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Words to live by: Moderation and Balance above all

December 31, 2010

Alan Clarke weighs in on drunk drivers and the law's oftentimes soft response toward punishing those who are caught.

This is the final column of the year 2010... well into the fifth year of writing this column. Time flies. But we know that. No sense in kicking that dead platitude. Life is full of these little sayings that we apply when the situation fits.
“There’s no fool like an old fool.”
“Youth is wasted on the young. ”
“Curiosity killed the cat.”
“Look before you leap.”
Here’s another one: “everything in moderation,” which means go just so far– and no further–and everything will be all right. Pass that line and terror awaits.

That’s always a good one to recite when facing New Years Eve and the celebrations that, well, celebrate the coming of a new year. This is usually yet another occasion for consuming large quantities of alcohol, as if an excuse is necessary. It has been years since I drank at New Years parties. I have been designated driver on occasion but these days a quiet evening at home is fine and the quieter the better. The last time I drank at a year-end party, I got sotted, so sotted that I scarcely remember the drive home from Providence. My wife did tell me I drove home though and she admitted she was quite nervous all the way.
I was never a good drunk. Alcohol turned me into something I’d rather not be and yet I derived none of the pleasure that should come from drinking it. Mostly I’d get a bit obnoxious and then fall asleep. I determined then that never again would I drive drunk and haven’t. I’ve been soused a few times since, but never drive that way. I understand moderation and with me, it usually ends with a beer or two. More often than not, a ginger ale or two.
When I think of drunk drivers, I’m glad now that I’m never one of them, but I do admit to being extra cautious when driving late at night lest one of them drive into me. Gone are the days when you could crawl into the wagon and tell the horse to take you home. He or she would and you could sleep all the way, waking up with a hangover in the home dooryard, the horse still patiently tethered to the rig. The cars we have today will warm your butt, back into a parking spot, or warn you of something in the road ahead, but they are not going to drive you home. You have to do it yourself and you should be aware that a certain state of consciousness is required.
I really wish the powers-that-be would do more than they are doing to get these repeat drunk drivers off the roads, but as in everything they do, they will get carried away, overdo it and we will all suffer. Again: moderation. “Be careful what you wish for...” The Draconian legislation following the Station Fire comes to mind.
While everything in moderation is a good protocol, I think keeping things in balance is even more important. When I close my eyes and see my grandmother’s sister, Rosie, I see her delicately holding a Kent king-size cigarette to her lips. She always smoked and passed away at a ripe old age, as opposed to my poor wife who also smoked and died of lung cancer at 37. Balance is not the same for all.
Balance is achieved when the employees of a company earn a decent wage and the company earns a decent income from their labors. We are out of balance now because there are not enough companies for all the employees available, the employers are moving their manufacturing off to other countries, and generally the capitalists are being a bit piggish. This is, of course, a simplification, but I find that when we remove the many layers of obfuscation and confusion that we are spoon-fed by those in charge, we find a simple problem and a simple solution. Regain the balance and all will be well.
We are told that an ungodly amount of retail purchases, holiday spending, has to take place to have a happy economy. In other words, we have to spend more of our money at the malls buying more stuff than last year in order to satiate the gaping maws of the retail world. And this mostly takes place at Christmas time. Come George and Abe’s birthdays, it will be cars we have to buy.
On the other hand, the bobble-head experts on the cable news shows inform us that we have to reduce our debt, that we, as individuals, owe too much money to the plastic cards in our back pocket or purse. So where’s the balance there? Reduce our debt but spend, spend, spend! Well, at our level, we have to stop our spending, spending, spending, and pay, pay, pay, down our debts until we achieve a balance between what comes in and what goes out. So if a few clothing stores and gizmo boutiques go out of business, so be it. The same holds true, especially true, with our government. While your neighbor might get into financial trouble and lose his house, when the government gets into trouble, we’ll all go down... blubb!
Still, we are not willing to let them cut expenses too much, are we! We still want what we want and the government wants to give it to us. Well, everything in moderation. But like balance, moderation is not the same for everyone. We have a school system in East Greenwich and we have one in Central Falls.
This is just a hodgepodge of philosophical whimsies that worm their way through my noodle as I work through the assembling of two books and a newsletter which have been keeping me from giving this column my full attention for several weeks now. Life does get complicated no matter how we try to keep to keep it simple and maintain an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka-dot carbon footprint.
After the first of the year, we will start attacking the things that are retarding the research that is so necessary to make or keep this column historically interesting, not only to you, but to me too. Time that can be wasted is not as abundant as it once was.
Best of wishes for the new year to you all. In the words made famous in the 1989 movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, “Party on, Dudes!!”... but if you drink, let someone who hasn’t drive.
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Alan F. Clarke is a local historian and, so far, a life-long area resident. Address comments and other interesting
local stuff to him at

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