Don Marquis (1878-1937) started his career in journalism with the Atlanta Journal. He moved to the New York newspaper The Evening Sun (later shortened to The Sun) in 1912 and began a daily column called "The Sun Dial." Beginning in 1914 he wrote sketches about his character, The Old Soak, to satirize the Prohibition movement. His most famous characters, Archy and Mehitabel, were introduced in 1916.
from The Evening Sun, 1914
The Old Soak
Introducing the Old Soak
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 over-board."
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 bar-room 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.
Beginning the Old Soak's History of the Rum Demon
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 dam-foolish 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 bar-room 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.
[The entire series for The Old Soak was compiled into a book in 1921 and can be found at www.archive.org.]