With the traces of firelight still dancing in our eyes, we trudged toward the arc sodium oasis that was Mac’s Milk. We knew in this remarkably inconvenient convenience store, amid the dusty candy bars and even dustier Trojans, we could find what we were looking for. Smokes. Alcohol’s best friend. We knew the mission was risky; underage and drunk far beyond the realm of rational thought. We must casually ask the kind man behind the counter for a pack of Player’s Light regular. I was optimistic that between my drunken banter and Paul’s calm intelligence, we could achieve our mission. |
“Do you have a plan, Jay?” Paul inquired, nervously adjusting his glasses.
“I was actually planning to wing it. You know, sort of play it by ear,” I replied.
“Okay, your usual plan then.”
I reached the door as he said this and with my hand resting on the handle said, “Yeah Bud, same plan as always.” We stepped into the store.
I walked to the counter with Paul on my left, who upon reaching the counter, proceeded to casually read chocolate bar wrappers. “How ya’ doin’?” I inquired of the man behind the counter, trying to look as cool and calm as I hoped my voice sounded.
“Very good, Sir,” the Mac’s employee responded, his accent along with a horrendous lisp, made his words flow together.
“Good, good….” Still cool. No problem. Just stay cool. “I need a pack of Player’s Light regular, Boss, thanks.” Yeah, that was cool. No problem. Hell, asking like that I could be, what, 23? It was going to be okay.
“Do you have any I.D., Sir?”
Oh boy, there it is. The question from hell. I glanced at Paul. He just continued reading the labels of chocolate bars as if the conversation was not really going on.
“I.D., yeah, sure.” I made a concerted effort to find it, patting every pocket a few times just to show I was serious. I looked back at the man behind the counter. He had a nametag with a string of 12 consonants and two vowels. No help there. In his left hand was the pack of white gold. His right hand extended to me, waiting for the sacred passing of the I.D. We were close, but he had to see something. I had already patted my wallet three times, but it wasn’t going to help, no matter how bad his math was. I was 17. Paul was 16.
“I seem to have left my wallet at home.” The man smiled and withdrew his hand. The moment was passing. Time to deploy Pablo. “Paul, do you happen to have your I.D. on you?” The man’s hand was returning to it’s receiving position.
“Sure do,” Paul offered without lifting his eyes from the Oh Henry bar, whose ingredients were simply captivating. He pulled out his wallet. It was a canvas job with a velcro strap to hold it closed. It was a wallet that screamed, “16! 16! 16!” It was neon letters 42 feet tall screaming, “Do not sell this child cigarettes!” It was all things that said what was wrong with the youth of that day.
Paul failed to notice these things, nor did the man behind the counter. He opened his wallet and removed one of the three things that were in there. He smiled casually and handed the man his Ontario Health Card. My heart sank. This was not going to work. The non-discrete card contained a 14-digit code and a name. No picture. No birth date. No expiry date. No issue date. Nothing that in any way could indicate Paul was 19.
The man took the card and pondered it. He looked at Paul, then back at the card.
“What is this?” he inquired.
“That, Sir, is my Health Card,” Paul said, pouring over the dietary info of a Caramilk bar.
The man took another look at the card, then another quick look at Paul. Paul, meanwhile, had completely dismissed the man and was comparing the calorie content on a number of chocolate bars at the same time. He put them back in their respective places; all but one lonely Oh Henry bar, which he carelessly dropped on the counter.
“And this too,” he said.
The man handed the card back to Paul and rang in the order. I paid with a $20 and we walked outside.
The next morning, with the alcohol haze drifting gently off of me, I looked at Paul’s Health Card. There was no combination of numbers that would indicate how old he was. To this day, I have no idea why the Mac’s employee gave us the smokes.