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I Join The Navy
ABOUT THIRTY YEARS AGO, THERE STOOD ON THE CORNER of Morrison and Seventh Streets in Portland, the old Mascot saloon. It was operated by a chap called Clayton Fallas. The names of the two bartenders were Harry McGaughey and Phil Nolte. Hy Everding, a now well-known Portland sportsman used to drop in there early every morning, and he and Harry McGaughey would eat breakfast together in a little room off the bar. This was a "high-class" saloon so far as saloons can be "high-class." I remember Fallas had a beautiful English Coach dog, which later died. It was poisoned, I believe. After leaving the study of Doctor Hinson, I went to the "Y" and borrowed ten dollars from Jim Palmer. I had been "on the wagon" for over a year, and Jim did not hesitate to let me have the ten dollars which, by the way, I don't think I have ever returned. I shall ask Jim the next time I see him. Taking the ten dollars, I made a bee-line for the Mascot saloon and, throwing the ten dollars on the bar, said to the bar-tender, McGaughey, "Keep that in the till and just give me twenty glasses of beer a day until it has all gone." At five cents a glass, this ten dollars should have lasted ten days if I drank only twenty glasses of beer daily. Looking at me with a smile, McGaughey said, "Robbie, you had better keep that ten in your pocket, I'll have it before night, maybe before noon." He was right; he had it all before that night.
The only explanation I can give to this act, and to similar acts of beer-drinking, is that my mental state at that time was so upset over the disappointments I had experienced through my honest attempts to find God through the church, that I took this way of finding a temporary suspension -- a poor way. But you must remember that there was, down deep in me, the consciousness that I was to be used by God to bring to this earth a Spiritual awakening such as the world had never before seen. Even in those foolish years, and they were only foolish, that consciousness in me was never dead. I tried to kill it. I had been disappointed with everyone, minister and Bible School, in my search for God. Yet I knew that sooner or later, the Light would break. How, when, or where, I did not know. In those days, there were just two things to do. I could have stayed in the church, in which case I never would have been heard of; or I could do exactly as I did -- continue my search for the actual truths of God, come what may. I chose the latter course, and I am glad that I did. No young man of my age should drink as I did, yet no young man under similar circumstances would have done anything else. This life of mine has been unusual. It is unusual today, and it must be unusual, for the work I am doing is unusual, and it takes an unusual man to accomplish the unusual. This world is full of "usual" men, both in and out of the ministry, but what this world needs today is a man who, inspired by a larger vision of God than the world has had to date, will fearlessly bring that vision to the world, and then, that being done, this world will quite naturally see the larger conception of God, and through that conception it will be everlastingly blessed.
God can never be higher than a human conception of God. If the sum total of the Christian religion is of its "god," hanging on a cross, bleeding to death and slain by a handful of Roman soldiers, that church can bring to this world a picture no higher and no greater than that. A "crucified god" means a decadent, dying church, because there is nothing in such a conception of God which has the power to raise one's thought above such a conception. This world, especially the religious world, if there is such a thing, is going through an evolutionary process. As the process goes on, the old "gods" which have cluttered up the garden will be pulled up. They AUTOBIOGRAPHY are but weeds. In their place will grow beautiful flowers, for the True God, or rather the true conception of the only God there can be, will come to the world through its present evolution. When the plain simple truths of God are known, there will not be one single crucified god in that picture, out of about fifty-two this world has heard of to date. Such stories originated in the dark and pagan past. They do not belong to this civilization, and this civilization will progress in the exact measure in which it comprehends the fullness of God. That fullness cannot either be known or comprehended through any "crucified god" regardless of what he may be called, and regardless of the system of theology which teaches him.
* * *
After leaving the Mascot saloon that night, I went home. I had been working for the past year at the E. P. Charlton store. The manager was a very "religious" man called Baldwin. I forget his initials, but his wife was prominent in Portland social activities, and he had a son named Lapeer. The next morning, I went up to draw my pay and quit the job. Gipsy Smith had been holding revival meetings in a huge specially built auditorium shortly before and, being a "good boy" prior to this last outbreak, I had been singing in his large choir. Baldwin, by the way, was a "holy-roller" member, a little bit too "holy" for me, but he belonged to that denomination.
One night, just as Gipsy began to preach, it started to rain as it can rain in Portland. The roof of the tabernacle was of sheet metal, and the rain made lots of noise as it came splattering down on the roof. Smith could not be heard so, lifting his hands in the air in front of him, he said, "Oh, Lord, this is your meeting, not mine, please stop this rain." Well, at once the rain stopped, and Smith continued with his preaching. The rain started again the moment the meeting was over. Although the Gipsy was preaching "Jesus Christ and Him Crucified," that night, in stopping that rain, Smith never knew how close to the Power of the true God he was, for it was Smith's prayer that stopped that rain. It was not Jesus Christ who stopped it, but Smith unconsciously complied with the law of God, and the rain stopped. He, I suppose, attributed it to Jesus. He made a mistake. I saw in a Los Angeles newspaper recently where this same Gipsy, although eighty years of age, married a young girl of twenty-six. That's perfectly legal and perfectly all right. I have no comment to make on it. I merely mention it. Another branch of the Christian church won't let its "ministers" marry at all. Being human though, I believe I would rather throw in my lot with Smith than with the other crowd, at least as far as the marriage business is concerned.
I met Baldwin in the ten-cent store the next day, and I asked him if he had heard about Gipsy Smith stopping the rain. He replied that he had, but added "It was not Gipsy Smith's prayer that stopped the rain; it was mine." Maybe so, but the thought then occurred to me that it was rather a ridiculous statement to make. What difference did it make whose "prayer" stopped the rain? Might have been neither one of them. The point here is that here was a man, a holy man, jealous of another holy man because he had been able to stop the rain. At least he got the credit for it, and the Portland Oregonian next day plastered the front page with the incident.
Every sermon Smith preached throughout the whole meeting was published by the Oregonian. It would take a pretty good preacher to do that well anywhere today. The Christian Science religion publishes its sermons in full page articles, but it pays for them. I know, because my paper sometimes runs them.
That night, down and out again, I stood on the corner of Sixth and Alder listening to another group of religionists. They had a wagon and a team of horses, and on the wagon was a little foot organ. They played away and sang as I stood there and listened to the "testimonies" of those who had been "saved" and drank in every word. When the meeting was over, I followed the crowd down to Burnside Street and into a hall which had a big sign over it that read, "Jesus -- The Light of the World." In I went, and listened to what they had to say. More singing and more testimonies followed. Then the usual "call" for those who wanted to "know Jesus." I was not interested in knowing Jesus. I wanted to know God, and I knew from what I had already learned that there could be no possible connection between Jesus and God Almighty, so when the call came, I did not respond. Then the preacher asked everyone who did not want to pray to leave the room. I was rather intrigued and wanted to stay, so I sat there in the back seat. Soon, a young lady came up to me and said, "Brother, don't you want to be a Christian?" I remember my reply. It was this: "No, I don't particularly want to be a Christian, but I do want to know God."
That was the signal for action. "Hallelujah, Hallelujah," shouted this good sister at the top of her voice. "Here's a brother who wants to be a Christian." I had just specifically stated that I was not interested in being a Christian. I had told her that I wanted to know God, but in less than sixty seconds I found myself surrounded by a group of about twenty-five "missioners" who, pushing the chairs away from me, had me there sitting in the middle of them. They all went down on their knees and started to "pray." They all prayed at once, and how they "prayed!" They yelled and screamed and finally one or two of them who had "the gift of tongues" went raving off into another language which sounded like Swedish to me. Pandemonium raged. Several colored "brethren" were in the crowd and, to tell the truth.
I was getting just a little sore. All should have been in a lunatic asylum. One of these colored men, seeing me rise to my feet preparatory to leaving, pushed me back to my seat again and said, "You-all ain't goin' to leave this yere house tonight until you has found de Lawd." That made me rather peeved, for I don't like anyone pushing me round any place, and this colored man was quite insistent that I should not leave that mission until, as he put it, "You has found de Lawd." I had, in my hip pocket, half a bottle of beer which I had religiously saved until I got outside when I would drink it. Getting up to my feet a second time, and seeing the "colored brother" coming at me to push me back a second time, I looked him in the eye and pulled the beer bottle from my pocket, saying, "If you don't get out of the way and let me leave, I'll break this bottle over your head." That was exactly what I did, for his head did not break and the bottle went flying into pieces all over the place. Finally I got out, minus half a bottle of beer.
I do not particularly like to mention these instances, but here again was a group of people who "knew God." They hold their property tax-free, yet there was little of God Almighty in that house that night. There was a bunch of religious fanatics, and this was the sort of thing which was passing itself off as being of God. The whole subject in that mission that night was Jesus Christ, and I must insist once more that there is no relationship between the Great Spirit -- God -- and Jesus Christ of the Christian church.
After a few days of tramping around Portland and eating from the free-lunch counters in the saloons, I happened to drop in at another mission, not so far from the "Holy-Roller" mission where I had the exciting experience a few nights before. This was the Portland Commons Mission. It was run by the Reverend Maclaren, a little Scotchman, and I believe he is still there. I never could figure out what a Scotchman was doing in the "mission" business. There must have been some other income from some other place. Anyhow, on this particular night, the organist had not appeared. I kindly volunteered my services which were accepted. It did not take the preacher very long to find out that his organist was feeling very good, for the hymns rolled from that organ as they had never been played before. I love an organ and can make an organ talk when it comes to playing sacred music, for that is the only kind of music I play on my pipe-organ now.
At the close of this service, a Mr. Brimson came up to me and said, "Brother, you are a diamond in the rough." After a few minutes' conversation, I told him I had no place to sleep that night, and he took me to his home. Asking me if I did not want to become a Christian, I said "No, I want to find God, if I can." He said he was going to pray for me, and I am sure he did. The next week, he was arrested, for he was living with another man's wife, illegally. Knowing all about that, I was more disgusted than ever, and the next day I joined the United States Navy at the recruiting office in Portland. Being a registered pharmacist, I was enlisted with the rank of Hospital Apprentice, First Class.
The recruiting officer in Portland gave me a ticket to Seattle, and I was instructed to report to the U.S.S. Philadelphia, a training-ship anchored in the Navy Yard at Bremerton. I reported for duty on the Philadelphia, during which time my uniform was issued and the details incidental to enlistment concluded. After two weeks on the "Philly," as we used to call the ship, I was transferred for duty to the Naval Hospital, also at Bremerton. This is a lovely hospital, situated on a sloping hill at the rear of the Navy Yard proper. It is one of the most completely equipped hospitals I have ever seen. The food was good, the doctors were good and everything one could desire was there.
I made up my mind that here, in these wonderful surroundings, I would cut loose once and forever from the ties which bound me. I have never been able to tell where that diabolical craving for liquor came from. It may have its origin in some relative or parent of my father, but I do not know. It may have come from draining the beer bottles in which pastime I had indulged after the "fraternals," held in our home. I would go down to the pantry where the beer was kept, and drain dry the bottles the "men of God" had used in their celebration the night before. That is more likely to be the reason for these continued drinking spells, for, to my recollection, I never drank anything stronger than beer. Whatever the cause may have been, I wish it had never been there, and yet, who knows? Perhaps, had I not been through these experiences, bad as they were, I might not have been able to do as much for the spiritual uplift of humanity as I have been able to do. God knows what I have been able to do is little enough, but it is something. Moreover, the end is not yet in sight. It may be that this book in itself will be the cause of hundreds of thousands of my fellow Americans finding God. If that be so, what does the suffering of one man amount to? If, by laying down my life, I could bring to this world the truths of the ever-living God, I would not hesitate one second. However, this will not be necessary, as this world will very shortly know, at last, the truths of God, and knowing those truths, it will be liberated from those things which today bind it down. If the experiences I am relating to you have any part in this great redemption of the human race, I am glad they happened.
My stay in the Navy was short, however, for my good intentions were destined to be upset. I do not believe I was in the Navy much over three months, if that long. One day, Doctor Rossiter, the Chief Surgeon of the hospital, sent me to Seattle to get twenty-four guinea pigs for laboratory experimental purposes. My instructions were to secure them from the city health officer whose name, if I remember correctly, was Doctor Hendricks. Leaving Bremerton with an order for these guinea pigs, I secured them as I was told. They were packed in two light boxes, twelve pigs in each. On my way down to catch the steamer the H. B. Kennedy, back to Bremerton, I met another hospital apprentice, first-class, by the name of Wells. "Fat" Wells we used to call him as his avoirdupois was considerably over two hundred pounds. After passing the time of day with me and asking my mission in Seattle, "Fat" Wells said, "Let's go in and have a beer, Robbie." Robbie should not have gone in, but Robbie did.
The saloon we entered was the Alberta Cafe at the corner of First and Cherry Streets. It was owned and operated by a Mr. Spence Thompson. One beer led to two, two beers led to four, four led to eight, and so on. By that time, I did not care whether I ever saw Bremerton again or not, as I was having a "good time" playing piano in the saloon. While I was entertaining the crowd at the piano, Fat Wells decided he would have a look at those guinea-pigs which I had left at the end of the bar. Wells, by the way, had more "Old Nick" in him than anyone I had ever met, myself included possibly. Anyway, Wells had cut the string around the guinea-pig boxes, and these pigs ran up and down the bar, behind the bar, and all over the floor of the Alberta Cafe. Hearing the commotion, I left the piano and went over to the bar to see what the trouble was. Sizing the situation up at once and realizing that I had to rescue those pigs, I said, "For Heaven's sake, we've got to catch everyone of those guinea pigs, for they are all inoculated with diphtheria." I then described in detail just how the guinea-pigs were to be handled, and after about one hour's commotion, I finally got the guinea-pigs back into their boxes again. I felt quite a hero picking up those "inoculated" pigs, for needless to say, they were not inoculated with anything.
Then, Wells and I left the saloon and got a room across the street at the Rainier-Grand Hotel, taking the boat back to Bremerton in the morning. Wells had overnight leave. Being on a special mission, it made no particular difference when I got back. However, on arriving at the hospital, I was summoned before the O.C. and asked for a detailed explanation of the "inoculated guinea-pigs." The news of those pigs had travelled back to Bremerton before I got there. A severe lecture followed, and as usual, I promised to "never take another drink."
It was not very long, however, before I was found in the pharmacy completely unconscious, lying on the floor between two rows of bottles. This was followed by another escapade which involved my getting drunk in Seattle and not having the fare back to the hospital. Uncle Sam very rightly will not stand for that sort of thing, and one morning I was handed my discharge across the front of which was written "chronic alcoholic." I was no use to myself, no use to Uncle Sam, and certainly no use to anyone else. 'Twas a far cry from those days when I would snuggle up on mother's sealskin coat and talk to her about the new picture of God I was to bring to the world, a very far cry. However, there was an over-ruling Power which protected me, and which has been protecting me ever since. I make no excuse for any of these happenings. It was all my fault, and no one is to be blamed. Had I passed out of the picture then, no one would have missed me. Perhaps it would have been better, who knows? I leave you to be the judge of that after you have finished this book.
The next Sunday, without a cent in my pocket, I was sitting on a bench in Pioneer Square in Seattle. This Square is a block of "park" in the center of Seattle, and benches are placed there, or were placed there then, for the weary to rest. All the riff-raff, all the human derelicts, gathered there in Pioneer Square. That is the reason I was there, and I was where I belonged. On this particular Sunday we were watching the antics of the Salvation Army, the Volunteers of America, the Holy Rollers, and the Industrial Workers of the World. Each occupied a position on each of the four corners of the Square and competition was keen. As soon as the Army band would start up, the Volunteers would have to temporarily hold up their street-meeting as one could not hear what was being said while the band was playing. When the Army band had stopped playing, and they were nicely started on their "testimony" meeting, the Volunteers of America band would begin, and this silenced the Army meeting. The Holy Rollers had a wind organ, and regardless of what the Army and the Volunteers did, they kept pegging away. On the fourth corner, the Workers had a song of their own so no matter what song the Army or the Volunteers started to play, the "wobblies" had a song to fit the tune in their "song book." If the Army started to play "In the Sweet Bye-and-Bye," the "wobblies" would start singing, "You'll Get Pie in the Sky When You Die." It was bedlam to be sure, but the main contest was between the Army and the Volunteers. Each was preaching the "gospel of Jesus Christ" and inviting "sinners" to "come to Jesus and have your sins washed away." While they were doing this, the people were laughing at the competition "for souls." What a pious sham the whole thing was.
When the offering was taken up, the captain, who made the appeal, stated that "no one is ever turned away from the Army," so taking him at his word, I went up to the Rescue Home of the Army a bit later and asked them for something to eat and some place to sleep. A man called Petersen, a Swede, was in charge of that home. He informed me that there was nothing the Army could do for me. When I recalled to him the words spoken on Pioneer Square earlier in the day, his reply was to put his foot in my stomach and push me to the bottom of the stairs. This same Army officer would stand on the street corners and tell the people how he had been "saved" many years ago, which I have often seen and heard him do. This was Christianity in action.
After this experience, I retraced my way back to Pioneer Square -- at least I could sit down there.
While I was sitting there, my eye caught a sign on the other side of the street, "Pioneer Drug Store." Going into the drug store, I said to the man who came to wait on me, "I'm a registered pharmacist, I'm broke, down and out. Do you know where I can get a job?" Sizing me up, the druggist said to me, "You look like a man with good home surroundings, and why you're on the bum, I don't know. However, I have a drug store which is closed out in Ballard – man quit, and I'm working here. If you want to go out there and open up the store, I'll give you $125.00 a month. This man's name was A. M. Hoidale. Asking him for a nickel for street-car fare, I took the key he gave me, jumped on a street-car and went out to Ballard. The drug-store was on the corner of 64th and 14th N.W. It was called the Olympic Pharmacy. The landlord was a Swede named Zackerson.
That evening, I opened up the drug store and for several months worked very hard and was doing a nice business. Then Hoidale offered to sell me the store, and I bought it with nothing to pay down. All went well until one day while down town doing some buying I dropped into the Alberta Cafe again. It was a fool move, but then a fool made the move. I have not seen the Olympic Pharmacy from that day to this. I never did go back again, and I understand Hoidale had to take it over. Well, it was not very long before Frank B. Robinson was down and out again, and at this point, I really began to give up hope. Was this thing called "booze" going to get me permanently? I believed it was, and believing that, I made no attempt to put on the brakes. Up to this time I had fought this liquor habit with all the power I had, but evidently that power was not enough. Digressing again, it was not so very long since I walked into the Washington Mutual Trust and Savings Bank in that same city of Seattle and borrowed $37,000 from Dietrich Schmitz. Rather should I say through Mr. Schmitz, the bank made the loan. What Dietrich will say when he reads this autobiography, I do not know. I probably would not have been able to get thirty-seven cents if he had known what he will know when this book is released.
Walking down to the freight sheds in Seattle that evening, I jumped on the first freight train I saw moving. I did not know where it was going, nor did I care. As long as I was on the move, I was satisfied, for what difference did it make, anyway? I was useless and just a common drunk. No one suspected the heartaches under those shabby clothes. No one ever knew the hours, the days, the weeks, the years spent in one untiring search for God, and then, to be handicapped by this craving for liquor. It would have downed far better men than I am, and as I write this autobiography in a little cabin on a knoll at Rocky Point, Oregon, the marvel to me is that I'm here at all. Not that I hurt anyone but myself, for I have never been convicted of even a misdemeanor; not even a traffic violation. How I escaped is beyond me.
It so happened that this freight train was going to Spokane via Ellensburg, and it was at this little city we were thrown off the train at three o'clock in the morning. I shall never forget that ride. We were in a car loaded with lumber with about two feet from the top of the lumber to the top of the car. At least twenty-five hoboes were sleeping on top of that lumber. I could not sleep, but the fellow just ahead of me could. Every so often, he would stretch in his sleep and his hobnailed boots would press into my head. It was a very uncomfortable ride, but at Ellensburg, the monotony was broken when the "shack" started to throw rocks in at us, at the same time ordering us to "pile off." We piled off, and there I was at three o'clock in the morning in Ellensburg, Washington.
I walked around the little city and could find no place to sleep, so I made my way back to the freight yards. There was a big pile of sawdust close by and, as it was cold, I dug a big hole in that sawdust, covered myself up with it, and went to sleep. Imagine the shape I was in the next morning, sawdust down my neck, in my pockets, everywhere, in fact. I shook off what I could and made my way down town, miserable beyond words. I did not like this sort of life, but what could I do? I was helpless in the grip of some monster, and I've often suspected that perhaps I was made to go through these experiences just to try me, but I leave that to you.
About nine o'clock in the morning, I went into the Young Men's Christian Association and there met the secretary, Chester Raymond. I understand Chet is now the general manager of a large bank or savings and loan association in Tacoma, but I have not seen him since. Some day I'll look him up if I ever have time, for Chester was a good friend. He gave me meals, a place to stay, and got me a job at the drug business in Ellensburg. I had some of the happiest days of my life in that little city. There had been little of joy or happiness in my life up to that point, and not too much since. There never will be too much, for I do not seek happiness for myself. All I want to do now is to faithfully reveal to the world the priceless truths of God which will mean the bringing in of the Day of God. In that Day, I shall be supremely happy, but not until. I have a very wonderful family, and I am happy with them, but underneath what superficial happiness there may appear to be, there is a great burden. That burden will not be lifted until this world knows the fullness of the Power of the Great Spirit, God.
Coming back to Ellensburg, the man who gave me the job was O. W. Ball, who owned the Model Pharmacy. I imagine he is dead now as I am writing about the years 1915 and 1916. Mr. Ball was a very peculiar chap and a very rabid anti-Catholic. Sometimes when a stranger would enter the store, Mr. Ball would say to him, "You're not a ------- Catholic, are you?" One occasion I distinctly remember, a man replied that he was a Catholic and asked, what he was going to do about it. Mr. Ball replied, "You get to hell out of this drug store; I don't want any Catholics in it."
I don't know how long Mr. Ball was in business there after I left, but I do know it was not very long, for the Model Pharmacy has been closed these many years. It was also in Ellensburg that I made friends with Ernie Schorman, who had a Flying Merkel motorcycle and Sunday after Sunday we would ride through the country taking pictures. They were wonderful days while they lasted, and I called upon Ernie the other evening in Portland where he has been with the Shell Oil Company for the past eighteen years with a good position. I always knew he was in Portland but was unable to locate him until recently when we visited until quite late, looked over the old snapshots we took together. We spent a very enjoyable evening. I had several hundreds of pictures too, but when I left Ellensburg and went to Spokane, Washington, I pawned both of my suitcases, one of them containing these pictures, for six dollars. They were given to a druggist by the name of Savage to hold as security for the six dollars I borrowed. If by any chance Mr. Savage sees this book and reads what I am now writing, if he still has those two suitcases, let him communicate with me in Moscow, for I'll be glad to return him his six dollars with interest to get those photos and clothes back again just for the sake of the memories they bring.
Rather a strange circumstance should be noted here. While I was working with Ball in Ellensburg, two other druggists were there in another drugstore. One was Jim Urquhart, now owner of the Pioneer Drug Store in Yakima, and the other was Bob McKinley, who has been working with Jim Urquhart in Yakima for nearly twenty-five years. It was the Pioneer Drug Store which I left to go to Moscow, Idaho, to write my message to the world, and both Jim and Bob knew me in those days of which I am now writing. Of course, every time I pass through Yakima now, I drop in and see Jim and Bob and Mortland, the manager. They're good fellows and they had something in Ellensburg I did not have while I had something they probably did not want. However, if I had the opportunity now to draw back these days and take a chance on doing the work I am now doing, I do not believe I would withdraw one thing that happened. Of course, it would be nice if I could blot it all out -- but I'm not so sure the "Psychiana" Movement would be in existence had my path through life been any different, so I shall not waste too many tears over wasted years. In short, I know what I have done in the past thirteen years has more than made up for all the mistakes I have committed.
Another friendship I made in Ellensburg was with Professor Kooken, one of the faculty at the Ellensburg Normal School. One day Kooken came in to see me to try to sell me some Christian Science. "Robbie, I've just discovered the greatest religion in the world," he began. "Why I can put my hand on a red hot stove and not feel it," he continued. I don't remember what I said to Professor Kooken, but I do know that neither Kooken nor anyone else can sell me that sort of religion. If one puts his hand on a red hot stove, the hand will be burned, and when one burns his hand as a result of placing it on a red hot stove, that one feels it, Christian Science notwithstanding. However, the strange part of my meeting with Kooken happened last year. I was staying for a few days in Portland at the Portland Hotel when I spotted Kooken across the lobby. Now you must remember that it was at least thirty-five years since I had seen him. Walking up to him, I held out my hand and said, "How do you do, Mr. Kooken -- remember me?" He admitted that he did not remember me, so I jogged his memory. The thing that astounded Kooken was the fact that I could give him in detail many things which happened in Ellensburg which he had forgotten. We had a nice chat, and he told me that he knew of this work of mine and thought it very fine -- not quite as fine as Christian Science, of course, for Professor Kooken is practicing that religion in Bellingham, Washington, and has been since he left Ellensburg.
These good times came to an end all too soon. A travelling evangelist came to Ellensburg, and some local preacher I think his name was Yager -- a Baptist, came to call on me and invite me to attend this "revival" service. By that time I was getting pretty well fed-up on "religion" and on everyone who professed "religion," and I was skeptical. I had seen a lot of religious professors, but I had not seen one, Catholic or Protestant, who could give me any evidence that he knew the slightest thing about God. I had listened to all their claims, and I had tried as few have ever tried, to find the actual Power of God, yet I had been misled and deluded all along the line. This evangelist, however, was a hot one. I refused to go to his meetings, but he called on me at the Model Pharmacy and wanted me to go into the prescription room with him and pray. A prescription room is for the filling of prescriptions, and O. W. Ball was not paying me for holding prayer-meetings in his prescription room, so naturally I refused either to pray or to be prayed for, especially not by this fanatic.
The next Sunday afternoon he was preaching on the steps of the court-house, and Ernie Schorman and I happened to be passing by. He spotted me, and pointing his finger at me, said, "There goes a young man who ought to be in the service of the Lord. Instead of that, he is desecrating the Lord's Day by taking pictures instead of going to church." Of course, everyone in the crowd turned and looked at me, and something inside of me which I thought asleep awakened. That night I was as drunk as a lord and on my way to Spokane, Washington. Friends, job, nothing mattered when the urge to drink came over me. It was irresistible, but today I can have the stuff all around me and never even look at it. I remember a few years ago I was making a radio address and had neglected to cool off before leaving the studio. I jumped into my open car and drove nearly one hundred miles that night, and the next day I was about dead. The attending physician said the only thing that could save me was whiskey, and I took two tablespoons every three hours. There has been in my home ever since that day, half a quart bottle of Scotch whiskey. I threw it away the other day. This just goes to show how absolutely and completely this desire left me when I found God, or when I at long last got off the "church" trail and onto the trail at the end of which lies, God.
I do not want to weary my readers by relating too many of these experiences. I have given you enough to show that Frank B. Robinson in those days was just about as useless a piece of humanity as ever lived. I must relate just one more incident, and then I shall take you up another and even more remarkable trail than the one I have led you up so far. My travels had taken me to San Francisco, thinking I would get a job in some drug store and work until the liquor urge came to me again. One morning I was awakened by the blowing of a bugle. Was I dreaming, or did I really hear a bugle blowing? Then I turned over and went to sleep again, but this "beauty sleep" did not last long before I found myself lying on the floor with a sergeant from the Thirty-First Infantry standing over me and asking me, "Whoinell do you think you are -- General Pershing?"
Looking around, I said to this chap, "Well, where am I and what is all this?" I was informed that I was in the United States Army and on this particular morning I was in a barrack room on Angel Island. There was no mistake about it at all, I was in the Army, and I later discovered, I had enlisted for service in the Philippine Islands. I have never had the faintest recollection of joining the Army, and I knew nothing about it until the next morning. It later turned out that I had given another name, told them the wildest stories about who I was, and when shown a copy of the enlistment record some years later, I was staggered, for I have to be pretty bad when I don't know what's going on. I do not believe men in that condition should be enlisted, and I do not believe they are today. But they certainly were then.
It was quite a shock to find myself in the Army, as I remembered the Navy experience and did not see how they could take me into the Army when the Navy had let me go as a "chronic alcoholic." However, in due time I was on the United States Army Transport, Sheridan, bound for Manila. On arriving there I was transferred to the Hospital Corps because I was a registered pharmacist, and from Manila was sent to Batangas. One day one of the medical officers who had taken a very violent dislike to me ordered me to the surgery to have all my teeth pulled out. I did not need any teeth pulled, for none of them were decayed and none needed treatment. Nevertheless, I was ordered to the surgery to have "all his teeth pulled out." I refused. I should have refused under any circumstances, and regardless of what the cost might be. For that order was wrong. It was given through animosity and it was not a proper order. Who was a buck private to dispute a Captain, and what could I do but refuse?
I reported to the surgery and there, awaiting me was the Captain in question, the hospital steward, and two assistants. "Get on that operating table," ordered the Captain. "What for, sir?" I asked. "To get all your teeth pulled out,” the Captain replied. He then asked me if I refused to get on the table. I replied, "For that purpose, yes, sir, I refuse." The Steward and the assistants were then ordered by the Captain to forcibly put me on the table. Then, when they attempted to do this, they discovered they had tackled a wild-cat. Undoubtedly they could have subdued me in time, but the Captain shortened the fight by shouting, "Take him to the guard house."
In due time a general court-martial was held, and I was found "guilty" of the military offense (not criminal) of “wilful disobedience of orders." Of course, with the Captain as a witness against me, it did not take long for that verdict to come in. At an army court-martial, one is provided with an "advocate," but it is far different from civil or criminal law, for the word of an officer overrules the word of a private. The private may be telling the truth and the officer may be lying, but the officer will be believed because of his rank, and the poor private is out of luck in such cases. Fortunately such cases do not happen every day.
There are two significant things which should be noted here. One is that the original sentence recommended was eighteen months in a disciplinary barracks and a "kick-out." This was recommended, but it was not approved in Washington: It was cut to six months, and this was about up while I was in the guard house in Batangas. The second significant thing is that before that sentence was half served, I was offered a full pardon, a chance to be restored to duty and the record swept clean. I refused them all. Why that offer was made, I do not know, for to my knowledge such an offer has never been made under similar circumstances to anyone. Perhaps I should not have refused it. I do not know. But I do know that under similar circumstances I would do the very same thing again. No one will pull my teeth if they do not need pulling. My dentist will tell you he has a hard time to pull them even when they do need pulling.
My reaction to this offer to be restored to duty with the slate wiped clean was this -- I was guilty of no wrong. I was defending my inherent rights against a rotten attack on those rights by one who had the authority to legally make the attack. Therefore, if I had been found guilty of "wilful disobedience of orders," I was perfectly willing to pay the penalty. I did not ask for any quarter from anyone. I do not ever ask for quarter. All I ask for is fair play. I will fight an injustice to the death, but I will never ask favors from anyone. In this case, the Captain was utterly wrong. He swore before the G.C.M. that my teeth needed pulling. That was about thirty years ago, if I remember correctly, and I have half of those teeth yet, and had all of them until last year, which is proof enough.
Now, let me tell you how and when I took my last drink and that will close Part One of this autobiography. When I was discharged from the Army, they gave me a five-dollar bill and a suit of clothes. That was all. Taking the five dollars, I walked up Market Street in San Francisco and into a saloon in which I had spent many dollars. As soon as I entered, the bartender, Jimmy Wisnom, said, "Well, for the love of Pete, here's the piano player. Where in the Sam Hill have you been? Come on, and I'll set up the drinks on the house." "O.K., Jim, give me a glass of milk," I replied.
He poked lots of fun at the milk, but he bought it just the same, and that is the last drink I have ever taken.
Why I asked for milk, I do not know. How nor why the desire for beer left me, I do not know either. I know that from that moment on, my life was slowly changed. You could not buy me to take a drink. I was a fight, don't think it was not, and I walked all that night, up Mission Street and down the peninsula to San Jose where I sneaked into a livery barn with the five dollars still in my pocket. The rest of the story belongs in Part Two.