Opinion

OPINION | GREG HARTON: A picture is worth 1,000 columns, or thereabout

"There is still no cure for the common birthday."

-- John Glenn

They used to say photos don't lie, but with the growing power of artificial intelligence and robust photo editing software, that's no longer the case.

For years now, they've had smartphone apps that could age a person's face to show what it might look like in old age.

But the answer is no, that's not what we did to my "mugshot" up above. I promise.

Frequent readers who take note of the head shot that publishes with my Sunday columns may realize I've aged a bit since last week. And while the newspaper business can be stressful, most of any added wrinkles and graying hairs didn't just spring up in the last seven days.

Instead, I'm guilty of a longtime newspaper tradition, if that's what one might call it. Regularly appearing columnists have their pictures made so their faces will appear with their opinions. It's easy, though, to forget about them as time goes by. Updating them never quite seems a priority.

The head shot that has been appearing with my column, to the best of my recollection and a search of our archives, was taken about 14 years ago. To put that into perspective, my sons were 4 and 7 years old at the time. Today, they are a freshman and a junior at the University of Arkansas. I'll blame them for some of the graying hairs.

Notice I say graying. I continue to cling to whatever remnants of brown are still on my head, either in reality or my imagination. It's weird how my mirror reflects my appearance differently than my wife and a few others have observed. They need to get their eyes checked, I'm sure.

I was filling out a government form the other day. It required me to update a basic description of my appearance, such as height, weight, eye color. The form had been auto-completed with the answers I gave the last time I'd filled out the form. That was several years ago. It was all easy stuff until I got to the question of hair color.

The old answer seemed to be making fun of me: Brown, it said, without an ounce of equivocation.

My ego wanted to, but couldn't share that certainty. Because this was a formal government document, one that requires attesting to the factual basis of all statements made, I stepped away from my computer and went to my wife. "OK, what would you REALLY say my hair color is?" I asked.

Perhaps in sympathy to my vanity, she waffled a bit between the color it was and the color it has increasingly become. Then I told her I was filling out an official government document on which the truth was required.

"Gray," she said quickly, as if under oath in a court of law. I must say, the lack of any hesitation stung for just a second. What is it they say about a wife not testifying against a husband? But reality quickly took hold. My head and my hairbrush could hardly supply evidence to contradict her. Case closed.

I changed "brown" to "gray" on the government form, although I admit I looked at the choices to make sure "grayish" wasn't among them. The government can be harsh.

As far as the photo at the top of this column, my conscience finally got the better of me. In the last few months, I glanced at it and felt a pang of dishonesty. It no longer resembled the guy in the mirror.

And so now I've made the switch. An explanation was in order, mostly because I didn't want any readers calling my boss to ask if I'm OK. I'm better than I look. Really.

As the late Tom Petty said, "If you're not getting any older, you're dead."