Let Freedom Ring

"The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission."- John F. Kennedy

DISCUSSED HERE: 18th amendment, Nancy Hicks, Salvation Army, homelessness, Anglicans, authority, the 1920’s, freedom, Bobby’s dad, unrequited love, Scarface, speakeasies, Susan B. Anthony, “My Country Tis’ Of Thee,” BAC, America, Freedom Fighters, birth, cops, wisdom, anniversaries, beatings, Torrio, alcohol.

Ennnn nowEym drunk azzz FUKKK, kid. U hannt speriensed reel shit yet. U too yung. Jus wateil yur oldur. Den yull c how fuggin ard life rully iz. [tipsy]

On January 16, 1920, the 18th amendment was enacted. There was, needless to say, outrage. Those affected, nearly everyone, felt that their rights had been infringed upon. Appeals to the founding fathers, the principles of liberty and limited government, were frequent. The question was begged: What makes the government think that they have the authority to rid a man of the pleasure liquor brings after a hard days work?

I’m not yet born.

Bobby’s dad: 62. Walking home; hit by car. Driver’s blowing .18.

After the enactment of the 18th amendment, the American populace experienced a reminder of how strongly motivated they were by principle. Freedom, equality, prosperity, keystones upon which the founding fathers molded the country, were shown to be always present, though at times latent, in the American spirit. Around this time, scholars of American History begin to characterize the country as breeding “consumers of liberty.” These ideological foundations tilled the soil for gentlemen like Al Capone (born Alphonse Gabriel Capone, January 17, 1899) to flourish, credited by the masses as an archetypal freedom fighter.

U wanna no wut she sed ta mee? She sed I. DUN. WANNA. BE. WID. YOU. NE. MORE. She sed U. DUN. LISEN……………….U DUN. fuckin THING. STRAIT.  I dun fuggin LISTEN?!?  I dun fuggin THING STRAIT?!? Fugu, I said. ahahahahaha. Fugu, cuz u dunno sheet bout ME! [drunk; emotional]

I’m born on December 16, 1992 to Cam and Nancy Hicks, members of the Salvation Army. I grow up around alcoholics, witnessing to them, offering hope. My family abstains; in joining the Army they took an oath to forgo it. I am too young to take the oath, but I will sign when I can. It’s a good thing to do.

Mark: Blond hair, cut that day. The 22nd. First high school party. Snuck out. Socializing. In. Unconscious by 1. Kids freak out. No one calls cops. No one wants trouble. Last words, muddled, 12:59.

As the battle against prohibition raged on, Al Capone and other rebels fueled the resistance by standardizing the development of speakeasies and brewing of moonshine. Temperance activists resisted these underground tactics by appeals to authority; of note was an undertaking to rewrite the Bible, removing all references to alcoholic beverages. All in all, these attempts were futile. The American people were not going to succumb to a law they found to be illegitimate. Rather, they continued to contribute to Capone’s empire, helping him establish himself as the greatest bootlegger of the 1920’s.

It’s Christmas 1998; I just finished playing a piano duet with my little brother and we’re sitting at a cafeteria table with a bunch of older guys. One of them’s talking about how racist the PoPo is, how they threw him in jail for the night for ‘public drunkenness,’ but he knows it was just because he’s homeless and black. The other guys let out some Mmhmmm’s and It-aint-right’s. I make eye contact with my brother and take a bite of mashed potatoes. They’re pretty dry.

I no I no. u tink i crazy. U tink I dunno wut um tawkin bout cuz u no mi mind aintzactly wurkin rite. Ill tell ya this; ur crazy. UR CRAZY. Ur crazy not to. U kan tell whos rully lived bi ow much they drink. No drinkin, no livin. U cannt fuggin stand up to da world lyyke I ave an not need to jus go home and drinnnnk. You think u strong cuzucanstandtoooofaceitwidoutusinane…..fug…….but you jus dunno what u missin. Wait til ur big n strong, lyykee me. Waidil ur lyykee me. [trashed; reflective]

I’m 16, and I’m on fire for the homeless, and I’m talking with one of them on a street in Philly. He’s telling me about how he got here; how he got involved in the party scene in high school, thought it was worth giving up everything for, and eventually did just that. He’s crying and I’m just sitting there, totally attentive but not really resonating. I think he knows this but just wants to talk, and I guess all I really want to do is listen, so we just keep going. He’s getting all grandfather on me, telling me what he’d do if he was my age, what he wished he’d done differently. He forgets the anniversary of his first marriage and all seven of his kids birthdays, but he remembers the first time he had alcohol. July 4, 1968. That must have been a big deal, I say. Yeah, he says. Yeah it was.

Through partnerships like those of Capone and Johnny Torrio, the resistance against prohibition grew to an overwhelming capacity. As I was preparing the outline for this book, I asked some students in my graduate class what they thought of Mr. Capone. The responses varied immensely, but I was particularly struck by one student’s insights: “Capone was really just one of many social liberators. Thank God for King. Thank Her for Gandhi and for Anthony. With the speakeasies, and the sit-ins, and the protests, and the speeches, and the lobbyists, and the fires, and the dogs, and the beatings, and the self-restraint, and the media, and all that is good, we’ve really made it for ourselves. We pay such a small price for freedom because of people like them.” Another added, “I’ll bet Capone and Torrio had a friend or two who died of alcohol poisoning, and I’ll bet they didn’t care.”

My grandfather, who abandoned my mother: Somewhere in his late 80’s. Blind in his right eye. Back in the day, Sargent in the Salvation Army. Never took the oath. Beat my mother, 12, while he sweat out the toxins. She cried a lot and he pulled her hair. Next day, no memory. Never has apologized; never known what he’s done. Ignorance is bliss.

I’m 17 and I go to an Anglican church where they take communion and the Blood’s not Welchs. The sour taste penetrates my tongue, evoking sharp fears within me. My mother liked to talk about how one of her friends had never had alcohol in her life, but she tried it once—once—and found herself addicted. Moral: Best to just avoid it. But now I’m in church, and I haven’t avoided it, and I’m kneeling in a pew, supposed to be confessing my sins, and all I can think is “Oh my God, I’m gonna be an addict,” and I’m feeling a lot of animosity toward these Anglicans for putting me in this position.


It’s been two years since I was defiled by the Anglicans, and I guess I’ve changed a bit. I’m walking that fine line that my mother always talked about, and I’m pretty confident that, at least compared to other college students, I’m in really good shape. I intentionally expose myself to those PSA’s that warn against drinking, just to keep myself in check. For months at a time, I’ll abstain. My mother and I have a good relationship, and she knows about every sip. Surprisingly, she’s not too worried; she knows I learn through experimentation and that I have a good head on my shoulders. I’m not worried either—what’s adolescence but a time to learn and grow? To molt some authority and think for yourself?

“My country, ‘tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring!”
                   –A.C., before he’s Scarface, humming along with the radio while he
                    sweeps the stray hairs off the floor of his mother’s barbershop.
[out cold]


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