HER FOOT IS ON THE BRASS RAIL
By Don Marquis
I don’t know what you think about it, but the Old Soak and I are profoundly disappointed with the New Barroom. What we had wanted, what we had hoped and prayed for, what we had fought, bled, died and lied for, was the return of the Old Barroom. The vision of its return, just as it used to be, cheered us and sustained us through all these desert years of drought [mitigated by speakeasy cases] known as the “prohibition” era. Well, we have repeal; and we have a barroom. It is an Open Bar. But is not the Old Saloon.
* * *
Open . . . yes, Heaven help us, open! Not even soap or whiting on the windows — oh, abominably and inescapably Open! You can see right into it, and right through it; it has no more secrets from the public than a sick man’s innards under the X-ray or fluoroscope. It does not even have a decent privacy. You wife, your sister, your maiden aunt, your little golden-haired daughter, your mother-in-law, the pastor of your church, the boss at your office, the wife of your boss and the wife of your pastor, the man you are trying to get a contract out of, your creditors, may look right through the window and count every drop of liquid damnation you dribble down your gullet.
That is bad enough. But there is worse. Women come into this New Barroom. Not through a Family Entrance, but through the front door. They go right up to the bar. They put a foot on the brass railing. They order; they are served; they bend the elbow; they hoist; they toss down the feminine esophagus the brew that was really meant for men — stout and wicked men.
* * *
The last barrier is down; the citadel has been stormed and taken. There is no longer any escape, no harbor of refuge, no haven, no sanctuary, no hiding place, no hole or corner, no burrow nor catacomb, no nook amongst the ruins of civilization, where the hounded male may seek his fellow and strut his stuff, safe from the atmosphere and presence of femininity. A man might as well do his drinking at home, with his wife and daughters; and there never was any fun in that. It was merely — drinking! It was merely a satisfation of the physical appetite for alcohol.
* * *
The spiritual essence of drinking — drinking as it was practiced in the Old Saloon — is gone forever, killed by this invasion of women.
You know the Talk — or maybe you don’t. Perhaps no one connected with the editorial staff of the Herald Tribune, which is a home paper resolute for the conventions and respectabilities, was ever in the Old Saloon. The conversation was enjoyable. It was apt to be . . . Free. It was ripe, fruity; it verged, at times, on the rowdy. There were moments when Rabelais would have felt perfectly at home there. It was as masculine as an Andalusian bull or a Tuscan billygoat. It was conversation with whiskers on it. It ranged . . . from the nadier of the unprintable to the zenith of realistic poetry. It smote the welkin with the bung starter of imagination till the cosmos rang again.
* * *
It is not the occasional rowdiness, the semioccasional bawdiness, of this barroom conversation which I chiefly regret. It is the philosophical admixture; the startling, first-hand, spontaneous appraisal of everything in heavy, earth or hell which spouted forth with the removal of all in inhibitions. The very presence of a woman — any woman, any kind of woman — checks this. A man, whether in a drawing room or a saloon, talking to other men, is not the same person when there is a woman present. He adopts some sort of attitude, in spite of himself. Perhaps he is old-fashioned enough to pull his punches lest he offend her. Perhaps he exaggerates his own tendencies, deliberately seeking to offend her, shock her. He isn’t the same; he listens to himself. he might as well be at home. And it was home that he came here to get away from. Not because he didn’t like home particularly, but because he wanted to exchange ideas with a lot of other men who came here for the same reason he is here. Even if he wanted to let woman into this exclusively masculine atmosphere, he couldn’t do it. They can’t come in. They can destroy it, but they can’t get into it.
But here she is, in the New Barroom, and her foot is on the brass railing. My observation of that foot is that once it sets itself anywhere it never retreats. With all their superiorities to men — and I am willing to admit to their superiority in nine cases out of ten — they won’t know what I am talking about in this letter.
I am a religious person, and the only hope I see is in the New Jerusalem. I shall run a barroom in the hereafter, and there will be no feet of feminine saints on the brass railing. [They’d demand a gold railing if I let them in.] Kit Marlow will be there, and Kit Morley, too, and Shakespeare and John L. Sullivan and Frank O’Malley and Benjamin De Casseres and Benevenuto Cellini. There will be a good deal of Talk. And if they make me let women in, I’ll take my saloon to hell. If they invade those precincts, I suppose I’ll have to move to Hoboken.
P.S. — There will be a Back Room. D.M.