James Carville once famously described Pennsylvania as “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between,” and anyone who’s driven across that state while scanning the AM radio dial, which yields several doses of Rush Limbaugh, a few Christian broadcasts, and maybe one polka station, can testify that the Crossfire host knows whereof he speaks. And yet, last month, the legislators of that supposedly backward state did something that the solons in our progressive New York have never managed: They said it’s all right to buy liquor on Sundays.
Now come reports that New York’s dry spell may come to an end as well. Two upstate legislators, from Albany and Bath (wherever that is, but God bless it), are the prime sponsors of a bill to repeal the state’s blue laws and finally allow us to find the veritas in our vino all veekend. That New York, of all places, still has such a law is a laughable anachronism: A person can go to Eighth Avenue any time of the dayor night – Sunday morning, during services at all the nearby churches – and buy rubber sex toys and the most graphic pornography (even with animals, or so we’re told by friends) imaginable. That person can also purchase a high-powered rifle with a scope or a semi-automatic pistol. But God forbid you’re invited to a dinner party on a Sunday night and you remember on your way there that you don’t want to show up empty-handed. Your host had better have a fondness for wilting deli Gerber daisies.
The laws, of course, are a relic of an evangelical rectitude that in this town went the way of the gaslight, and at about the same time. They are also a function of the mom-and-pop-liquor-store lobby, which wants one day a week off and cavils about how Sunday hours would somehow favor larger stores and put them out of business.
But the possibility of repeal raises the question: Just what is Sunday anymore? If indeed it’s the Lord’s day, then logic and principle should dictate that we shut it all down, from every Gap to the NFL. Commerce, though, has long since displaced religion as the be-all and end-all of Western civilization – it may be more than mere coincidence that in Seattle, home to Microsoft and thus the nerve center of the modern information economy, you can buy any liquor you like at the supermarket on any day of the week. And football, of course, is the quintessence of American maledom. They are untouchable.But booze: What reprobate is uncautious enough to defend its ready availability? It is only around booze that moralists can still cling to the pretense that Sunday is a sacred day. Especially in this season, when nothing less than the world economy depends on the extravagant commercialization of Christendom’s holiest event, we hardly need to be reminded that Sunday is now just another day to spend money. Bottoms up.