I went to get my license renewed today, as did the population of Waco, apparently.
I walked into the building and heard my shoes protest against the tile as my eyes travelled the line. Two people in front of me was an elderly Asian couple, presumably getting the proper licenses to live in America. They didn’t speak much English, but everything they had was plastered with official stamps and crisp United States branding. Untouched was the wife’s clutch, as beautiful as it was old. Embroidered with swans and flowers, I imagined it was hand-stitched. She had perhaps sat by her husband’s rocking chair with needle and thread after supper, swirls from his tobacco pipe quilting the air. The pipe sits in the old man’s faded bomber jacket pocket; the wood is soft like his skin, a little yellow, and earthy. I know there were nights when they danced through his smoke to the record player. His hand fits perfectly on her waist as they hobble away from the counter. The next person steps up, and I rummage through my purse to find my ID.
When I sit down, the couple is attempting to FaceTime their son. Their fingers bump over each other as the other decides they are the more technologically advanced of the two, and then there is rapid, whispered, and foreign arguing as they obviously have accomplished nothing. The wife plucks the tablet from the thick fingers of her husband and folds it into her clutch with a huff. He chuckles when she swats his arm away from a half-embrace. I fight a smirk, but a glance at a young girl leaves me giggling. Her mouth hangs wide open as she struggles the understand the language and scene before her. She pulls on a curl that springs back into a mane of black and pops a finger in her mouth.
“Mommy, why can’t they talk good? They sound like Joseph,” she exclaims. The horrified mother bounces a glowing baby boy on her lap. He shrieks, then babbles to any spectators who are listening in the quiet DMV waiting room.
The elderly husband blows a raspberry at the baby, and the mother expresses embarrassment openly on her face. The little girl sits on her knees on the chair and stares at the Asian couple. She points to a middle-aged Asian man walking through the door.
“That y’alls kid?” She guesses. Her mother groans. Joseph squeals.
Coincidentally, it is. The couple stands up to greet the man, though he towers over them both. He wears cargo shorts and a polo and vividly reminds me of any Baylor student ever. He kisses their cheeks, sits with his parents. “I try calling,” his father explains. His mother huffs. The two males exchange an endearing scowl towards the mother. The son says his apologies for being late, once in English, again in Mandarin. Maybe he was there to translate, but my number is called before I had another chance to eavesdrop.
At the counter, the officer reviews my information before asking me to step up against the blue screen. I stand awkwardly, partly because I hate being photographed and partly because I am cold. The officer laughs a little and asks me to smile. I give my best impression of my worst smile.
“You look like Mona Lisa,” the man hands me my picture and laughs again. I imagine a graceful picture – maybe my hair looks great, my smile is playful, my eyes are inviting. He slides me the photocopy, and that’s…not…who I look like.
“You’re kidding,” I grab it, “Can I retake it?”
He shakes his head no and shows the picture to the woman beside him. She laughs. The picture depicts me with a slight frown, slightly parted lips (almost a hint of a smile). I look confused. Most of all, I look like Van Gogh after he cut off his ear, not the masterpiece Da Vinci illustrated.
“You’re getting us through our day, sweetheart,” the officer croons. I snatch the new ID from him and sigh, feeling very much like the elderly Chinese wife.
As I walk out the door, I see the couple again. The wife has a plastic bow clip in her hair from the little girl who is gaping in awe at the elderly husband who is singing to her in another language. The son sets up Wifi on his parents’ tablet, and the mother of Joseph and the little girl asks him about his relationship with his parents. She’s very worried about raising her children right.
There’s an art that America manages to capture in its melting pot of culture. It’s amazing to see the people who will sit next to you in an office where time passes slower than eternity and fewer counters are open than the Walmart express lanes, but it’s art nonetheless. Incomparable to my new license, of course, but America you are the quaintest palette.