Diatribe No. 123: Coming of Age Properly
There seems to be some slight momentum out there (in a few states), to consider the prospect of maybe thinking about the possibility of actually lowering the drinking age for our adult, under-21 military survivors of our wars in the Middle East. Mind you now, they probably won’t actually manage it, but it’s a nice thought, isn’t it?
The problem is that the no good, do-gooding, zero-tolerance folks abound, and they are busy trying to micro-manage everything. Case in point: there is an idiotic legislator in the capitol (Jefferson City) of a state (which I shall not mention) who wants to combat drunken and underage drinking by making it illegal to sell chilled beer in that state. Of course, that state’s largest employer, St. Louis’ Anheuser Bush, will surely quash the idea, but then, we can never be sure about that either, can we? It’s OK with me, since I don’t live in that unmentionable state, and rarely drink refrigerated beer anyway. However, those Bud drinkers might object to this unnecessary intrusion into their freedom to imbibe chilled beer right from the market place.
In other “unmentionable” states, we have New Mexico making it a felony to buy alcohol for an adult who is 18 to 21 years old. That’s right: a felony, with a fine of $5,000 and 18 months of prison. Then there’s Michigan, stiffening their laws about such adults legally drinking in Canada (where the drinking age is 19), and then arresting them on their return to Detroit for having consumed Canadian beer in Canada. Not for being drunk, mind you, but for being an adult and having drunk alcohol legally in Canada before returning home to the US. And, of course, Texas had to become one of the unmentionables, by trying to keep youthful American adults from going across the border to the fleshpots of Mexico to satisfy their libational requirements.
One US brewer preached a sane approach to young-adult drinking, at the risk of being blamed for promoting youth drinking. Peter Coors, running for the US Senate in 2004, urged lawmakers to “open the debate on the drinking age.” He noted that the old laws allowing 18-year-olds to purchase and consume 3.2-percent beer was a “perfect” solution and should be “studied.” He lost his run for the Senate.
This national minimum-21 age thing is relatively new, pushed through by President Reagan in 1984, at his wife Nancy’s urging. The bludgeon here is that it cuts federal highway funds to any state that allows under-21 drinking. The states no longer control their own drinkers. Didn’t we repeal Prohibition to give them precisely that power?
Most states (about 36 of the 50) give parents the option of allowing their adult teens to drink at home, but this is being assaulted as well. The attack is being led by school officials, legislators and the MADD mothers (this group’s mission has changed from preventing drinking-and-driving incidents to threatening all who drink).
The worst state in this regard would seem to be Rhode Island, which is trying to make it a criminal offense to knowingly allow underage adults to drink anywhere, as outlined by Vanessa O’Connell, in a Wall Street Journal article from 2004.
Ms. O’Connell wrote about a senior prom drinking party that parents of one senior had permitted in their home. Their concern was that these young adults might drink and drive, so they invited the party into their home. They were careful, taking precautions to make certain that all 35 of these young adults would remain all night, and would not leave until they were sober the next day. Well, of course these young men and women got a little noisy, and a neighbor called the police. Things went downhill rapidly after that. Here were 35 young adults who didn’t drink and drive, and two criminal adult parents who had “risk(ed) arrest and the wrath of their neighbors (to) allow their children to drink at home, where they (could) keep a close eye on the action.”
The MADD mothers had the answer, of course: “We want parents to understand that underage drinking is not just kids being kids, or a rite of passage. It is a serious, even deadly, problem.” This from Ms. Wendy Hamilton, president of those MADD mothers. No willingness to credit these fine parents for keeping 35 young adults safe and off the road.
Alcohol isn’t something you automatically know how to handle on the day the law says you can have it. There’s at least one sensible college in America that recognizes this. Colby College in Maine occasionally serves beer and wine in the Dining Hall (over 21 only) to educate young adults about wine and beer and food pairings and to answer questions about the role of alcohol as an accompaniment to dining enjoyment. That’s certainly a step in the right direction.
My education was different. By the time I become a pre-adult of 18, I had spent almost a year in the Marines. I was thoroughly acquainted with the perils of drinking. I found that if you drank, you could easily get drunk. You might even end up on the floor trying to find the floor. Never mind barfing on your uniform. Never mind your friends throwing you over the fence, after midnight, at your base (at Millington, near Memphis, TN).
You deserved just what you got: a great lesson on the perils of drinking. Your troubles, Fred, were from your friends who took great delight in getting you drunk, and not from the Marine Corps. It was those same friends who protected you from the USMC’s vengeance. I learned two valuable lessons that night: 1) Do whatever it takes to not get drunk, which almost cured me of drinking strong liquors (almost); and 2) Take care of your friends and keep them out of trouble.
When the war ended and I returned to civilian life in August 1946, I still was not old enough to drink, so I was forced to become a lawbreaker. I had learned, during the battle of Okinawa, that there are no non-drinkers in foxholes—atheists, maybe, but no non-drinkers. Fortunately, I was qualified and old enough to join the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), whose local bar had never observed Washington State’s age-21 drinking law for its members.
These days, if I drink too much I get a malaria attack, a leftover from those days on Okinawa. Fear of that seems to keep me from drinking too much. My friends were always kind enough to keep me out of trouble and educate me in the vicissitudes of alcohol consumption. Every young adult needs that. If I’d had to educate myself, I’d surely have gotten in a lot of trouble during my misspent youth.
Today, most of the members of my peer group have had to quit drinking. Why? Because they did not practice restraint and control over their drinking in their younger times. (I might add that most are also dead.) Today, I am very careful about my drinking. I have to be; I am getting old. I always tell folks that I have the brain of an engineer and the mentality of a 12-year old. Anyone can see where that would have led me. I’d be dead by now from drinking far too much of some really refined stuff. As it is, I am very careful, and don’t drink at all at least one day a week (beer festivals excepted, of course). I limit my daily consumption, too. I learned all of that important information from my friends, who reinforced what my parents had tried to teach me. I would never have learned it by myself, and I’d never have listened to my parents, either.
Fred Eckhardt will be 80 this month, well beyond age 21. He drinks most any potable libation, but always carefully. He does not enjoy getting a malaria attack, instead of a hangover. Hangovers are much more fun than malaria.