John Barleycorn HTML version

Chapter 11
And still there arose in me no desire for alcohol, no chemical demand. In years and years
of heavy drinking, drinking did not beget the desire. Drinking was the way of the life I
led, the way of the men with whom I lived. While away on my cruises on the bay, I took
no drink along; and while out on the bay the thought of the desirableness of a drink never
crossed my mind. It was not until I tied the Razzle Dazzle up to the wharf and got ashore
in the congregating places of men, where drink flowed, that the buying of drinks for other
men, and the accepting of drinks from other men, devolved upon me as a social duty and
a manhood rite.
Then, too, there were the times, lying at the city wharf or across the estuary on the sand-
spit, when the Queen, and her sister, and her brother Pat, and Mrs. Hadley came aboard.
It was my boat, I was host, and I could only dispense hospitality in the terms of their
understanding of it. So I would rush Spider, or Irish, or Scotty, or whoever was my crew,
with the can for beer and the demijohn for red wine. And again, lying at the wharf
disposing of my oysters, there were dusky twilights when big policemen and plain-
clothes men stole on board. And because we lived in the shadow of the police, we opened
oysters and fed them to them with squirts of pepper sauce, and rushed the growler or got
stronger stuff in bottles.
Drink as I would, I couldn't come to like John Barleycorn. I valued him extremely well
for his associations, but not for the taste of him. All the time I was striving to be a man
amongst men, and all the time I nursed secret and shameful desires for candy. But I
would have died before I'd let anybody guess it. I used to indulge in lonely debauches, on
nights when I knew my crew was going to sleep ashore. I would go up to the Free
Library, exchange my books, buy a quarter's worth of all sorts of candy that chewed and
lasted, sneak aboard the Razzle Dazzle, lock myself in the cabin, go to bed, and lie there
long hours of bliss, reading and chewing candy. And those were the only times I felt that
I got my real money's worth. Dollars and dollars, across the bar, couldn't buy the
satisfaction that twenty-five cents did in a candy store.
As my drinking grew heavier, I began to note more and more that it was in the drinking
bouts the purple passages occurred. Drunks were always memorable. At such times
things happened. Men like Joe Goose dated existence from drunk to drunk. The
longshoremen all looked forward to their Saturday night drunk. We of the oyster boats
waited until we had disposed of our cargoes before we got really started, though a
scattering of drinks and a meeting of a chance friend sometimes precipitated an
accidental drunk.
In ways, the accidental drunks were the best. Stranger and more exciting things happened
at such times. As, for instance, the Sunday when Nelson and French Frank and Captain
Spink stole the stolen salmon boat from Whisky Bob and Nicky the Greek. Changes had
taken place in the personnel of the oyster boats. Nelson had got into a fight with Bill
Kelley on the Annie and was carrying a bullet-hole through his left hand. Also, having