Spit It Out

You would be entirely reasonable in believing that lawmakers take the laws of nature, as well as simple common sense, into account when fabricating new laws — which, of course, is what they do at every opportunity. That is why, although they would like to reduce the expensive wear and tear on public roads, they do not pass a law limiting the maximum weight of any automobile or truck to 1500 pounds. And who could deny the appropriateness of falling to ones knees, with forehead to ground, when the Mayor passed by? But if a law were passed, requiring such respectful behavior, many of us of mature years would find it difficult, if not impossible, to get up again. Then how could we earn the money to pay our taxes? No, common sense and physics must be taken into account.

That is why, in Missouri, you must — by law — be over 21 years of age to drink an alcoholic beverage. As a physician, I can assure you that this is utterly reasonable. We scientific types know that at age 21, the human metabolism and mentality can handle alcohol. At 20 years, 11 months, three weeks and 6 days, however, that facility is totally absent, making an imbiber, at such a tender age, apt to drunkenness, improper behavior, and impaired thinking — things which never happen once age 21 is achieved.

This law, though obviously and utterly reasonable (if the state didn’t regulate "underage" drinking, who would? How many children, after all, have parents?) presents some difficulties for students of cooking. There are cooking schools, and cooking courses, in St. Louis. A graduate of these schools is expected to have some knowledge of wines. Does Merlot go with broccoli? God forbid the chef not know. Does Pinot Noir make a suitable accompaniment to shepherd’s pie? How’s the prospective chef going to know these things if he doesn’t know what these wines taste like?

Now it gets knotty: some of the culinary students are not twenty-one years old!! The simple-minded, or flippant, might simply say, "So what? Let them sample the wines and find out what they taste like." God help us! Can any good come from breaking a law? With civilization teetering on the brink, can we encourage even the possibility of contempt for the law? (Of course, spitting out wine without swallowing it isn’t drinking, hence no violation of the law, so what’s the problem?)

You know the answer: the legislature to the rescue. What problem — even if it isn’t a problem — can’t be solved with another law! The Missouri Senate has approved a bill that would allow cooking students between the ages of 18 and 21 to "taste but not consume" wine. In other words, take a sip, and spit it out. Praise the Lord — the Republic will survive!

Well, sometimes solving one "problem" leads to another. Has anyone given thought to where the students are to spit their wine? Into some container? But the wine will contain bodily fluids. Aren’t there special containers for bodily fluids, or fluids contaminated with bodily fluids? Will the school need to provide such containers? And such containers cannot be disposed of as ordinary trash. Will the schools be exempt from the requirement for special handling of this biologic waste? There are stringent laws regulating the disposal of bodily fluids, or anything contaminated with them.

How about a sink in the kitchen? Commercial kitchens have several sinks, some for food preparation, others for hand cleansing. Into which does one spit wine? Are there suitable laws dealing with the disposal of expectorated wine in sinks? Not to worry, the legislature will deal with it. All that’s required is another law, or maybe two or three. Hey, shouldn’t the students be examined to rule out any potentially contagious disease of the mouth? Let’s make that a law.

The whole absurd situation arises from the minimum-age drinking law to begin with. But to suggest abolishing such a law is unthinkable: our streets would be filled with drunken youngsters. No, all problems, potentials problems, or situations which could lead, theoretically, to potential problems, must be dealt with by legislation.

After all, it’s what those guys in the statehouse get paid to do — by you. And in pretty plush surroundings — also provided by you. Moreover, they are treated with a deference and respect — by you — surpassing that given the average plumber, though God knows the plumber is of much greater value to society.

Well, what’s so surprising about that? As long as you take them seriously, and pay them well, they’ll grind out laws ad infinitum. Think what a Utopia we’ll inhabit once they’ve churned out enough of them.

In the meantime: if you’re under 21, don’t swallow the wine, and be careful where you spit it.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.