Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Oh Sure, Nobody's Ever Been Busted
in a College Town for Underage Drinking...

OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- Five boxes of cheap bagged wine.

Five boxes. Twenty-five liters of yuppie rotgut.

I've known winos in my life who'd kill for that kind of suburban hooch.

And a case of bottled water, a jar of peanut butter, sugar-free jelly, three bags of pita chips, two bottles of sunblock, three bags of salad, a bottle of whey protein, a gallon of skim milk, and some baby carrots.

I couldn't help but look into their shopping carts as I squeezed between them heading down the cereal aisle.

CARTS. Plural. One cart for the booze, one cart for the food.

Two girls.

Correction. Two young women. With more than six and a half GALLONS of wine in a shopping cart.

A common enough occurrence in any tiny-ass Midwestern college town, the week before classes start and the day before the residence halls reopen for on-campus students. The Local U, in fact, is well-known for its undergraduate binge drinking problem.

And trust me. There's barely anything for a guy my age to do after work in this burg in August. I was a student myself once, and I've drank away my share of dog-day afternoons as both an undergrad and a graduate student.

But here's the problem.

One of the girls - sorry, young women - is wearing an old t-shirt, with the words _____ High School, Class of 2007 sprawled across the front.

And they're openly discussing the fact that Ms. Tee isn't of legal drinking age, discussing things such as the party they're planning and it's location, cracking jokes and saying things like Oh don't worry. The cashiers are Townies. I'm, like, buying so...

Aside from the pair, I'm the youngest person within earshot. There's an elderly couple checking out granola and rolling their eyes at the girls, a 40ish dad type with two teenage girls listening in, too.

There were 10 people in that aisle alone.

* * * *

Here's the deal, for the record.

The ability to purchase alcohol is limited, in all 50 states, to those over the age of 21. And retailers, well, tend to train sales associates how to properly I.D. those who are purchasing alcohol. In Ohio, it's not just illegal to purchase - it's illegal for anyone under 21 to even drink alcoholic beverages, unless it's purchased by a parent or legal-age spouse.

And in Ohio college towns...

Trust me. If one girl rolls up with a shopping cart full of wine, and the girl behind her is underage, and there's even the slightest hint that they may know one another both parties are getting carded. And odds are nobody's leaving the store, 21 or not, with that much wine when an attempt to skirt the law is that, well, obvious.

If the clerk's in a really bad mood, well, they may even involve law enforcement. And those charges, in Oxford Fucking Ohio, even off-campus, can end up getting a student in a lot of trouble on-campus. Violations aren't just a civil offense; they're also potentially an academic disciplinary offense...

I keep shopping. But something's eating away at me.

I dunno - maybe it's being a good citizen, or maybe I'm just shocked that, well, apparently, there are people naive enough to believe the college myth that says Everybody knows we're drinking, so why hide it?

I keep passing these two chicks in the aisles and, well, they're still announcing to the world that they're planning this huge party, that so-and-so just turned 20 and they were, like, gonna get her so wasted...

Hmmm. Are they ... stupid? Brain-damaged? Too many days in the tanning salon, maybe?

No, I tell myself, they're probably just sheltered and don't know any better. Just fucking kids...

* * * *

Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. The school year hasn't even started yet, and some decent citizen is going to narc them out to the store's management, they'll end up getting in a lot of trouble...

I track them back down on the other end of the store.

"Hey ladies? You know, nobody's stupid here."

I'm smiling and talking as softly as I can. They try to play dumb. Ms. Tee crosses her arms over the logo on her chest. She's nervous and knows, well, she's wearing her underage status across her body.

The other young woman is not. She's as brazen as the best of them; a quality I'd find refreshing under normal situations.

"Excuse me. We don't know you. And this is for me. I'm buying it and she has-"

"Do you know there's about 20 of us 'Dumb Townies' walking around here who you've just announced to that there's gonna be a huge-ass party on _____Street where YOUR wine's gonna be used to get a fucking 20-year-old drunk?

That shut her up.

But, trust me, it's better me being a dick about it than a cop. I don't have arrest powers.

* * * *

Look, I drank under the legal age. I'll admit it. Most people do, at least those who drink.

But I never, ever paraded around with my older friends, the ones buying for me, discussing my intent within earshot of everyone from off-the-clock municipal employees to store clerks and retirees. Some things require a clandestine approach and aren't meant for a fucking audience.

And yes, for the record, I think the 21-and-over laws of the land are complete horseshit, feel that the congressional blackmailing of individual states (there is no mandated federal drinking age; however, states without a 21-and-up law on the books lose federal highway funding) is, well, not helping anyone, and I don't care how much those Mothers Against Drunk Driving bitch, their statistics just don't add up.

I will not repeat my "Not Ready for Primetime" lecture because, well, everybody who's been on a college campus knows that, regardless of bullshit neo - prohibitionist laws, regardless of the number of lectures from advisers and parents and authority figures, the vast majority of underage drinkers are going to find ways to get their hands on booze.

But it's still illegal. While some elements of our society may give kids breaks, other concerned citizens still have the right to report crimes and cops still have to do their jobs.

And while I tend to give myself tend to give underage drinking a wink and a smile, well, I can't turn my back on someone pinning that sort of legal bullseye to their back.

* * * *

There's no law that gives a college student the right to plead I'm in College and this is what college students do, not a court in the nation that would accept that as a defense in the event of an alcohol-related death, not a jury in the world that would accept that as a defense if somebody left that party fucking blitzed, got behind the wheel, and killed somebody.

Pardon the cliche, but, hell, it's not hard to drink responsibly. And to behave responsibly, even as an undergrad in ratfuck Oxford Fucking Ohio. Just be smart about it.

Us grown-ups tolerate underage drinking because, well, we'd generally like to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they're smart enough to handle it. Hell, most of us were when we were underage - we're still alive, right?

Some people, however, do everything in their power to prove that they can't handle it, assume that, well, their actions in college are somehow excusable, automatically forgivable to all.

But if you're dumb enough to wander around a store, as a legal drinker, with an underage friend, announcing to the world that you're planning on getting another underage drinker drunk enough to puke, well, nobody wants to read about another alcohol-related tragedy in the paper and somebody may say something about it.

* * * *

Oh, and using chapstick on the backs of your hands? To make it easy to remove those Sharpied black Xs ya get in bars and clubs when you're underage? You know, every door guy and bouncer I've ever met knows that trick.

Welcome back to college, kids. Let's smart out there, as well as responsible.

To borrow a phrase from that classic 1980s G.I. Joe cartoon...

Now you know - and knowing is half the battle.

- # # # -


Angel, librarian and educator said...

This is definitely an excellent post. The kind of thing that students should definitely be reading. Those kids will probably go back to their residence moping about the guy at the store, but you probably saved them a lot of grief down the road.

If only society as a whole would finally decide to end the horseshit of the 21 and over laws that are doing no real good. Remove the taboo element. But that is another can of worms.

And I loved G.I. Joe as a kid :)

Best, and keep on blogging.

Anonymous said...

Oh, this makes me think of so many stories. When I was underage, the only times I drank were with my family. Of course, that started pretty young. When I was about 10 or so, my dad and I started going trapping (muskrat) in the winter. He was a high school teacher, and there were several teachers who had runs in the same general area. And each of them kept a bottle of peach schnapps buried in the snow in the back of their pickups. After we'd go chop the ice and pull up the rats, we'd stand around and pass the bottle. I got my sips just like everyone else.

When I turned 21, I went to the liquor store for the first time to buy. I simply didn't try before. I walked in, picked up a bottle of scotch, went to the checkout . . . and didn't get carded. It was my freaking birthday and I didn't get carded! Of course, that store got shut down last year for selling to minors.

Another time, at Wal-hell no less, I was with my roommate who was almost a year older than me. I was buying a bottle of wine, but hadn't grabbed a cart and had my hands full of the various bits and bobbles of food I was going to buy. So, my roommate carried the bottle. We got up to the checkout stand, and the lady cards both of us because he had carried the bottle.

Fun times. Today is move-in day. I think I might wander down to see if there is anyone interesting on campus :)

Anonymous said...

wow this is so appropriate for this weekend in oxford.

EsotericWombat said...

I guess that some University chairs have signed on to promote a sort of public debate on the drinking age issue. The responses by the MADD folks have been, well, predictable.

I'm absolutely with you on the "don't be stupid about it" front. Even before I started drinking I've been put in stupid situations where I found myself taking care of people who had never quite learned that lesson. Including one or two hellish nights that I'm not sure I can comfortably talk about out in the open.

I will say that I've found myself steadying the wheel from the shotgun seat more times than I should have and I really fucking wish the stupid could please go away.

Liberality said...

I am going to be 45 in a few months and I got carded recently. I asked the cashier if she was kidding and she said no. So I fished out my license and she looked at it and she explained that anyone who looks to be in their 30s or under had to be carded. I am older than that I told her but she said it didn't matter. My son, who will soon be 20 got busted for drinking beer at a friends house a half year ago. God, it pissed me off! He can go sign up to die in Iraq but heaven forbid he drink a fucking beer.

Lauren said...

hey sorry for being creepy in front of balcony. i figured it'd be easier to just walk up and say hi than meet you in your office. obviously a bad call huh?

and thanks for helping me get home too and the mint tea!!!

haha good post.

C. K. said...

Hahaha - this is funny. No matter how hard, how gentle, how often or how careful we tell these kids, they'll always find a way to break the rules and claim innocence. Hahaha.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Lol, oh yeah, I pretty sure I ended up looking like the Creepy Old Guy on this one. But, hey, like I said, better me than a cop.


You know, I didn't get carded on my 21st, either. Never got carded when I was younger, though I was never dumb enough as a kid in Virginia, a state with government-run ABC stores, to try to pull one over on those guys. Nor did I ever wait within plain sight when older friends were, um, earning interest payments ;)

Hey man, hope your move-in days went as smooth as ours did this year!

Wasn't it though? Thanks!

Yeppers, the ol' Amethyst Initiative, an idea in higher ed, at least, whose time has finally come.

Yeah, why is it the stupid people seem to always set the worst example. And better to be steering from the shotgun seat than holding the shotgun, my friend.

That's sorta the thing - by a person's 18th birthday in this country, one can vote, drive a car, join the military, graduate from most high schools,... i.e. are considered adults.

So why 21? And why are 18-20 y.o.s somehow responsible enough to do all of those other things, yet... they can't buy beer?

Lol, nope, not creepy at all.

Actually, I don't know of a single dude who ever gets upset - married, single, gay, straight - when a hot girl way out of their league walks up to them on the street and just starts talking baseball ;)

You're welcome.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Lol, well, yeah... that's also part of the fun of being a not-quite- a - kid adult. You still get off on breaking the silliest rules, almost to the point where you're subconsciously trying to get caught, noticed for your actions.