I always figured there was something wrong with me but couldn’t put my finger on it.
Then I found it — the problem is my finger. At least nine of them (if we’re counting thumbs).
The first time I pressed my hand down on the fingerprint plate at the San Mateo County Office of Education, the readings were a little fuzzy. The woman helping me was no slouch; with a long list of potential volunteers needing processing for a local school district’s mentorship program, this was not her first identification rodeo. When charged with making sure the state has the proper information to weed out the criminal and sketchy, one can’t be too careful.
She handed me a bottle of lotion, explaining that the oils often help the reader pick up the unique swirls. I bit my tongue from making “Silence of the Lambs” jokes about putting the lotion in the basket. After all, I was trying to secure a gig helping young, impressionable minds so it probably wouldn’t have helped my case.
I rubbed my hands together, noted my shoddy cuticles, joked about knowing I needed a manicure, and tried again. She pushed down. She rolled the fingertips back and forth. She peered at the screen. She paused and “hmm”ed. Then she grabbed my palm and turned it over.
“Oh, you have faulty minutiae,” she said.
What? Faulty minutiae? How could I have faulty minutiae? How do I even know what that is?
In a nutshell, the minutiae are the various ridge points on the finger which are used to differentiate one person’s unique pattern from another. Mine apparently were faulty and therefore illegible.
Leave it to the folks in education to teach me about my deficiencies.
I was crushed. Nobody wants to hear they have a deformity but it is particularly startling when one has been going about their lives for years blissfully unaware of a deficit until somebody else decides to point it out. I was reminded of the dentist a few years back telling me my overbite was atrocious and asking hadn’t anybody ever suggested braces? Um, no. Or the optometrist assistant fitting my new pair of glasses on my face and puzzling over why they sat so oddly on the bridge of my nose. Oh, seems my ears are also uneven. Then the optometrist, years into contact wearing, pointed out that the eye with the technically better eyesight actually has astigmatism. Who knew? Not me.
Just like, apparently, the pads of my fingers are the natural equivalent of some shady criminal type who filed the prints off to avoid detection. Had I only known sooner! Think of the potential life of crime!
Let’s just try again, she said.
Lotion, rub, press, submit. The fingerprints in individual squares popped up on screen. And below each, minus the left index, was the machine’s cold judgment: Rejected.
Over and over again like a cold slap from a first-choice college: Rejected. Rejected. Rejected.
You’re not the only person this has happened to, the administrator said.
So this isn’t that rare? I clarified.
Well, it’s not that common, she replied.
So much for that. Add another quirk to the growing list of slightly irregular body parts.
Back in the newsroom, I shared my plight which not unexpectedly led to requests to view the faulty minutiae. I held out both hands for inspection.
“Yes, I see,” they concluded.
Really? What exactly did they see aside from the confusion on my face? Were they really expecting me to believe my shoddy skin was so obviously visible?
In any case, before exiting the fingerprinting exercise I was urged to return later and given some Goldilocks-like advice: Moisturize. But don’t overmoisturize. And don’t undermoisturize. Just the right amount, whatever that is. At this point, I’m leaning toward handing over a cheek swab but first I must prove my fingers are as boring and ordinary and readable as anybody else. I might once again be rejected but am willing to give it a whirl.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.