I remember sitting in the back seat of a car in the parking lot of a liquor store when I was eighteen, glumly watching as my friend got shot down again. As he settled back into the car where we were waiting, I said to no one in particular, “Man, when I turn twenty-one and some kid asks me to buy him beer, I’ll totally do it. I’ll buy him a fucking keg if he wants me to!” My statement was met with a chorus of “Yeah’s” and “No kidding”, and we hunkered down to wait for someone “cool” enough to break the law for a bunch of moron teenagers that they didn’t know. I remember that well. And so when I was approached by a gangly-looking teen the other day and asked to buy him some beer, it was with a pang of regret that I said, “Sorry, pal.” As I walked away, I swear the kid’s eyes said to me, “What happened, man? You used to be cool!”
I’ve learned that being cool is relative. To my boys, ages five and three, I am by far the coolest person on the planet. To my eleven year old daughter, on the other hand, no one could be less cool. (I get that, actually. I turn off Glee to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs.) And so my days are spent ping-ponging between rock-star coolness, and Urkel-level nerdiness. That’s what I get for being a dad. There was, however, a time when I was undeniably cool: When I was underage, and had a fake ID.
It used to be that my social life involved, in part, asking elder siblings to buy me and my friends alcohol. Not my older sibling, mind you. He was a total fucking narc. If he found me on fire in the back yard, the first thing he would do would be rush off to tell my parents I was smoking. But between my friends’ siblings and a collection of random people I knew who were a few years older, we had a relatively stable source of alcohol.
The only two problems were that the source could be unreliable at times, and at other times we found our judgment questioned. So one weekend we’d find no one available to buy us beer, and the next weekend after finally tracking down someone willing to do it, we’d be confronted with a prudish question like, “There are four of you! Why the hell do you need six cases of beer?” There was only one solution: Get a fake ID.
I lived in the far suburban metro Chicagoland area, and I knew that if I needed some sort of shady ID, I’d have to brave the big, bad city. Luckily, I had a lead. I had heard of a place called Henderson Studio Photography which would supposedly issue you a fake ID for twenty bucks. After looking up their number, confirming their address and getting directions (sigh, life pre-smart phone), a friend and I took off from school one Friday afternoon and drove downtown. Being a couple of goofy white kids from suburbia, we were quickly reminded that we were out of our element by the ethnic billboards and the inexplicable shower of beer bottles that rained down around the station wagon we were driving.
Still, we were a thirsty couple of kids and so we steeled our nerves and discovered that there was no place to park. So we parked in what appeared to be a dump. As we got out, a cop on the corner laughed at us. “That’s using your head, boys. Ain’t no one gonna charge you to park there!” “Haha. Hey, we’re not gonna get towed or anything, are we?” “No sir! I’ll keep an eye on it for you boys, long as you’re quick! I’m off in half an hour.” Cool! We had a cop watching our car while we got a fake ID!
We got into Henderson studios, and immediately the ridiculous story I had concocted fell apart. “Hi! I, ummm… Lost my ID. And I can’t get it back without showing ID. Ummm… And I heard that you can… I mean… Uhhhh.” The woman behind the counter looked at me, almost assuredly thinking, “Great, another asshole from the suburbs looking for a fake ID.”
She let me stammer for a minute or so before she interrupted. “ID’s are twenty dollars. Fill this out,” and she handed me an un-laminated ID with a slot for a photo. Now my brain completely broke down. I forgot the fake name I was going to use, and borrowing the studio’s name I put down Chris Henderson. I made a fictitious address in my home town, put “N/A” where it asked for the Social Security number, and for a signature, I wrote “Chris” in cursive, but block lettered “Henderson”. I also noticed at the bottom of the ID that it read, “Not an official form of identification.” Even after the woman expertly cut off the bottom line, it was the worst fake ID of all time. My five year old could cook up something better.
But as I left the store, I was excited as hell. I could buy booze! I didn’t even notice someone on the corner throw a firecracker at me. I jumped with a start as it harmlessly belched a cloud of smoke. A man in his early thirties grinned at me and my friend and stepped up to us. “Hahaha! Yeah, you gots to watch out for the smoke! That’s the worst part! The smoke! Hahaha! Hey, wait a minute! Smoke? Did I just say smoke?” And as this person tried to sell us some pot, I noticed our guardian parking angel directing traffic, but watching us with a concerned look on his face. As we hustled back to our car (without buying any weed), he broke into a big smile. “You boys stay out of trouble, ok?” he shouted at us. We waved thankfully and were on our way.
After having gotten lost in some really shitty parts of Chicago, we finally found our way back onto a street we knew. Up ahead was a grocery store, and we decided that what we needed to sooth our jangled nerves was a few cold beers. So I went inside, and as nonchalantly as possible, picked up a 30-pack of Stroh’s and placed it at the register. Immediately my suave, debonair demeanor dissolved into a weak bladder as the cashier rang up the beer, looked at me, and said, “Oh, no! No, no, no!”
Shit! I didn’t even have a chance to use my fake ID and I was going to get busted. After a heartbeat in which I tried to figure out how I was going to ask my parents to bail me out of jail, the cashier said, “This price isn’t right. This is on sale!” She called in a price check as I sat there sweating. “Price check on six – a 30-pack of Stroh’s!” boomed the intercom. Everyone was looking at me. Fuck.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the cashier picked up her phone and said, “Uh-huh. That’s what I thought, thanks. Hey, saved you four bucks there!” “Thanks” I murmured, getting ready to show her my ridiculous ID. But she never asked for it. That was the day I learned that ninety percent of the battle was just having the balls to try to buy beer in the first place. Hell, I would’ve tried a lot sooner if I had known that.
That ID did get a workout, however. And even though it was obviously fake, I discovered that a lot of people just didn’t care. They just wanted to be able to say that I had an ID in case I drunkenly wrapped my car around a telephone pole. One place, in fact, went really far down that ass-covering road. “What the fuck is this?” asked the 7-11 clerk. “Oh, it’s my non-driver’s ID. I lost my license. Tickets.” He openly laughed at me, reached back and put my ID into some sort of machine and said, “Smile!” A camera took a picture of the ID as well as me at the counter with beer. He handed me back the ID with a chuckle. “That’s not the best ID I’ve seen.” Then he rang me up and I walked out of there with the beer.
My ID worked fairly well. Even if some place refused to let me buy alcohol, they alway gave me the ID back so I could try elsewhere. In an age without photo editing software and high-fidelity color printers, the ID was just good enough to engender doubt. When a cashier was skeptical, you could practically hear them think, “It’s probably fake, but… Fuck it, I don’t want the hassle.” They’d flip you the ID with a sheepish smile and apologize for not being able to help you.
One night, as I was sitting at home watching TV with my parents, a news segment on underage drinking came on. During it, the announcer said, “As more and more minors are turning to fake ID’s such as this one…” and they showed the exact same ID that I had. The phone immediately rang. “Did you see that! Dude, that was your ID!” My ID worked less than 25% of the time after that.
One evening, my friends and I were stoned and wanted to go go-karting. When we got to the go-kart track, however, we found that it was closed. The driver turned around in a parking lot, which I just happened to notice was for an adult book store. “Hey! Look! Porn!” My friends became very excited (remember, this was pre-internet) and cooked up a plan. An idiotic plan.
I would go into the book store, flash my fake ID, and peruse the store. When no one was looking, I’d let the rest of my friends in. Foolproof, no? I tried talking everyone out of this, but they were adamant. If we weren’t going to go go-karting while stoned, we were at least going to look at pictures of people fucking. I walked up to the door which had, in electrical tape, the following words on it: “Be 21 or be gone”.
I opened the door, and six inches away from me was a large man with a long, gray beard bunched up in rubber bands. “ID to be 21 please!” he said to me. I handed him my ID, he glanced at it, flipped it over, and then tossed it into the cash register. “Thank you. Good night!” he said, as he pointed towards the parking lot.
I empathized with the kid that I refused to buy beer for, at least until I remembered exactly what it was like back then. When was the last time I was hailed as a conquering hero just for walking into a room with booze? There was an excitement surrounding illicit drinking, not all of it from the sheer illegality. It was also about the hunt, the chase, the stories you could tell to your kids when they hit twenty-one about how you once paid an off-duty cop $10 to buy you a case of beer and how the cop invited you over to his place afterwards since he was there buying booze for his son who was throwing a party.
It was the novelty that made drinking memorable back then, and that wears off the day after you turn twenty-one. I wanted to tell the kid in the parking lot that he was better off if I made it hard for him to get beer, but I didn’t. That wouldn’t be cool.