America on the rocks

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By John Pawlak

Roll out the barrel! We’ll have a barrel of fun!
As a child, I remember watching my parents dance to the Beer Barrel Polka. Before I learned my multiplication table or could even spell the word “beer,” I knew the words to a fun-filled drinking song. Another favorite was the classic Latino flavored “Tequila” by The Champs. People could sip a nice cold mixed drink to the beat of Danny Flores’ raspy saxophone. And the lyrics were easy to remember, even if you were drunk. There were only three words — tequila, tequila, tequila.
 Yeah, drinking is great fun. It was a hoot watching Dudley Moore trip through the movies Arthur and 10. And how could you not fall in love with Peter O’Toole as he stumbled through My Favorite Year? Or Jimmy Stewart in Harvey?
 Lee Marvin even won an Academy Award for his woozy performance as Kid Shellen. It should have been Kid Shellacked.
 The film industry has always raised a glass to toast the entertainment value of alcohol. Come on, admit it! Even the most stolid among you would have enjoyed a good toga party at Animal House.
 In real life however, the humor can sometimes be a bit harder to grasp.
 One night, my grandfather came home, drunk as usual, and collapsed in bed. Normally, he would first pass the time by beating on my grandmother, but this time he was too drunk. So Grandma went out to the shed, got a 2x4, went into the bedroom and broke both his arms and legs. She then made herself a cup of tea, and after having relaxed for a while, she called the hospital to come pick him up.
Grandpa never came home drunk again, nor did he ever hit her again. My father, who told me this story, explained that Grandma and Grandpa had acquired “an understanding.” I think my father was trying to teach me that drinking wasn’t a good idea, especially if you wanted to be married to my grandmother.
 Alcohol consumption in this country has risen and fallen over the years, but the average has held pretty much just a drink or two above two gallons of ethanol per person per year.
 That’s a lot, but we’re not even in the top 50. Fifty-six nations beat us to the bar. Maybe we can feel good about not being number one at something.
 But it’s not for a lack of trying. Each year, in colleges across the nation, spring break is synonymous with “social lubrication,” a scholastic tribute to aqua vitae, the “water of life.” Compared to the problems with alcohol control, gun control is a junior player. The alcohol lobby is a powerful force, three sheets to the wind, and under the influence to make lots of money.
 Lest you think that drinking problems begin in college, the sobering fact is that underage drinking is a serious problem.
 And not one relegated outside the boundaries of Los Alamos.
 One-third of underage drinkers had their first drink before 13. Where do children get the idea that drinking is acceptable?
 Where indeed?
 Commercials display beautiful people, partying to great rock music, enjoying life, living large and all savoring a nice cold drink.
 And of course, drinking “responsibly.” With a splash of that single word, manufacturers of alcohol shed any real responsibility.
 No less than five of the top 20 pop songs out today celebrate drinking. Again, lots of fun lyrics, but none expounding the merits of addiction, sickness, or the social dangers.
 If movies and songs aren’t enough to fill your glass, you can subscribe to Modern Drunkard magazine. They even have a Web site on which you can order “funny” T-shirts touting the joys of “feeling no pain.”
 And of course the all time favorite — “Don’t drink and drive. You might hit a bump and spill the drink!”
 Yeah, “One for the road!” If that doesn’t say it all, what does?
 Why fight it? We could make spring break a national holiday. One more reason to toast to our “good health,” right?
OK everyone, in unison now.
 One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!