Last Chance Saloon

Entry by: macdonald

26th November 2015
November 21st

'I will be blunt, Mr London,' he said, before I'd even time to button my shirt. 'You have entered the last chance saloon.'
I know I'm a literary man but my wits must have slowed since I turned forty as I didn't catch his meaning straight out. His manner had gone all official and serious though and I soon reckoned that all his prodding at my belly and gazing at my urine must have caused this outburst of figurative talk. But still flummoxed I played for time.
'My kidney stones hurt real bad doc, and I've had the runs for four days now but I guess a few doses of morphia will see me right.'
' Your liver is failing,' he opined, all literal now, 'as well as your kidneys, and in my view excessive drinking of alcohol is the root cause. You must cease drinking all alcoholic beverages immediately and forever.' I didn't like the direction this conversation was now headed so in view of his rhetoric, and since all doctors know their Latin I just smiled and said:
'I'm a writer doc, and no verse can give pleasure for long, nor last, that is written by drinkers of water.' However, he wasn't the literary type and turns out he was a prohibitionist to boot.
'You won't be able to hold a pen much longer if you continue to drink alcohol,' he said.
'Then I'll purchase a mechanical typing machine like Mark Twain did. Reports of his death were also once greatly exaggerated, as I recall.'
'Your constitution is wrecked, Mr London,' he said. 'I am not exaggerating when I tell you plainly that if you don't stop drinking you will be dead soon.'
It makes me mad now to think of that humbug, with his soft white hands and fancy education, advising me so. Seems to me, he knows nothing about anything, except how to take a fat fee from the sick and needy. I go to him with the runs and a feeling of being all tuckered out and he gives me a quick inspection, smells my breath and delivers a death sentence. I'd like to see how that 'dry' crusader would have fared on the Chilkoot trail, that wintertime, carrying six months supplies on his back and eating nothing but beans and hardtack for the last three. I wager he still has all his teeth. He would have skedaddled after the first night's bivouac. It was strong liquor kept a man alive up there and staying alive is a hard habit to break. Your good health!
'I am a teetotaller,' he told me pompously. Well I never trusted any man who doesn't like a drink. The old sawbones in Dawson City, he was a proper doctor with a kindly disposition and he never dished out sermons on morality and knew his Latin too. Rictus Sardonicus, Per Rectum, Delirium Tremens and all that jargon just poured out of him. His favourite shout was for a tincture of whiskey, and he always ended up so laundered that one time he pissed himself under the saloon table into my boots. I didn't have the heart to tell him the next morning. Bottoms up!
I've been in the Last Chance saloon more times than that quack's had hot breakfasts and he probably ain't even heard of Johnny's bar even though it's just down the street from his office. Practically lived there for a time, I did. It was Johnny lent me the cash to get some schooling at Berkeley. I guess I should've stayed there and not lit out for the Klondike. I would've done but for that pig William Chaney, who refused to acknowledge he was my biological father. Listening to that fraud, it's no wonder my dear old ma' went crazy. Anyways if I hadn't spent all those nights at Johnny's by the Oakland Ferry terminal I would have never met Alex Mclean, the meanest, toughest sailor ever lived who gave me Wolf Larsen and it was there I dreamed up Buck and them other wolfdogs. Being in the Last Chance saloon, mister clever doctor, made me what I am. Met the best men living there, and also some wild rogues, hard cases and other low company too, but did my best work sitting by that pot-bellied stove. To absent friends!
Last time I went in, the floor was still slant from the earthquake. A man might think he's wall-papered before he's had his first shot with a floor like that I said to Johnny, but he thought the feature added to the ambience of his saloon, like the wood walls, made up from that wrecked whaling boat and Jim Jeffries boxing gloves. Best heavyweight ever lived he was and he would've beat Jack Johnson easy if he hadn't had to shed over a hundred pounds to get in shape for his comeback. Here's to you, Jim!
I did a bit of boxing myself and was fit as a fiddle before the Klondike. Although I was green then, I still wouldn't change what I did. I got the call, just the same as Buck. Soft-living I can only stand for so long and brute nature will take us all in the end anyways, voluntary or not. Well if tomorrow I leave for an unknown destination like what good old Ambrose Beirce wrote just recently, before vanishing in the Mexican war, I would only regret not seeing my little darlings again or my dear old ranch, even with Wolf House just burnt down. Tchin, Tchin Ambrose, wherever you are!
Refused me any morphia that sour, shrivelled medicine man. And that is a literal description, not figurative. My liver may be shrivelled to the size of a walnut but he is shrivelled inside and out in my opinion. He ain't suffering the pain I got, doesn't have to sleep on his porch all weathers. I'd like to pluck out that doc's cynical eyes , which might improve his vision for inspection of the next sucker waiting to hand over a wad of greenbacks for a temperance lecture. Anyways I'm all played out and it's a good job I got a little bit morphia stashed as I have an inclination to pen some words to Joan and Bessie now. I want them to know how much I loved them both and writing will take my mind off the colic.
I might just break open that lost bottle for a sip, because I meant what I said to that Latin-free quack. Old Horace probably did as well, I guess. To life!
Whether a tranquil old age awaits for me
Or death hovers with black wings
Rich, poor, at Rome, or banishment perhaps
Whatever the complexion of my life
I will write

Jack London was found dead on his porch on 22nd November 1916. Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon is a waterfront saloon opened by John (Johnny) M Heinold in 1883 and is situated on what is now Jack London Square in Oakland, California. For many sailors it was the first and last chance to drink alcohol before or after a long voyage. It is also known as 'Jack London's rendezvous.'
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