I Don’t See Why I Can’t Have Vodka on Sunday Just Because You Love Jesus
Illustration by Shelby Hohl
I am a writer who has spent the last four years chronicling the rise of the alt-right in this country, which is my way of saying I drink probably way more than is good for me to keep the madness at bay. Like all good Houston goths, the poison of my preference is either a Cape Cod or a Vodka Cherry Sour. Simple cocktails for a simple man, but if I want one on Sunday and I’m out of vodka then I’m stuck up a dry creek. Because Jesus, apparently.
These are the Blue laws, something I’ve realized were ridiculous since I read Johnny Tremain in elementary school (Johnny deforms his hand in a silversmithing accident when he subverts his employer by working on the Sabbath to complete an order for John Hancock). Basically, back in Puritan times, a whole bunch of people decided that doing anything except going to church on Sundays led to a proliferation of degenerates, reprobates, debauchees and flautists, and a great number of activities were restricted to promote church attendance.
These have somehow held on in a remarkable variety of ways. For instance, here in Texas car dealerships can be open on Saturday or Sunday, but not on both. At one point you could buy a disposable diaper, but not a cloth diaper on Sunday. Ironically, you could buy paper plates, but not china. The weirdest one? A screwdriver could be sold, but not the screws. Other items off the list? Musical instruments, mirrors, and mattresses.
Texas got basic Blues laws (no drinking, gambling, working or horse-racing) in the mid-19th century, but the truly inane ones came about in 1961 when America was mainlining religion as a hilariously over-the-top response to the specter of secular communism from the Soviet Union. It was about this time God started getting added to the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Motto. The explosion of the Free Love movement, Women’s Lib and rock and roll openly talking about the devil followed, further proving to the moralists that America needed as much of that old time religion as possible lest lose our souls.
By the ‘80s, Saint Reagan had ascended the throne to rule, and Texas felt confident enough to allow most of this nuttery to expire, preferring to hand-wring over the Satanic Panic instead of the dangers of a Sunday mattress sale. Prohibiting alcohol sales, though? That’s stuck around.
There have been several challenges to Blue laws that have made it all the way to the Supreme Court, with most opponents feeling they are an infringement on the First Amendment. Thus far, the courts have largely disagreed, citing that though the laws are religious in origin, they’re wording typically falls under the guise of a secular desire to promote days of family. The fact that a lot of us get through days without strangling some of our louder and more Trump-like family members by sneaking a little spirit quietly into our coffee has apparently never been put forth as an argument before the judiciary.
And not every Blue or Blue-ish law is a bad one. Liquor stores in Texas open at 10 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. I have zero problems with that. It keeps drunks from making late night runs to the store, or early morning ones if they’ve been up all night drinking. That’s an example of a good, common sense law with provable positive results.
The Sunday thing, though, irks the heck out of me and does feel like I’m having a vestigial church-y wang rubbed up on me in a packed subway. Just because I can buy vodka on a Sunday doesn’t mean I’m going to down it throughout the day as my daughter plays a board game by herself, wistfully wishing her father wasn’t too hammered to play with her. It might mean, though, that the wife and I would like to watch John Oliver with a drink or two after said child has gone to bed following an enriching day of family togetherness.
In fact, this whole “Sunday must be the day of rest and contemplation” thing is ridiculous at best and exclusionary at worst. My wife is a nurse in a major hospital and I’m a writer that does at least a little work seven days a week. Weekends are a meaningless concept to us aside from those two days being the ones we know our kid won’t be in school. My wife’s “Sunday” this week was Wednesday. Sunday was her “Monday,” and if she wanted a drink to relax after a long day and I hadn’t planned ahead then tough titty.
One of the reasons that the Blue laws fell out of favor is that a lot of people can’t just rest on Sundays. Sometimes you have to buy cloth diapers, or that’s the only day you can go car shopping. Especially if you work any job that includes weekend hours.
I admit this is a minor inconvenience, and one that is easily worked around by simply planning ahead, but it’s tacky. It’s tacky to imply to business owners that their business needs to be shuttered one day because otherwise no one will get a chance to go to church since we’ll all be doing shots instead. It’s double tacky when you are denying an industry that attracts a lot of small business owners a chance to maybe make a little extra money selling a vice on a popular day off.
Beyond that, though, oppressive Puritanical Christian programming remains this annoying background radiation that makes all progress take for-bloody-ever. “You shouldn’t be drinking because you should be in church.” Fuck you. If I want to go to church, there’s one down the street. If I want to go home and work on my next book, I will. And if I want to down three Screwdrivers for lunch because I have nothing going on that day, I will. There’s not a sense of superiority to be gained by enforcing a completely arbitrary form of morality.
After all, drunks can do a lot of damage when they’re drinking, but I dare fundamentalist religion to look me in the eye and tell me the last time we all got drunk and passed laws taking away civil rights from minorities. I don’t think booze on Sunday’s is the core problem, y’all.
by Jef Rouner