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   Chapter 18 No.18

Windy McPherson's Son By Sherwood Anderson Characters: 5423

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Through the summer and early fall Sam continued his wanderings. The days on which something happened or on which something outside himself interested or attracted him were special days, giving him food for hours of thought, but for the most part he walked on and on for weeks, sunk in a kind of healing lethargy of physical fatigue. Always he tried to get at people who came into his way and to discover something of their way of life and the end toward which they worked, and many an open-mouthed, staring man and woman he left behind him on the road and on the sidewalks of the villages. He had one principle of action; whenever an idea came into his mind he did not hesitate, but began trying at once the practicability of living by following the idea, and although the practice brought him to no end and only seemed to multiply the difficulties of the problem he was striving to work out, it brought him many strange experiences.

At one time he was for several days a bartender in a saloon in a town in eastern Ohio. The saloon was in a small wooden building facing a railroad track and Sam had gone in there with a labourer met on the sidewalk. It was a stormy night in September at the end of his first year of wandering and while he stood by a roaring coal stove, after buying drinks for the labourer and cigars for himself, several men came in and stood by the bar drinking together. As they drank they became more and more friendly, slapping each other on the back, singing songs and boasting. One of them got out upon the floor and danced a jig. The proprietor, a round-faced man with one dead eye, who had himself been drinking freely, put a bottle upon the bar and coming up to Sam, began complaining that he had no bartender and had to work long hours.

"Drink what you want, boys, and then I'll tell you what you owe," he said to the men standing along the bar.

Watching the men who drank and played like school boys about the room, and looking at the bottle sitting on the bar, the contents of which had for the moment taken the sombre dulness out of the lives of the workmen, Sam said to himself, "I will take up this trade. It may appeal to me. At least I shall be selling forgetfulness and not be wasting my life with this tramping on the road and thinking."

The saloon in which he worked was a profitable one and although in an obscure place had made its proprietor what is called "well fixed." It had a side door opening into an alley and one went up this alley to the main street of the town. The front door looking upon the railroad tracks was but little used, perhaps at the noon hour two or three young men from the freight depot down the tracks would come in by it and stand a

bout drinking beer, but the trade that came down the alley and in at the side door was prodigious. All day long men hurried in at this door, took drinks and hurried out again, looking up the alley and running quickly when they found the way clear. These men all drank whiskey, and when Sam had worked for a few days in the place he once made the mistake of reaching for the bottle when he heard the door open.

"Let them ask for it," said the proprietor gruffly. "Do you want to insult a man?"

On Saturday the place was filled all day with beer-drinking farmers, and at odd hours on other days men came in, whimpering and begging drinks. When alone in the place, Sam looked at the trembling fingers of these men and put the bottle before them, saying, "Drink all you want of the stuff."

When the proprietor was in, the men who begged drinks stood a moment by the stove and then went out thrusting their hands into their coat pockets and looking at the floor.

"Bar flies," the proprietor explained laconically.

The whiskey was horrible. The proprietor mixed it himself and put it into stone jars that stood under the bar, pouring it out of these into bottles as they became empty. He kept on display in glass cases bottles of well known brands of whiskey, but when a man came in and asked for one of these brands Sam handed him a bottle bearing that label from beneath the bar, a bottle previously filled by Al from the jugs of his own mixture. As Al sold no mixed drinks Sam was compelled to know nothing the bartender's art and stood all day handing out Al's poisonous stuff and the foaming glasses of beer the workingmen drank in the evening.

Of the men coming in at the side door, a shoe merchant, a grocer, the proprietor of a restaurant, and a telegraph operator interested Sam most. Several times each day these men would appear, glance back over their shoulders at the door, and then turning to the bar would look at Sam apologetically.

"Give me a little out of the bottle, I have a bad cold," they would say, as though repeating a formula.

At the end of the week Sam was on the road again. The rather bizarre notion that by staying there he would be selling forgetfulness of life's unhappiness had been dispelled during his first day's duty, and his curiosity concerning the customers was his undoing. As the men came in at the side door and stood before him Sam leaned over the bar and asked them why they drank. Some of the men laughed, some swore at him, and the telegraph operator reported the matter to Al, calling Sam's question an impertinence.

"You fool, don't you know better than to be throwing stones at the bar?" Al roared, and with an oath discharged him.

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