Say whatever you want – I still smoke. I know it’s not popular. I know it’s not good for me. Let’s leave the morality and ethics out of it. Since I smoke, I buy cigarettes. I try to be economical about it and find the lowest price. The guy who owns the store around the corner isn’t happy about it but, from a capitalist perspective, he should lower his prices.
At the moment, CVS has the lowest price so I go there. Helpfully, they also have my favorite mints to combat the horrible, foul, nasty, stinky breath I have after I smoke. Unhelpfully, there is Willard.
The process of buying cigarettes is simple. You ask the sales clerk. They put them on the counter. You give them your money. You leave with your drugs. It’s like buying most things in America. Since it’s a regulated commodity, rules exist to keep them out of the hands of kids and I support that. Maybe if it had been harder to buy them, I wouldn’t have started smoking. Whatever. It’s in the past. Mass. law instructs those who sell tobacco products to check for ID if the person looks under 27. It’s not a bad gauge. Selling cigarettes to a minor is $100 for the first fine, $200 for the second and $300 for every offense after that. I completely understand. And if I walked into a new store in a new town where nobody knew who I was, I’d be annoyed about getting carded but somewhat begrudgingly compliant.
If I go into, say, a CVS just down the street from my house, almost every day for years and years, I’d hope that the employees might, if not know my deepest inner thoughts, hopes and dreams, at least know my face. It’s part of friendliness. It’s part of service. It’s one of the small things you factor in when deciding where to go for a meal or to get keys made or to buy cigarettes.
Willard doesn’t understand this. But then again, Willard is in his late 60’s, clerking at CVS and doesn’t outwardly appear retarded. So Willard cards me every goddamn time. And I mean every time. The first dozen times I gritted my teeth and went with the “he’s just doing his job” rationalization. After that, though, it started viscerally pissing me off.
I mean – what the fuck? I know smokers a figure of disgust for the vast majority of the country. My own sister figuratively pissed on me for it. The number of people that cough ostentatiously as they pass us on the small plot of land designated as the “smoking area” on the street (and frequently it’s right next to a dumpster) would break a scientific calculator. I always wonder about those people – is their self-righteous egotism so highly developed that you can influence a stranger just by coughing at them? “Oh, shit! I never realized how my smoking affects a woman so morbidly obese she has to use a cane to walk! Or that gentleman from State St. bank who hitches up his ironically name “cigarette boat” to the back of his Humvee so he can get drunk and commune with nature in his vacation home in New Hampshire. What was I thinking!!??”
The answer is, of course, yes: they honestly do think their rudeness holds sway over us.
My own personal theory involves Willard as radical anti-smoking activist. He wants to make it a difficult as possible for any smokers to get their drugs. It makes them think about it – about all the effort they had to go through and the more times it happens, the more of a chance they’ll leave the store and say, “gosh, is it really worth all that effort?”. And one at a time, they’ll all quit and Mary Baker Eddy will rise from her grave to personally thank me. Yes. I’m doing the right thing. But chances are good that he’s just some 60 year-old guy who loses jobs because he follows the rules far too closely.
Today Willard carded me for the last time…or least he better have. No, I didn’t kill him. Instead, when he carded me, I simply asked the question that any normal non-eighteen looking person would ask – “Are you kidding me?”
“No, sir,” he replied with firm politeness. “In order to sell you cigarettes I need to see some form of identification.”
“You’ve seen my identification. Numerous times. Do I look under-aged to you? Really?”
“Sir,” he said, channeling his inner, officious doorman, “in order to sell you cigarettes I need to see some form of ID.”
“You realize that you’re the only person in this whole store that cards, right? The only person. Nobody else does. To everybody else, I don’t look eighteen. I look 47, which I am.”
“Well.” He turned the smugness up to 11. “Then I’m the only person in this store that’s not risking getting fired.” He pointed to the cameras in back of them. “The cameras watch everything we do and I’m not about to risk getting fired.”
Now that looks creepy on the page, but I assure you, he didn’t say it in a tin-foil hat kind of way, as if the cameras always watched him even when he slept. He said it boastfully, as if he were on some CVS version of Survivor and his mad carding skillz set him apart from the rest of the employees. He would be the Last Clerk Standing when (as I’m sure they do) management sits down at the end of the shift and watches every single second of the tape gathered from the shift that just ended.
Instead, I left the smokes on the counter and said I’d go somewhere else.
“That’s just fine, then, sir,” he told me as if he’d proved that he was incorruptible and that, as a CVS clerk, he refused to get pushed around.
I went home and called the store.
The manager sounded slightly exasperated when Willard’s name came up. I’m pretty sure that people call about Willard…both pro and con. He explained that store policy dictated taking no chances and carding everyone…but…he agreed that regular customers should be treated like…well…regular customers. Willard would be spoken to.
Now, before you start making sarcastic comments about my “bravery” and “moral fortitude”, think about this:
Every Friday you go out to lunch at the same place. Everybody there knows you. And every Friday you order a beer. The same type of beer. And every Friday, the waitress asks you to prove that you’re old enough to drink.
How ya gonna feel?