Smile -- you've been arrested.
Never before in the sensational annals of mug shots have these snapshots of the naked human condition been so chronicled, popular and shared.
A cottage industry -- no, an entire hotel chain has sprung up of websites dedicated to exhibiting us in our less-than-finest hours.
Once for law enforcement eyes only, these human car wrecks, these prom pictures from hell, have become irresistibly public.
During a recent lull in brain activity, I spent an hour scanning sites of the hottest, weepiest, scariest, saddest, most tattooed, topless, grinning, bug-eyed, one-eyed, cloudy-eyed, toothy, toothless and half-shaved newest members of our criminal justice system. I've never felt so law-abiding and so grateful I shave my whole face.
On one site, I saw a young woman with "God" tattooed on her forehead. Another citizen has "I Ate Your Soul" branded on his chest. There's a cross-dressing wedding bride and another guy with seemingly two scarred foreheads who makes Charlie Manson's any-age mug shot look like Queen Elizabeth's. We're kidding. Queen Elizabeth doesn't have a criminal mug shot. That we can find.
These sites carry the evergreen disclaimer that these people are innocent until proven. But until that pesky due process is settled, take a look at the dude with the skull tattoo and Hawaiian shirt! Do we really want to know what he was charged with?
We crave the back stories behind all these mug shots -- especially those of the famous under the influence of too much night. Who among us didn't peek at O.J. Simpson, Lindsey Lohan (take your pick), Randy Travis, Nick Nolte, Hugh Grant, Rip Torn, Mike Tyson, or any of the Baldwin brothers?
I tend to skew older with my celebrity faves. Give me Steve McQueen's 1972 mug shot any day: Nose slightly bloodied. Big grin. Flashing a peace sign. Charged with driving like Steve McQueen or something. Also, check out Frank Sinatra's 1938 mug shot. We should all look so cool when we're in hot water.
Smiling suspects are more common these days. I get it. If your mug shot is going to be plastered on websites, why not smile for the viral camera? But I find this niche of mug shots more unsettling than even the half-shaved, crazy-eyed category. Is the woman charged with running an opium grow house smiling because she's just an upbeat kind of gal? Or is she smiling because upon release, she plans to track me down and tattoo pro-opium slogans on my chest?
Speaking of crazy, I looked up an old roommate on a mug shot site. I had always wondered about him. Sure enough, I found a recent Florida mug shot of him.
He was smiling.
Probably not a good time to ask him for my Chicago album back, which I know he stole.
All of this makes me wonder if I should practice my mugging in case bad judgment were to befall me. I'd aim for something between Charles Manson's and Paris Hilton's mug shots. Nothing too scary; nothing too chic. I don't think I'd shave half my face or flash a peace sign.
Maybe I'd try a smile -- in between weeping.