Saturday, March 11th, loomed ahead. I was excited about it. Maybe even a little bit nervous, though mostly just because of the chaos of trying to manage it, with everything else going on. I would be mentoring an 18-year old kid from Russia on photography. But there were steps to take before that could ever happen.

First, of course, is simply credential-izing one’s self to the institution. You need to actually know the art of photography, not to mention, have an idea of what you’d want to impart to a friendly, first generation American Millennial, who knows more at 18 than I knew at 36. And the effort to raise one’s hand, reach that hand out to someone who could use it, keep it extended long enough for someone to take you up on it. There’s discretion involved. But I satisfied and there was one student, then she couldn’t make it work, time-wise. So, I waited until there was another. Like a match for blood, or a heart transplant. Finally, you hear… we found someone. That was first, discretion and time.

Second was the paperwork to fill out and the fingerprinting. Find a Live Scan facility nearby and visit with enough time for them to get fingerprints into the system and have them checked and logged by the Department of Justice and the FBI. You need an official, Certified Fingerprint Roller to roll your fingers on the scanner. Easy job? Perhaps. The trainee seemed competent, but the results were light. The more seasoned Roller stepped in. He grabbed my digits with authority, rolled them to a perfectly-contrasted, inky digital reproduction of the swirled, nicked and topographically unique I.D. of my fingertips. The trainee watched on, wondering what he did wrong.

I paid the money, I offered up the proper identification and a private packet of me headed off for review. I’m out of that process. The only people who can see the resulting approval or disapproval are the folks who have access to the system and the unique ID Number to look it up. People and systems, checks and balances, third party verification and all that. That’s second.

“Good news, you’ve been approved.”

“When you come in, you’ll need to bring a copy of your driver’s license as well as a current insurance card. Also, the signed paperwork, in triplicate. Also, please keep us informed of all correspondence with the student and aware of meeting times, as we’d like to be present when you connect.”

Third:

“How did it go with the student? Please don’t forget to keep us informed of all correspondence and aware of meeting times. We’d like to be present when you connect.”

There was definitely shooting on Saturday. The student and I found interesting tracks in the sand — leading lines, as they say — shadow play underneath the Santa Monica Pier and a paddle board event to photograph. We shot a lot. My fears turned to a kind of collaborative understanding. A mentorship is simply hanging out, after all. There’s no assignment. I’m not even a teacher, really. It’s just two people kind of walking and shooting the breeze. If knowledge passes between us, it’s more just because the tide brought it in.

And yet.

Time and credentials. Verification and the FBI. Follow-up and confirmations.

So, let me tell you about my fingerprints:

I’ve earned the nicks and cuts. An FBI verification is not a hurdle — it’s a tribute. I spent a lifetime working those fingertips to press a shutter release at precisely the right time. To turn a focus ring with the confidence of a Certified Finger Roller. Those cuts are mine and I stayed on the good side of the law, contemplated right and wrong, worked hard to be a person who could contribute. Who might one day mentor, and receive all the real world benefits that that brings… me. To be a contributor, you don’t know until a kid looks at you in amazement, wide-eyed, at a loss for words and tells you, “I’m sorry, I’m just kind of taking this all in.”

The FBI can have my fingerprints. I hope they really stare at them, admire the nick that runs straight and horizontal through an otherwise swirly ellipse. Hell, blow them up and make them large enough to frame. God knows the contrast is good, and the resolution high enough. And place that thing on a wall somewhere in Washington, DC.

Right next to an empty space where Omar Mateen’s prints aren’t.

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