99° F Monday, July 24, 2017

By Brad Stutzman
Austin Community Newspapers

Let me state from the outset that I don’t care what you drink or when you drink it. I just think it would be a bad idea for Texas to let liquor stores be open on Sunday.

Our state legislators file many, many more bills than they adopt and there’s two – one in the House and the other in the Senate – that shouldn’t make it to the governor’s desk.

House Bill 421 and Senate Bill 236 would change the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Code, extending liquor store hours during the week and also allowing Sunday sales.

According to a recent online article in “The Texas Tribune,” Texans can already buy bottled liquor for 66 hours each week.

That would seem ample time, for anybody to dip their snoot in the jug. And so the proposed legislation reminds me of when bars that are already open until 2 a.m. want to stay open until 3. I always think: If you can’t get your attitude adjusted before then, you’re just not trying. And I’ve got no use for a person who won’t try.

On the other hand, I’m a great believer in people minding their own business (Wouldn’t that be a great name for a church: Our Lady of Mind Your Own Business?) and I’m generally of the opinion that it’s not my business to tell you what your business is.

And the whole Blue Laws thing – I understand the theory, but I’ve never understood its application. The idea that a person might (for instance) be able to buy baby formula on Sunday but not a box of diapers seems so willy-nilly that it could only have been put together by the law firm of Arbitrary & Capricious.

So mine is not a moral – or moralizing – argument, at least not in the most rigid or traditional sense.

Rather, it is rooted in two rock-solid pillars of civilization: the idea of Sabbath and “Godfather” movies.

Let us take these in reverse order.

The “Godfather” trilogy is full of epic tragedies and cautionary tales.  Violence and vengeance have their consequences. As we find out, when we learn that “Sonny’s thinkin’ about goin’ to the mattresses.”

But the movie also contains words of wisdom, to live by, especially as applied to hearth and home.

Michael’s order to brother Fredo – “Don’t ever take sides against the family!” – is advice I have, from time to time, found occasion to share with my own kin.

But today I am thinking about Don Vito Corleone’s conversation with godson Johnny Fontaine – the singer whose movie character is sort of based on Frank Sinatra.

“Do you spend time with your family?” Don Vito asks the wayward crooner.

“Sure I do,” he replies.

“Good,” Vito says. “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”

What has this got to do with the Sabbath – let alone the sale of bottled adult beverages?

Simply this: If liquor stores can stay open on Sunday, then some of them will stay open on Sunday. The state’s Legislative Budget Board estimates this will bring in millions of dollars, annually, in sales tax revenue.

But for the stores to stay open – bringing in all that extra money – somebody’s got to work on Sunday. Mom-and-pop stores, by definition, will have fewer employees to share the load, so they’ll be hit the hardest. But all liquor stores – large or small – will have to stay open, or they’ll lose business.

That’s their choice, but it’s a lousy one and also one of the reasons big-box hardware and clothing stores have driven so many family-owned retailers out of business these past several decades.

I don’t want to be hypocritical, so I’ll acknowledge patronizing all sorts of businesses on Sundays: grocery stores and drug stores, movies theaters and restaurants and ball parks.

And goodness knows I’ve worked my share of Sundays. Just like any other day that ends in the letter “y.” Sometimes it was while being paid a decent wage and other times it was while relying on the mathematical wonders of overtime.

Among other duties and chores, I’ve flipped hamburgers, bagged groceries and spun record albums. I’ve dragged paint brushes across wooden slats and hauled roofing shingles up ladders.

Work is an ethic, and it is learned, and I learned mine from my dad.

He was no athlete (poker and horseshoes don’t count) but he willed himself to great feats of endurance. In my memory, he had tremendous hands and feet. In my memory, he was always working with one while standing on the other. Sometimes even on a Sunday.

We all do what we have to do, to get through, and when the going gets tough we can always waterboard ourselves with more coffee.

I am, in fact, drinking a cup right now. And writing to you, dear friends and readers, on a Sunday afternoon.

But as I write this from home, I look out the window and see a family – a mother and three young kids – digging in their yard.

There is nothing special about what they are doing. Except they are doing it together.

There is nothing special about them enjoying this together time on a Sunday. Except for the notion – vanishing, I am afraid, in this 24/7 world – that we all need time to call our own. We all need time that belongs to us. Not – no matter how grateful we are to have a job – to whoever signs our paycheck.

Have you ever wondered why some concepts and practices seem universal? Have you ever wondered why – no matter where we live or in what age – we are built the way we are?

Show almost anyone in the world a picture of a smiling baby and they will smile, too. It is cultural, because it is instinctive. And it is instinctive because it is how we are made to be.

The idea of a “Sabbath,” a day of rest, is the same.

Muslims mark it on Friday, Jews on Saturday and Christians on Sunday.

For Cherokee Indians, it fell on the first day of every new moon.

Five hundred and more years before Christ, Babylonians and Buddhists – while presumably having no contact, one with the other – were each observing a ritual day of rest.

There are times, I think, when we can be too quick to jump to cause-and-effect conclusions. If nine out of 10 bank robbers have orange juice in their refrigerator, it does not necessarily follow that drinking orange juice causes one to rob banks.

Yet have you ever noticed that people seem angrier, today, than they did 20, 30 or 40 years ago? Have you ever noticed they seem more agitated, anxious and depressed?

Part of what contributes to that, I think, is people are now expected to be available and on-call at all times. Pundits and scribes sometimes make note of declining church attendance, but that is only one of the ways in which we have abandoned our notion of Sabbath.

We have set the bar where we have set it in the name of progress. In the name of economics, consumer convenience and choice.

But we pay a price.

Again, I don’t care what you drink or when you drink it.

There is nothing inherently destructive about a liquor store being open on Sunday. Just as there is nothing inherently virtuous about you observing your Sabbath on Sunday – as opposed to Friday or Saturday or the first day of the new moon.

But everybody needs down time. Everybody needs time to “go to the mattresses.” Not for making war, like Sonny Corleone, but for rest and rejuvenation.

Our laws – which at least in theory codify our values – should honor that.

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