Once a man has tasted creative action, then thereafter, no matter how safely he schools himself in patience, he is restive, acutely dissatisfied with anything else. He becomes as a lover to whom abstinence is intolerable.
~ Jean Toomer
In college, acquiring booze was so easy, it’s not even worth discussing. But, in high school — at least for our crew — the job usually required a bit more creativity. I’d considered many options and schemes back then. One I dreamed up (but never actually tried) involved theater tricks — adding baby powder to your hair to make it appear grey, etc. No one would card an old man, I figured. However, I thought it might be a stretch at the time (and so never actually tried it). But, given the advancements in plastics and various techniques, I would think that today’s eighteen-year-old might actually stand a chance at pulling off something with this method.
For a while, we had a great source for whiskey. There was a liquor store/pizza place that opened up along the main highway in town. An old lady, perhaps 75 or so, ran the joint at night. We quickly learned that, if you ordered a pizza from her, she would actually turn her back on the store for almost five whole minutes while she quietly made your pizza. What’s more, the tables and booths were situated along an aisle of five-foot high shelves stocked with hundreds and hundreds of bottles of whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, etc. As it happened, these booths were less than an arm’s reach from several brands of whiskey. I remember Old Grandad, Old Crow, Jim Beam, and Jack Daniels. They were all right there — no mirrors, no cameras, no nothing.
Now, the lady was old, but not completely crazy. You couldn’t go browsing off in the gin or the vodka section while she was making the pizza. But, for some reason, if you were sitting in the booths, she was content to stop minding the store. So, you’d go in there, order a pizza, take a seat in a booth, swipe a fifth of whatever was nearby, and then leave with a pizza and your booze. What a deal!! We actually used the place to stock up. (I have a tale coming up called “Kevin Bacon and the Roaches”; we used Kevin’s house to store the whiskey.) He probably had 20 bottles of whiskey at one point (which saw us through a fair bit of our senior year). But, soon enough, the old lady was fired. (Gee, I wonder why?) Her replacement was not as trusting, unfortunately. So, we needed another way to acquire booze.
As far as the time period, this was the very dawn of the popularization of computers. That is to say, they were becoming accessible via certain groups. They weren’t generally found in the home (yet), except for geek kids like myself and possibly a few other people. I had a good friend back then that I’ll call Ty Pennington in this memoir (based on his resemblance to the host of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”). Ty’s mother was a school teacher and was an early adopter of educational software to keep track of grades and so forth. As a bonus, Ty could type and print his school work at home on the Apple IIe.
I liked Ty a lot, by the way. He had a great house for hanging out, and the nicest mom this side of the Mississippi. She’d once been the matriarch of quite a large family. I think Ty was the youngest, though. Most of the boys had moved on by the time I knew everyone. And, the father had passed away suddenly as well. So, the household was down to just three or four. Mrs. Pennington retained her old habits, though. She simply couldn’t cook for just three or four; her meals could feed a dozen easily. So, she used to invite people to stay for dinner all the time.
They had great family traditions there: Always Kool-Aid, but never the green kind. (They had about 2,000 packets of unopened green Kool-Aid — removed from the variety packs — stored in a pantry from years gone by.) No paper towels or napkins, but rather a single cloth towel they called the “family towel” (which I thought was perhaps a bit gross because it was so different from my family’s “everyone gets their own paper towel” routine), and of course the “greasebread” ritual, which I’ve still never seen repeated in any other family. Grease bread was when they’d take slices of white bread and soak up the au jus from the pan they cooked the meat in. As I recall, they’d line the pan with bread and then serve it to you formally with a spatula. Welcome to Red State America, folks.
Anyway, it didn’t take Ty long to realize that we could use his mother’s computer to our advantage. Fake IDs, at the time, were generally done as art projects. Some gifted artist would recreate a huge driver’s license proportioned so that, when you stood in front of it, your head fit just perfectly in front of the area where the headshot would go. All you had to do was stand there, get your photo taken, and then cut out the photo and laminate it. Voila …You had a fake driver’s license. Well, no one in our town was that good of an artist. You generally could only get those in college towns. It was the kind of thing your big brother who went away to school had but you couldn’t get.
Growing up, I had a look-alike cousin about four years older. That gave me the hope of “borrowing” his ID once I reached 18 or so. But, he wasn’t up for that. So, until the big idea came along, we used to just stand outside of a liquor store for perhaps an hour, pathetically asking people to buy beer for us. I can’t imagine anyone doing that today, much less anyone agreeing to it given the risk of being sued if the kid winds up killing someone on the highway. But, back then, it worked marginally well. You couldn’t ask just anyone, though. You had to find some derelict guy in his mid-twenties or so. With anyone else, you had little chance of success.
But the computer, as I was saying, offered another option. Our town had a large manufacturing facility that made paper products for offices. Ty and I came up the idea of a manufacturing project of our own. We thought up a “work ID card,” which coincidentally had our date of birth printed on the face (which coincidentally showed that we were both just comfortably older than twenty-one). To begin, we stood in front of a paneled wall in his house and took head shots of each other from various distances. We tried to look as serious as possible, of course. After getting these developed, we designed an ID card template on the Apple IIe. It had the company name, a place for our photo, some gibberish information, and a line that said “D.O.B.” at the bottom for “date of birth.” Then, we bought some various colored plastic film and carefully glued everything into place (with a yellow piece of film centered over our birthday). Finally, we laminated them and cut them into cards with scissors. Looking back, it was an impressive effort for the tools we had available at the time.
As for the efficacy, I can only say that it was convincing only if you could get the right sales clerk. But, over time, I developed the optimal approach. It went like this:
First, you had to make an initial impression that you really weren’t up to no good. You had to look like you just got off of a grueling double shift and were heading straight home for a quiet beer. So, you’d grab some minimal quantity of beer (and, again, this is in the Midwest, where you can buy small quantities of booze) — say, an innocent looking single bottle of Busch (32 ounces, I think they had). And, you’d go wait in line. Most of the time, they’d card you. So, you had to do that aww, man, I forgot my wallet routine. Most of the time, they’d say they couldn’t sell you anything with out an ID. So, then you’d say, “Hey, will you take my work ID?” About half of the time, they’d refuse. The other half would bite, stupidly asking, “Well, does it have your birthday on it?” What a coincidence; it sure did!
But, that’s not the end of the con. As you recall, I said that part of this was the initial selection of something innocent like a single bottle of beer. This is the hook, really. Even if they’re mildly suspicious, they figure, “Aww, hell, it’s just a single beer.” So, they let you have it. After you pay, of course, you do that oh, stupid me act, and say, “You know, I was supposed to pick up two cases for my dad. I better get that now, too.” What are they going to do, refuse to sell to you after they’ve just done so? I’d like to think I frustrated a few folks this way. And then, of course, you had that sweet feeling of victory as you’d emerge from the store with upwards of 50 cans of frosty cold Anheuser-Busch products.
As my brother-in-law says: BUDWEISER: Because U Deserve What Every Individual Should Enjoy Regularly. He told me that in the 90s, and I still think it’s funny.
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains his personal blog, “Hawthorne Crow,” and a web design blog, “Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine.” He also contributes to various Medium.com publications. Find him at JPDbooks.com, his Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or via email at Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest novel, CHROO, is available on Amazon.com. If you enjoy humorous literary tales, please grab a copy!