It’s curious, but no one seems to be able to recall what Charlie used to talk about before the country went what may be called, with screaming effect, dry.
Of course there must have been a lot of unsatisfactory weather even then, and I don’t doubt that he slipped in a word or two when the talk got around to the insanity of the then-current styles of women’s dress. But though I have taken up the thing in a serious way, and have gone about among his friends making inquiries, I cannot seem to find that he could ever have got any farther than that in the line of conversation. In fact, he must have been one of those strong silent men in the old days.
Those who have not seen him for several years would be in a position to be knocked flat with a feather if they could see what a regular little Chatterbox Charlie has become. Say what you will about prohibition—and who has a better right?—you would have to admit, if you knew Charlie, that it has been the making of him as a conversationalist.
He never requires his audience to do any feeding for him. It needs no careful leading around of the subject, no tactful questions, no well-timed allusions, to get him nicely loosened up. All you have to do is say good evening to him, ask him how everybody over at his house is getting along, and give him a chair—though this last is not essential—and silver-tongued Charlie is good for three hours straight on where he is getting it, how much he has to pay for it, and what the chances are of his getting hold of a couple of cases of genuine pinch-bottle, along around the middle of next week. I have known him to hold entire dinner parties spellbound, from cocktails to finger bowls, with his monologue.
Now I would be well down among the last when it came to wanting to give you the impression that Charlie has been picked for the All-American alcoholic team. Despite the wetness of his conversation he is just a nice, normal, conscientious drinker, willing to take it or let it alone, in the order named. I don’t say he would not be able to get along without it, but neither do I say that he doesn’t get along perfectly splendidly with it. I don’t think I ever saw any one who could get as much fun as Charlie can out of splitting the Eighteenth Amendment with a friend.
There is a glamour of vicarious romance about him. You gather from his conversation that he comes into daily contact with any number of picturesque people. He tells about a friend of his who owns three untouched bottles of the last absinth to come into the country; or a lawyer he knows, one of whose grateful clients sent him six cases of champagne in addition to his fee; or a man he met who had to move to the country in order to have room for his Scotch.
Charlie has no end of anecdotes about the interesting women he meets, too. There is one girl he often dwells on, who, if you only give her time, can get you little bottles of chartreuse, each containing an individual drink. Another gifted young woman friend of his is the inventor of a cocktail in which you mix a spoonful of orange marmalade. Yet another is the justly proud owner of a pet marmoset which becomes the prince of good fellows as soon as you have fed him a couple of teaspoonfuls of gin.
It is the next best thing to knowing these people yourself to hear Charlie tell about them. He just makes them live.
It is wonderful how Charlie’s circle of acquaintances has widened during the last two years; there is nothing so broadening as prohibition. Among his new friends he numbers a conductor on a train that runs down from Montreal, and a young man who owns his own truck, and a group of chaps who work in drug stores, and I don’t know how many proprietors of homey little restaurants in the basements of brownstone houses.
Some of them have turned out to be but fair-weather friends, unfortunately. There was one young man, whom Charlie had looked upon practically as a brother, who went particularly bad on him. It seems he had taken a pretty solemn oath to supply Charlie, as a personal favour, with a case of real Gordon, which he said he was able to get through his high social connections on the other side. When what the young man called a nominal sum was paid, and the case was delivered, its bottles were found to contain a nameless liquor, though those of Charlie’s friends who gave it a fair trial suggested Storm King as a good name for the brand. Charlie has never laid eyes on the young man from that day to this. He is still unable to talk about it without a break in his voice. As he says—and quite rightly, too—it was the principle of the thing.
But for the most part his new friends are just the truest pals a man ever had. In more time than it takes to tell it, Charlie will keep you right abreast with them—sketch in for you how they are, and what they are doing, and what their last words to him were.
But Charlie can be the best of listeners, too. Just tell him about any little formula you may have picked up for making it at home, and you will find the most sympathetic of audiences, and one who will even go to the flattering length of taking notes on your discourse. Relate to him tales of unusual places where you have heard that you can get it or of grotesque sums that you have been told have been exchanged for it, and he will hang on your every word, leading you on, asking intelligent questions, encouraging you by references to like experiences of his own.
But don’t let yourself get carried away with success and attempt to branch out into other topics. For you will lose Charlie in a minute if you try it.
But that, now I think of it, would probably be the very idea you would have in mind.