Earlier this week, cleaning through a pile of cards in a box in our back closet, I found this:
Like most college students, I had a fake ID. Except mine was fake Australian.
My rationale was actually pretty straightforward: any bouncer or liquor store clerk worth his salt had seen literally thousands of IDs from any of the 50 states. But most could probably count on one burly hand the number of Australian IDs that they’d seen. So even a fake that badly botched key details seemed likely to pass muster; after all, who’d be crazy enough to get a fake Australian ID?
At liquor store registers, the clerk would eye me up and down with rightful suspicion. Freshman year, I weighted 120 pounds soaking wet, and barely looked old enough to drive.
So they’d whip out the book of IDs, searching through for the matching sample, to see how well mine matched. They’d thumb through Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkasanas, then hit California. They’d page back, then forwards, then backwards a few times.
“It’s not a state,” I would say, derisively, in thick Australian accent. “It’s a country. A foreign country.”
The accent helped, obviously. I can’t do it now sober, but a couple of drinks in and the muscle memory returns.
My fake Australian accent was good enough that, most of time, it even faked out real Australians. Though I was aided by the fact that they were drunk, and I was drunk, and perhaps they simply assumed that my wonky accent was due to having lived too long in the US.
Only once, with an Australian bartender, did it not work at all. “Sorry mate,” he said with a laugh, handing the ID back to me.
I did, on occasion, have to bullshit spectacularly to pull it off. I’d meet Americans who had visited Australia, and who had memories they wanted to share. I hadn’t – and still haven’t – ever actually been to Australia. So, mostly, I’d smile and nod, trying to keep my responses positive but vague.
At one point, I met a woman who was neck-deep in writing her PhD thesis on Australian public transportation. She had a slew of questions for me, wanted to know my experience as a presumed regular user of Melbourne’s buses, trains and trams. So, of course, I pulled answers out of my ass. Hopefully, none of it actually made it into her thesis.
The real test of the ID was Quality Wine Shop, a liquor store in New Haven not far from my dorm at Yale.
The store was great – excellent selection of wines and liquors, knoweledgable and helpful staff. But they had no patience for under-age drinkers; the wall behind the register was lined by literally hundreds of confiscated fake IDs, pinned up in row after row after row.
Miraculously, my ID even worked there. And, over time, as that became my go-to liquor store, I gradually became friends with the staff. They would give me discounts, throw in extra bottles if we were stocking up for a party. Exceedingly nice.
The summer between junior and senior year, I turned 21. Which left me with a serious conundrum: what to do about Quality Wine?
Should I continue feigning Australian-ness while shopping there? Switch back to my normal non-accent and hope nobody noticed? Or did I need to come clean? And, if so, how? I had trouble picturing a conversation where I explained that I wasn’t actually the person they thought they’d befriended at all, that I’d secretly been fucking with them the entire time they’d been so nice to me.
Perhaps not a big issue in the scheme of the world. But it seemed big to me. I genuinely lost sleep about it that summer. Which is why, when I returned to New Haven that fall, I was both saddened and somewhat relieved to discover that, priced out by Yale’s increasing retail rents, Quality Wine Shop had quietly closed over the summer, replaced by a gourmet deli.