Monday, August 15, 2005

Cards.

There is a high school baseball tournament taking place at the university across the street; it has caused an atypical run on every form of smokeless tobacco that my store carries. Although I have a deep and abiding love for the sport that is baseball, I have ever been puzzled by its inextricable association with a habit so disgusting that smokers actually look down on it. At least when we, Peter Jennings-like, die of lung cancer, we won’t be missing our surgically-removed jaws like carnival freaks. The dads have been the principal purchasers, but that hasn’t stopped the kiddies from giving it a shot.

“I need a bag of Red Man and a tin of Skoal Wintergreen,” announces a tall, athletically-built young man wearing a baseball cap. He appears to be about seventeen years of age. Perceptive lad that I am, I am immediately suspicious of his credentials to purchase tobacco. It doesn’t help that his buddy standing next to him looks even younger than he does.

“Sure, I just need to see your I.D. first,” I reply, turning to retrieve his can of dip and taking the three steps and back to get the bag of chew. When I return with his product, he presents me a military identification card. That’s fine—date of birth is on the back; I know this drill. I carefully inspect the photo to make sure that the person in front of me is the same person on the card, and vice versa, and then flip it over to check the date. I give it a puzzled look, while doing a swift bit of usually unnecessary improvisational math: present date minus birth date equals seventeen years, nine months. Nope, kid’s not old enough. I quickly wonder how many clerks have been inattentive enough to fall for his bluff.

“Sorry friend,” I say, returning his I.D. and removing the contraband from the counter, “that’s not going to do it.”

“C’mon, man,” comes his disappointed reply. I am curious as to whether this ineloquent rebuttal has ever succeeded with anyone besides his parents.

“Absolutely not” is my final and unshakeable response. He gives me a disgusted snort and storms of with his friend in a huff.

That is how our conversation transpired, in reality. I will now remove it to Facetioustan, the nation-state that I have invented and rule over as Celestial Emperor.

“Hello,” says the young Facecetioustonian man, “I’d like to stupidly and illegally indulge in my noxious, filthy habit which involves publicly expelling my polluted bodily fluids, all so I can fit in socially with my other future frat boys on the team. Can you help me?”

“Well,” I reply, “as a man who inhales burning leaves as if that were an intelligent decision, I certainly ought to be sympathetic to your situation. However, we have the tiny issues of an arrest record, my heretofore criminal-background-free status, a massive fine, and getting fired from my job, all for the benefit of you, a complete stranger who may well be an undercover plant hired by the alcohol and tobacco authorities, with no possible reciprocal reward to me of any kind. Sure, dude, that will be $8.79. No. Not really.”

We catch a redeye flight and return to reality. I’ve always, from years of being a bartender, food server, and clerk in retail stores that sell alcohol, felt a strange awkwardness about asking for people’s identification. Part of the entire process carries the faint ring of totalitarianism, the low-volume equivalent of tapping a baton against the palm while screaming, “YOUR PAPERS, PLEASE,” to whoever is standing in front of me. I just don’t care for it. But recently another idea came to mind why the carding process is uncomfortable for both parties, one that makes a bit more practical sense: by asking for your identification, I am, in a subtle, implicit way, telling you that I don’t trust you, tacitly suggesting that I suspect that you’re lying to me. This little insult really isn’t the smoothest way to break the ice with a stranger ever devised, and makes me silently, sarcastically thank the government for foisting it upon me. Besides, I’m frequently left surprised and feeling silly when people are ten years older than I think they are: a lot of my customers are black people or Mexicans, and frankly, I’m horrible at estimating the ages of individuals in either group no matter how much practice I have; I consequently end up requesting identification from people who are 32 and then feeling like a jackass.

Now of course, if we lived in another fictional country where people obeyed the law, and worked through legitimate and available channels to change it when it did not suit their fancy, this entire authentication ritual would be a moot point. I concur with many that the very idea that most states allow sixteen-year-old children to sling around a 4,000 lb. piece of complex machinery at 70 mph on public interstates while allowing the federal government to bully and extort them into compliance with its mandates on the drinking age to be, for lack of a better word, a bit incongruous. But I didn’t write the law; some armchair despot from the state next door named Elizabeth Dole did. Complain to her; she has an email and an office phone—I’m just doing my job.

Later this same evening, a young woman in a denim skirt and leopard-print tube top walks into my store and heads toward the beer cooler in back. She is breathtakingly attractive: about 5’8, slim, tanned, and toned, with long blond hair and gigantic, pale, blue eyes. There is a natural spark about her that 95% of the sorority girls shooting for the same look just can’t imitate. She procures an eighteen-pack of Miller Lite and proceeds toward my register. I am looking forward to flirting with her, exchanging some playful banter while staring into those limpid pools of azure, as somebody whose name escapes me once described a pretty pair of eyes. But while I am convinced beyond measure of her beauty, I am unconvinced of her owning 21 years on this planet, and we have to get that part out of the way: I may play my games after I have done my duties.

“Hi there,” I say, looking straight into those gorgeous orbs, “how’s your night going?” She does not look away. Great, I think, she’s confident to boot. This girl is going to be a force of nature for the next thirty years, batting men about like cat toys, losing them under the furniture, getting bored, and walking away.

“Hi,” she returns, in a husky, phone-sex kind of voice and with a smile that is making my heart go pitter-patter and something somewhere else start to react in a manner somewhat, er, excited. “I’m doing just fine.”

“May I see your I.D., please,” I ask, happy that I’m about to know her name. She opens a wallet and holds it aloft for my inspection. There is a Tennessee driver’s license sporting the photo of a pretty blond girl, 22 years of age. The license is current and valid, bearing the name Shannon Hillcrest. So far, so good. I look from the picture back to the girl in front of me, and back again. Something is wrong. I mentally adjust for elapsed time since the photo, changes in makeup, hair color, etc. It doesn’t help. The girl standing in front of me, while similar-looking, is not the girl featured on this driver’s license. Additionally, I can feel her getting nervous from the amount of time I’m taking.

I see a university I.D. in one of the pockets of the wallet. I take my thumb, slide it two inches upward, and read the name on it: Lindsay Hillcrest. This is her older sister’s driver’s license, neatly explaining the resemblance. Lindsay’s beauty is a gift and a power for which she should be thankful, and that’s going to get her a lot of things out of a lot of people in this world. But here, tonight, I have become the Thin Blue Line, and beyond be there is chaos—I am guarding the gates and holding the keys like Agent Smith. Her ruse will get her no beer from me, for all of the reasons already detailed by the truth ministry from Facetioustan.

“I’m sorry, Lindsay,” I say, looking straight at her again, pulling the beer off the counter, “but this isn’t your I.D., and we're going to have to try this again in another couple of years.” This time, she blushes and looks away. I have faced off with a goddess, and pulled an upset out of the air. She shrugs a shy, “well, I tried,” kind of shrug before slinking silently away with her head down, falling from Aphrodite to teenage girl in mere moments.

Some days being the Gas Guy is too much fun.

25 Comments:

At Monday, August 15, 2005 3:51:00 PM, Blogger Dublin Saab said...

#1) That was very enjoyable.

#2) Shoudln't people from Facetioustan be called Facetioustanis? After all people from Pakistan aren't call Pakistonians.

#3) As the Celestial Emperor of Facetioustan should you be able to sell what ever you wish to whom ever you like? Or is not seller sinful items to those deemed incapable of proper handling your Augustus like nod to the Senate allowing others to like they have an upcoming at bat in a game that has but one team, with one player... you.

Sincerely,
Catus Rex; Lord protector of Squirrels.

 
At Monday, August 15, 2005 3:53:00 PM, Blogger jts said...

"Facetioustan"
Ahh the worlds that we create to take our minds away from the ever so sucky now... lol.

I enjoyed this post immensely. Please keep them coming...

Wishing you an abundance of attractive Nashville women gracing your establishment... for reasons as of yet unknown (where did she come from anyway? Doesn't seem like your standard fare... nor did you associate her with said high school baseball tournament...)

 
At Monday, August 15, 2005 4:23:00 PM, Blogger Adam said...

Your blogs a great read please keep the posts coming.

 
At Monday, August 15, 2005 4:37:00 PM, Blogger Hawaiianmark said...

Nice.

(laughing, & more laughing)

Aloha.

 
At Monday, August 15, 2005 5:38:00 PM, Anonymous Smoove D said...

Good story. I thought for sure you would give in and sell her the booze. Out of curiosity, if she remained calm would it have allayed your suspicions?

 
At Monday, August 15, 2005 6:45:00 PM, Blogger The Gas Guy said...

Dublin Saab,

My country, my naming rules. Very funny comment.

Smoove,

Who knows? I guess I'd have to be in that situation to find out what I'd do. That's part of what the whole part-time Taoist bit entails.

 
At Tuesday, August 16, 2005 5:20:00 AM, Anonymous Kris said...

I know what you mean about feeling uncomfortable when asking for ID: I do it at one of my jobs when the credit card is missing a signature. I tell myself, "I do this for the customer's protection so a stolen card isn't racking up charges," but what I'm essentially saying to this customer is, "I think you might be a thief and not really Shannon Hillcrest." Some customers thank me for making the effort, but really, if their cards were stolen, wouldn't the credit companies pay the cost? Aren't they protected from paying whatever amount my customers have charged in their names?

So they shouldn't thank me: they should say, "Do I look like a thief to you, you self-important bookstore loser?"

Thank you for the great post, Gas Guy! I hope you're getting sleep and that extra vitamin C I mentioned.

 
At Tuesday, August 16, 2005 6:11:00 AM, Blogger St. Dickeybird said...

I once got busted for accidentally selling cigs to a minor. The whole staff got fired, the manager was fined $5,000, and Exxon $50,000.

Don't do it!!!

 
At Tuesday, August 16, 2005 6:47:00 AM, Blogger Kristine said...

Dayyymn, Shannon - help a sister out!

 
At Tuesday, August 16, 2005 7:29:00 AM, Blogger laughingboy said...

That was splendid.

Almost like two stories in one.

Maybe I'll consider official citizenship in Facetioustan.

 
At Tuesday, August 16, 2005 7:50:00 AM, Anonymous rach said...

i LOVE the way you write!
keep the stories coming!

 
At Tuesday, August 16, 2005 10:35:00 AM, Blogger LoriLoo310 said...

Good for you for holding strong! It's amazing how many times my friends and I were able to acquire beer and other such things in high school. I hope someone like you is attending to the gas station when my children attempt to do the same things I did.

 
At Tuesday, August 16, 2005 10:55:00 PM, Blogger Geoff said...

Guy, I know exactly what you mean. I sometimes have that East German guard feeling demanding their "papers!" Drives me nuts. But you have to because the Beer Board nazis here in this town keep sending pretty blonde 20 year olds into our stores to trap us. That's who I thought Lindsay was in your story.

 
At Wednesday, August 17, 2005 4:13:00 AM, Blogger Twinklestar said...

Great post, really enjoyed it thank you - I can see why the waiter recommended you!

 
At Wednesday, August 17, 2005 5:58:00 AM, Blogger Jennifer Lynn said...

Good job gasguy! I hate people who refuse to bust fake ID's. I mean come on people, drinking age in Ontario is only 19, do you really have to go out and drink younger than that? Yes tonnes of people get in with fake IDs when it's clearly obvious that they're not legal age. Thank you for protecting the youth.

 
At Wednesday, August 17, 2005 2:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Post,

I love especially beautiful girls, who doesn't?

I worked in an apartment community, and we had a lot of sensitive information, and had to run a credit and criminal background checks.

That can be awkward, expecially with illegal aliens.

 
At Wednesday, August 17, 2005 9:41:00 PM, Blogger zilla said...

Love your blog. Usually love your way of handling things.

Personally, I'd risk my job selling alcohol or tobacco to a legit military ID, no matter the age. The rule in my house: you're old enough to vote, you're old enough to get killed in Iraq: give me your keys, the beer & smokes are yours. Not saying you're wrong; this is just me: I'm not moved by a tart in a tube top but I've got a soft spot for children who, for whatever misguided notion, end up in the service.

Doesn't have to make sense. It's just the way I feel.

 
At Thursday, August 18, 2005 11:13:00 AM, Blogger The Gas Guy said...

Zilla,

The children in military families, "army brats," as they're known, get military I.D.'s as well. This kid wasn't in the service, his dad (or mom, or both) was. Hope that clarifies things a bit.

 
At Friday, August 19, 2005 6:43:00 AM, Blogger warcrygirl said...

I don't know how most guys feel about this (or most women, for that matter) but I'm 36 and if I were carded I'd be tickled pink.

 
At Friday, August 19, 2005 7:54:00 AM, Blogger Abel said...

Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your site. You're a great writer.

 
At Friday, August 19, 2005 9:02:00 AM, Blogger Rebekah said...

I'm a bookworm. I've been reading my whole life. It's just what I do. I read high-brow stuff and low-brow and even comic books. I love a good story.

I just had to tell you that you are a brilliant writer. I don't say that lightly. I truly mean it. I love your use of language. You have a great conversational flow that makes me think you'd be fun to talk to. Of course flow on it's own isn't worth a damn if the story isn't interesting, and yours are. I made my husband listen to a couple this morning as we were changing diapers and feeding children. It made for a nice second layer to our usual child centric dialog. Thank you.

 
At Friday, August 19, 2005 10:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anj said...

I always have my ID ready when I'm buying smokes or alcohol.(I'm 26 but have had cashiers tell me I look underage. YAAY) I really dont mind. Its not like you enjoy having to check all those cards, its the law.

I Love reading your blog. I agree with what Rebekah wrote and I certainly could not put it more eloquently than she did.

 
At Friday, August 19, 2005 10:34:00 AM, Blogger babyjewels said...

excellent post. I've bartended, and I agree with the uncomfortableness of carding. I'm sure a good number of people got past me.

 
At Friday, August 19, 2005 10:52:00 AM, Blogger Natalie said...

Great storytelling. I went on an undercover alchohol bust once when I was a reporter. Fascinating. They used a hairy/swarthy 19 year old guy. Interesting when it's a pretty girl -- clearly that elicts more of an internal struggle. But the result is the same.

You're kind of in law enforcement...applied equally to your customers.

 
At Monday, August 29, 2005 6:49:00 PM, Anonymous Greg said...

Do people still wear tube tops? Wow...

 

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