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ATTITUDES / GETTING CARDED

Checkout Flattery : Being asked to show an ID is often a compliment to women but seems to anger men. Grocery stores should take note.

August 27, 1992|AURORA MACKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are probably a good number of people who actually pay attention to all those grocery store ads, which attempt to convince consumers they should become regular shoppers at a particular market because a) the food is better, b) the prices are better and c) the service is infinitely better.

I am not one of them. Double coupons or not, there's never really been enough of a difference for me to form an allegiance to the place I shop.

Until just a few days ago, that is. Now I will sing the praises of Ralphs and shop there as long as I live.

The incident that changed my outlook began innocuously enough. My kids, social creatures they are--actually, social mockingbirds is more like it--struck up a conversation with the bagger.

"Did you go to college?" my son asked. The bagger smiled and shook his head. "I didn't think so," my son continued. "My mom says that's what people who don't go to college say: 'Paper or plastic?' "

So much for trying to teach kids the benefits of getting a good education. I reached into my purse, wincing in embarrassment, to pay the amount on the register.

The checker took my two $20 bills. Then he stared at me intently. That's when I braced myself.

He's going to throw me out, I thought. He's going to tell me my kids and I are no longer welcome there.

He did neither.

"I'm afraid I need to see some ID," he said, a serious expression on his early 20s face.

For a minute I was baffled. I reminded him that I wasn't writing a check--I had given him cash. He nodded, then pointed to the bottle of wine in front of him.

"It's for the alcohol," he said.

Now, we don't have to go into great detail about how old I am. Suffice it to say that by the time Mozart was my age, he'd already been dead several years.

But he was serious. I opened my wallet joyously. If the counter hadn't been between us, I would have thrown my arms around that kid right then and there.

"Mommy got carded!" I said all the way home.

Clearly there are people who don't share my enthusiasm for such an experience.

"Men get nasty," said Hilda Mensuroglu, co-owner of Melody Liquor in Simi Valley, where she has seen her share of bad responses by customers who have been asked to prove their age.

"Women like it and think it's a compliment. But men leave (what they were planning to buy) on the counter and walk out. Sometimes they use the 'F' word. You have to apologize a million times."

Even then, asking alone isn't enough. It is also necessary to look carefully at the identification to ensure that the customer is at least 21. Two weeks ago, Mensuroglu and the people working at her store learned that the hard way.

An 18-year-old came in to buy beer and, because someone didn't closely examine his driver's license, he was allowed to leave the store with his purchase. The Simi Valley Police Department's Special Enforcement Unit--which made 73 similar visits over a two-week period to liquor and grocery stores--was waiting outside.

Mensuroglu said the salesclerk, one of the Police Department's 15 arrests during that time, is a 24-year-old man who has worked at the store conscientiously for several years.

"He was crying that day," she said. "He felt terrible about it."

Lt. Jon Ainsworth, with the Police Department's enforcement unit, said the responsibility for checking a customer's age lies with the store--even if some patrons take it as an affront.

And how would Ainsworth, as a man, respond to being carded? He laughed.

"I'm probably older than you. I'm older than everyone," he said. "But if I did get asked for ID, I'd say, 'You're following your store's policy.' "

Aw, come on. Wouldn't it make him feel just a tiny bit good?

"I wouldn't be offended or bothered or inconvenienced," he said.

So much for insight into the male psyche.

So why are men offended by being asked for their ID? Ainsworth proffered this as a possible explanation: "The male image may need to have reinforcement that 'I am over a certain age and expect everyone to recognize it.' "

If that's true, grocery stores can forget about targeting men in their new ad campaigns and continue to go after the women.

And believe me, the first store that forgets about promising lower prices and fresher produce--and sticks to what many women shoppers really want--will have them lined up around the block.

What they want is two simple words: "Identification, please."

* THE PREMISE

Attitudes is a column about a variety of current trends and issues.

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