six Points of Identification required by New Jersey state law to efficiently obtain a driver’s license renewal, taking with me in my arsenal of identity verification: my current NJ driver’s license, United States passport, High school diploma, vehicle registration and insurance cards, college diploma, Social Security card, and a current bank statement. I was confident I had the points in the proverbial bag, leaving the only one unpredictable variable in this equation, which was whether or not the keen DMV staff would buy my presumptuously daft appearance as gospel, or see through my façade and destructively heckle the grandest practical joke I had ever proposed.
With my doubts hovering in my psyche, although fairly low on the scale of deterrence, the rouse was now perfectly prepared. My suit looked dapper and dashing, the celestial hair magnificently flowing, and my confidence was rock solid. I chuckled mischievously as I took one more gander at myself in the mirror—tickled pink at how utterly ridiculous I looked, while grinning proudly at the risky self-imposed challenge I was about to embark on.
I was on a mission, not one of nobility, but of jest, and as I drove from my house to the local Division of Motor Vehicles I could feel the butterflies parading inside my stomach like kernels of popcorn exploding over an open flame. Perspiration omitted from my pores at a steady rate the closer I got to my intended target—slightly nervous about the wool I was about to pull over the inspecting eyes at the DMV. I took deep breaths and got into character as I jumped from the car and walked through the parking lot towards the agency’s entrance. I felt the eyes of everyone I walked past upon me, like a sudden pariah among a colony of disciples. Undeterred I ventured into the building where the motor vehicle constituency was located, feeling a soldier’s resolve in my veins like mother’s milk.
“No one can stop me now,” I thought to myself, as I approached the double-glass doors of the DMV, with adjacent heads turning as my presence appeared in their peripheral vision. Surely, I was a strange sight to behold in a venue usually comprised of boredom and impatience, but a well-dressed man wearing a wig to the DMV,was confidently not a summation I would gamble the bystanders were thinking upon witnessing my entrance into the busy home of state driving privilege. I speculated my ironic appearance would be regarded by the congregation as any number of characters in our diverse societal paradigm: a rugged beatnik, or eccentric artist perhaps, maybe a begrudged biker (hoping to be deemed presentable for a change by the masses) and possibly even an unrelenting hippie wearing a suit for the man, while flaunting long locks of rebellion for himself. Whatever the label I was given, there was no turning back now, as the momentous time had come to perform the prestige of a lifetime.
I got into the rather surprisingly short line for renewals in the back of the room near the door. I felt conspicuous, more conspicuous than I have ever felt before, like a shotgun hiding under a napkin. Beads of sweat were collecting under the wig and on my forehead, as it felt like the eyes of the nation were drawn on me. My heart pounded relentlessly, and my stomach was electrified, but I felt jazzed; starting to get into the rush that was slowly enveloping me from the inside out.
I followed the lead of the guy in front of me and moved a couple steps forward, now feeling a calm begin to wash over me. That soothing cool sensation was to be short lived, as my movements clumsily triggered the collection of documents tucked under my left arm to be regurgitated from their folder onto the floor beneath me in a manner not only mortifying given the tight surveillance, I felt was surrounding me, but scattered all over the place in a messy manner only a troublesome two-year old could arrange.
Immediate stares followed my horrendous display of attempted stealth—from the patrons waiting in the uncomfortable chairs all around, from DMV staff that casually looked up at me upon hearing the choice obscenity that slipped from my lips and from the two police officers standing nearby as added division security.
I could feel the panicked sweat cascading down my head with salty pools beginning to collect in the nooks and crannies of my armpits and seeping like a sponge onto my eyebrows. I quickly bent down to pick up all my identification documents, cursing my clumsiness and the premature attention I was currently receiving in the wake of my faux pas. It was only a collection of seconds in reality as I grabbed my passport, license and other points of identification, but in my mind, it was an eternity—like a lost child in a large department store, filled with terror and vertigo at the intense overwhelming sensations overcoming their every sense of being. Then like a flick of a switch the scrutiny was over, with my documents finally in order and back into their rightful folder and all the prying eyes reverted to their home positions.
Soon enough, it was my turn at the preliminary verification desk where a middle-aged woman was waving me over to inspect my points and to verify, I am indeed who I say I am. As I walked over to her, I felt cool and collected and most certainly back on my game. With a smile of pearly whites, I introduced myself to her and said I was here to renew my license. She was a very nice, pleasant person and I recall thinking she was almost overly kind, given that she worked at a place most deemed to be the closest place on Earth to Purgatory.
Any local branch of the Division of Motor Vehicles was a place you go only when absolutely necessary and never with the anticipation of a speedy exciting visit. Long waits prevailed here, feeling like a penance for the privileged gift of driving, which was granted to the masses by miserable, not particularly animated employees who worked at paces even snails would describe as lethargic. All the while we the waiting patrons are inflicted as we await the beckon of our name, with a level of boredom not soon experienced by those lucky few who transcribe tax codes into braille for a living.
It was this knowledge that made this woman’s cheerful demeanor that much more welcomed by me as I delivered to her all the requested points of identification, explaining that I brought WAY more documentation than deemed necessary, to ensure that all my bases would be covered.
The documentation review process went fairly quickly as I waited for the other shoe to drop and for her to question my authenticity. A momentary chill of nerves rushed through me as she inspected my license in a way a doctor examines an x-ray. I felt as though the gig could be up, as my current license was four years old and featured a photo of me bald and clean shaven. My youthful appearance in that picture was truly contrary to the bearded Yeti that was presented before her today.
“Wow, your hair sure grew,” she said to me in an amused tone as her eyes rose from studying the photograph in her hand to the man himself.
“I know, it grows like weeds,” I replied, in a matter-of-fact manner confidently peppered with a hint of dually amused dismissal. “It’s amazing what four years can do,” I continued with faux enthusiasm.
Before I knew it, I was verified and cleared with the properly signed paperwork in my hands and the finish line in my sights. The last step on my farcical journey was only a mere twenty paces to my right—a distance I traveled with steadfast self-assurance and thoroughbred agility.
The line at the main counter where the photos are taken, paperwork officially processed and currency exchanged was but one person long and as I joined the short procession, I was giddy inside like a child waiting to board a ride at Disney World. I stood there patiently for my turn while perusing the female specimens sitting, standing and mingling about the room in their skimpy shorts and spaghetti straps with their assets on display like strawberries on shortcake.
“Next!” I heard from in front as suddenly it was my turn to go. I deferred back to my 12 and headed to the counter where several women were stationed. A police officer paced behind them, surveying the room with minimal interest. As I approached, I felt the eyes again, glaring suspiciously at me from behind the counter. There was no paranoia this time, all eyes were tractor-beamed on me: the glowing suit, the pristine beard and Neanderthal hair, exasperatedly accompanied by a smile surely reminiscent of a used car salesman. I held my resolve and kept on trucking, submitting all my papers to the woman in charge.
Skeptical would be an understatement when describing the tone in her voice as the woman scanned my old license photo.
“This looks nothing like you,” she stabbed, as a wave of chills sank from my forehead to my groin upon hearing her accusatory remark.
“I know,” I shot back calmly. “I’ve been growing it out for a movie these last four years along with the beard,” I said confidently and deceitfully.
“I’m an actor and I have been producing an independent film for the last couple years, this look is necessary for the part,” I half-truthfully continued, knowing that all that information was technically true except for the part about growing out the mane in front of her; a white lie necessary in executing the elaborate escapade I was chest-deep in the middle of.
“Wow, it REALLY doesn’t look like you at all,” the persistent persecutor mused as her biting words enticed the cop and other DMV employees to congregate in a semi-circle behind her like rubbernecking motorists to an accident. This was clearly the most excitement this place has seen in a LONG time. I guess I do not blame them—how often do you see a guy sporting a bushy beard, with very long unkempt hair donning the sharpest suit outside of a courtroom in your local motor vehicle office?
The suit, I thought was a nice touch; a way to add a little class and validity to the wig. I thought I would be seen as a business professional that happened to enjoy long hair (an eccentric lawyer or small business owner perhaps). What I mistakenly overlooked was the sheer discrepancy between the two appearance factors. My intentions towards vindication had backfired eliciting the exact opposite reaction from these people: one of doubt, conspicuousness, and scrutiny rather than a preferred welcoming and procedural air. If I had worn torn jeans and a leather jacket with a Born to Ride patch on the back, I think I would have encountered a fraction of the prying eyes.
The vast contrast between my current appearance and the older photo she held in her hand was a clearly justified red flag, but not an antithesis that could technically be contested, as I was VERY prepared for just this scenario. Due to the brilliance of the immaculate portfolio of identification provided by me for specifically this purpose, only the hardest of asses would attempt to discredit the encyclopedic ensemble of credentials before them. As this woman of imposing authority studied me intently, I could tell that she began seeing the resemblances as she looked at my face, focusing on my eyes, mouth, and nose and comparing them to the details in my old license. It was a few moments later when she was taking into consideration the thorough dossier in front of her that I knew I had won. I could see in her face that there was no justification for dispute here, I was indeed the man I claimed to be and in minutes I would have achieved exactly what I came here to do.
“Ok, stand in front of the blue square on the wall over there,” the woman said to me in resignation. I obliged happily and prepared myself for the moment I had been anticipating. As this other lady—slightly older than the other, fiddled with the camera I readied the biggest smile I could muster and held it for whenever she decided to click the button. I stood there steady as a totem and braced feverishly for that fateful lens to capture my face—etching it in time what to me, was a true achievement in humor, my dearest friend and partner in arms. SNAP went the camera as the jubilation rushed through my body like the building of a huge sneeze. I had done it! The picture was taken, and I had won the day, fooling everyone in the room.
While I awaited my finished identification my thoughts went to Andy Kaufman and the countless stunts he pulled in his brilliant career. To pull this stunt off was if anything, a tribute to Andy and anyone else who dared to put everything on the line in the name of comedy. After all you cannot take life too seriously, especially if an opportunity is presented to you for a great practical joke. One would be remiss to think otherwise.
Any moment now, it would be ready. The anticipation of seeing the final product was killing me. I could not wait to lay my eyes on this absurd new license, and I was even more anxious to show everyone in my life what I had accomplished. Anticipating the hilarity that would ensue from this made every ounce of nerves I felt in the process well worth it.
The woman told me I may want to consider taking another picture soon after I was done with the long hair so I would more closely resemble my old self in case I was ever pulled over. I nodded in agreement with her, knowing full well I would never do that. This picture was way too good to only use for a few months. I wanted the delight of walking around with this photo for the next four years and was not concerned at all with any legal implications that could possibly ensue as a result, as I knew there was nothing illegal about it.
My signature was spot-on, I had all the proper identification and had all the answers to the questions asked. So, I did not look like my picture in person, do you have any idea how many people do not currently look like their license picture? I don’t have that answer for you, but I am sure the number is pretty high.
All these thoughts went out of my head as I was finally handed my new license (my first one featuring all the new digital watermarks and imprinting modifications, which ensured near-impossible forgery). Looking at it, I had to hold back the laughter as I gazed at the huge smile plastered across my face in the picture…and that waterfall of long brown hair accompanied by that colorful austere suit…oh man, I was impressed with myself for actually pulling it off.
I thanked everyone at the counter and said goodbye, further staring at the license as I headed for the exit. I could tell they were still watching me skeptically as I ventured further and further away from them like a camel fleeing the desert sun.
As soon as I could I paraded my new license around like a mother with a newborn. I showed it to family, friends, and coworkers to glorious, howling laughter and high marks. Some people laughed so hard they could not breathe; another friend of mine fell off his chair—satisfying results of a prank gone right. Accolades like these made me feel like a comedic god and further cemented my dedication to entertainment. Making people laugh can be addictive – a drug in itself, and one I am not ashamed to enjoy.
Laughter as they say is the best medicine and I am in total agreement. Too many people get consumed by their black clouds that they forget what really matters, choosing to focus their priorities in the wrong direction. We should take proactive steps on the daily basis to ensure that we spend a greater time smiling, laughing, and pursuing our dreams rather than engaging in negative preoccupation. We must do whatever we can to make ourselves truly happy and direct our energy towards activities that leave us feeling positive and fulfilled at the end of the day. For me, it was a prank containing a silly wig; a sharp suit and a wily smile…only time will tell what the next prank will be.