Windy McPherson's Son

by Sherwood Anderson

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Book III - Chapter 3

Through the summer and early fall Sam continued his wanderings. The dayson which something happened or on which something outside himselfinterested or attracted him were special days, giving him food for hoursof thought, but for the most part he walked on and on for weeks, sunk in akind of healing lethargy of physical fatigue. Always he tried to get atpeople who came into his way and to discover something of their way oflife 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 sidewalksof the villages. He had one principle of action; whenever an idea cameinto his mind he did not hesitate, but began trying at once thepracticability of living by following the idea, and although the practicebrought him to no end and only seemed to multiply the difficulties of theproblem he was striving to work out, it brought him many strangeexperiences.

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

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

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

The saloon in which he worked was a profitable one and although in anobscure place had made its proprietor what is called "well fixed." It hada side door opening into an alley and one went up this alley to the mainstreet of the town. The front door looking upon the railroad tracks wasbut little used, perhaps at the noon hour two or three young men from thefreight depot down the tracks would come in by it and stand about drinkingbeer, but the trade that came down the alley and in at the side door wasprodigious. All day long men hurried in at this door, took drinks andhurried out again, looking up the alley and running quickly when theyfound the way clear. These men all drank whiskey, and when Sam had workedfor a few days in the place he once made the mistake of reaching for thebottle when he heard the door open.

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

On Saturday the place was filled all day with beer-drinking farmers, andat 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 menand 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 bythe stove and then went out thrusting their hands into their coat pocketsand looking at the floor.

"Bar flies," the proprietor explained laconically.

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

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

"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 bizarrenotion that by staying there he would be selling forgetfulness of life'sunhappiness had been dispelled during his first day's duty, and hiscuriosity concerning the customers was his undoing. As the men came in atthe side door and stood before him Sam leaned over the bar and asked themwhy they drank. Some of the men laughed, some swore at him, and thetelegraph operator reported the matter to Al, calling Sam's question animpertinence.

"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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