Back To Cleveland
...the theoretical importance of the instincts
of self-preservation, of self-assertion and of mastery greatly
diminishes. They are component instincts whose function is to
assure that the organism shall follow its own path to death,
and to ward off any possible ways of returning to inorganic
existence other than those which are imminent in the organism
itself. We have no longer to reckon with the organism's puzzling
determination (so hard to fit into any context) to maintain
its own existence in the face of every obstacle. What we are
left with is the fact that the organism wishes to die only in
its own fashion. Thus these guardians of life, too, were originally
the myrmidons of death. Hence arises the paradoxical situation
that the living organism struggles most energetically against
events (dangers, in fact) which might help it to attain its
life's aim rapidly - by a kind of short-circuit.
Sigmund Freud, Beyond the
Pleasure Principle (Bantam Books, 1959) p. 72
Clarence found his way back to Cleveland. Not back to his home,
but to the East Side. He was an explorer. He would go anyplace,
a bar room, an abandoned building, a deserted alley. He would
explore and, quite often, discover things that were beneficial
to his very existence, his survival.
particular point in time he was exploring the basements of bars.
"I got a lot of free booze doing that," he recalled. There was
one bar in particular that was located in East Cleveland that
he chose to visit at least twice per week, sometimes more often
when other pickings became slim.
one of the larger establishments, which contained a nice restaurant
as well as a bar. Sometimes food was the focus of his quest,
but, more often than not, it was beverage alcohol.
found his way into the basement of this particular East Side
building through a delivery ramp that was never locked. Much
to his delight, he had discovered a wide array of empty bottles.
Beer bottles, wine bottles, Champaign bottles, whiskey bottles.
Every kind of bottle, in all shapes, sizes and colors imaginable.
Even some that he had never imagined existed.
contained at least a drop of their former contents, Clarence
didn't care what the alcohol was, or what it looked like or
tasted like. All the bottles had one thing in common, according
to Clarence: They all contained at least a couple of drops of
that precious elixir that he needed in order to live.
he got lucky, and the bottle contained more than a few drops.
Sometimes the bottles were almost full. The full bottles contained
alcohol that had somehow spoiled, and a customer returned it.
Clarence didn't care. Mixed with the rest of the contents of
the other bottles, it all tasted the same.
1930's, bars were required to dispose of the empty bottles by
destroying them. This bar in particular, and many others, got
away with leaving the empties intact. Probably by paying authorities
to leave the establishment alone.
developed a twice-weekly ritual of dealing with the bottles.
He had found a large, flat, metal pan with a protective lip,
and when he had finished his ritual, he would hide the pan in
the dark recesses of an unused corner. Into this pan he would
pour the last remaining drops from the bottles. He patiently
let each bottle drip slowly into the pan, making sure that he
didn't lose one precious drop. If only he could have squeezed
these bottles to speed up the process, he would have done so.
would fill up with a murky, colored liquid, as he drained the
bottles. When the pan was full, he would rapidly drink the mixture
and begin the process all over again. "Boy, what a buzz you
can get on that stuff," he once commented.
was "on the bum" for about a month and a half in East Cleveland.
Ever wary of the Mad Butcher, and of what were known as the
Nickel Plate Railroad Police. These police were, in reality,
just a group of "paid goons," as Clarence called them.
was about six feet tall. He weighed one hundred and thirty pounds,
soaking wet in his clothing. And this time in his life, he was
relegated to living in hobo shanty towns, under bridges like
the Kinsman Road Bridge - which was about two thirds of a mile
up from Jackass Hill. Anywhere he could "flop," he would do
not remember any time in his life that he had felt so alone,
so desolate, so afraid and so lost. Not only lost as to where
he was at this particular time, but lost as to where he was
going in his life. Lost even as where he had come from. He had
lost his wife, his home, his son, a lucrative banking career,
his health, his clothing, his self-respect, and he often feared
even his sanity. Or whatever there was left of it.
that had ever meant anything to Clarence was gone. Gone except
for the ever-present, urgent need, and overwhelming, burning
desire for beverage alcohol. There he was, just thirty-five
years old, cold, wet, sick, and - most devastating of all -
occurred in the latter part of January, in the year 1937, that
would eventually have a profound impact on the remainder of
Clarence Snyder's life. A life that, unbeknown to him, had already
been touched by Divine Providence.
event occurred during one of Clarence's exploratory sojourns,
Clarence came across a discarded issue of a recent national
magazine. While he was glancing through this issue, an article
immediately caught his eye. The article appeared graphically
to spell out what Clarence felt that he had become, all that
was the Saturday Evening Post. The issue was January
15, 1937. And the article was titled, "The Unhappy Drinker."
It was written by Frances T. Chambers, Jr., as told to Gretta
was a self-professed alcoholic who had been "cured" by Richard
R. Peabody, of 224 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Mass. Richard
R. Peabody was the author of a book (extremely popular during
the early 1930's), titled "The Common Sense Of Drinking."
A book that many of the founding members of what was to become
"Alcoholics Anonymous" had read with great interest.
book was an outgrowth of an earlier study titled, "Psychotherapeutic
Procedure in the Treatment of Chronic Alcoholism," This study
had been read before the Harvard Psychological Society and the
Boston Society of Psychiatry and Neurology.
was later published as the book, The Common Sense of Drinking.
Coincidentally, after his book was published in 1931, Peabody
moved from Boston, Massachusetts, to New York City. He moved
to 24 Gramercy Park. Peabody's home was located in the same
neighborhood as Calvary Episcopal Church, where the Rev. Samuel
M. Shoemaker was the Rector and was active in the Oxford Group.
The same neighborhood as the Olive Tree Inn where Ebby T. had
gone to. This Mission, on East 23rd Street was also
where Bill Wilson had "taken the pledge."
event, Chambers - the author of the Post article
- had worked with alcoholics in his private practice in very
much the same manner that Richard R. Peabody had previously
worked with Chambers. According to the article, Chambers took
treatment with alcoholics. "Are you ready to stop drinking,"
he would ask. "No," the patient often answered - with a dare-to-make-me
related this example: "`All right,' I told him. `Call me up
when you are.' As I hung up the telephone receiver, I fancied
I could hear him pouring himself another drink, but within twenty-four
hours he telephoned me to announce that he wanted to stop. Until
that had happened, I could do nothing for him; It is my strong
belief that no man was ever helped by being hoisted onto the
water wagon by his friends or advisors. He must climb up of
his own free will."
knew he was indeed unhappy. He also knew he desperately needed
to stop drinking. He knew that the doctor in Akron was probably
his only hope. This in spite of his overwhelming fear that the
very same doctor might be the feared Mad Butcher.
ripped out the Post article and kept it with him
at all times. Whenever he experienced doubts, he re-read it.
Many years later, he mounted the article on pieces of colored
paper and wrote beneath it: "My first intimation that alcoholism
was a disease-my first ray of hope."
back on this, Clarence once stated that he felt that the article
was a message directly from God to him. "James Snyder" was the
name of the photographer from the New York Times who
had taken the photograph at the heading of the Saturday
Evening Post article. Clarence had thought, at the time,
that this was proof that the article in the Saturday Evening
Post did solidify Clarence's start towards sobriety.
this very same magazine would publish an article about Alcoholics
Anonymous just over four years later, on March 1, 1941. That
article would be the start for many more thousands of alcoholics
to begin their journey on the road to sobriety. That national
publicity would catapult Alcoholics Anonymous toward of what
it has become today.
there were still some reservations about sobriety that were
left in Clarence's alcohol-clouded mind. Fears and doubts. Fears
about the doctor and who he possibly might be, and doubts concerning
the possibility of success. The kind of success that had eluded
him so often in the past and, with each failure, had become
even a more remote possibility. So it took one more event to
solidify Clarence's resolve to quit drinking for good.
other significant event occurred deep within the woods of Kingsbury
Run. Clarence, after reading the article about the "Unhappy
Drinker," had been in constant turmoil over the sorry state
of affairs his life had taken.
lay on the cold damp ground, in the midst of his so-called peers,
"a bunch of bums (he called them)," he glanced around. He looked
at the squalor, the ravaged faces, and the disheveled clothing.
Fear and desolation sank in. The picture surrounded him on all
sides and was even evident within his own body, mind, and spirit.
Kingsbury Run were in constant fear and terror of the Mad Butcher,
the Railroad Police, and even of each other. All were mere shadows
of their former selves, suffering from loss of the spark of
life. The spark that kept them alive, or at least managing an
were indeed, the walking dead. The great unwashed and the great
unshaved. This is what his life had become. Unless he did something
soon, and something drastic, this is where his life, such as
it was, would anonymously end. He would cease to exist with
no one to know and no one to care. His clothing would be removed
from his emaciated body, and his remains would be rolled into
a ditch or shallow grave for the vermin to feast upon. Such
was to be his legacy.
vaguely remembered the doctor in Akron somewhere deep within
the recesses of his foggy brain. He remembered that the doctor
had talked to him about "fixing drunks" so that they never drank
again. He remembered the glow, and the radiance that the doctor
had about him.
that in and for his life. He somehow knew the doctor was probably
the one man, no matter how afraid of him that he was, that could
put some meaning and purpose back into his meager and now meaningless
to stand up. He had a difficult time with this; but after considerable
effort, he did manage to stand erect. Well, as erect as a man
in his weakened condition could get, or even hope to get. All
it took, he felt, was determination. He made an attempt to dust
off his clothing. The clothing that was so imbedded with dirt
and filth that his dusting simply caused a small cloud around
himself. A cloud that, like a magnet, was drawn back to the
very same clothing he was trying to clean. Discouraged, he gave
that up shortly and tried to brush back whatever hair was left
on his head. He then made a loud and bold announcement to those
of his peers who happened to have been gathered in the vicinity.
through with this foolishness, I'm going to quit drinking,"
he said. After the laughter subsided somewhat, no one responded
or even looked up at him. After all, he was just like them,
a hopeless drunk. He repeated his statement to the gathered
masses - even louder this time and with more conviction: "I'm
through with this foolishness, I'm going to quit drinking !"
The laughter and derision continued. Shouts of "sit down and
shut up" were heard from the group.
the other drunks made an effort to stand. Clarence remembered
him only as a "flannel mouthed Irishman," one of the leaders
and a spokesperson of the group. This man placed his hands on
his hips and laughed. His head was thrown back, mouth wide open,
exhibiting a large, almost toothless grin.
quit drinking," the Irishman said. "You'll never quit
drinking. Look at you. You don't have the guts to quit drinking."
Clarence took a couple of unsteady steps forward, but not enough
to be in direct swinging range of this other person. He put
his hands on his own hips and yelled, "I'm gonna quit drinking!"
The Irishman took a few more steps closer and pushed his face
into Clarence's. "You'll NEVER quit drinking!"
Spit was flying out of the Irishman's mouth. "You know that
to quit takes determination. To have determination you have
to have a chin. Look at you," he roared. He continued to laugh;
and then said, "You've got a chin like Andy Gump. You're no
was no doubt sharing from his own experiences. He too, had probably
quit drinking, with determination and with his
large and chiseled chin many times in the past. Times too numerous
to remember, with little or no success.
then got even closer, and yelled even louder. He threw caution
was thrown to the wind. "I'm gonna quit drinking, I know a doctor
in Akron that can fix me," he shouted. The Irishman yelled back,
moving right into Clarence's face: "No one can fix you!" Clarence
replied, "I'll show you." The Irishman laughed into his face,
and said, "Show me."
continued for about a half hour. A small group of the drunks
was egging Clarence on and the rest egged on the other man.
Though it probably looked quite pathetic, the scene was probably
also quite funny as well. Two drunken "bums," face-to-face,
hands on their respective hips in the midst of a cadre of other
"bums." Dregs of society, surrounded by the squalor that exemplified
the last little bit of pride he was able to muster, Clarence
utilized almost all of the strength that was left in his emaciated
body. He wheeled around, luckily without falling, and staggered
and stinging sounds of laughter, jeers of derision, and even
some scattered applause were ringing in his ears. The sounds
faded as he picked up his pace. His head was now held high as
he picked up speed, proud of what he thought was his final decision.
Proud, and deathly afraid of the unknown prospect that lay ahead.
The prospect of possibly finding out who Clarence Snyder was
without the aid of beverage alcohol. The prospect, frightening
as it was, was that of living life without a drink.
he got out of the sight of his erstwhile comrades, Clarence
started to run. He ran as fast as he could in his present and
weakened condition. It had taken a lot out of him to stand up
to that Irishman. He began to stumble over debris, running as
if his life were at stake. Running, thinking if he stopped,
he might change his mind. Running to something
for what seemed the first and only time in his life rather than
running away from something. Somewhere in his
consciousness he knew that it felt better to run to,
rather than to run from.
couple of days were a blur for him. He continued drinking and
running. Running and drinking. The drinking was not having the
same effect on him that it had in the past. He continued drinking
only because he felt that if he stopped, he would surely die.
For this was the only way he knew how to stay alive. To stay
alive, he had to drink.
managed to call the doctor seven or eight times during the next
few days. He didn't remember when or how. He didn't even remember
speaking with the doctor once. Doc Smith told him later on that
it was at least seven or eight times.
gone to a phone and made all of those toll calls while on the
run. He had probably had to break into someone's home to do
this since he had used whatever money he was able to panhandle
and find, for alcohol.
one of the calls, the doctor had told Clarence to meet him at
Akron City Hospital the next morning. Scared as Clarence was,
this time there was no turning back. It was a matter of life
and death this time. His own!
managed to scrape together enough money to make the bus fare
back to Akron. He walked to the bus depot. It took hours. It
was night time. It was cold and dark, but he had to get
there. He bought his ticket for the bus which was leaving just
after dawn. And he tried not only to stay awake, but also not
to cash in the ticket for a drink. He stood vigilant, awaiting
the departure to the unknown. Scared and alone.
he arrived in Akron, it was in the middle of a blizzard. The
temperature was sub-zero, and he didn't have an overcoat. All
that he had was just the mismatched old clothing that had been
picked up in various Missions and from those poor unfortunates
in the "Run" who had succumbed to the cold and the ravages of
their drinking. He didn't even have the money for the trolley,
and since he couldn't find anyone in the midst of a blizzard
to beg the money from, he "decided" to walk. He HAD to
Clarence once said, "is the city of seven hills, and all of
their hills are up. They don't have any down hills." His sense
of determination was tremendous.
his head down, buttoned up his jacket as best he could, and
put up his frayed collar. There were many times, more often
than not, that he felt utterly discouraged. The hills seemed
steeper and longer than he had ever remembered. The cold bitter
wind was cutting through him like a knife. The blinding snowstorm
battered at his body, often driving him backwards. Yet he walked
on. His mind was set. His feet, numb from the cold and the frozen
snow, were reluctantly placed one in front of the other. One
step at a time.
fought the little voice that told him that the warmth of a local
bar would bring him relief and that he could continue his journey
after one little drink, maybe two. All he had to do was warm
up on the outside as well as on the inside, the voice said;
and he could then continue.
Gump" chin pressed close to his sunken chest, determined to
make it to the hospital. The hospital where an unknown fate,
a "cure" for this devastating, debilitating, drunkenness that
had consumed his every thought and every fiber of his being.
No matter what, "I was gonna get fixed," Clarence recalled.
made it to the hospital, numb, exhausted, frozen to the bone.
His clothing was, by now, stuck to his body. He walked into
the lobby of Akron City Hospital, strode up to the reception
desk, pounded his fist on the counter, and - while demanding
to see Doctor Smith - he passed out.