school studies irked me early. I was an imaginative
kid and when a small carnival came to town it
seemed pretty glamorous to me. Not very big, skinny
and looking like a victim of malnutrition, I made
an admirable "Cigarette Fiend" for one of the
side-shows, as one of the concession men told
me when he propositioned me. I had a dandy hacking
cough and looked very convincing on the platform
as the spieler told the crowd how many hundred
coffin-nails I smoked every day, how doctors had
given me up and I sure surely marked for the Grim
Reaper. At every telling point in the ballyhoo,
I would cough as if I would croak any minute.
I was tickled. I was fooling the people.
That idea of fooling the people, which had its
start with the carnival side-show, later dominated
my whole life. I was a smart guy living by my
wits, making my living by beating the other fellow.
Thrown among carnival folks, I soon acquired their
ways. I learned to take on a drink or two occasionally
and on one night in a middle-western town got
so loaded I woke up the next morning in a pig-pen.
How I got there I don't even remember. I had been
sick during the night and I've often wondered
why the pigs tolerated me. Shortly afterward I
quit the show and returned home.
My father was a pharmacist so I studied to follow
in his footsteps, however, on the eve of taking
the state board examination, I was ordered to
report for military service. Army life contributed
to the formation of my character in an important
way. L ike most of the boys, I didn't expect to
be lucky enough to be alive when hostilities were
over, so I began to live from day to day. In time
of war the soldier is a gambler and tomorrow is
something he is never quite sure about.
I was never more than ordinarily lucky and I knew
that I couldn't get all the money I wanted by
depending on luck, so I began to master the art
of manipulating dice and cards. I became passionately
interested in the basic arts of the profession
of crooked gambling. Conscience bothered me somewhat
at first, but the voice was stilled as I was soon
making more money than the commanding officer
of the encampment. Soon I had a house with a lady
in charge outside of government property and laid
in a stock of liquor and beer. My place became
so popular that I was making money such as I hadn't
dreamed of. I was the only real, genuine "doughboy"
- I was making the dough and plenty of it.
The war ended and I returned home. I had experienced
easy living and I certainly couldn't see a future
of rolling pills and making up prescriptions from
medical latin. I had plenty of money and in my
home town began to know and be known by the gambli
ng fraternity, the town sports, the bookies and
operators. But something kept me from making any
connection with that crowd professionally in my
home town. I knew how hurt my people would be,
so I lit out for pastures new.
Downstate was a hell-roaring river town with almost
a century old reputation for being a gambler's
paradise. It was practically never a closed town
except in sporadic elections of reform administrations.
I allied myself with one of the best known operators
in a saloon, dealing poker, craps and blackjack.
I made plenty of money. I developed a strong habit
of stimulating myself with liquor.
Even that exciting existence dulled after a time
and I felt I ought to see the country so, finding
myself a clever and congenial partner, I took
to riding the"name trains" from coast to coast,
always with the best the Pullman company could
offer. I had an excellent wardrobe, the best-looking
baggage I could get - all the essentials for the
front so necessary in the profession of a train-sharper.
Prohibition was now with us, and the kind of whiskey
I drank was $20.00 and more by the quart. Our
plan of operation was in the best technique, based
on the opening of offering something for nothing
which is sure-fire appeal to human cupidity.
Traveling eventually became tiresome. I went home
once more. I was now very definitely a professional
but I didn't have to tie up with any outfit in
particular. Working when the mood seized me, drinking
steadily every day, I did not escape the fate
of every gambler, getting into trouble with the
authorities now and then, but always getting by
because I well knew the value of protection, which
was just a business proposition with me and thoroughly
For the first time in my life, however, money
failed me when I was incarcerated for eight months
after hiring the best available mouthpiece and
placing the needful where it seemed it might do
me good to the tune of more than $5,000. Even
when I went behind the bars I still had plenty
left. Through influence I became cook for the
superintendent of the prison which opened the
way to liquor for me, and I managed to be comfortably
jingled most of the time I was in the pen.
When I was out on the bricks again, I decided
to give my home town a wide berth for a while
and went to one of the largest cities in the country
to resume operations.
I wasn't much given to contemplation. Long ago
I had dropped any idea that there was a God. If
I ever gave any thought to myself being in this
world for any other purpose than to make all the
money I possibly could, I do not recall it.
I drank heavily with sober periods few and far
between. In this city I operated for four years
during which time I was steadily slipping in any
control over liquor I might once have had. I had
my first experience of hospitals, taken there
helpless from continued drinking. The best medical
talent in the city was always in attendance. Hospital
followed hospital and I finally went from one
sanitarium to another. My business still gave
me a considerable income. My economic position
was not bad. By this time I had married but that
had no steadying influence on me.
Back I went to my home town and then my troubles
really started. My domestic situation became very
disagreeable. Gambling even almost lost its appeal
for me and that had been my life. I quit everything
to take up drinking seriously. I knew that I was
a drunkard, had no hope of ever overcoming the
desire for liquor, now far more necessary to continued
existence than the food I ate. My wife heard of
a cure at a state institution - the state insane
asylum to be frank - and, unknown to me, got a
court order to have me sent there. Two deputies
hauled me out of bed one day and took me to the
county jail for temporary lodgement. I had many
friends and even the law didn't want me to be
sent to the bughouse. I got as far as the county
jail twice for brief periods, being released on
my promise to do something about drinking. I didn't
do anything about it. When I got out all I wanted
So eventually to the bughouse I went, assigned
to the alcoholic ward. I spent four months there.
During that time I had no trouble getting liquor
because I still had money. Again I was released.
Once out, I wrecked my car, driving while intoxicated,
and it seemed that I might get a stiff jail sentence
so when it was suggested that I might avoid that
by going back to the asylum, I accepted.
The bughouse had no terrors for me. I knew I could
always get a supply of liquor and stay half stupefied
most of the time. In the institution I became
a nuisance to officials, attendants, and doctors.
I had been in and out of the place so often that
even the sincere professional medical men and
psychologists had given me up. Suggestion, kindness,
everything had been tried. They now regarded me
as incorrigible, said nothing could be done for
or with me and discharged me in a very short time.
In two months I was back again. This time I was
treated like any insane person, was punished for
infractions, any breaches of discipline. I could
still get all the liquor I wanted through my financial
reserve and that was all I cared about.
I used to talk with another inmate about this
drinking business. He was a man who had lost one
good job after another, had fallen from a good
professional position to the status of a hobo.
This fellow knew and had lived in almost every
railroad jungle from coast to coast and had finally
been slammed into the bughouse because his family
didn't want to read about his death someday as
a friendless wanderer. To me he confessed that
he had tried for years to quit. I told him I had
long ago discovered I couldn't and that now I
didn't give a damn. But this time when I was sent
back to the asylum, he wasn't there.
About the middle of my last confinement I was
surprised by a visit from this fellow. He had
kept me in mind and had come a considerable distance
to see me. I was half-drunk when he called on
me and didn't have even the haziest idea of what
he was tal king about. But he asked me if I would
try to follow instructions if he was successful
in getting me out. Half-heartedly I told him I
would, but I had no intention of cooperating.
I merely wanted to get out, where I could have
free access to what money I had and make a real
job of drinking.
Shortly after that, my sister visited me and persuaded
the authorities to let me go. They were glad to
do so, being sick and tired of me. They were glad
of the short respite they thought my absence would
give them, I guess.
When I got home, doped with sedatives I was put
to bed and managed to get a little rest. The next
day my former fellow-inmate and recent visitor
came from a neighboring town to see me. I was
very nervous and jittery and my mind was continually
on the bottle while he talked. My natural distrust
for all human beings seemed diminished a little
while he was talking, for I knew his story and
we had something in common. He was pretty definite
in his statements and finally elicited from me
a promise to try to follow a certain plain which
he now proposed to explain to me. He stressed
the fact that his drinking career had been very
similar to mine and much more miserable because
it had made a homeless bum out of him whereas
I had never been in straitened financial circumstances.
I told him I would give it a trial if at all possible
and invited him to keep on talking.
He began by pointing out what I couldn't dispute,
that I had no faith in anything, man or God, that
all my life I had lived as I pleased without any
moral scruples or misgivings whatever. I admitted
that I had.
"What you need is a definite religious experience,"
"That's the bunk." I said. "I knew there was some
angle like this. Count me out. If I've got to
turn around and join a church and sing hymns and
holler 'Amen' when some long-bearded jasper, who
spends six days out of the week skinning suckers,
legally begins to pray in meeting, I don't want
any part of it."
"You don't have to do that," he said. "And, anyway,
the long-bearded slicker is no concern of yours.
Your problem is yourself."
My friend was new to this job of helping the other
fellow, but I couldn't get away from the fact
that he was now sober and that he had got that
way and was being kept that way by a religious
experience. He made me a proposition.
"I'll come for you Wednesday night," he said.
"I'll take you to where a bunch of guys who used
to be pickled practically all the time meet every
week. You can see and listen and judge for yourself."
With my friend I attended that meeting. I was
cordially received. I knew a good many of them
and listened attentively, but I say quite honestly
it left me cold. Not that it was like a church
service. No, it wasn't like that at all. When
some stori es had been told it ended up with the
Lord's Prayer, then everybody sat around and visited.
I was beginning to get a little scared. Now, I
thought, is when they'll put the works to a guy;
along about this time one of these mugs is going
to get me in a corner and ask me about my soul.
Nothing of the sort happened. They invited me
back again. Others asked if they could come to
see me, when I'd be in and so forth. My pal stuck
pretty close to me that week. Some of the gang
turned up at my home and told me how they had
been helped to quit drinking. I went back to the
next meeting and the next and the next again.
Gradually I began to see what it was all about.
I listened carefully for I was now definitely
interested. More or less unconsciously I was seeking
for something. I didn't know it then, but I think
I was surely seeking God. Now, I didn't find God
suddenly. You must remember that God was never
in any of my plans. The former cynical, gambler-slicker
who didn't even believe much that there was honor
among thieves, gradu ally learned that Love is
the law of God. I, who had strictly followed the
injunction that you should never give a sucker
an even break, had to learn that God demands we
be honest if we are to follow his teachings.
I am writing this in the Thanksgiving season.
It is a great privilege to have the fine human
friendship and association of this gang of former
drunks. It is an even greater privilege when I
can be of service in helping some guy to a remedy
which is his for the taking.
But if friends and fellowship were to disappear
tomorrow I don't think I would be dismayed. Back
of all that there is the knowledge that I have
a Divine Father - that as long as I try to walk
as He has laid down for me to do throughout my
life, nothing of ill can befall me, that if I
wish I can be sober for the rest of my days.
I have a simple little job on which I make less
in a month that I formerly made in a day, but
that doesn't worry me. I know there is something
far better than mere dollars. There isn't a gambling
house of note that wouldn't be glad to have me
as an operator, for the owners know I'm capable,
that I can bring and keep business. In fact, some
who know, think I would be a greater asset than
ever for they have confidence that I would make
an honest accounting of receipts.
No, I don't have much money nowadays, but I don't
need any. I am quite sure that God doesn't want
me to go back to the green tables and the shaded
lights again. It might even be possible that I
could go back to my former profession and stay
sober, bu t I doubt it. Accustomed to coldly calculating
the odds all my life, I'm of the opinion that
they would be definitely against me.
His Will must be my bet - There's no other way!
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