When I attempt to decide what I am going to write about for these back pages, the first thing I consider is what month it’s going to be published. In the case of November I could write about things that I’m grateful for in honor of Thanksgiving or the coming of winter weather or the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which even though it occurred over 50 years ago, I still associate with the 11th month.
A week after I finally arrived home from the hospital after 88 days, a group of my friends and family gathered for dinner. When the wine started flowing I asked everyone the first thing they thought of when they thought of November. Lo and behold my buddy, the legendary Spins Nitely of Mullica Hill—who’s known to have a drink or three—added “Drinksgiving” to the conversation.
Drinksgiving is the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, and according to my friends at the Maple Shade P.J. Whelihan’s, it’s the No. 1 drinking day of the year, ahead of St. Patrick’s and the first Saturday of the NCAA Tournament.
The decision was made to write my November article about drinking. The next problem was what aspect of drinking to write about? The first time I ever drank? The drunkest I ever was? The time I woke up bare-chested covered in Slim Jims that had been dipped in ketchup?
I decided to write about a moment where my real life mirrored one of my favorite movie scenes, the one where our comedic hero is attempting to purchase alcohol with a fake ID. Many flicks have used this scene, but none better than the “McLovin” ID created in Superbad.
The crowd I ran with all had fake IDs. My friend Fred’s older brother Hank had returned from Vietnam and he had an Army driver’s license. It was white with black lettering and most importantly, no photo. Equally important, it had Hank’s birthday on it which showed he was 21.
So we first Xeroxed copies of it. Using Wite-Out (remember how much we once used Wite-Out?) we had all painstakingly taken out Hank’s name, waited for it to dry, and carefully typed out our names in the now blank space. Then we cut them to size and had them laminated, and bingo! A fake ID. Eventually, half the neighborhood was using Hank’s fake Army ID. Here’s a guy laying his life on the line to keep our country free and our neighborhood drunk!
It was Friday of Memorial Day weekend and it was about to kick off the summer of 1972. I had about three weeks left to go of my junior year in high school at West Catholic. Me and my boys had a Wildwood summer rental on Artic Avenue. We were laying about watching Hee-Haw and we had just run out of the few beers that we had stolen off our dads.
We needed more beer, which meant it was time for one of us to take our fake ID out for a spin. We had them for close to a month but we were all afraid to use them in the neighborhood. There was too much of a chance that one of our dads would be in the bar or at the beer distributor. And there was no way one of us geeks was going to attempt to buy a bottle of wine at a state store. We thought that getting busted with a phony ID at a state store meant the FBI was going to get involved and you were going to get 20 years to life at a federal penitentiary!
So back to Wildwood, where one of us was going to have to use a fake ID. But of course, none of us wanted to actually do it. Here we were in Jersey, where the chances of bumping into a parent were very slim, and we were still nervous. After playing “doggy doggy diamond” for a half hour we still couldn’t come up with who our “runner” was going to be. In the end they decided on me because at 6-foot-2, I was the tallest. Lucky me.
Sweat started rolling down my face. I memorized the fake ID over and over again like I was a British spy during WWII. One final detail, I decided to wear my penny loafers figuring they might make me even an inch taller.
We decided Jones Boys on Rio Grande Avenue was our best bet because it was only two blocks away and one of us had heard a rumor that Joey Nickels was once served there.
And oh boy, those two blocks might as well have been two miles. I stood about 20 feet from the front door of Jones Boys for about a half hour. Should I make some small talk while my purchase was going to be made? If so, should I lower my voice? Did I have all the information on my fake ID engrained in my brain? I took a deep breath and in I went.
As my luck would have it, there were five men in the store and they all looked like veterans of WWI—that’s I not II. All of a sudden I felt like I was 10 years old instead of three days shy of 17. Inside there were many brands of beer stacked up in piles on the floor. And though we had all agreed upon grabbing a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon, I decided to call an audible after seeing a case of Schmidt’s was on sale at a dollar cheaper than Pabst. Dag, I never even knew cases of beer went on sale. The only marked-down items I was used to seeing were the “day old” loaves of bread at the Acme.
It was time to become a man. With cash in hand I walked up to the counter ready to face the crabby-looking guy behind it. He never even looked at me as he muttered under his breath, “That will be $9.99.” I gave him a $10 bill and even paused to take the penny change. And out to the street I went feeling so elated I could have taken on Muhammad Ali.
Needless to say, a neighborhood hero was born. One last thing folks, in these politically correct times, let me make it clear I’m not encouraging underage drinking. I’m simply telling a story about the way it was in 1972. My gut tells me things haven’t changed much today. Happy Drinksgiving!
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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 16, Issue 8 (November 2019).
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