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THE NEWS HAWK
newsman covered life from top to bottom; but
he ended up, safely enough, in the middle.
NOTHING but a liberal arts education, very definitely
estranged from my family and already married, soon after
graduation from college 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 work.
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 in 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 Pittsburg, 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
Saturday 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.
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 supercargo job on an Australian
packet which allowed me to visirt 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 into 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 eary 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
carousal 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. Quebec, Toronto,
Buffalo, and finally Pittsburgh, were the scenes of
man-sized drunks until I
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 dispite mid-week resolutions
to do better, came with unfailing regularity, eventually
caused me to quit my job. Washington, D.C. and news-gathering
agency work followed, along 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 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 move to Philadelphia
to begin life anew. In three months John Barleycorn
had me kicked out.
I did six years
of newspaper advertising, and trade journal work with
many, many drunks of drab and
hue woven into the pattern of my life. I visited my
family just once in that time. An old avocation, the
collecting of first editions, rare books and Americana,
facinated me between times. I had some financial siccess
through no ability of my own and, when jobless and almost
wiped out in 1930, I began to trade and sell my collections;
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 work-houses.
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 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 broke, riding freights and hitch-hiking interminable
distances from one big town to another in three states.
Now on a new job I was always thinking
payday and how much liquor I could buy and the pleasure
I could have.
I knew I was a drunkard.
Enduring all hangover hells that every alcoholic experiences,
I made the usual resolutions. My thoughts sometimes
turned to the idea that three must be a remedy. I have
stood listening to street-corner preachers tell how
they beat the game. They seemed to be happy in their
fashion, they and their little groups 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 when I wanted to do
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
In five years a
good many persons had forgotten that I had been somewhat
notorious. I arrived drunk, but I promised my wife I
would keep sober, and I
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 sixty 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.
on the wagon now," I said. "I'm doing a job
I like and it's quiet where I live, practicallyt no
temptations. I don't feel bothered about liquor."
He looked at me
quizzically. He knew too well that didn't 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
another bender. The time came just a week later. 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 semicoma 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 momentart emotionalism
bornof 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 sfforts 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 who 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
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. 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 helped. The hospitality
of their home and their fine fellowship were 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 institution
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 daily 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
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
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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