Alcohol Is In the Air, and Everywhere
If I seem a little woozy this week — OK, a little more woozy than usual — it’s not my faushlt … er, fault. Y’see, I may have inadvertently ingested alcohol lurking in seemingly healthful and harmless products, such as orange juice. Or bread. Or the air.
Fortunately, state officials are on the case and will soon be arresting anyone who attempts to sell any of these intoxicating items to minors. As for me (hic), I’m kinda enjoying myself.
I was blissfully unaware of the threat posed by passive intake of C2H6O (I still remember a little high-school chemistry) until I read a story in the Oct. 22 Bangor Daily News about a product called Fentimans Victorian Lemonade.
Fentimans is “botanically brewed,” which (if I recall any high-school biology) means it’s made from plants. Lemons, probably. In any case, it isn’t the vegetation that’s the issue. It’s the brewing part that’s causing the concern. It seems that the Victorians made their lemonade by fermenting it a little bit. Fentimans contains trace amounts of alcohol, less than .5 percent, according to its label.
To put that in perspective, you’d have to drink about fifteen bottles of this stuff to get the same volume of alcohol as in one twelve-ounce beer. I’m on my thirtieth bottle, and I’m feelin’ juss fin.’ A li’l bloated, maybe, but happy, y’know. Could use a bathroom, though.
In Houlton, however, the reaction to Fentimans’ contents was more volatile. After a high-school student brought the drink to the attention of the principal, a group of parents complained to the state, arguing it should not be sold to minors. And that’s where the story gets complicated. Even if you’re as sober as the president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.
Maine doesn’t restrict the sale of products with trace amounts of alcohol in them, because if it did, kids couldn’t drink orange juice or eat bread (which is essentially beer that somebody forgot to put the water in), both of which contain a little of the naturally occurring chemical. But it gets worse.
There’s also alcohol in the air. It evaporates out of martini glasses, in addition to being produced by decaying fruit, leftover potatoes and cider that’s been left too long in the back of the refrigerator. Sure, it’s a small percentage of the average lungful, certainly less than .5 percent. But that’s what they said about that lemonade. As a result, strict prohibitionists recommend that children be taught not to inhale until they’re at least twenty-one, and then to limit themselves to a gasp or two a day. Pregnant women or women who may become pregnant should avoid air altogether, as it may cause a rare but dangerous birth defect.
Actually, I’m exaggerating. Scientific tests have shown that breathing is good for you, unless you live in Beijing, Mexico City, or downtown Biddeford. And if you do, you’ve got so many other life-threatening problems to deal with that a little gunk in the air isn’t that big a deal.
What’s of more concern to the parents of Houlton is whether Fentimans is actually something called an “imitation liquor.” According to state law, imitation liquor is “any product containing less than 1/2 of 1 percent of alcohol by volume which seeks to imitate by appearance, taste and smell liquor or which is designed to carry the impression to the purchaser that the beverage has an alcohol content.”
This statute probably accounts for the fact that Nissen’s never marketed Old Sourdough Booze Bread or Mom’s Bourbon-Soaked Dinner Rolls. It’s still not clear to me how Gifford’s gets away with promoting rum-raisin ice cream.
Anyway, the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse is asking the state Attorney General’s Office to determine if selling Fentimans to minors is legal, and some concerned parents are wondering if the law shouldn’t be changed to ban the sale of anything with any amount of alcohol to anyone under twenty-one.
I’d be more worried about this if I weren’t on my forty-fifth lemonade.
A few paragraphs ago, I may have been a little unfair to poor ol’ Biddeford in comparing it to the likes of Mexico City (although a comparison to Mexico, Maine, might not be entirely out of order). It’s not as if Biddeford isn’t trying to clean up its air, which reeks not of alcohol, but of decaying refuse, courtesy of the Maine Energy Recovery Co. incinerator that sits in the middle of its downtown.
But now there’s hope for improvement. Biddeford officials and representatives of the facility have reached an agreement that calls for moving trash sorting to an out-of-town site and using electricity generated at the plant to heat and light nearby vacant mill buildings so they’re more attractive to developers.
One problem with that plan: When neighboring Saco convinced developers to renovate its mill buildings, one of the first tenants was the Run of the Mill Brew Pub – and what do you think that place is pumping into the air? Hint: It ain’t lemonade. Biddeford will have to be vigilant, lest its brick hulks (built, coincidentally enough, in Victorian times) become refuges for brewers, bakers, and lemonade makers.
For guidance in what to avoid, Biddeford civic leaders need only look a few miles to the north, where Portland’s Old Port has become one of the state’s chief sources of ambient alcohol in the air. The situation got so bad that the Portland City Council had to pass a dispersal ordinance, which required bar owners to install giant fans to blow boozy breezes in the general direction of the high school in Houlton.
Uh, sorry. The dispersal ordinance actually prevents bars within 100 feet of each other from both having entertainment licenses. How that helps clean up the air, I have no idea.
What the ordinance did do was get the Naked Shakespeare acting company kicked out of the Wine Bar & Restaurant on Wharf Street. The group had been holding monthly performances there of such classics as “All’s Well That Ends Nude” and “The Bare-Nekkid Contessa” (who knew Willy boy wrote that one), although they did so fully clothed. The “Naked” part of the name comes from the practice of doing the shows without costumes or scenery.
Unfortunately, the Wine Bar had no entertainment permit and couldn’t get one, because it was too close to another club that did. So, Naked Shakespeare was transformed into Homeless Shakespeare, holding protest performances in city squares in an attempt to draw the attention of City Hall to the unfairness of its legalities.
Now, all has been made right. On Oct. 19, the City Council voted to exempt the Wine Bar from the 100-foot limit, thereby allowing the resumption of performances.
When the news hit the Old Port, people poured into the streets, where they shouted their thanks to the councilors and downed bottle after bottle of Fentimans Victorian Lemonade in futile attempts to become inebriated.
According to police reports, arrests for drunkenness hit an all-time low that evening, although there was a sharp upturn in the number of people cited for public urination.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com. He'll reply right after he gets back from the bathroom.