Sunday, May 20, 2012

Song Sung Blue

Back in the good old days, there were a lot of things that we did but no longer do. Some of that is a loss: Driving all over town with your buddies in your big ole Detroit V8 iron, and tooling through Hopper's Drive In for malts and burgers, when gasoline was a quarter and you could fill up the twenty gallon tank for five bucks? 

Gone, them days. 

Then there were the Blue Laws ...

Those of you not old enough to remember, Sunday used to be the Lord's day, and if you go far enough back to the founding of the United States, the Puritans and their ethics made that mandatory. A whole bunch of stuff simply wasn't allowed on Sunday, and if you did it and got caught, you could be whipped, jailed, or made to stand pilloried in the public square. Gambling, drinking, whistling, engaging in commerce, any of these could get you in trouble.

By the time I was a lad, most of these laws had been stoppered down into a patchwork of restrictions on commerce, Gambling on Sunday was no more illegal than gambling on Saturday, but aside from drugstores, most commercial markets were closed on Sunday. You bought your groceries on Saturday because the store wasn't open on Sundays. 

You could go to the movies or sporting events, but you couldn't buy booze on Sunday. 

The drugstores got exemptions because people still got sick on the weekends and they needed places to buy medicine. Certain charities, too. 

I do believe that the reasons pharmacies branched out into all the things you can buy there these days came from the fact they were the only game in many towns on a Sunday. Go in to a big Rite Aid today, the meds are in a cubbyhole in the back, with a couple aisles of OTC drugs and bandages and stuff; the rest of the place is given over to toys, car wax, basic groceries, batteries, drinks, ice cream, gardening supplies, books, whatever.

But there were–still are in places–restrictions on what you could sell even if it was in the store. Tobacco? Yes. A stapler? No. Some states, you couldn't buy a pot or a pan or a car on Sunday, and you still cannot.

Can't buy beer at the market some towns on Sunday, though you can have a drink in a local restaurant. Apparently the Lord doesn't care if you have a beer with dinner if you eat out, but you can't buy a six-pack on Sunday to sit home watching the game on the tube ...

(And if you were a man and wanted a haircut, you couldn't get that done on Sunday or Monday, either. That was because barbers worked Saturdays and wanted two days off.)

Nobody seems to know why these regulations were called "blue laws." There's a tale of them being printed on blue paper, but no evidence to show this. The term "blue" is sometimes used to disparage: bluenose, bluestocking, and for comics who delve into sexual or scatological humor, they call it blue humor.

In 1961, the Supreme Court took up the subject of blue laws when store employees in Maryland were fined for selling prohibited items from a store allowed to be open. SCOTUS recognized that the origin of the regulations was, in fact, religious and specifically Christian, but declined to throw them out because they had morphed into more secular things. In the U.S. secular gets you around a lot of obstacles.

Mostly these laws have been allowed to fade away, or simply not enforced. Probably the biggest remaining exception is the sale of hard liquor on Sunday, though many places will sell beer and wine. 

What a strange land we inhabit ...

1 comment:

steve-vh said...

The area around here is still slowly loosing the alcohol laws. Town I grew up in just allowed it at all a few years ago.
First resturant serving downtown there opens this week!