annual post-game banquet was winding up. The last rolling
"R" of the speaker's hearty Caledonian accent died away
sonorously. The company of students and alumni, all Scots,
began to adjourn to the spacious bar for stronger stuff
than the comparatively innocuous wines on the tables.
A goal-scorer in a soccer game between my school and its
centuries-old rival, I rated some popularity and the admiration
of the moment expressed in famous ales and whiskey and
soda. I was the son of a clergyman and just past sixteen
years of age.
Waking in my hotel
room the next day, I groaned. I didn't want to see or
talk to anyone. Then someone raised my head and put a
glass to my lips. "What you need is 'a hair of the dog
that bit you', get this into you."
The smell of the stuff
sickened me. I grimaced, gulped the draught down and fell
back on the bed. Somehow it stayed down and in about fifteen
minutes I began to feel better and managed to eat a fair
breakfast. That was my first experience of the "morning
Back to college and
my apprenticeship to a well-known lawyer, the students
in their various clubs and societies, tippled enormously.
I gave up the law but stayed in school to graduate. Through
these college years in a city of well over a million inhabitants
the better barrooms. Burns and Byron and other colorful
profligates were the literary idols in the gang of "bloods"
with whom I was a popular figure. I thought I was a gay
dog and this was the life.
With nothing but a
liberal arts education, very definitely estranged from
my family and already married, soon after graduation I
became a bookmaker's clerk on the British racing circuits,
far better off financially than the average professional
man. I moved in a gay crowd in the various "pubs" and
sporting clubs. My wife traveled with me, but with a baby
coming I decided to settle in a large city where I got
a job with a commission agent which is a polite term for
a hand-book operator. My job was to collect bets and betting-slips
in the business section, a lucrative spot. My boss, in
his way, was "big business." Drinking was all in the day's
One evening, the book,
after checking up, was very definitely in the red for
plenty through a piece of studied carelessness on my part,
and my boss, very shrewd and able, fired me with a parting
statement to the effect that once was enough. With a good
stake I sailed for New York. I knew I was through among
the English "bookies."
Tom Sharkey's brawling
bar on 14th Street and the famous wine-room at the back
were headquarters for me. I soon ran through my stake.
Some college friends got me jobs when I finally had to
go to work, but I didn't stick to them. I wanted to travel.
Making my way to Pittsburgh, I met other former friends
and got a job in a large factory where piecemakers were
making good money. My fellow-workers were mostly good
night drinkers and I was right with them. Young and able
to travel with the best of them, I managed to hold my
job and keep my end up in the barrooms.
One of my keenest
memories is of meeting Jack London who came in unannounced
one night to our favorite saloon, made a rousing speech,
and later set up the drinks all evening.
I quit the factory
and got a job on a small newspaper, going from that to
a Pittsburgh daily, long ago defunct. Following a big
drunk on that sheet where I was doing leg-work and rewrite,
a feeling of nostalgia made me buy a ticket for Liverpool
and I returned to Britain.
During my visit there,
renewing acquaintance with former friends I soon spent
most of my money. I wanted to roam again and through relatives
got a super-cargo job on an Australian packet which allowed
me to visit my people in Australia where I was born. But
I didn't stay long. I was soon back in Liverpool. Coming
out of a pub near the Cunard pier I saw the Lusitania
standing out in the middle of the Mersey. She had just
come in and was scheduled to sail in two days. In my mind's
eye I saw Broadway again and Tom Sharkey's bar; the roar
of the subway was in my ears. Saying goodbye to my wife
and baby, I was treading Manhattan's streets in a little
more than a week. Again I spent my bankroll, by no means
as thick as the one I had when I first saw the skyline
of Gotham. I was soon broke, this time without trainfare
to go anywhere. I got my first introduction to "riding
the rods and making a blind."
my early twenties the hardships of hobo life did not discourage
me but I had no wish to become just a tramp. Forced to
detrain from an empty gondola on the other side of Chicago
by a terrific rainstorm which drenched me to the skin,
I hit the first factory building I saw for a job. That
job began a series of brief working spells, each one ending
in a "drunk" and the urge to travel. My migrations extended
for over a year as far west as Omaha. Drifting back to
Ohio, I landed on a small newspaper and later was impressed
into the direction of boy-welfare work at the local "Y".
I stayed sober for four years except for a one-night carousel
in Chicago. I stayed so sober that I used to keep a quart
of medicinal whiskey in my bureau which I used to taper
off the occasional newspaper alcoholics who were sent
to see me.
Lots of times, vain-gloriously,
I used to take the bottle out, look at it and say, "I've
got you licked."
The war was getting
along. Curious about it, feeling I was missing something,
absolutely without any illusions about the aftermath,
with no pronounced feeling of patriotism, I joined up
with a Canadian regiment, serving a little over two years.
Slight casualties, complicated however by a long and serious
illness, were my only mishaps. Remarkably enough, I was
a very abstemious soldier. My four years of abstinence
had something to do with it, but soldiering is a tough
enough game for a sober man, and I had no yen for full-pack
slogging through mud with a cognac or vin rouge hangover.
Discharged in 1919,
I really made up for my dry spell.
Toronto, Buffalo, and finally Pittsburgh, were the scenes
of man-sized drunks until I had gone through my readjusted
discharge pay, a fair sum.
I again became a reporter
on a Pittsburgh daily. I applied for a publicity job and
got it. My wife came over from Scotland and we started
housekeeping in a large Ohio city.
The new job lasted
five years. Every encouragement was given me with frequent
salary increases, but the sober times between "periods"
became shorter. I myself could see deterioration in my
work, from being physically and mentally affected by liquor,
although I had not yet reached the point where all I wanted
was more to drink. Successive Monday morning hangovers,
which despite mid-week resolutions to do better, came
with unfailing regularity, eventually causing me to quit
my job. Washington, D.C. and news-gathering agency work
followed with many parties. I couldn't stand the pace.
My drinking was never the spaced doses of the careful
tippler; it was always gluttonous.
Returning to the town
I had left three months before, I became editor of a monthly
magazine, soon had additional publicity and advertising
accounts and the money rolled in. The strain of overwork
soon led me to the bottle again. My wife made several
attempts to get me to stop and I had the usual visits
from persons who would always ask me "Why?"-as if I knew!
Offered the job of advertising manager for an eastern
automotive company, I moved to Philadelphia to begin life
anew. In three months John Barleycorn had me kicked out.
did six years of newspaper advertising, and trade journal
work with many, many drunks of drab and dreary hue woven
into the pattern of my life. I visited my family just
once in that time. An old avocation, the collection of
first editions, rare books and Americana, fascinated me
between times. I had some financial success through no
ability of my own, and, when jobless and almost wiped
out in 1930, I began to trade and sell my collection and
much of the proceeds went to keep my apartment stocked
with liquor and almost every night saw me helpless to
I tried to help myself.
I even began to go the rounds of the churches. I listened
to famous ministers-found nothing. I began to know the
inside of jails and workhouses. My family would have nothing
to do with me, in fact couldn't, because I couldn't spare
any of my money which I needed for drink to support them.
My last venture, a book shop, was hastened to closed doors
by my steady intoxication. Then I had an idea.
Loading a car with
good old books to sell to collectors, librarians, universities
and historical societies, I started out to travel the
country. I stayed sober during the trip except for an
occasional bottle of beer because funds barely met expenses.
When I hit Houston, Texas, I found employment in a large
bookstore. Need I say here that in a very short time I
was walking along a prairie highway with arm extended
and thumb pointed? In the two succeeding years I held
ten different jobs ranging from newspaper copy-desk and
rewrite, to traffic director for an oil field equipment
company. Always in between there were intervals of being
freights and hitch-hiking interminable distances from
one big town to another in three states. Now on a new
job I was always thinking about payday and how much liquor
I could buy and the pleasure I could have.
I knew I was a drunkard.
Enduring all the hangover-hells that every alcoholic experiences,
I made the usual resolutions. My thoughts sometimes turned
to the idea that there must be a remedy. I have stood
listening to street-corner preachers tell how they did
beat the game. They seemed to be happy in their fashion,
they and the little group of supporters, but always pride
of intellect stopped me from seeking what they evidently
had. Sniffing at emotional religion I walked away. I was
an honest agnostic but definitely not a hater of the church
or its adherents. What philosophy I had was thoroughly
paganistic-all my life was devoted to a search for pleasure.
I wanted to do nothing except what it pleased me to do
and when I wanted to do it.
Federal Theatre in
Texas gave me an administrative job which I held for a
year, only because I worked hard and productively when
I worked, and because my very tolerant chief ascribed
my frequent lapses to a bohemian temperament. When it
was closed through Washington edict I began with Federal
Writers in San Antonio. In those days my system was always
to drink up my last pay check and believe that necessity
would bring the next job. A friend who knew I would soon
be broke mounted guard over me when I left my job of writing
the histories of Texas cities and put me aboard a bus
for the town I had left almost five years before.
five years a good many persons had forgotten that I had
been somewhat notorious. I had arrived drunk but promised
my wife I would keep sober, and I knew I could get work
if I did. Of course, I didn't keep sober. My wife and
family stood by me for ten weeks and then, quite justifiably,
ejected me. I managed to maintain myself with odd jobs,
did ten weeks in a social rescue institution and at length
wound up in a second-hand bookstore in an adjacent town
as manager. While there I was called to the hospital in
my home town to see a former partner who had insisted
that I visit him. I found my friend was there for alcoholism
and now he was insisting that he had found the only cure.
I listened to him, rather tolerantly. I noticed a Bible
on his table and it amazed me. I had never known him to
be anything but a good healthy pagan with a propensity
for getting into liquor jams and scrapes. As he talked
I gathered vaguely, (because he was a faltering beginner
then just as I am now) that to be relieved of alcoholism
I would have to be different.
Some days later, after
he had been discharged, a stranger came into my shop in
the nearby town. He introduced himself and began to tell
me about a bunch of some 60 former drinkers and drunkards
who met once a week, and he invited me to go with him
to the next meeting. I thanked him, pleaded business engagements
and promised I'd go with him at some future date.
"Anyhow, I'm on the
wagon now," I said. "I'm doing a job I like and it's quiet
where I live, practically no temptations. I don't feel
bothered about liquor."
He looked at me quizzically.
He knew too well that
mean a thing just as I knew in my heart that it would
be only a question of time-a few days, a week, or even
a month, it was inevitable-till I would be off on another
bender. The time came just a week later. And as I look
back on the events of two months, I can clearly see that
I had been circling around, half-afraid of encountering
the remedy for my situation, half-wanting it, deferring
fulfillment of my promise to get in touch with the doctor
I had heard about. An accident while drunk laid me low
for about three weeks. As soon as I could get up and walk
I started to drink again and kept it up until my friend
of the hospital, who, in his first try at the new way
of life had stubbed his toe in Chicago but had come back
to the town to take counsel and make a new start, picked
me up and got me into a hospital.
I had been drinking
heavily from one state of semi-coma to another and it
was several days before I got "defogged" but subconsciously
I was in earnest about wanting to quit liquor forever.
It was no momentary emotionalism born of self-pity in
a maudlin condition. I was seeking something and I was
ready to learn. I did not need to be told that my efforts
were and would be unavailing if I did not get help. The
doctor who came to see me almost at once did not assail
me with any new doctrines; he made sure that I had a need
and that I wanted to have that need filled and little
by little I learned how my need could be met. The story
of Alcoholics Anonymous fascinated me. Singly and in groups
of two or three, they came to visit me. Some of them I
had known for years, good two-fisted drinkers
had disappeared from their former haunts. I had missed
them myself from the barrooms of the town.
There were business
men, professional men, and factory workers. All sorts
were represented and their relation of experiences and
how they had found the only remedy, added to their human
existence as sober men, laid the foundation of a very
necessary faith. Indeed, I was beginning to see that I
would require implicit faith, like a small child, if I
was going to get anywhere or so it appeared as I lay in
that hospital. The big thing was that these men were all
sober and evidently had something I didn't have. Whatever
it was, I wanted it.
I left the hospital
on a meeting night. I was greeted warmly, honestly, and
with a true ring of sincerity by everyone present. That
night I was taken home by a former alcoholic and his wife.
They did not show me to my room and wish me a good night's
rest. Instead, over coffee cups, this man and his wife
told me what had been done for them. They were earnest
and obviously trying to help me on the road I had chosen.
They will never know how much their talk with me has helped.
The hospitality of their home and their fine fellowship
were mine freely.
I had never, since
the believing days of childhood, been able to conceive
an authority directing the universe. But I had never been
a flippant, wise-cracking sneerer at the few persons I
had met who had impressed me as Christian men and women,
or at any institutions whose sincerity of purpose I could
see. No conviction was necessary to establish my status
as a miserable failure at managing my own life. I began
to read the Bible
and to go over a simple devotional exercise as a way to
begin each day. Gradually I began to understand.
I cannot say that
my taste for liquor has entirely disappeared. It has been
that way with some, but it has not been with me and may
never be. Neither can I honestly say that I have forgotten
the "fleshpots of Egypt." I haven't. But I can remember
the urge of the Prodigal Son to return to his Father that
he might taste of the husks that the swine did eat.
Formerly in the acute
mental and physical pain during the remorseful periods
succeeding each drunk, I found my recollection of the
misery I had gone through a bolsterer of resolution and
afterward, perhaps, a deterrent for a time. But in those
days I had no one to whom I might take my troubles. Today
I have. Today I have Someone who will always hear me;
I have a warm fellowship among men who understand my problems;
I have tasks to do and am glad to do them, to see others
who are alcoholics and to help them in any way I can to
become sober men. I took my last drink in 1937.
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