Buzz quest claims another victim

t got lost in a tornado! A hurricane! Floods and an earthquake! Loooocusts! God you’ve got to believe me!” the young customer wailed when I asked him for his ID. All this for a pint of whiskey. Funny, it had been clear to partly cloudy all week around here. I showed him the door and racked up another entry on the list in front of me.
As you might expect, legal restrictions on alcohol have led underage drinkers to issue bold-faced lies — exaggerations, at least — about their age in an effort to fool sales clerks into selling them booze.
I remember one Friday evening in my first week working at your average suburban liquor store when a sporty looking young man with a goatee, a polo shirt and way too much cologne entered the shop and casually browsed. After a few moments at the beer cooler, he brought a case of Bud Light to the counter. He looked me straight in the eye and smiled confidently.
I asked him for an ID, knowing that the $3,000 fine for selling to an underage shopper was outside my budget. He said, “Sure, no problem.” But what he handed me was a tattered, worn out card with a barely legible date that indicated the fellow was only 19 years old.
“Hey, there’s a problem here,” this disgruntled cashier responded. “According to this ID, you’re not of age.”
“Yeah,” he replied. “What do you say buddy?”
“Well,” I said in a friendly salesperson manner, “I can’t sell this beer to you. You have to be 21 to buy anything in this store.”
He wasn’t the least bit discouraged by this news and stated simply, “So I’ve been told. But it’s OK. I’ll just go somewhere else.”
I felt like I should start preaching the virtues of sobriety to him, but the sporty looking youngster returned the beer to the cooler and left the store gracefully.
Before long the other employees at the store found out about my experience with “the sporty polo kid” mostly because I thought his naivete was humorous. It was at this point that all of us agreed to draw up “The Bust Chart.” The legendary list highlights the “busts” per night, per employee, along with the accompanying excuses from customers without legitimate identification.
The following are only a few examples of what we’ve had to put up with in the past year.
“Well, I don’t have my ID with me. It’s in the car. I’ll be right back.” This, one of the more common and least challenging excuses, usually ends with the youngster speeding off in mom and dad’s Buick.
Then there is the more pathetic, but equally frequent line, “I don’t have it with me.”
“Tough rocks,” or “Cry me a river,” is the response of the more callused cashiers. I don’t think any of us has fallen for it yet. However, I have handed out a good supply of Dum-Dum lollipops — mostly as a consolation prize — to the sorry looking folks who can’t leave the store with the goodies they were seeking.
A more unusual plea goes something like, “I’ve bought liquor with my dad before. I should be able to buy it from you now!”
Hmmm. “Say what?” we cashiers ask.
Webster, the former alcoholic turned store employee, has actually fallen for this one a few times only because, I suspect, he remembers using the line successfully himself.
“I’m buying it for a friend who is 21.” This one gets used quite a bit for some reason, usually by young women claiming to be buying the drinks for a date.
There are more exotic lines from the international scene. A mean-looking skinhead punk who had probably just finished study hall at the local high school once accosted me, admitting he was only 17 years old and saying, “I’m from Deutschland, dumkopf! I know how to drink, and the U.S. laws are for schwein!”
In a rare display of moxie, I responded to the punk, “Um, yeah, well then, ja, ja, Herr Drinkelstein, shouldn’t you be trying to buy a nice Dortmundr Union instead of this Mickey’s malt liquor? This ain’t a German beer, dude.” I smiled harshly, made exaggerated gestures toward the door and then racked up a big one under the “illegal alien” category on the chart.
And of course, there are fake IDs. My coworker buddy Eric was once faced with a tall, blond-haired skinny looking kid trying to pass off his fake with a picture of a short, large looking Jennifer Smith. Eric tore it up. “What else could I do?” he pleaded.
The fake IDs are usually tattered and smudged in just the right places (precisely over the date of birth), and when a second form of ID becomes necessary, the names rarely match. When in doubt, we consult a color photo listing of official state IDs, the liquor clerk’s Bible.
One night, a customer with a fake ID knew he was done for but broke down and resorted to a somewhat moving speech anyway. He claimed, slurring his words, that “someday there will be no need for IDs at all.” “Yup,” he added with a hiccup, “just scan your forehand through the NCR machine and your credits will be deducted. The computer’s gonna figure out everything, including the legalities.”
“Yikes! Get your drunk ass out of here!” I begged.
However, it made me think. This was a potential high-tech scam that some screwy kid has probably already tried. Here’s how it might work: An ink stamp with some numbers pressed on the forehand could fool a really stupid cashier. Go ahead, kids, explain the new world of technology you are a part of to the salesperson. When the stamp doesn’t work (and it will not), insist that the machines at the store must be updated to the current standards of the Brave New World. You’ll have to convince the salesperson to sell to you or subsequently pose the threat of tattling to world-dictator Mustapha Mond. Try your favorite suburban liquor store. Maybe you could rip a cashier off, at least for one big entry on “The Bust Chart.”
Finally, if all else fails, there’s always, “I bought the same stuff from you the last time I was here — don’t you remember?”
In response to this line, most cashiers probably have probably done their share of pleading the Fifth Amendment.
At last report, I had racked up the highest number of illegitimate ID incidents last year. My buddy Eric followed in second place, with Donna the ex-bartender in third, Web, the reformed alcoholic in fourth and a few other employees just not registering.
The owner of the shop had promised some special award to the person with largest number of busts, because he knew he might lose his liquor license if none of us cared. I never cashed in on the prize.
I have, however, received a mixture of honest and sadistic satisfaction knowing that at least a handful of kids walked out of our store in their right minds, reminded that they needed some of the proper equipment necessary for consumption. An ID was the first requirement. I still wonder if they figured out the rest.

Gregory Borchard’s column appears every Thursday. He welcomes comments at [email protected]