Photo: Sanjida Rashid/Fulcrum
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I can only describe this photo as the most humbling picture of me I’ve ever had taken

On some September afternoon like any other, I set off to get my first official UPass: how exciting! A University of Ottawa student rite of passage, truly.

Gone would be the days of reloading my Presto card. So long, the moments of forgetting my card and debating whether I should buy an infant or adult fare — I obviously picked adult fare every time, of course. My favourite thrift stores would be at my fingertips and Chinatown at my doorstep. I could almost taste the Pho Bo Ga King already.

Such is how I left my apartment that day, ID in hand and misplaced audacity of hope in tow.

Oblivious to the mockery I was about to face, my walk to campus was carefree. Like a dog tricked into going to the vet, I cheerfully descended the steps of the Jock Turcot University Centre and meandered into the long UPass lineup.

The photographer seemed nice enough. How was I to know this rather pleasant person, with whom I innocently shared normative pleasantries, would go on to wrong me so shortly after? It was unbeknownst to me that this woman was presumably a sadist! 

Perhaps that is harsh. 

However, I can only assume that she takes joy in the misery of others by participating in this system of injustice.

The first red flag should have been my descent into a poorly lit basement. There would be no natural lighting. Not ideal. However, I could have worked with that if, perchance, there had been some adequate lighting fixtures. I wasn’t skeptical yet — such is the folly of optimism.

It was when I was seated that I started to become aware of my fate. At eye level, there was no camera in sight. My eyes searched for the lens I was intended to pose for. Rather than take the photo from a standard angle, it seemed that UPass photography favours a more abstract approach. I spot my “camera”, if we are being liberal with the description, at just above knee level. What a creative approach.

At that moment, I knew this photo was not going to be my new headshot, nor would it be featured in my next Instagram photo dump. I begrudgingly accepted my fate. There I was, sitting in a dark basement in a fold-up chair, gazing into a webcam placed at an angle so low that, if it actually boasted of good camera quality, would be able to serve as a scope of my nostrils. All I could do at that point was wait.

Then, I conversed with the photographer, an abettor to this crime against my self-esteem, for the short few moments that it took for the printer to produce my card.

This is where I decided this woman must take pleasure in my displeasure. A court of law might call it hearsay, but I present to you nothing but the whole truth as I experienced it: she looked at the freshly printed card and fought back a laugh. I saw it! A near-chuckle at my expense. 

I can’t blame her. I can only describe this photo as the most humbling picture of me I’ve ever had taken. It was a crime against humanity. I’m not convinced the girl in my student ID and my UPass is the same person. Like the saying goes for eyebrows, they’re sisters — not twins. The girl in my student ID is starry-eyed and enthusiastic — just about to leave her hometown behind, hop on a plane to Ottawa, excited for the year to come. The girl in my UPass? She’s no longer hopeful, because she’s seen it all, been around the block, and has been worn down by time. The things a year and bad lighting can do, I suppose.

I would argue that the entire process is likely a violation of the Geneva convention in that it lacked respect for my moral or physical integrity.

Thus, I left that day feeling more than sufficiently defiled. Always the optimist, I tried to find the silver lining in this otherwise demeaning experience. At least I would be able to go on the LRT a bit more easily now, right? Despite the lofty price of a UPass, it must be worthwhile long term, right? I reminded myself of the clothes I would soon thrift and the spring rolls I would soon acquire. All’s well if it ends well.

Ah, foolish naivité.

With my tail between my legs, I returned home with a depreciating self-esteem and a new card to tote around. Luck would have it that a few short days later, the LRT derailed with no date to reopen in sight

Apparently, it didn’t end well. 

So, all is not well.