He waited at the bus stop across the street until he saw the sign on the bar change from ‘Closed’ to ‘Open’. Bars were few and far between in this remote part of Oklahoma, which was fine with him. He figured that after he got a snoot full, he could sleep it off in the nearby park and nobody would notice.
He checked the date printed on his driver’s license one last time, pulled up the collar on his high school letterman's jacket against the wind, and loped across the street to the front door. It was seven in the morning and he was sure he would be the first and only customer. He didn’t want a lot of spectators just in case he got a little goofy under the influence.
The place was small and dark, dominated by the bar and a big screen television. He wanted to take in every aspect of this experience, so he stood in the open doorway a bit longer than was necessary.
“Hey, kid, either come in or don’t, but close the damn door!” the bartender yelled out.
“Sorry,” he replied as he closed the door behind him and continued to take in the ambience of the dusky little bar. “Where do you want me to sit, sir?”
“How about over here by me, kid. That way I won’t have to work so hard.”
He nodded and moved to the barstool closest to the television. Sitting down, he put his arms on the bar with his hands together, a bit anxious about just how this rite of passage was supposed to go down. “So, sir,” he asked, “How does this work? It’s my first time. I just turned twenty-one.”
The bartender smiled and leaned on the bar; his bar rag slung over his shoulder. “A virgin, huh? Well, the first rule is I gotta see your driver’s license. So, plop it down on the bar and let’s just see if you’re really legal.”
He pulled out his wallet, extracted his Arkansas driver’s license, and laid it on the bar. Picking up the license, the bartender turned his back and moved to where he had better lighting. Without turning back to the kid, he asked, “Okay, what’s your name and birth date, son?”
He looked at the back of the bartender’s head and replied proudly, “I’m James Worthy and I was born twenty-one years ago today, sir. Two thousand and two, April first.”
Turning back to the kid, the bartender handed the license to him and asked, “Okay, but what time of day were you born? You know, what did it say on your birth certificate, kid?”
“Uh, let’s see. I was born at 1:28, sir.”
“Morning or afternoon, kid?”
“Afternoon, sir. But why does that make any difference? Didn’t I just turn twenty-one at midnight?”
The bartender shook his head and informed the kid that a local ordinance in this part of Oklahoma prevented serving alcohol to someone until exactly twenty-one years had passed since birth. “So, kid, you’re about six hours too early. I can get you a coke, but no booze. Not until 1:28 this afternoon. It’s the law, kid,” the bartender solemnly told him.
He looked at the bartender, then turned and looked around at the empty bar and asked, “Who’s gonna know, sir? We’re alone here. How about just one beer?”
“You might be a plant from those nutbags at the Alcohol Commission, trying to pull my license,” the bartender responded. “I can’t take the chance. No way, kid. Come back in about six hours when you’re legal.”
“You know, sir, come to think of it, it was 1:28 in the morning. Yep, I was born early in the morning. So, can I have that drink now?” he said, nervously.
“You’re a crappy liar, kid. And besides, I got you on video,” the bartender explained, pointing to a security camera over the television.
“Well, is there any other place close where I can get a drink where they don’t have that stupid ordinance, sir?” he pleaded.
“Not close enough, kid. By the time you’d get there, I could be serving you your first beer,” the bartender replied. “I think you’re gonna have to stay right here for a while until you get a little older, son.”
He checked his watch and realized his big day was ruined. If everything had gone as planned, he should have been well into his second boilermaker by now. But the idiot ordinance and this stickler-for-details old bartender had conspired to make it all a big disaster. The story he had planned to tell his buddies back in Arkansas about getting drunk for the first time way out in no-wheres-ville Oklahoma had turned into a nightmare of rejection and humiliation. He swung around on the barstool, his shoulders slumped and headed for the front door, his eyes downcast.
He half expected the bartender to take pity on him and call him back, but that didn’t happen. All he heard was the clinking of glass and the television in the background as the bartender went about his business. The only good thing about it was that there were no witnesses to his defeat other than the bartender.
He reached for the doorknob and slowly opened the front door of the bar. Instead of a desolate, windswept street, there in front of him were a cluster of his Arkansas buddies, tightly packed and grinning like a bunch of fools.
“April Fools, Jimmy!” they all yelled in unison.
It took him a moment to figure out just what was going on. And then he started grinning, too, and as he turned the bartender strode out from behind the bar with a big mug of draft beer in his hand.
“Here ya go, kid. First of many today!” the bartender said as he handed him the overflowing mug. “No hard feelings, I hope.”
Now, as he stood there surrounded by his buddies and with a big mug of cold beer in his hand, he couldn’t help but wonder what his friends had in store for him in that other area of life he knew little or nothing about.
And that's when out of the corner of his eye he saw the woman in the tight red dress standing over by the television.
She looked like she knew what she was doing.
"No, no hard feelings, sir," Jimmy said as he raised the mug of beer to his mouth, his eyes firmly on the woman in the red dress.