Eighteen and life to go - Justin Reedy

Oh, to be 18 again n young, na?ve, and not yet jaded to the ways of the world.

Of course, I've bucked the aging trend so far by being in better shape now, at 25, than when I was as a teen-ager, so maybe I don't want to go back.

And there's always the fact that I can now buy alcohol and drink it without breaking the law, which in my teens would only have been allowed in Louisiana and some countries in Europe. (Maybe that's Louisiana's problem; they're too much like Europe. Nobody tell Donald Rumsfeld, those Cajuns will be our next military target.)

Like many people, I sampled some of the Devil's nectar before I turned 21, but it was never to excess and never when I had to drive later, and was sometimes even in the company of a responsible adult. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Over the weekend, I ran into a group of teen-agers trying to do much the same thing, only on their own. I had stopped by a package store in Henry County with some friends to procure some spirits (which we later consumed in moderation; I swear!) when we noticed a car with two youngsters inside, clearly waiting on their compatriot who was in the store.

The two in the car had that shifty-eyed look common to those about to break the law. This pair looked like two meerkats keeping an eye out for a toothy predator who had just sent them a "See you soon!" greeting card.

"Oh, look," my friend Anthony said as we walked up to the store. "The underage people are waiting for their 21-year-old friend to come back out with the beer."

But once in the store, we easily spotted their friend, who was clearly no more of age than the other two. ("He must be the one with the fake I.D.," Anthony pointed out.) The young man circulated through the package store in a misguided attempt to build up the courage to try to purchase some hooch.

He slinked around the store, going from liquor display to beer case to liquor display, and back around again, traveling more in his quest for bravery than the lion did walking to Oz. Shaking like a leaf on a tree would be an understatement, unless that tree was in Loma Prieta back in '89.

Finally, as we were at the cash register buying a bottle of chocolate liqueur (a necessary ingredient of a chocolate martini, I'm told), he finally gave up and left, him and his partners in near-crime peeling away from the liquor store in a cloud of smoke to confuse the authorities no doubt hot on their heels.

I wonder what excuses the bravest of the three gave to his fellow young lushes?

"The guy behind the counter was watching me, man, I think he knew I was too young," he might have said. Or, "He stopped me before I got to the register and said he'd call the cops if I tried to buy something."

Maybe he tried to blame it on logistical problems, such as saying the picture fell off of the fake I.D., or the new date of birth he had penned in with a Sharpie had rubbed off. Perhaps it was the lack of believability in his bogus driver's license.

"Why'd you give me this piece of crap fake I.D.?" he may have shouted at his friend, the mastermind of the entire operation. "I don't look like a 37-year-old guy from Tennessee named Norman! Do I look like I have a receding hairline to you?"

Hopefully the night ended innocently enough, with the youths consuming nothing stronger than Yoo-hoo and Moon pies, impatiently awaiting the days when they'll be able to buy all the alcohol they want, not knowing that by then their desire for the forbidden spirits will have died down from a roaring bonfire to the flame of a mere candle.

Maybe 18 isn't as cool as I thought.

Justin Reedy covers county government for the News Daily. His column appears on Thursdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 281 or via e-mail at jreedy@news-daily.com.