Is there an ugliness quotient?

As a way of giving back to Highlands University, my alma mater, I decided to pick up a newly minted license plate that bears the letters “HU,” with the message, “Go Cowboys” on an attractive white-on-purple field.

The plates became available this week at the local motor vehicle office, for a slightly higher fee than regular plates, Highlands receiving part of those fees. The trip to the MVD, while time-consuming, went surprisingly smoothly, considering it was also time to renew my driver’s license, which expires next month, after eight years.

The plate contains five digits, with a couple of zeroes tossed in. Theoretically, the number of digits would allow 99,999 plates to be sold without duplication or running out. My number, if you ignore a couple of zeroes, comes quite close to my current weight. But that’s a topic for a later column.

My clerk on Monday was Susie Baldonado, who handled both transactions. We did the plate first. I asked whether there’d been a rush to buy the Highlands license plates, inasmuch as mine was already in the 200s. Susie said that the local facility actually received a supply that begins in the low 200s, which makes us wonder which HU VIPs qualified for the lowest numbers, the way governors like their plate to carry No. 00001.

When I read about the plan to issue Highlands plates, I noticed the photo of the plate contained the words “Go Cowboys.” Fair enough, so in a column I wrote that I hoped a comma would separate “go” from “Cowboys” before the legislature approved the plates. Why? No big deal?

Well, a simple comma can mean the difference between the following sets: “The teacher said the student is a fool” and “The teacher, said the student, is a fool.” Who’s calling whom a fool?

Or imagine the difference between “What’s the latest dope?” and “What’s the latest, dope?” or “I’m eating chicken” and “I’m eating, chicken.”

We realize that the several dozen UNM plates around this town have “Go Lobos” (without a comma). But just because the folks at the big university in Albuquerque can’t punctuate, that doesn’t mean we need to follow suit.

We can get into all kinds of university rivalries this way. In fact, we may ask what the “N” on the helmets of the Cornhuskers football team stands for. It’s simple: The “N” stands for “nowledge.”

I refuse to drive with a punctuationally incorrect license plate and have resolved to buy a bottle of “White-Out” and insert a comma on the purple background of the plate (the letters are white). But is White-Out even manufactured anymore?

We’ve heard of the secretary who made corrections by applying the white stuff directly to the computer screen. But do people use it anymore? Somehow I’ll find some that hasn’t dried out, dab on the missing comma, and drive with a clear conscience, knowing I’ve done my duty.

• • •

The driver’s license was the next step Susie Baldonado took me through. I took an eye test then had my photo taken. An account I came across not long ago mentioned that one ought not smile when being photographed for passports or driver’s licenses. The report said people’s images should appear natural, the way they would if standing in a line of 6,000, awaiting passport clearance in a foreign airport. At both places, officials assured me that report is false.

So, contrary to what I’d heard, I was allowed to smile pretty for the MVD camera, realizing “pretty” is a relative term. But minutes later, as she was completing the procedure, Susie informed me I’d gotten too low a score to qualify.

“Even with LASIK surgery, performed years ago, my eyes aren’t as sharp as they could be,” I thought. “Did I miss too many letters during the eye test.” Susie explained that the low score — 24 — concerned the mug-shot she took of me and not the vision test.

I wondered, “Is there an ugliness quotient? Do only good-looking people like Brad Pitt get to drive? Do I need to slick down my hair, trim the mustache a bit? How did Mike Tyson or Michael Jackson ever get licensed?”

Patiently, Susie said the MVD uses a “Facial Recognition Camera,” which checks the present visage against the old one, presumably to prevent identity theft.

On the re-shoot, the smile was broader, and when she showed me the old and the newest versions, the resemblance was dismaying. Dismaying if you overlook the wrinkles, crow’s feet, gray hair and wattle in the 2010 version.

On the second take, I passed with a score of 59. Not great, but more than double the previous score. And to think I fretted, with a score of 24, that I’m one-fourth the man I was a few short years ago.

2 thoughts on “Is there an ugliness quotient?

  1. Ben Moffett

    I suddenly realized how effective you are in covering everything and everybody in Las Vegas when you are writing your column, and giving a lesson on language at the same time — a real work of art.

    Readers get a history lesson and gossip sesson on Las Vegas an environs while learning about commas and how they can destroy a sentence or save it. It’s kind of like those old math problems where you were asked if person 1 drove from Albuquerque to Raton in two hours, and person 2 started an hour later and had a flat tire at Tecolote, how much time…”

    More importantly, I am writing because nothing bothers me quite so much as listening to the weather person, without fail, refer to “snow” as “white stuff” on second reference. Maybe I’ve got a dirty mind, but that always sounds nasty to me. I think repeating the word “snow” is not a terrible thing to do in a weather cast. You wouldn’t say “four-footed mammal” on second reference in a story about dogs. So why revert to white stuff?
    I notice you used “white stuff” on second reference in this column, but you were not talking about “snow,” either as a flake or a drug. You were talking about “White-Out” fluid which would be a good thing for the weather person to use in a really nasty snowstorm, such as I have encountered a time or two when driving from Santa Fe to Las Vegas.

  2. Art Trujillo

    How perceptive of you, Ben! Yeah, I don’t care for that on a second reference to snow, although I may have used it in my callow and fallow days. I wince over the many words to avoid having to repeat “say” or “said.” In fact, I must’ve written a column a while back about “synonymania,” in which people describe impossible acts. For example, “You’re not right for the job,” he sniffed. Or “You’re quite funny,” he laughed.

    I could write more but I’m busy eating a banana. I begun to really enjoy that elongated yellow fruit.

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