John Barleycorn HTML version

Chapter 19
When I was with people who did not drink, I never thought of drinking. Louis did not
drink. Neither he nor I could afford it; but, more significant than that, we had no desire to
drink. We were healthy, normal, non-alcoholic. Had we been alcoholic, we would have
drunk whether or not we could have afforded it.
Each night, after the day's work, washed up, clothes changed, and supper eaten, we met
on the street corner or in the little candy store. But the warm fall weather passed, and on
bitter nights of frost or damp nights of drizzle, the street corner was not a comfortable
meeting-place. And the candy store was unheated. Nita, or whoever waited on the
counter, between waitings lurked in a back living-room that was heated. We were not
admitted to this room, and in the store it was as cold as out-of-doors.
Louis and I debated the situation. There was only one solution: the saloon, the
congregating-place of men, the place where men hobnobbed with John Barleycorn. Well
do I remember the damp and draughty evening, shivering without overcoats because we
could not afford them, that Louis and I started out to select our saloon. Saloons are
always warm and comfortable. Now Louis and I did not go into this saloon because we
wanted a drink. Yet we knew that saloons were not charitable institutions. A man could
not make a lounging-place of a saloon without occasionally buying something over the
Our dimes and nickels were few. We could ill spare any of them when they were so
potent in paying car-fare for oneself and a girl. (We never paid car-fare when by
ourselves, being content to walk.) So, in this saloon, we desired to make the most of our
expenditure. We called for a deck of cards and sat down at a table and played euchre for
an hour, in which time Louis treated once, and I treated once, to beer--the cheapest drink,
ten cents for two. Prodigal! How we grudged it!
We studied the men who came into the place. They seemed all middle-aged and elderly
work-men, most of them Germans, who flocked by themselves in old-acquaintance
groups, and with whom we could have only the slightest contacts. We voted against that
saloon, and went out cast down with the knowledge that we had lost an evening and
wasted twenty cents for beer that we didn't want.
We made several more tries on succeeding nights, and at last found our way into the
National, a saloon on Tenth and Franklin. Here was a more congenial crowd. Here Louis
met a fellow or two he knew, and here I met fellows I had gone to school with when a
little lad in knee pants. We talked of old days, and of what had become of this fellow, and
what that fellow was doing now, and of course we talked it over drinks. They treated, and
we drank. Then, according to the code of drinking, we had to treat. It hurt, for it meant
forty to fifty cents a clatter.