“Oh we’ll smash the saloon when we’re men,
We’ll hit it again and again,
We shall tear it down,
Down unto the ground,
Oh, we’ll smash the saloon when we’re men…”
“We’ll Smash the Saloon”…From a Sunday School songbook ca. 1900 called “Songs for Little Singers.”
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Proverbs 20:1
I hate alcohol. Hate, loathe, despise, reject, detest, and hold in odium, revulsion and repugnance what the old-time Prohibitionists rightly called “The Demon Rum.” Alcohol is a drug that ought to be treated the same as the worst of narcotics in our society and Prohibition should never have been repealed. Our society’s glamorization of alcohol via Hollyweird (including, of course, TV) and Mad Ave. is a heinous crime against civilized Humanity. Alcohol ought to be as strictly governed as Heroin, Cocaine, Morphine or any other drugs.
A man was found dead in a back alley, his emaciated 6 foot plus tall frame weighing a whopping 130 pounds. Dead and alone and probably drunk, although no one may ever know because he won’t make the news and he wasn’t really that important to anyone. He was just another drunken bum. Another story told and re-told so many times that it isn’t even noteworthy. Nobody cares.
And his wife.
And his step-son.
And his brother.
And his wife.
And their children.
And maybe half-a-dozen to a dozen men who prayed with him and for him and coached him and talked to him; who knew what they were praying for and talking about and were, in deed, his friends.
I did not know the man well, although I think I could have been counted as one of his friends. He did not have many. I don’t know when he started drinking; I only know that when he came to Colorado, what, eighteen years ago, maybe, He was on the wagon and was anxious to start a new life. He met a woman that had been widowed and had a young son. I do not know the exact chronology of events as his path and mine only crossed occasionally. I do know that at one point he’d had a thriving painting business and was considered a top-notch painter. I, being one step below a bottom-notch painter, did not really “get” the finesse and care he put into his work. I just knew that one day I saw a van in the church parking lot with his name on it. He was doing well for himself.
The men in the church knew he was having trouble staying on the wagon, though. Those of us who had been in his shoes would talk to him and pray with him and work with him and he would do really well for such a long time. “I think he’s really gonna make it this time. He really prayed through and his attitude is good. He’s gonna be all right.” His wife would always take him back every time he would get back on the wagon. She would have him move back in and treat him with love and respect. She had to have him move out when he was drinking as anyone who knows these types of situations will comprehend, but she always loved him and always wanted him back.
And he’d always come back. He’d come to church and get right and straighten out and dry up and begin doing so well.
But there was something driving him. There was a dark, malevolent force that was impossible to resist. There is a reason why they are called “spirits” and why the old-timers referred to the demon, “Rum.” You may scoff at the idea of a spirit world at all, but I believe there are real devils that drive men to do things a right-thinking person would never do. These spirits from Hell are waiting at the door of your own personal spirit and when you take a drink of alcohol you open a door to the spirit world. Perhaps you have some secular, psychological explanation for it. Fine. The result is the same.
You can argue that not everyone that drinks ends up in an alley somewhere covered in their own vomit and urine and starved to death. Perhaps. What about the countless times that a poor judgment made under the influence of alcohol has irrevocably changed the course of history? I know a man who could have been an Intelligence Officer in the U. S. Army, but his drinking affected his judgment. I’ve known others that never came close to their full potential. Personally, I used to get enough money to buy a gallon of milk for my kids, but when I got to the store, would buy a quart or half-gallon of milk and spend the rest on whatever alcoholic beverage I could afford. I have had my friends pick me up out of the gutter in front of the bar and dump me into the backseat of a car.
You cannot comprehend this. Good. That means you have never had an inner demon to fight. You have never been driven in the darkness by a burning so strong that lust and desire are not even words that can describe the intensity of the need for it. Thank God. I thank God often that he delivered me from it. It was only the real power of God that could do it.
“Ha-ha!” Someone says, “He had this power of God the same as you. Why did he wind up as another drunken bum?” I don’t know. Why would a man live like that?
“Brother,” he told me one time when he was praying. He had come to church, again, to see if anyone still cared about him and to just look at his wife. She’d had him come sit with her and was glad when some of the men took him up to pray for him and talk to him. Men who had lived that life. Men who know what it is like to have a demonic force driving you. Men who would encourage him to try, yet another time, to get up. Men who would help him stand. “Brother,” he told me, “The streets are hard. They steal all your stuff and beat you up and if you have any money at all, even a quarter, they’ll take it.”
“You don’t have to live out there, Herkimer,” I called him by his real name, of course, “Every one of us wants to help you. GOD wants to help you.”
He was drunk.
“I had some nice things, but they took them all. I sold some of them. I got a guy to give me a couple of dollars and I bought a bottle of whiskey then I drank it. It felt so good, and I fell asleep. It was cold, but then I thought about Jesus. Jesus doesn’t want me to be like this, does he, brother?”
“No. You were a successful businessman. You are smart and talented and you could give up the mess you are in. You don’t have to be like this, Herk.”
“I know. Last night,” This was months ago, maybe a year ago, “I had gotten a nice bottle and drank it, but I vomited all over myself, isn’t that disgusting, brother, I just vomited all over myself. I think I wet myself, too, but I’m not sure. Anyway, I broke into a laundry room at this apartment building and slept there. It was so warm and nice, lying on top of the dryers there. But then a lady and her kid came in and she saw me and backed out of the room. A little while later a guy, I guess he was the manager, came and told me I had to leave. I asked him if I could just stay and keep warm a little and he said that I had to leave or he would call the cops. Why would he treat me like that?”
It was like talking to a little child in some ways.
“Herkimer,” I said, “You probably scared that lady and her kid. They were going to do their laundry and here was a drunken bum. They didn’t know you, Herk. They didn’t know that you are a nice guy with a family. Think about your own wife.”
“Yeah,” He started to cry, “I would be mad if some stinking, drunken bum had scared my wife. I would expect the manager to call the cops.”
“Don’t you see how pathetic you are?”
“I know. I know. I am going to do it though. This time I am really going to do it.”
“You can do it, Herk. You know you can call anyone here at any time. We all love you and want you to succeed.”
He came to church with his wife, real regular for a few weeks, and then he was gone again. Then a few months ago, he started coming again. He was clean-shaven and his eyes were bright and clear and intelligent and he looked wonderful. Starched, white shirt with a tie. He looked like a million bucks.
*Sturdy handshake, clear eye contact* “How ya doin’ Herk?”
“I’m doing good, brother. I’m doing really well, as a matter of fact.”
“You’re looking good, man.”
And that was my last conversation with him. A couple of weeks ago, just before they found him.
Most people may not know what it is like to have an internal demon hounding your every step. Or maybe you have just learned to function with yours. You have learned to hide yours from the outside world. Or you have fought it and won.
All I know is this was a wasted life. This was a life that didn’t have to end.
Why is alcohol not a prescription drug? You can get booze easier than you can get Sudafed. You don’t even have to go the pharmacist and ask him for it.
If I thought a Prohibition Party candidate could win in any election, I would support his campaign. I might anyway. They are mostly conservative and if I voted for him I would be voting my conscience. In this election I am voting for the McCain/Palin ticket, but this will likely never be an issue with either candidate or either party for a long time. I listened to the Prohibition Party candidate speak and decided that there is no way he could ever get elected.
The Good Book says, in a mixture of translations and verions, “Who hath woe? Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who hath contentions? Who is always complaining? Who hath babbling? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks. They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Don’t let the sparkle and smooth taste of wine deceive you for in the end it bites like a poisonous serpent; it stings like a viper. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, you will see hallucinations, and you will say crazy things. You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea, clinging to a swaying mast and you will say, ‘They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even know it when they beat me up. When will I wake up so I can have another drink? I will seek it yet again.’”