This world just keeps getting stranger and stranger.

My husband came home from the department store the other day with two small cans of black spray paint and some odd news.

“Guess what?” he said. “I just got carded.”

“For what?” I asked.

“Well, it was the most bizarre thing. The clerk wanted to know my birth date, so I told her the month and day. Then she said, ‘What year?’ So I told her that. At first, I figured I was going to get some kind of special rebate or something and she was going to ask for my mailing address. But she didn’t, so I said, ‘Why do you need to know my birth date?'”

“‘Because you’re buying a hazardous substance,'” she said.


Phil said he looked down at the two small cans of black spray paint on the counter and thought he was in the twilight zone.

“I could understand it if I was trying to buy an El Producto,” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A cigar, silly. Don’t you know what an El Producto is?”

“Well, I guess I used to. How old was this clerk?”

“I don’t know. She was young, but everybody’s young now.”


He was perplexed.

“If I were trying to buy a bottle of liquor, I’d understand it. Some stores say if you look 45 or under you’re going to be asked to show proof of your age. But at my age — I haven’t been carded in 20 years. And I’ve never been carded for buying spray paint. As I walked out of the store I thought, ‘How could a kid shove this paint up his nose to get high?’ He’d have a black streak all over his face. All I want to do is paint the wrought iron railings on our deck.”

It was just before bedtime, and I had a hard time getting to sleep following this weird discussion. After tossing and turning, I decided I’d hike down to the store the next day, try to buy some spray paint and see what happens.

I found the paint aisle and picked up a can of black glossy spray paint and some primer to go with it.

A nice young woman at the counter asked me for my birth date.

“Can I ask why you need that?”


“Because you’re buying spray paint,” she said.

I started to feel a little self-conscious, especially when an older clerk came over after hearing our conversation. They both looked at me. Did they think I was going to get high on my purchase ?

“How long have you been asking people for their birth date when they buy spray paint?” I asked.

“For a long time,” the older clerk said.

I asked the younger one what other things people buy where they get asked for their date of birth.

“Um, I think paint thinner,” she said.


I wandered over to the service desk, where a clerk assured me you can’t buy spray paint if you’re under 18.

“Is that a store policy or an actual law?” I asked.

“It’s federal law.”

The clerk I bought the paint from said she enters people’s birth dates into her computer every time she asks.

“And then what happens to them?”

“Nothing,” she said. “But you’re OK, because you’re old enough to buy it.”


Well, I’m glad of that.

But now I feel like I’m in the twilight zone, right there along with my husband.

I just called to tell him I bought some spray paint.

“Oh? What happened?”

“I got asked for my birth date. I can’t believe it.”

He thinks we must be missing something.


“Maybe we’re showing our ignorance,” he said.

Ignorant or not, if there’s any such law, I can’t seem to find it. I asked my co-workers if they ever get carded when buying spray paint. They all looked at me like I’m nuts.

Well that’s a relief. I was starting to think I’m losing my marbles.

Amy Calder has been a Sentinel reporter 23 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.