Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Blue Laws

Photo courtesy Flickr


When I walked into the Righteous Value hardware store on the Ave some months ago, the guys were griping about street kids spitting on the sidewalk. When Seattle’s law against spitting on the sidewalk was repealed in the Seventies, it was lampooned as a ridiculous relic of Victorian life. Other ridiculous relics of Victorian life were fidelity, thrift, sobriety, and basic education. Things have changed since the Seventies, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers points out the stakes.

Mama told me that the law against spitting on the sidewalk protected crawling infants from tubercular sputum that might be carried into the house on the long hems of mother’s skirt. Victorian skirts were edged inside with stout corduroy skid strips to protect them from abrasion as they swept the ground. Modesty demanded that they sweep the ground.

TB now resists antibiotics, so spit in the gutter. That’s what it’s for. And take your shoes off when you get home.

Back in the day, blue laws kept stores closed on Sunday. The practice gave everyone a breather. I find it useful to define a sabbath and respect it to give us a hiatus from the relentless cycle of acquisition and disposal. I regret the state of Washington's recent relaxation of liquor control, but it does give a competitive advantage to the temperate. Other aspects of blue laws were deeply unfair to families, but there was a baby in the bathwater that was thrown out when they were repealed.

Try Neville Shute’s Trustee From The Toolroom if you’re looking for a good Saturday read.

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