When to fight the machine

It’s just before midnight. That’s when I do most of my shopping. I pick up a few things from the cleaning isle and then race over to the frozen meats section. I get what I need quickly and move on. I head over to pick up another case of Samuel Adams. I throw it in the basket and dash up to the shortest open checkout line I can find. It’s as though I’m asleep, thinking about different things that transpired earlier in the day when, to my bedazzling dismay, the unthinkable happens—I am carded for beer!

How do you prepare for something like that? What should I do? I’m taken aback by the request. Apparently, the deep-set eyes and aging skin on my chockablock face aren’t enough evidence of my age for her. While most people are flattered over the unwonted situation of being carded, I’m sure as Hell not. My days of being a wild kid, standing in line, waiting to be carded to get into a nightclub with a New York Mets cap on backwards are fucking over! I don’t want to relive them, and yet here I am, standing at the checkout counter, feeling like I’m nineteen again! I am standing there a little pissed off.

“Are you serious?” I ask. She tells me, “Yes. Wal-Mart has a new policy with alcohol purchases. We must ask to see everyone’s ID, regardless of age.” I tell her, “It may be policy, but you and I both know it is unnecessary.” “I know,” she replies, but she is not animated. There is a bothersome quality about her, a dronish quality, as she enforces the worthless policy. Now I am a little more peeved. For starters, I am up against a system with a policy that no longer serves the purpose it was designed to serve, but instead, just frustrates the Hell out of people, and now I see that I am facing an imbecilic imp of a human being who doesn’t see the sense in just hitting the green little button that allows for the purchase and being done with the matter.

I could see over the transaction machine. There was no feature requiring the cashier to enter an exact date of birth of the customer, only a simple push of a button was required! But no! I get an idiot, a mindless automaton, an almost slobbering simpleton of an individual who spends precious seconds of her pea-brained, ugly-lipped life asking me to shuffle through my pocket and pull out my ID. It’s not that I mind; I don’t. It’s the principle of the thing, the fact that I feel guilty if I play right into a request of a moron’s mindless service to a defective system. I can’t let it pass. I’m too damned angry, so I ask some more questions.

“Mam, how old do you think I am?” She replies: “40.” “Well, close. I’m 33, but I do look older, don’t I?” Then I ask her, “Is there any way in Hell I am under 21, any possibility at all?” “No,” she tells me, but I am still too steamed to stop: “Well, if you know I’m not 21 or under, then why would you need to ask to see my ID?” Her reply: “Those are the rules.” Sometimes being pissed off makes you feel antsy and wanting to stir the pot a little. On I went.

“Really? So no matter how old someone is, even if you know they are well above the drinking age, you are still going to card them?” “Yes.” She unemotionally tells me. “So if a 90-year-old lady, with skin that resembles fried chicken, pushing around a walker came to the store and wanted to buy alcohol, you’d have to card her?” Again, she tells me, “Yes.” “Well, what if I pulled out my ID and it said I was born in 2004, but looking at me and comparing it to the picture on the card, you would know that to be a typo, yes?” Another bland affirmation is given: “Yes,” “Would you then have any more doubts as to my age as if I had not shown you my ID at all?” “No,” she says. “How about your mother? Must she be carded?” “Yes,” I am told. Looking to see frustration on that old, haggard, partially blank mug of hers, I find very little, if any reaction at all.

Now with a sharper tone I ask her, “So when you see someone whom you know by looking at that person is well old enough to buy beer, why not just hit that green little button that acknowledges the purchaser is of legal age?” She tells me, “I am just keeping the rules. You are holding up the line.” Ah, finally, an emotional response! My response is: “No, my dear, YOU are holding up the line by not having the horse sense to know to push a freaking little button and be done with the matter! A smart cashier would have.” I observe her pissed little frown, show her my ID, get my stuff, and then leave. I feel better but I am still pissed off from this encounter with a practically worthless human being—one who refuses to reason.

This was out of character for me. I could have just pulled out my driver’s license and been a good little boy, like all the other straight-faced, basket-pushing, foot-tappers waiting in line. I would have in any other circumstance. Some would say I should have here, but I’m proud of what I did. If anything, I wasn’t hard enough on the old, apron-wearing, bingo-playing, Chapstick-needing bitch. Perhaps I should have made a more lasting impression with a few cutting personal stabs to help her learn from the experience, but I made at least some impression, and that was enough for me.

I’ve never been one for protestations or dickheadedness, but sometimes noblesse numbskull-ity demands we fight the machinations of bureaucracies and judicial baboons. The path of least resistance is usually the best one to travel, but mindless complacency to accommodate absurdity is never justified. And there is such a thing as too easy.

Every normal guy ever raised in a public school understands. You are facing a bully twice your size at recess, but instead of looking cool and fighting, you back off, saying, “I’m above fighting,” or “I’m man enough to walk away,” when in reality, you’re scared out of your wits. You have before you a nice way to avoid an embarrassing ass-pounding and you take it. That wasn’t being noble; that was being scared (and smart!).

In the store, I could have done the nice thing, the expected thing, the easy thing. I could have been a good Rosa Parks and stood up when asked to do so, but that wasn’t the right call. I would not have been kind and decent to comply with a smile on my face, only a coward who feared fighting the machine. So I said what I said, and I knew I did the right thing. Call it petty if you want, but I will call it a battle well fought.

(JH)

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