America’s Odd, Dysfunctional Relationship with Alcohol

The Superb Owl is being held in the Phoenix area this weekend. The entire downtown core of the city has been given over to a large party zone. There are all sorts of interesting events and stuff, including things like a rock climbing wall. None of it interests me, but I did notice that one of the things they’re doing is allowing alcohol to be carried openly and consumed out in public.

Let me restate that: a perfectly legal product is being openly consumed in public.


America has a very odd relationship to alcohol. I think this is something where the rest of the world is really ahead of us. Alcohol, once prohibited under…well, Prohibition, is legal to buy and consume in almost all of the United States (save for a few dry counties), but you can only do this if you’re 21. If you’re 16, you can drive a ton of moving steel down a road at 55 miles per hour. If you’re 18, you can vote, smoke, and fight, and possibly die, for your country. But you have to be twenty-one before you’re allowed to have a drink.

Of course, almost no one actually waits until they’re 21 before they have their first sip of alcohol (usually beer). I was very much the exception in that I didn’t have any until I was 25, but almost everyone I knew had at least a taste well before legal age. Sometimes their parents are even ok with this. Consider the scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation where the father shares a beer with his son. This is technically illegal, but no one seems to care.

Even in this country, which has the First Amendment and freedom of speech, there are restrictions on alcohol advertisements on TV. You can show almost anything you want…but you can’t show people actually drinking whatever is in the glass/mug/whatever in front of them.

To further complicate things, no only do you have to be 21 to buy alcohol (the only product in the United States that carries that requirement), but in almost every jurisdiction, you can only buy it during certain times of the day. Here in Arizona, you can only buy it between 6:00am and 2:00am. Work a late shift, get off at 2:30, and you want to buy some beer to take home and drink while having dinner? Too bad for you. It used to be worse, in that we had a Blue Law that didn’t allow for alcohol to be sold on Sundays before 10:00am.

Let me remind you: this is a legal product in a capitalist society.

It gets even weirder, though, with what I mentioned a the top of the article. In most places in the United States, it’s illegal to drink alcohol in public. I can buy a 64oz soda and walk down the street, sipping away while smoking a cigarette, but if I had a 12oz bottle of beer, and was walking along without smoking, then I could be arrested. I’d almost certainly have more people clucking their tongues at me.

I really don’t understand all this. I think that part of it stems from our stupid Puritanical past. Clearly the various Blue Laws are motivated entirely by religion, or they wouldn’t happen on Sundays. I think the rest of it is also motivated, at least in part, by religious concerns. I think there is also a “think of the children!” vibe. Yet people seem ok with folks walking down the street smoking.

To me it boils down to this: alcohol is a legal product with an age restriction, like cigarettes. Since it is a legal product, there should be no time limits on when it is sold, nor any rules about consuming it in public. If someone is wandering down the street being drunk and disruptive, address that issue with them, but don’t punish everyone else who want to simply have a drink or two while out and about.


America’s Problem with Alcohol

First, check this trailer for the upcoming movie 21 and Over.

A few things here. First off, notice how “cute” they are by editing it so that you don’t hear the word “fuck”, or variations thereof, four times? Isn’t that clever! Clearly it’s designed to get around the MPAA’s restrictions on such language, but since our brains add the word in anyhow, it only proves how pointless such restrictions are.

Second, why oh why would this guy’s “best friends” keep calling him “Jeff Chang”? I don’t know about you, but none of my friends call me by my first and last name. By my count, they do it nine times in this 2 minute and 41 second trailer. Why?

But lastly, and onto the relevant point here: this movie trailer, and probably the film itself, does an excellent job of illustrating the real problem with our “21 and over” drinking policy and with showing America’s problem with alcohol in general.

Having the drinking age set at 21 encourages exactly the sort of behavior shown in this trailer. It encourages people to, on their 21st birthday, go out and get completely blitzed. Admittedly, almost any deadline set encourages this, and I’m sure other countries have their problems when they set the drinking age at, say, 16, which many do. But at least when it’s set at 16, the child is presumably still living with their parents, and they can help the kid in question learn to drink responsibly. If they have to wait until 21, the kid is probably no longer living at home, and is likely in college, far beyond the control of their parents and in an environment where heavy drinking is heavily encouraged (even by the underage, as 46% of college students have fake IDs).

Of course the other problem with the 21 age limit is that it’s completely silly. Almost no one actually waits until they are 21 before the first time they have a drink. I was 25 when I had my first taste of alcohol (vodka from Oregon and store-brand OJ from Safeway, in case you are curious), but I’m very, very much the exception.

There’s also the strange fact that at 16 you’re considered to be mature enough to drive a ton of metal down a freeway at 65 MPH, but you aren’t considered mature enough to have a beer with a friend. It gets even stranger when, at the age of 18, you’re welcome to go out and fight, kill and maybe die for your country, in addition to paying taxes, vote, own a gun, living alone, signing contracts, being tried as an adult, etc, etc, but you still have to wait 3 more years before you’re allowed alcohol.

The 21 and over drinking limit does nothing to inhibit young people from gaining access to alcohol. All it does is encourage them to drink with their friends or at parties, and it creates an aura of mystique and “forbidden fruit” around drinking. It also encourages people to binge as soon as they turn 21. This is not healthy.

We really need to change our relationship with alcohol in this country; something which was broken long before Prohibition and only got worse after. I’d favor lowering the drinking age to 18 for “hard” alcohol and 16 for beer and wine, bringing us into line with much of Europe, especially Germany, a country with which we have much in common. Failing that, I’d at least favor lowering it to 18, because why should drinking be the only thing you aren’t legally mature enough to do at 18, 19 or 20?

I’d also like to see us, as a culture, start to frown heavily on the idea of drinking to get drunk and on binge drinking. I’d especially like to see us frown on the idea of getting totally shitfaced on your 21st birthday. This sort of change will take time and effort, but it isn’t impossible. When I was born, drinking and driving wasn’t considered that big of a deal, but now it’s a major crime. If we can change our views, collectively, on that, we can change it on binge drinking and on the mystique of alcohol. I think at the very least we owe it to ourselves to try.

Wherein I Encounter a Cocktail That I Like

So at work yesterday a woman came in wanting a drink. It was something particular to her, apparently, something that she’d made up. The formula for it is as follows:

1 part coconut rum
1 part vodka (Grey Goose for preference)
1 part sweet syrup
1 part lime juice
6 leaves of basil
One big scoop of ice

This drink is apparently called an Arizona Sexy Momma. When I mentioned to the bartenders what she wanted, they were at first horrified. “Basil?” they said in tones of extreme shock. But then they looked fascinated and we went for it. The drink itself was a bright greenish color, and as she’d ordered a double tall, it took up most of a pint glass. The two bartenders did a straw test and found it to be excellent. The taste started off as something like pizza and ended up with a peach flavor. I took a sample myself and was surprised. Not only did it have those two very distinct tastes, but they worked really well together. I couldn’t taste any alcohol.

So there you are. Something that’s kind like pizza and kind of like peaches and terribly interesting. Try one and let me know what you guys think!

Kids These Days…

Recently, Phoenix CBS afiliate KPHO televised a report on high school kids soaking tampons in vodka and then inserting them as a way to get drunk. No, really. Yes, they actually said that. Seriously! Hey, come back! I’m not making this up!

Anyhow, this was, naturally, Colbert-bait, and he had a field day destroying the notion. But then one internet writer took it a step farther. She actually tried doing it. The whole article bears reading, but here’s a highlight:

I repaired to the bathroom and — without too much information here — managed to wad the thing up and push it in where it was supposed to go. (Did it help that I’ve had three kids? Possibly.) Girls, don’t do this in your best party dresses: I think I lost another half-ounce in the process as it splattered on to my clothes and the floor. No need to say “Bottoms up!”


Oh sweet mother of Jeez—-


Absolut… firewater!!!!!!! Holy sheeeeeeeee…

It felt like someone had thrown a lit match in there. I began hopping around and breathing in the rapid, short puffs I’d learned in birth classes, so long ago, before I realized I didn’t need to breathe like that if I took the epidural.

Go have a look. Trust me. 🙂

For the record, back in my day when kids wanted to get drunk they did so by drinking alcohol, which is, as far as I’m aware, basically the only way to do it, and the same way kids today get the job done.

Beer Me!

Badgerbraü! Ok, probably not.

Badgerbraü! Ok, probably not.

There’s some discussion going on right now about the idea of lowering the drinking age in America to 18, or at least allowing states to do so. The logic runs like this: at 18 you’re old enough to drive, vote, serve your country, buy porn and ciggarettes, so shouldn’t you be allowed to drink?

Allow me a little personal digression here. I didn’t have my first taste of alcohol until comparitively late in life. While I’m sure a great many of my peers were going out and getting hammered from thirteen onward, I didn’t have any booze until the age of twenty-five. Yep, twenty-five. It was generic vodka from Oregon mixed with Safeway-brand orange juice. It was not a taste sensation.

Over the years I’ve had a drink or two on other occasions, but never very much. Probably a combined total of less than five servings of alcohol in my entire life. Part of this is that I’ve never had the desire to drink and certainly never had the desire to be drunk (I figure my hold on reality is tenous enough without adding alcohol into the mix). Part of it also is that I’ve never really had any alcohol that I actually liked (exception: some drink I had that mixed cranberry juice and vodka. I think that’s a Cosmopolitan, right?).

So given my lack of experience with drinking, perhaps I’m not the person who should be commenting on this. On the other hand, I’m the sort of person who comments on anything regardless of his level of personal experience, so there you go. 😉

I do know that in this country we have a very unhealthy relationship with drinking. Like so many things in our nation we tell people it’s for adults only and then give kind of a wink and a nod to teenagers going out and doing it. It’s pretty much expected that people won’t wait until they’re 21 to have their first drink. Indeed, it’s expected that most people will have it around 15 or 16. So right away we see that the culture and the law don’t exactly jibe with each other.

I also know that in much of Europe, for example, the drinking age is far lower than it is here, going as low as 5 in some areas, and in other places not having any real age at all. Last time I checked, most of European society isn’t on the verge of collapse from younger people drinking (or, indeed, from any other cause).

I would favor lowering the drinking age here in the USA. Down to 18, certainly. I’d like it if our culture would allow it to be even lower, but I know that’s not going to happen. By the same token, I’d like to see the driving age raised to 18. I don’t trust people at the age of sixteen to be able to drive a ton of metal at 65mph and do so safely (oddly, I trust them to decide what to do with their bodies, so there you go).

The logic that at 18 we as a nation trust people to do everything except drink seems odd to me. We’d let someone at 18 go off and die for their country, but we wouldn’t let them have a beer before hand. That seems wrong to me, as does the fact that at 18 you’re allowed to smoke, which is arguably far more dangerous than drinking.

All that the current drinking age does is encourage people who are underage to binge when they do have access to booze. Since they don’t know for sure when they’ll have it again, they’ll be more inclined to drink to excess when they do get it. This is very similar to what happened during Prohibition, where people would go into speakeasies and walk out nearly blind.

By the time you’re eighteen you’re supposed to be wise enough to make whatever choices you want regarding your body. You can drive, smoke, vote, fuck whomever you want, masturbate to the porn of your choice, hold office (in some categories), live on your own, get married, sign contracts, and die for your country. But god forbid you should have a shot of whiskey.

That needs to change.