This was my first published article. I was even interviewed on the radio about it. The host asked me if today's youth preferred to cling to childhood rather than be recognized as adults. I had no idea.
The LCBO is the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, and the only place you could buy spirits in the province.
The Toronto Star, Jul. 31, 2001
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
I put on a brave face and walked alone into the LCBO. As my internal temperature rose and the customary embarrassment set in, I knew this was not about to go well.
A bead of sweat had just finished collecting on my forehead when the middle-aged man stocking the shelves turned and spotted me. I was caught with my mouth agape, still trying to get my bearings in the store and unable to feign casual interest in one of the Ontario whites or European reds. I knew what was coming.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
It's hard to maintain an air of confidence when you know you have fair skin that goes traffic-light red at the slightest social discomfort. "Um.... Yeah, I guess so. Where's the Irish Cream?" I asked awkwardly.
He pointed to the shelves against the wall. "Over there," he replied.
It wasn't his duty to check, but I knew that he was going to make a comment anyway.
"Um..." he began. "You realize you're going to have to show some sort of ID." It wasn't a question.
"Yeah," I smiled. "I know."
I'm 23 years old, I've recently graduated from university and every time I walk into an unfamiliar liquor store I feel like I'm 16 again, trying to pass unchallenged into a screening of Pulp Fiction.
Suffice it to say, I look young. I'm not especially tall, I'm rather skinny, and it takes me a few days to develop a noticeable five o'clock shadow. As for my breadth, a long-time family friend commented upon our last encounter that I have "yet to fill out."
I don't believe I'm going to fill out. This is it. And believe it or not, I wouldn't have it any other way. I have most of my life to look like an adult, and I'd like to postpone the transition as long as possible, thank you. Even when I was that 16-year-old with a penchant for R-rated action movies, I didn't want to look a day older.
Both at work and at school, I enjoy walking into rooms full of adults knowing that they're all wondering what this "kid" can do. Their scepticism - real or imagined - gives me the kick of adrenaline I need to blow them away. To gain respect as an apparent boy among men is more worthwhile than to be granted it based on appearance.
Of course, this doesn't work all the time. I've been shot down, rebuffed, ignored and relegated to menial tasks that wouldn't challenge an invertebrate; it comes with the territory. Unfortunately, in these situations there's little I can do to prove my worth. But if someone is going to allow a preconception to limit their opinions, then I don't consider their respect to be worth my trouble.
This is, of course, a potentially career-limiting view to hold. I know that; it even worries me a little. But then again, I'm intent on staying a kid as long as I can. I have no family to support, no mortgage, no car payments, and no long-term responsibilities except those that I choose.
Adults have to worry about their income, their status, their position in office politics and their appearance of professionalism. But me, as long as I get my work done, I'm free to follow people around the office to continue an interesting conversation, offer Pocky to passers-by and make amusing presentations for informal Friday lunches. This might not be professional, but it makes people happy. You're only a kid once, and once you let it go, you can't have it back.
Maybe that's why I panic every time I make a purchase at an unfamiliar LCBO. I'm not worried they'll ask for my ID, I'm worried they won't. After all, if I start to look like an adult, I might be expected to act like one.
So there I stood, wallet in hand, driver's licence at the ready in its familiar position under my thumb, waiting for the standard ritual to commence. I paid for my bottle of Irish Cream. I received my change. I watched in disbelief as the girl at the register turned to the next customer without batting an eye.
I was stupefied. Was she paying attention? Was it possible? Did I really look that old? Well, I thought, I hadn't shaved that morning....
As I began to amble past the register in dismay, the girl turned back and threw me an inquisitive glance. I stopped. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't look at you. Could I see some ID?" When I grinned, I looked like a 6-year-old with an ice cream cone.
Michael Kanert is a recent graduate of Engineering Physics at Queens University. He lives in Toronto.