LOOK OUT FOR CRIME WAVES!
By Don Marquis
Chapter Five, “The Old Soak and Hail and Farewell,” 1921
“They’re going to take our tobacco next, are they?” said the Old Soak. “Well, me, I won’t struggle none! I ain’t fit to struggle. I’m licked; my heart’s broke. They can come and take my blood if they want it, and all I’ll do is ask ’em whether they’ll have it a drop at a time, or the whole concerns in a bucket.
“All I say is: Watch out for Crime Waves! I don’t threaten nobody, I just predict. If you ever waked up about 1 o’clock in the morning, two or three miles from a store, and that store likely closed, and no neighbour near by, and the snow drifting the roads shut, and wanted a smoke, and there wasn’t a single crumb of tobacco nowheres in the house, you know what I mean. You go and look for old cigar and cigarette butts to crumble into your pipe, and there ain’t none. You go through all your clothes for little mites of tobacco that have maybe jolted into your pockets, and there ain’t none. Your summer clothes is packed away into the bottom of a trunk somewheres, and you wake your wife to find the key to the trunk, and you get the clothes and there ain’t no tobacco in them pockets, either.
“And then you and your wife has words. And you sit and suffer and cuss and chew the stem of your empty pipe. By 3 in the morning there ain’t no customary crime known you wouldn’t commit. By 4 o’clock you begin to think of new crimes, and how you’d like to commit them and then make up comic songs about ’em and go and sing them songs at the funerals of them you’ve slew.
“Hark to me: If tobacco goes next, there’ll be a crime wave! Take away a man’s booze, and he dies, or embraces dope or religion, or goes abroad, or makes it at home, or drinks varnish, or gets philosophical or something. But tobacco! No, sir! There ain’t any substitute. Why, the only way they’re getting away with this booze thing now is because millions and millions of shattered nerves is solacing and soothing theirselves with tobacco.
“I’m mild, myself. I won’t explode. I’m getting my booze. I know where there’s plenty of it. My heart’s broke to see the saloons closed, and I’m licked by the overwhelming righteous . . . but I won’t suffer any personal for a long time yet. But there’s them that will. And on top of everything else, tobacco is to go! All right, take it — but I say solemn and warningly: Look Out For Crime Waves!
“The godly and the righteous can push us wicked persons just so far, but worms will turn. Look at the Garden of Eden! The mammal of iniquity ain’t never yet been completely abolished. Look at the history of the world — every once in a while it has always looked as if the pious and the uplifter was going to bring in the millennium, with bells on it — but something has always happened just in time and the mammal of unrighteousness has come into his own again. I ain’t threatening; I just predict — Look Out For Crime Waves!
“As for me, I may never see Satan come back home. I’m old. I ain’t long for this weary land of purity and this vale of tears and virtue. I’ll soon be in a place where the godly cease from troubling and the wicked are at rest. But I got children and grandchildren that’ll fight against the millennium to the last gasp, if I know the breed, and I’m going to pass on full of hope and trust and calm belief.
“Here,” concluded the Old Soak, unscrewing the top of his pocket flask, “here is to the mammal of unrighteousness!”
He deposited on our desk the next installment of his History.