INTRODUCING THE OLD SOAK
By Don Marquis
Chapter One, “The Old Soak and Hail and Farewell,” 1921
Our friend, the Old Soak, came in from his home in Flatbush to see us not long ago, in anything but a jovial mood.
“I see that some persons think there is still hope for a liberal interpretation of the law so that beer and light wines may be sold,” said we.
“Hope,” said he, moodily, “is a fine thing, but it don’t gurgle none when you pour it out of a bottle. Hope is all right, and so is Faith . . . but what I would like to see is a little Charity.
“As far as Hope is concerned, I’d rather have Despair combined with a case of Bourbon liquor than all the Hope in the world by itself.
“Hope is what these here fellows has got that is tryin’ to make their own with a tea-kettle and a piece of hose. That’s awful stuff, that is. There’s a friend of mine made some of that stuff and he was scared of it, and he thinks before he drinks any he will try some of it onto a dumb beast.
“But there ain’t no dumb beast anywheres handy, so he feeds some of it to his wife’s parrot. That there parrot was the only parrot I ever knowed of that wasn’t named Polly. It was named Peter, and was supposed to be a gentleman parrot for the last eight or ten years. But whether it was or not, after it drank some of that there home-made hootch Peter went and laid an egg.
“That there home-made stuff ain’t anything to trifle with.
“It’s like amateur theatricals. Amateur theatricals is all right for an occupation for them that hasn’t got anything to do nor nowhere to go, but they cause useless agony to an audience. Home-made booze may be all right to take the grease spots out of the rugs with, but it, ain’t for the human stomach to drink. Home-made booze is either a farce with no serious kick to it, or else a tragedy with an unhappy ending. No, sir, as soon as what is left has been drunk I will kiss good-bye to the shores of this land of holiness and suffering and go to some country where the vegetation just naturally works itself up into liquor in a professional manner, and end my days in contentment and iniquity.
“Unless,” he continued, with a faint gleam of hope, “the smuggling business develops into what it ought to. And it may. There’s some friends of mine already picked out a likely spot on the shores of Long Island and dug a hole in the sand that kegs might wash into if they was throwed from passing vessels. They’ve hoisted friendly signals, but so far nothing has been throwed overboard.”
He had a little of the right sort on his hip, and after refreshing himself, he announced:
“I’m writing a diary. A diary of the past. A kind of gol-dinged autobiography of what me and Old King Booze done before he went into the grave and took one of my feet with him.
“In just a little while now there won’t be any one in this here broad land of ours, speaking of it geographically, that knows what an old-fashioned barroom was like. They’ll meet up with the word, future generations of posterity will, and wonder and wonder and wonder just what a saloon could have resembled, and they will cudgel their brains in vain, as the poet says.
“Often in my own perusal of reading matter I run onto institutions that I would like to know more of. But no one ever set down and described ’em because everyone knowed all about them in the time when the writing was done. Often I thought I would ‘a’ liked to knowed all about them Hanging Gardens of Babylon, for instance, and who was hanged in ’em and what for; but nobody ever described ’em, as fur as I know.”
“Have you got any of it written?” we asked him.
“Here’s the start of it,” said he. We present it just as the Old Soak penned it.