I don’t hold with drinking myself. But my neighbor George Duncan is a hardliner on the subject. He’s the new mayor, and he was having a tough time with the job until a drunk driver smashed into a family of five, and killed them all. Drinking has become the big issue for him—in fact, his only issue. “Anybody who drinks, or who manufactures spirits, or sells them, or serves them, or finances them, or advertises them, or tolerates or harbors anyone who does any of those things, deserves the worst that can happen to them,” he told me.
“Gee, George,” I said hesitantly, “that means almost anybody who works for a newspaper or magazine, almost anybody who work in a grocery or convenience store, anybody who works for a bank or savings and loan, almost all ad agencies, most of my relatives, and most of my neighbors. That could get to be a pretty long list, couldn’t it?”
“When you get serious about fighting evil,” he said, “you can find it almost anywhere.”
“That’s one of the things that worries me, George. I mean, how can you be sure your own motives are pure? Let’s face it. If some of those stores and banks go out of business, you’re in a position to snap them up.”
“I have no intention of ‘snapping them up’,” he said. “I’m not into ‘business building.’ I would simply install new management that was sympathetic to my point of view.”
“Well, what about the old owners and employees and customers and so forth. What exactly did you mean when you said ‘deserves the worst that can happen to them’?” I asked.
“Just what I said. Imprisonment. Death. That kind of thing.”
“George,” I said nervously, “are you sure all of that is absolutely necessary? “Nobody can deny that what happened to the Rosenzweigs was terrible. But aren’t there some less drastic steps we could take? An increased patrol effort? Stiffer fines? Education? Counseling? Funding support groups? Organizing prevention campaigns? Increasing the taxes on liquor? Focusing on problem drinkers? And aren’t you sort of overstepping your bounds? I mean, you were elected mayor, not God.”
“Hey, the city’s with me,” he said. “I’ve got 85% approval ratings. The city council passed new ordinances giving me the powers I need to stamp out drinking, and they increased the anti-alcohol budget by 40%.”
“But they cut the budgets for the library, street paving, building inspections, the emergency squad, and the health department,” I pointed out. “Some people are getting uneasy that the budget is out of kilter.”
He shrugged. “This is a war on drinking,” he said. “It won’t be easy. Sacrifices are required.”
“That’s what I don’t understand,” I admitted. “You talk constantly as if there’s a war going on, but I never noticed that war was declared. And I can’t find anybody on the other side. What the hell kind of war is that, when you can’t even name your opponent?”
“We’ll find an enemy,” he said, “and we’re determined to fight until evil is stamped out.”
“Good luck,” I said. “Christ, Mohammed, and the Buddha couldn’t do that. I guess you’ve got job security.”
© Tony Russell, 2002