I am sometimes served beer by people who are not themselves allowed to drink the beverage. One such just informed me that tomorrow is her birthday. While I know that no gentleman ever asks a lady this question, I could not resist inquiring of her how old she was going to be. “Twenty-one,” she said, making the “air quotes” gesture, holding up both hands and flexing the first two fingers on each. The message: She still won’t be twenty-one, but she’s going to drink anyway. Kids these days.
It may come as a shock to some of you, but I also experienced the taste of alcohol before I reached the statutory age for such. This story starts on a Saturday, the last Saturday I would spend as a minor. I would be celebrating my birthday the next day. I invited everyone I knew to the celebration that Sunday evening. (My actual birthday was, according to my calendar, on Monday. Somehow the story in my head managed to forget this technicality. Now I’m sorry I looked it up. Anyway, I was committed for Sunday.)
By ‘invited everybody’, I mean ‘invited every female’. I went to a small, male-dominated engineering school, and I had, as any good engineer would, arrived at a simple party algorithm. Invite every female you can. Half of the ones who say they will definitely show up actually will. Twice as many males will show up.
Party set for Sunday. That’s where planning is required. Back then, on Sundays in New Mexico, the booze stores were closed. No problem; with the true foresight that five and three-quarters semesters of physics and abstract math will give one, I mounted an expedition to the local beer store on Saturday and stocked up. Thus equipped, My roommate and I sent out word far and wide. Even divided by two, the number of women who said they would definitely be there climbed into the double digits. Hell, yeah, we had a party!
Saturday evening some people came by, then some others, and of course one has to entertain. Sunday morning dawned and our stockpile had vanished. We were going to have a party, with as many as twelve female guests, and we had no alcohol. Roommate Janne and I pulled out a map.
By Alfa Romeo odometer, it is 156 miles from my dorm to the closest liquor store in Arizona. It was a good drive, over the continental divide, bundled up against the chill air as Janne and I drove with the top down. That kind of day on that kind of road demands swiftness, but the state trooper was not inclined to agree. He pulled me over and strode to the driver’s side of the car with a swagger that cannot be trained.
He asked us to step from the vehicle. It was cold, once we didn’t have the heater blowing on our feet. Trooper shook his head. “I remember when I was young and stupid,” he said as he assessed our top-down state. It didn’t seem derogatory, coming from him. He was all right. I learned later that highway 60 had become a primary drug artery heading west to California. Not smugglers, he had decided, just dumb. One speeding ticket heavier, we continued to Springerville, Arizona, there to buy a ridiculous amount of ridiculous booze. One of everything, basically*. And beer.
Back we scampered, careful not to tempt the radar gods again.
That night, the party commenced. It was pretty good, but my invitation theorem was shattered to pieces. Of the members of the distaff who said they would definitely show up, none did. Not a single one. Yeah, I had a way with the ladies, all right (probably I told too many of them my party algorithm). Still, I was surrounded by friends, and while the party was not a rager it was a good way to stagger into adulthood, story-heavy.
* the new cocktails invented from the leftovers of this party are legendary: Lollipops, Bro Cones, and let no one forget Pink Drool.