“What’s your name, man?” asked the liquor store clerk.
Since the name on my ID did not match my birth name, I winced at the question and cursed myself for befriending someone who could easily report me to the police for presenting fraudulent identification. I had no choice but to tell him my booze-procuring alias, but I had a feeling he would further inquire about the handles of my cohorts, and that’s where things would get awkward at best and criminal at worst.
I obtained my first fake ID when I was 18 years old. Members of the band I was playing in at the time lovingly convinced one of their friends who vaguely resembled me to give me his license before we left on one of our tours. From that point on, I was as good as 21. I hung out in bars, played 21+ shows, and patronized shadier-looking liquor stores in Denver. Of course, with a fake ID comes great responsibilities, so I was always tasked with buying alcohol for those who couldn’t. In fact, my fellow underaged friends would journey many miles to get me to acquire the booze necessary to transform their dour, sober evenings into thrilling nights of jollification and obliterated self-consciousness. Oftentimes on weekends, different groups of friends would require me to make several trips to the store as I spent hundreds of dollars and became one of their best customers.
On one of my sprees, the clerk at the beginning of the story commented on my Subhumans shirt. “Cool shirt,” he said. This was long before he ever inquired about my name.
I looked down. “Thanks,” I replied. Telling another punk rocker you like his shirt is tantamount to saying, “I’m one of you.”
From that point on, we would engage in punk talks on my many visits to the booze shop. He was the first to convince me to listen to Minutemen (later on he even let me borrow his Double Nickles on the Dime LP). I told him about my band and the various shows we were playing at the time. After awhile, it was only natural that he would eventually inquire about my name.
“Uh,” I said, hoping to buy some time, as if stalling would allow my brain to come up with an alternative to what I was about to say. “It’s Jason.”
He nodded as he finished ringing me up. “$58.37 is your total.”
I nodded as I handed him three 20s.
He began tucking the money away in the register when he said, “And your older brother comes in here too, right?”
“Yeah,” I said, my heart beating faster in anticipation of his forthcoming question.
“What’s his name?” he asked as he handed me change.
His actual first name matched the one on my fake ID. “Uh, it’s Jason.”
His brow furrowed as he processed this information. “Hmm,” he said. “And you have another brother that comes in here too, don’t you?”
I nodded. His ID matched my older brother’s ID because that’s what he used as his fake. My older brother claimed he lost his so my younger brother could buy booze as well. “It’s Jason, too.”
He stared at me. I looked at my shoes as I put the change in my pocket. I thought about making up a story about how my parents were both unoriginal and head over heals in love with the name Jason, but I figured I should just leave posthaste. “Well, see you later,” I said, taking the box of alcohol and retreating out the door.
I’m pretty sure I went back the next day, or soon thereafter, and instead of name inquiries, we resumed our punk talks. He never referred to me as Jason and he never asked about my brothers’ names. Our encounters at the liquor store became like a clandestine meeting of radicals who were planning to sabotage the bomb making factory—there were no names here.
Months later, after he lost his job at the liquor store, we became fast friends since he lived a block away from my house and listened to a lot of the bands we liked. It didn’t take him long to learn our actual names. Once we became comfortable in our familiarity, I reminded him about that particular encounter.
“What did you think when I told you all our names were Jason?”
He laughed. “I forgot all about that,” he said. “I just thought you were high or misunderstood the question or something, so I never brought it up again.”
All these years later, I am still both relieved and enamored by his professionalism.