"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 9 June 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Two for the Road


[ever wonder what makes people attracted to one another?]

In these intemperate times, the

worst thing you can possibly

tell Mr. Officer Sir is that you

had "just two drinks." The only

phrase with less credibility in

the English language is "but I

didn't inhale." Indeed, "two

drinks" is shorthand for at

least six. Let's be candid,

shall we? Actually limiting

yourself to one per hand per

sitting is about as much fun as

adult circumcision. Still, there

you are with the cherries

rolling and a flashlight in your

bloodshot eyes, your driving

privileges in the balance. Since

you've obviously been in either

a bar or a brewery fire, you

don't want to baldly lie to the

man. Problem is, every inebriate

on the continent who ever raised

a glass and turned a key has

said it. Alas, the authorities

have a way of noticing these

patterns over time.


This month, Alice Walton - the

nation's second wealthiest woman,

valued at more than $6 billion

by Forbes magazine - is taking

her January drunk-driving charge

in front of a Little Rock jury.

Although she could plea guilty

for a paltry $300 and two days

of community service (which, to

be sure, would be particularly

cruel and unusual punishment for

the "heiress to the Wal-Mart

fortune"), she'll have her day

in court. According to reports

from the scene of her

apprehension, she repeatedly

asked the arresting officer,

"You know who I am, don't you?"

When the cop wouldn't play ball,

she insisted she'd had just two

glasses of wine at a company

dinner. Part of Walton's

sophisticated defense will rest

on medical evidence that she

suffered a concussion in the

accident, with symptoms

including poor memory,

dizziness, diminished

concentration, and a tendency to

mix indignant egoism with the

lamest falsehood on the planet.

Pity there isn't a law against

driving under the affluence.


[simple notions like the way he walks or drops your keys can make or break an attraction]

Speaking of the nouveau riche,

lawyers have been thriving on

beefed-up DWI and DUI laws for

two decades now. Considering the

fact that most practicing

attorneys never pass the

neighborhood bar without buying

a round, they're all prima facie

experts on the subject. Except,

perhaps, Elaine Whitfield Sharp.

When the Boston lawyer was

busted for maudlin motoring late

last month, she allegedly told

her arresting officer (after

using the old "you know who I

am, don't you?" approach) that

she was under stress after

concluding that her client,

"British au pair" Louise

Woodward, was guilty. When that

didn't work as an excuse for

being soused, it was back to the

tired and untrue: the Only Two

Drinks defense. Sharp's lawyer

will argue that she really did

have just one refill, but her

moderate and sensible intake was

exacerbated by a prescription

medication for migraines. We can

think of only one example of

jurisprudence with more staying

power and less originality: the

"lawyers do it in their briefs"



Meanwhile the 12-step recovery

community has been toiling

without any major new insights

into why people like to feel so

good so much of the time. Still,

they too have found evidence of

the "just two drinks"

phenomenon. A recent study by

the Hazelden Foundation, one of

the country's most exclusive

drunk tanks for the rich and

thirsty, found that aging

boomers are a little hazy on

drug and drink policy when it

comes to their own kids. Which

surprises no one. What is canny,

though, is the specifics of

their hypocrisy: On the eve of

high school graduation

throughout the land, 9 out of 10

parents say they would not allow

teenagers to drink on prom

night. Yet 4 out of 5 would

allow their kids to have as many

as two drinks any other night of

the year. Eventually, the little

brats will figure out for

themselves that this is the

official number of alcoholic

beverages consumed by all people

at all times.


[is it based on some silly notion of 'type'?]

As it turns out, doing the math

has become the name of the game.

You may remember Congress was

recently threatening to pass a

provision that would have

required every state in the

union to lower the threshold

for legal drunkeness to .08 BAC.

Indeed, it was one of those

baby-kissing bills that no one

could publicly oppose without

getting their stomachs pumped by

the pollsters. Which explains

why you never heard that it

died before ever reaching a vote

- as befits the clout of the

liquor and restaurant lobbies.

Put it this way: The alcoholic

beverage industry spent nearly

$6 million upholding our sacred

democratic principles during the

last election, contributing to

Democrats and Republicans alike;

MADD, a chief proponent of the

lower limits, spent $0. If

there's anyone who keeps an

honest count of drinks - and,

more importantly, who's paying

for them - it's an incumbent.


[or is it all arbitrary and based more on timing, mood, social factors, and alcohol intake?]

It would be awfully cynical to

say you gotta pay to play, when

it comes to legislating

morality. But honestly, how can

we pursue an aggressive campaign

of zero tolerance for drinking

and driving, when there isn't a

watering hole between New York

and San Francisco that doesn't

have a parking lot? And show us

a city where decent and

dignified public transportation

is available after bar time. See

our point? We Americans love

cars - almost as much as we love

drink. In the best of all

possible worlds, these joys

would be mutually exclusive. But

moderation has never been a high

priority, and we just can't help

ourselves from doubling our


courtesy of E. L. Skinner