A long-time listener from the time I spent on the radio emailed recently. “I’ve got something for you,” she wrote.
I know her just well enough to know we share a similar sense of humor, so we set up a meeting: Wednesday, 1 p.m. in the beer and wine aisle at a local grocery store. (Why not do some meaningful shopping while you wait, eh?)
What she had for me was a prescription for alcohol. I had no idea such a thing existed. Dated 1927, that would place this artifact squarely in the middle of the prohibition era for the United States, a time when alcohol became mostly illegal.
Best I can tell from my twenty seconds of research, the government did allow for alcohol – mostly whiskey and brandy – to be distilled for pharmaceutical use during prohibition, starting in 1920. Cancer, indigestion, depression… it apparently was the fix for numerous ailments.
This particular prescription called for one tablespoon three times a day. Pardon me for saying so, but that amount would be just about enough to pi** off a real drinking man. (I’m guessing.)
It did, however, start me wondering about the creative ways one might have obtained such a prescription back then.
“Doc, my Model T’s done throwed a wheel, so looks like I’ll be walking to work. Can you give me something for my sore feet?”
“Doc, my girl’s done hauled off and joined one of them travelin’ hoochie-coochie shows. Can you give me something to ease the shame?”
“Doctor, my best layin’ hen ain’t puttin’ out eggs no more. What am I gonna do?”
“You’re gonna get you another hen”, says the doctor. “Meantime, take this three times a day.”
Historians seem to generally agree that prescription alcohol was a racket. You paid your doctor for the prescription then you paid the pharmacist for the elixir. The doctors and druggists were getting rich; you were getting your buzz on. Everyone was happy, I suppose.
I wouldn’t be. And here’s why:
A tablespoon is half a fluid ounce. Therefore, three tablespoons would be an ounce and a half. A standard jigger is an ounce and a half. A jigger is also known as a shot glass. Conclusion: the doctor was prescribing a shot a day that you would basically divide into three sips.
If my doctor prescribed that for me, I’d take it. But then I’d fling the shot glass at his head. Let’s see if one shot is enough for his pain.