John Barleycorn HTML version
My infatuation for the Oakland water-front was quite dead. I didn't like the looks of it,
nor the life. I didn't care for the drinking, nor the vagrancy of it, and I wandered back to
the Oakland Free Library and read the books with greater understanding. Then, too, my
mother said I had sown my wild oats and it was time I settled down to a regular job. Also,
the family needed the money. So I got a job at the jute mills--a ten-hour day at ten cents
an hour. Despite my increase in strength and general efficiency, I was receiving no more
than when I worked in the cannery several years before. But, then, there was a promise of
a rise to a dollar and a quarter a day after a few months. And here, so far as John
Barleycorn is concerned, began a period of innocence. I did not know what it was to take
a drink from month end to month end. Not yet eighteen years old, healthy and with
labour-hardened but unhurt muscles, like any young animal I needed diversion,
excitement, something beyond the books and the mechanical toil.
I strayed into Young Men's Christian Associations. The life there was healthful and
athletic, but too juvenile. For me it was too late. I was not boy, nor youth, despite my
paucity of years. I had bucked big with men. I knew mysterious and violent things. I was
from the other side of life so far as concerned the young men I encountered in the
Y.M.C.A. I spoke another language, possessed a sadder and more terrible wisdom.
(When I come to think it over, I realise now that I have never had a boyhood.) At any
rate, the Y.M.C.A. young men were too juvenile for me, too unsophisticated. This I
would not have minded, could they have met me and helped me mentally. But I had got
more out of the books than they. Their meagre physical experiences, plus their meagre
intellectual experiences, made a negative sum so vast that it overbalanced their
wholesome morality and healthful sports.
In short, I couldn't play with the pupils of a lower grade. All the clean splendid young life
that was theirs was denied me-- thanks to my earlier tutelage under John Barleycorn. I
knew too much too young. And yet, in the good time coming when alcohol is eliminated
from the needs and the institutions of men, it will be the Y.M.C.A., and similar
unthinkably better and wiser and more virile congregating-places, that will receive the
men who now go to saloons to find themselves and one another. In the meantime, we live
to-day, here and now, and we discuss to-day, here and now.
I was working ten hours a day in the jute mills. It was hum-drum machine toil. I wanted
life. I wanted to realise myself in other ways than at a machine for ten cents an hour. And
yet I had had my fill of saloons. I wanted something new. I was growing up. I was
developing unguessed and troubling potencies and proclivities. And at this very stage,
fortunately, I met Louis Shattuck and we became chums.
Louis Shattuck, without one vicious trait, was a real innocently devilish young fellow,
who was quite convinced that he was a sophisticated town boy. And I wasn't a town boy
at all. Louis was handsome, and graceful, and filled with love for the girls. With him it
was an exciting and all-absorbing pursuit. I didn't know anything about girls. I had been