Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Fake ID

n. pl. ser·en·dip·i·tus
1. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.
2. The fact or occurrence of such discoveries.
3. An instance of making such a discovery.

“Perhaps it seems odd that a casual meeting on the street could have brought about such change. But sometimes life is like that isn't it” ― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

There were only a few times in my life when I felt truly free. I think I can count them on one hand: learning to ride a bike without training wheels, going to summer camp for the first time, getting a driver’s license, moving out of my parent’s house and into my first apartment. The memories of each of those moments are so clear to me that I can easily play them back in my mind and relive them, recalling every detail as if it was yesterday. Each of those events had a profound impact on my life, but none quite as grand as the day I received the fake I.D…

When I was in high school, I was envious of many of my friends with older siblings who would let them use their I.D.s for a night of drinking. In some cases, we even had older friends who looked similar to my underage classmates who would share their I.D.s from time to time. I only had an older sister, and couldn’t seem to find anyone who either looked like me or was willing to hand over their ID. I was stuck with having to wait outside the liquor store playing “hey mister”, while my more fortunate friends enjoyed the inner sanctum of a bar. Drinking, playing pool and eating free pretzels. Not being able to gain admittance made me believe that a bar is the most sacred of all temples.

The summer between high school graduation and my freshman year at college, a couple of buddies and I spent a week in Santa Cruz for one last adventure before we headed off to college. We spent our time wandering around the boardwalk, hanging out on the beach, and listening to street musicians.

That was when my life changed. Forever.

One afternoon, my friends and I were sitting on a bench on Pacific Avenue listening to a fairly good guitar player when a stranger approached us. He had an open wallet in his hand that he kept looking at. Then he would look at me, then back at the wallet. I really didn’t pay any mind to the guy. This was after all, Santa Cruz.  Weirdo capital of the world. Finally, he finally spoke to me. “James?” was the only word he said.

Being a little curious, I answered him. “Yes, but it’s pronounced Jaahms.”

“Err.. okay, Jaahms, I found your wallet.” He held it out and I took it.

I swear to God, the clouds parted, I heard angels sing and a golden glow appeared as I opened the wallet to take a peek inside. The first thing I saw was a brand new one hundred dollar bill, a concert ticket… and then, the Holy Grail: a valid California Driver’s License.

Looking at the photo, I could understand why the stranger thought it belonged to me. I strongly resembled the true owner, one James Darren Lascot from Felton, California.

James was of drinking age. This will work, I thought. Fuck yes, this will work.

From that very moment, nothing was the same again.

My friends and I headed straight to the nearest grocery store to see what it felt like to buy $100 worth of booze, beer and wine coolers without having to ask someone to buy it for us.

I remember feeling a little scared when the clerk asked to see my ID. What if she doesn’t believe that it’s me? What if she calls the cops? What if she knows the real James Darren Lascot? But she casually glanced at it and continued placing the bottles in a paper bag. No questions asked.

Over the course of the next two and a half years, only one person questioned the validity of the ID. It happened very late at night at a 7-Eleven in Van Nuys, California. The clerk said loudly “THIS ISN’T YOU!” But the store manager quickly intervened, snatching the id from her hand, looking at it, then at me, and saying: “It’s him,” as he handed it back to me.

I quickly became a valuable friend to many people. I was the guy who could supply a party with a case of cheap beer. I was the guy who could buy Absolut Vodka to replace the bottle from Jenny Smitcamp’s father’s liquor cabinet after she and her friends took it to the drive-in movie theater. I was the guy who could purchase a bottle of Rootbeer Schnapps for Robbie Greenwood, so he could take it with him to his older sister’s wedding; and I was the guy who could buy a four-pack of wine coolers for Danny Adams so he could impress his date as he lured her to the 16th fairway of a local country club at 3:00 AM. I was the guy to know.

Within a couple of months, however, I felt as though I wasn’t using my new ID to its fullest potential. I had grown bored with my peers and knew it was time to move on. That little card was more than James Darren Lascot’s California Driver’s license. It was a passport to a different world. A beautifully dark and dank underworld with distinct, almost edible smells. That’s when I became a student of bars. I began to learn about drinks, studied the dusty bottles sitting on the dimly-lit back bar, and discovered people with colorful nicknames like “Lefty”, “Slick”, “Big Rick” and “Bird”.

I stayed away from popular nightclubs because of the bouncers. I always felt that they were better trained to examine an ID. I favored dive bars and neighborhood pubs. Sure, the salty old bartenders would look at my ID, but these places were always dark and smoky, so I felt I stood a better chance. Plus, I doubted if they truly gave a shit as long as I behaved myself and tipped well.

I selected a quiet, unassuming neighborhood bar as my home base. This would become the place where I could start the night, end the night, or even spend the afternoon. The Stardust Room was a logical choice for several reasons. First, it opened at 6:00 AM and closed at 2:00 AM, so I could show up at ANY time the law allowed bars to be open in California. Second, it wasn’t anything but a neighborhood dive bar. This meant that there were never any bouncers, door men, or cover charges, which meant that as soon as the bartenders remembered my face, I wouldn’t have to show my ID again. This greatly reduced the chance that somebody would figure out my game.

I began to spend most of my free time playing a variety of dice games with a group of old codgers as I listened to their stories. Their words were poetic and prophetic. I felt as though I was gaining an education every time they spoke, imbibing their wisdom.  In print, their words would be red.

At first, I answered only to the name Jimmy. But a few months after becoming a regular at The Stardust Room, some friends from one of my college classes showed up and called me by my real name. After that, the other regulars and the bartenders started calling me by my real name too. I was a little disappointed because I always wanted one of those cool nicknames but never got one.

I studied for midterms and finals at that bar, forged long-term friendships with other customers, impressed girls by taking them there and introducing them to the seedy side of life, solved all my problems and created many more. All at the Stardust Room.

Then, I turned 21-years-old. I became of legal drinking age. And I celebrated at the Stardust Room.

The bartender, Kingfish, even gave me a special shot glass to commemorate the milestone. As I had long suspected, he knew my true (approximate) age all along.

It’s been many years since that afternoon in Santa Cruz, but I can still remember every detail as if it was yesterday. I’m still a faithful drinker. I drink for fun. I drink to old friends, and always drink to James Darren Lascot.