Sorry, wrinkles aren't legal proof of age

Grocery and liquor stores in my neighborhood are much more strict about asking for IDs than they were just a few years ago. Of course, if you live near a college campus, you know that checking IDs really hasn’t done much to curb underage drinking. Sometimes I think fake IDs are included in the kids’ orientation packets.

As for those of us who are two and three times as old as the typical student, you’d think our faces would announce that we are over 21. Way, way over 21. Not even close to 21. It takes years of erosion to get a face like mine. Unfortunately, teenage cashiers cannot tell the difference between someone who is 30 and someone who is 90. To them, we’re all the same – old.

In part, that’s true. There’s a huge difference between an 11-year-old and a 16-year-old. Between a 50-year-old and a 55-year-old, not so much. But if you can’t tell the difference between a 21-year-old and a 61-year-old, there’s a problem.

I remember a story about a group of 10 men who got together to eat breakfast and gossip every morning at the same restaurant. Their ages ranged from 50 to 90. The day a new, young waitress showed up, they thought they’d have a little fun.

“You know,” a 60-year-old said, “it’s Joe’s 90th birthday today, and he wants to know if you’ll give him a free piece of cake.”

The waitress looked at all of them and said, “OK. Which one of you is Joe?” To them, it was obvious. But to her, they were all exactly the same age – old.

Almost everyone who is of obvious legal age has stories about getting carded. A friend told me that one day he went into a store to buy liquor and was asked for identification. Then he went next door to the drugstore, where the kid behind the counter gave him the 15 percent senior discount without him even asking for it.

At a get-together the other night of “old” people in their 50s, a woman asked the group, “So what do you say when you’re buying beer and the teenager at the checkout counter asks to see your ID?”

“I say ‘thank you,’” three women said at the same time. They all had stories that more or less ended with, “I’ll take flattery wherever I can get it.”

“I didn’t say ‘thank you,’” the first woman said. “I said, ‘NO! This is ridiculous. Look at me. No, I will not show you my ID.’” She was very angry and, while she didn’t say as much, I gather that she caused quite a scene. A store manager came over and said she was right, she didn’t have to show her ID, but it was store policy to ask everyone for it. This just made her angrier.

I didn’t understand why she was frothing over such a little thing until I realized that she didn’t want to deny her age; she wanted credit for it. None of us gets older without getting a few little nicks and dings, without getting our bumpers dented, without having to be taken to the shop for a little repair now and then.

If we were cars, everyone would know exactly how old we were. They could take a good guess as to how many miles were on the odometer. A classic car is a thing of great beauty; it is not something to be ignored. Are we old folks not at least as interesting as cars?

The store that says it asks everyone for their IDs is the same one that runs a little pen over each $20 bill I hand the clerk, checking to make sure I haven’t become a counterfeiter since the last time I was in the store, say, two days earlier. I never thought of it as insulting before. Now I do. At least they could do it when I’m not looking.

Funny thing is, they never run a pen over the ID of the kid buying two cases of beer who looks like he’s 17. That, they don’t check.

Jim Mullen’s book “Now in Paperback” is now in paperback. You can reach him at

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