i recently finished reading the autobiography of benjamin franklin. one of the pleasures of it is franklin’s attention to day-to-day matters, to the solution of problems that some might consider mundane, from the location of openings on gaslights to the best means of sweeping city streets and the arrangement of their gutters. to me, they’re some of the best examples of an examined life, of someone who would not let the smallest detail escape his attention and who would always consider possibilities where others perhaps did not even notice problems, or who considered their solution too difficult to be worth the effort.
franklin was well-placed in his profession; his printing press gave him the means to distribute his opinions to the widest possible audience at the time, and gave them a certain weight simply through their presentation (which he admits was superior to that of any other printer of the day).
well, here i sit with my own printing press and a potential audience much larger than franklin could ever have conceived. my thoughts don’t hold the weight of franklin’s and my prose is not as elegant, but if you’ll indulge me for awhile, i’ll ask you to consider one quite practical point about my community.
as i walk through the streets of my community, i see the evidence of two of the favorite pastimes of some of my neighbors — the consumption of alcohol, and the subsequent smashing of the bottle on the ground. the latter practice is remarkably widespread. every surface of our streets, of our sidewalks, of our alleys, lots, schoolyards, and playgrounds is covered with a layer of glass fragments. ours is a community always standing upright, afraid to lay on a patch of grass to read a book or look up at the clouds for fear of rolling over onto a sharp piece of a broken bottle.
the best solution to this problem would, of course, be helping all those who abuse alcohol to be more judicious in their use of it, and helping those truly addicted to it to give it up entirely. there are, however, a wide variety of aspects to the process of doing this, from providing job opportunities to those who have none to combating an unfounded sense of helplessness that people use as an easy and comfortable home — so many aspects that i can’t even see the limits of them all, and will have to leave the pursuit of it to those with knowledge in the art of detoxification.
but i can make this more immediate and practical suggestion: that all manufacturers of alcoholic beverages be made to follow the lead of the soda makers, and to release their products in plastic containers rather than glass ones. glass soda bottles are now curiosities; coca-cola bottles are collectors’ items sold at flea markets. how much more fitting it would be to sell in a plastic bottle a beverage which more radically alters the mind of the drinker and can lead him to throw down the container at the end of its consumption to express an anger or frustration which the drinking has only enhanced. if he were to throw down a plastic bottle and then stumble off on his way, the old woman who came out of her home the next morning would have to walk past a bottle rolled in the corner instead of over a pile of glass. children playing in the schoolyard would fall and land on a bottle instead of cutting open their knees and being rushed to the hospital for stitches. people picking up trash could pick up the bottle and throw it in the recycling bag instead of running to get a dustpan to sweep up the fragments.
i’m quite serious about this in spite of my somewhat playful adoption of some of franklin’s modes of speech. unlike franklin, i don’t know my audience. i don’t know who will read these lines, or when, or whether they will be in the house next door or on another continent, but if it can be brought to the attention of the manufacturers in question or to those who have the political influence to bring the matter to their attention, i would be most grateful if the point could be stressed to them.