Ever heard of the infinite monkey theorem?

It’s a fancy name for the theory that a monkey, pounding away at a typewriter for an infinite period, sooner or later will replicate a great work of Shakespeare or some other literary masterpiece.

Which brings us to Gov. Paul LePage.

Last week, after flailing away at the Legislature for daring to slap a 5-cent deposit on those tiny bottles of liquor, or “nips,” cluttering Maine’s roadsides, LePage stumbled upon a remarkably sound rationale for banning the little buggers altogether.

“The problem isn’t the waste stream,” LePage said in an interview on WGAN’s morning show last Thursday. “The problem is people drinking behind the wheel with the little nips. They throw them out of the car because they don’t want to keep the evidence in the car.”

Eureka. LePage is 100-percent, hit-the-nail-on-the-head correct.

Of course, he did not come by his Shakespeare moment easily.

He got here only after tripping over himself in search of a good reason to veto the Legislature’s overwhelming approval of the nip deposit.

“This is yet another anti-business vote that threatens jobs, increases costs to do business and puts the state’s financial health at risk,” LePage fumed in a prepared statement two days earlier. “Unfortunately, this kind of secretive backroom deal that burdens the taxpayers is what I’ve come to expect.”

See that? Pure babble.

He also vowed to have overseers of the state’s liquor industry remove, or “delist,” any and all nips from retail shelves. That way, he said, “they are not sold in Maine, and fewer of them end up as litter.”

Warmer … but not quite there yet.

Finally, even as his threat undermined the carefully brokered deal behind the legislation, LePage finally said what too few have during this entire, environmentally driven debate: “This issue is drinking and driving. That’s the issue.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have achieved Shakespeare. To tolerate swilling alcohol in automobiles or to not tolerate swilling alcohol in automobiles, that is the question.

Don’t get me wrong. I get as incensed as the next guy when I head out to get the mail and stoop down to collect the latest crop of empty, grimy, sun-bleached nips of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, Jim Beam Bourbon and Black Velvet Toasted Caramel embedded in the roadside sand.

But of more immediate concern than the litter – at least for those of us crossing the street – should be how all those shots-in-a-bottle got there in the first place.

People inside passing cars drank them and threw them out the window. And in doing so, they broke the law not only by littering but also by having an open alcoholic container, however fleetingly, in their moving vehicle.

Oh yes, and there’s a decent chance they were on their way to operating under the influence.

Testifying at a legislative hearing on the deposit bill back in February, Greg Mineo, director of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, noted that the state’s agency liquor stores sold 8.4 million nips in 2016.

This year, Mineo projected, those sales will jump to a whopping 12 million of the 50 ml bottles – a phenomenon that he said “exists up and down the East Coast.”

Think about that. A product clearly designed for easy, surreptitious consumption while pulling out of the parking lot of the nearest liquor store finds itself in the political spotlight not because it flies in the face of public safety.

Rather, it’s because the numskulls who imbibe while behind the wheel are cagey enough, as LePage so accurately put it, to immediately chuck the evidence out the car window.

(How careful are they? Of the six empty nips I just picked up within 50 feet of my mailbox, three actually had the caps tightly screwed back on.)

Liquor peddlers and their apologists will tell us that we’ve got nips all wrong: They’re for people who need a dollop of liquor for a food recipe, or people who only drink a little, or people who want to try out a particular brand for 99 cents before investing their hard-earned cash in a 200 ml or 750 ml bottle.

Right. And all those little bottles around my mailbox were dropped by drunken fairies.

Mark Brown, the CEO of Sazerac Co., which bottles Fireball Cinnamon Whisky at its plant in Lewiston, told Senate President Mike Thibodeau in a letter last week that Fireball alone accounts for 50 percent of all nip sales in Maine. (That’s no easy feat – the state liquor website lists close to 350 nip brands.)

What’s more, Brown said, nips sales are on their way to comprising 15 percent of the state’s total annual liquor sales.

“While we could have lived with a 5-cent redemption sticker if the state really thought that would solve the littering problem, we can no longer support the legislation while under the threat of having the 50 mls delisted,” Brown wrote.

Translation: Sure, we’ll help you clean up the roadside. But don’t you dare go after our hottest selling product – even if the lion’s share of it is consumed on the wrong side (wink, wink) of the law.

The simple truth is that, deposit or no deposit, every empty nip lying on the side of a Maine road is evidence of a crime that went unpunished.

And so it will continue as long as nips multiply like weeds and companies like Sazerac entice the dimwitted (or addicted) with website sales pitches like this one for their red-hot Fireball:

“If you haven’t tried it yet, just imagine what it feels like to stand face-to-face with a fire-breathing dragon who just ate a whiskey barrel full of spicy cinnamon. Live it, love it, shoot it – what happens next is up to you.”

Or not, assuming LePage sticks to his guns and, after vetoing the nips bill between now and June 2, then moves to take them off the shelves altogether.

So don’t stop now, Governor. Keep pounding away against the clowns who chase the “fire-breathing dragon” down our highways and byways because … they can.

As Shakespeare himself once put it, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]