HETRICK: Please, dear sales clerk, play the age card for me

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Bruce Hetrick

I remember well the last time I was “legitimately” carded. I was in my early 30s. My wife Pam and I had gone to Boston for a Red Sox game. A bouncer in a Back Bay watering hole asked to see my ID. He did not ask the same of Pam, who was two years my senior and far better looking.

There was hell to pay the rest of the day.

Last year, when Indiana passed a carryout alcohol ID law requiring that everyone of every age be carded, I was delighted the first time I had to show my ID at age 53. I imagined it was my youthful good looks. Or the baseball cap I wore backward covering my gray hair. Or dumb luck.

Were Pam still alive, she would have been thrilled to have received the same treatment.

But alas, after only a year, the card-everyone law has been dumped.

“Asking World War II veterans to show their drivers’ licenses at grocery stores to buy a six-pack of beer was one of the silliest things that the Legislature has done in recent years,” said State Rep. Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City), who sponsored the repeal bill.

Other legislators called the card-everyone requirement, “stupid.”

“The public rightfully complained loudly, and I am pleased that lawmakers of both parties have come to their senses and repealed it,” Pelath said.

Under the new law, which takes effect July 1, only those who “reasonably appear to be less than 40 years old” will be required to show ID when buying alcohol. But I’d submit that “reasonably appear to be less than 40” may prove to be fighting words. Treacherous turf. Lunchmeat for lawsuits.

In other words, it’s a threatening threshold that makes me darned glad I’m not a retail clerk in the state of Indiana.

Have you been on the first floor of Nordstrom, Sak’s, Macy’s or even Wal-Mart lately? Have you walked through the cosmetics section?

Have you been to Ulta, Sephora or CVS and gazed upon the goos and gadgets?

Have you received your fourth Vicky’s Secret catalog in the mail this week? Have you seen the voluminous, voluptuous underwire, push-up, paranormal paraphernalia?

Have you seen the latest Marie/Oprah/Fergie/Kirstie/Jamie Lee/Princess Kate/Weight Watchers/Atkins/Alli/Dukin diets?

Have you been emboldened by Ladies Workout Express, Bally, Better Bodies, NIFS, Gold’s, Cardinal, Curves, Planet Fitness, Life Time Fitness, LA Fitness, Fitness Now, Five Seasons or some other purveyor of pectoral promise?

Have you seen the latest Indy Monthly lineup of botox-wielding, boob-raising, lid-lifting, sinus-stretching, gravity-defying cosmetic surgeons?

Have you seen the ads for bleaching, tinting, highlighting, root-dying, re-planting and pate-plugging locks?

Have you been piqued by Pilates, aerobics, kick-boxing, break-dancing or mini-marathons?

Have you bought an elliptical, a treadmill, a Stairmaster, a ThighMaster, a Bowflex or a exercise ball?

Have you seen middle-aged guys wearing baseball caps hip-hop style in a vain attempt to look a decade younger and 10 degrees cooler?

In other words, do you know how many millions, billions and trillions of hours and dollars are invested annually in Indy, nationally and internationally by men and women trying to “reasonably appear less than age 40”?

And now, the Indiana General Assembly has left it to some checkout chick at Marsh, some kid-of-a-clerk at Kroger, some lunk-of-a liquor-store-cashier at Kahn’s to determine whether all those hours and dollars of hair styling, clothing, chemicals, exercise and surgery have succeeded.

For the kid behind the counter, it’s a lose-lose proposition.

Fail to card some teen beauty queen made up to look 30 or some man-child who appears 40 but is half that (think basketball star Greg Oden) and the wrath of management and the law shall be upon you.

Worse yet, fail to card some 42-year-old babe who’s dying to look forever 21 and you’ll shatter a fragile, narcissistic ego.

It might be enough to trigger a suicide attempt. Or peddle a Prozac prescription. Or contribute to a course of talk therapy—or another 60-week sentence to the Stairmaster.

The problem is, from the context of most 20-somethings behind a check-out counter, 40 looks ancient. Synonymous with Social Security. A Medicare milestone. Old, like one’s parents.

And we’ve now anointed them with the power to judge.

I know the Greatest Generation thought it was silly to be subjected to the phenomenon of photo ID. But for us baby boomers and Gen Xers, we’ve worked hard for this privilege.

Like Wilford Brimley’s character in the film “Cocoon,” we want to believe “We’ll never be sick. We won’t get any older. And we won’t ever die.” Having our ID examined was instrumental to the illusion.

So please, card me. Card me for every can of Bud and every bottle of Merlot. Card every gentleman. Card every lady. We’ll love ya for thinking we look “reasonably” less than 40. We’ll love ya for the ego boost. We’ll love ya for being our faux fountain of youth.•


Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.


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