My Light Fingerprints, My Tenuous Identity

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It's estimated that 2 percent of the population has fingerprints that barely register. Scott Simon is one of them – and it can complicate everything from adopting his daughters to getting cleared for a frequent-flyer prescreening program.


Sometimes, I get a little personal in these essays. I've talked a bit about my childhood, being a husband, father, cat owner and a Cubs fan. But I have something to confide this week that makes me blush. I have light fingerprints. I discovered this a few years ago in the welter of tests we had to take to adopt two daughters from China.

The people running fingerprint tests at the immigration office would grimace when they saw mine, as if beholding a run over squirrel on the side of the road. Then, they'd tell me, sorry, light fingerprints. Eventually, I had to have 10 fingerprint tests before they could piece together a full set for examination, like the shards of some ancient Egyptian pot.

A U.S. congressman had to vouch for my identity. He said he'd been tempted to tell them I was D.B. Cooper, the man who parachuted into the woods from a hijacked plane with $200,000.

This week, I applied for that special prescreen security program for frequent air travelers called CLEAR. Examiners certified my passport and birth certificate. They've searched for any criminal records, outstanding debts or court judgments. They scanned my retinas, which in any James Bond movie is usually enough to throw open the door at the headquarters. And they beamed, just fine, Mr. Simon. Just a little while longer, Mr. Simon. I could tell.

I was just a step from becoming one of those favorite few who can breeze through airport security lines like Devon Hester with a kickoff return. Then, they said they had to take my fingerprints. After about an hour of mashing my digits against a glass plate and people in blue suits frowning and shaking their heads, they handed back my paperwork and announced, sorry, light fingerprints.

One of the examiners put his own thumb onto the plate to show me, I suppose, what a real man's fingerprints look like. The grooves in his thumbprint were heavy and thick. I bet you could grow corn between the ridges. His thumbprint looked like the crop circles in a Mel Gibson movie or an aerial photo of the Los Angeles freeway system.

My thumbprint looked as plain as the Bonneville Salt Flats. The National Biometric Test Center at San Jose State University estimates that about two percent of the population suffers from what I'll call light fingerprint Syndrome. Seem to most commonly occur among longtime farmers, factory workers and bricklayers - none of which applies to me. I have never even been close friends with a brick.

What do those of us who suffer from LFS have to do to win a little recognition from the world? Form support groups, have telethons, get Bono to organize a concert, have the Reverend Jackson chant, maybe my fingerprints are light but I still got a lot of bite.

This past Tuesday was April 15. I notice the Internal Revenue Service didn't have any problem identifying me.

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