BEGINNING THE OLD SOAK’S HISTORY OF THE RUM DEMON
By Don Marquis
Chapter Two, “The Old Soak and Hail and Farewell,” 1921
I will hereinunder set down nothing but what is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. Well, in the old days, before everybody got so gosh-amighty good, barrooms was so frequent that nobody thought of setting down their scenery and habits.
Usually you went into it by a pair of swinging doors that met in the middle and didn’t go full length up, so you could see over the top of the door, and if any one was to come into one door you didn’t want to have talk with or anything you could see him and have a chance to gravitate out the door at the other end of the barroom while he was getting in. But you couldn’t see into the windows of them as a habitual custom, because who could tell whether a customer’s family was going to pass by and glance in. Well, in your heart you knew you was doing nothing to be ashamed of, but all families even in the good old days contained some prohibition relations. The Good Book says that flies in the ointment send forth a smell to heaven. Well, you felt more private like with the windows fixed thataway. They was painted, soaped, and some stained glassed.
It had its good sides and it had its bad sides, but I will say I have been completely out of touch, just as much as if I was a native of some hot country, with all kinds of morality and religions of all sorts, ever since the barrooms was shut up. From childhood’s earliest hours religion has been one of my favourite studies, and I never let a week pass without I get down on my knees some time or another and pray about something any more than I would let a week pass without I washed all over. It was early recollections of a good woman that kept me religious, and I hope I do not have to say anything further to this gang. Well, in spite of my religion I never went to church none. Because it ain’t reasonable to suppose that a man could keep awake. He thinks, “What if I should nod,” and he does. So that always throwed me back onto the barrooms for my religion.
Well, then, the first thing you know when you are up by the free’ lunch counter eating some of that delicatessen in comes a girl and says to contribute to the cause. Well, “What cause are you?” you ask her. Well, she says, Salvation Army or the Volunteers, or what not, -and so forth, as the case may be, or maybe she was boosting for some of these new religions that gets out a paper and these girls go around and sell it for ten cents, which they always set a date for the world coming to an end. Well, then, you got a line on her religion, and you was ashamed not to give her a quarter, for you had spent a dollar for drinks already that morning. And then all through the day there was other-religions come in, one after another, or maybe the same religion over and over again.
Well, then, you kept in touch with religions and it made a better man out of you, and along about evening time when you figured on going home you felt like it wouldn’t be right to tell any pervarications to your wife about how you come to be so late, so you just said over the phone: “I am starting right away. I stopped into Ed’s place to play a game of pool after work and met a fellow I used to know. I couldn’t get away from him and I was too thoughtful of you to insist for him to come home to dinner so he insisted I ought to have a drink with him for old time’s sake.” And if it hadn’t been for being in contact with different religions all day you would of lied outright to your wife and felt mean as a dog about it when she found you out.
Well, then, it needs no further proof that the abolishment of the saloon has taken away the common people’s religions from them, but it is my message to tell just what the barrooms was like and not to criticize the laws of the land, even when they are damfoolish as so many of them are. So I will confine myself to describing the barroom and the rum demon.
Well, I never saw much rum drunk in the places where I hung out. Sometimes some baccardy into a cocktail, but for my part cocktails always struck me as wicked. The good book says that the Lord started the people right but that men had made many adventures. Well, then, I took mine straight for the most part, except when I needed some special kind of a pick-up in the morning.
And the good book says not to tarry long over the wine cup, and I never done that, neither, except a little Rhine wine in the summer time, but mostly took mine straight.
Well, then, to come down to describing these phantom places over which the raven says nevermore but the posterity of the future may wish to have its own say so about. Well, there was a long counter always kept wiped off, not like these here sticky soda-water counters which the boys and girls back of them always look sticky, too, and their sleeves look sticky and the glasses is sticky, but in a decent barroom the counter was kept swiped off clean and self-respectable.
And there was a brass rail with cuspidors near to it, if you wanted to cuspidate it was handy right there, and there’s no place to hawk and cuspidate in these here soda-water dives. Not* that I ever been in them much. All that stuff rots the lining of your stomach. As far as I am concerned, being the posterity of a lot of Scotch ancestors, I never liked soft stuff in my insides.
I never drunk nothing but whiskey for comfort and pleasure, and I never took no medicine in my life except calomel, and I always held to the Presbyterian religion as my favourite religion because those three things has got some kick when took inside of you.
Well, then, to get down to telling just what these ,places was like, it would surprise this generation of posterity how genteel some of them was. Which I will come down to in my next chapter. Well, I will close this chapter.