I’d always been the youngest person in my grade, which didn’t particularly bother me until I made it to college. I transferred to a four-year liberal arts university halfway through my sophomore year, and by then everyone was well on their way to 21 (or had a fake ID). Most of the time, I did just fine – borrowing friends’ IDs, sneaking in the back door, paying someone to alter my ID for $45, or even borrowing a birth certificate for a phony driver’s license of my own. That is, until I got on the BullDog’s bad side. He took a disliking to me after he realized I’d been using a 35-year-old Irish immigrant’s ID to get into the Avalanche (the most fine and disgusting of all Milwaukee bars and home to the “naked beer slide”).
BullDog was a 35-year-old bouncer who always wore a black leather coat, jeans, and dirty white tennis shoes. Every weekend night, he sat with purpose on a bar stool outside the illustrious ‘Lanche entrance. He had sandy blonde hair, an aquiline (but crooked) nose and exhausted eyes. But he had a job to do, dammit, he had a job to do. After he confiscated Irina Irish’s ID, I went into desperation mode. The ‘Lanche wasn’t the only bar on the MU circuit, but it was the best and where everyone ended up after quarter shots night at Murphy’s or a more proper few drinks at O.D.’s a short distance away. Call it stupid hubris, but I really believed that I could get back into the ‘Lanche with the right phony credentials and so set myself to the task. I furiously soaked my existing California driver’s license in coffee, microwaved it, and applied white crayon to the “8” in 1968, making it a “3” in the process. He took it away the very first night of use. I again borrowed a birth certificate and went to the DMV with a thumping heart and guilty face, and procured myself an illegal Wisconsin state ID. He threw it in a bucket of other illegal IDs that sat at his feet. I had a friend let me in the dirty back entrance. He found me inside the bar, tapped me on the shoulder and made the “get out of here” international signal with his thumb.
He didn’t talk much, but I read shouts in his eyes. He wasn’t going to put up with me much longer.
So my nights began to end after my seven rowdy roommates made their way to the ‘Lanche and I sat outside the entrance bidding them farewell and making sad face at BullDog. Then I walked a few doors at the street to Amigos and drowned my lonely sorrows in deep-fried tortillas filled with meat. I called this time my “Fake ID Fifty.”
The months slowly turned into senior year. Most of my friends at that point were legitimately 21, and I was the last to celebrate the milestone. So, as my November birthday approached, my biggest goal of the evening was to triumphantly stroll up to the ‘Lanche entrance, present my real ID to BullDog, and play “I Shot the Sheriff” on the jukebox while pointing drunkenly at his fake ID bucket.
My roommates agreed to this birthday plan, but first they were going to a classy bar on the east side, while I would catch a movie with another more sedate pal. I remember my friends borrowing each other’s clothes, observing themselves in the mirror while trying them on, and crimping their hair. I felt a little hurt that they weren’t joining me early on, but didn’t belabor the point. Because I was going to a movie, I donned a comfortable two-piece pants outfit with a navy and white star pattern, and flats. I still recall the juxtaposition of my roommates wearing leather skirts and tight jeans with white pumps as I stood next to them wearing an ensemble my mom would have bought. I still felt like the “young one,” but figured I’d come home after the movie and change into more appropriate “I just turned 21!” attire.
I was ready. My friends planned to drop me at my other pal’s apartment on their way to the cool part of town, and take us to the movie. We drove the short distance to my girlfriend’s place and I hopped out of the car to get her. She opened her front door wearing a jazzy outfit herself and as I contemplated my obvious youth on the way back to the car, I almost missed the bottle of champagne and glass now sitting in the passenger’s seat of my roomie’s Nissan 240X.
As I stared dumbly at the bubbly, shouts of “Surprise!” came from all corners. Why, this was a surprise party! For me! A happy 21st birthday surprise party! My friends weren’t cold bitches who would let me go to a sad movie on my special day as they partied somewhere more better!
That night, truly, was the first time I remember being honestly and completely surprised by something.
I looked down at my pants suit and flats.
We made our way to Bermuda’s, a dance bar with neon lights, downtown. The rest of my roommates were inside and guess what? It was Chippendales night! And I was wearing the aforementioned pants suit with flats! It was so unChippendales! Not to mention, not at all formidable looking for when I pulled off my jukebox plan at the ‘Lanche later.
You can imagine what happened. There were many drinks with many straws, much Janet Jackson played, a spotlight on my outfit when it was announced it was birthday. Dancing. Chippendales underwear in faces.
Best 21st birthday ever.
Around 11, it was time to head back to campus and the ‘Lanche. I anxiously stood in the line to enter the bar, like I’d had in years gone by, but this time with the proper identification. Soon enough, I was flat-to-tennis-shoe with the BullDog, who gave me his best tired-shouty-eye look, took my ID, looked ready to toss it, then gave me a begrudging half-smile. And a wink.
The BullDog winked at me.
Forget my plan. He’d just been doing his job! He was a nice guy! He hadn’t been trying to ruin my social life all these years!
I entered the crowded, sweaty, pissy, amazing bar.
A few hours later, as the strains to the National Anthem began to play, partiers raised their plastic glasses full of Red, White, and Blue and threw them on the floor, and Slooch took off his clothes for the nightly naked beer slide, I looked over at the BullDog and raised my thumb in the international symbol of “awesome.”
And if he’s still around when my kids are trying to be 21 before their time, he better be the bouncer.
What was your biggest surprise?
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