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Why Johnny Doesn't Drink

by Oklahoma Johnny Hale |  Published: Mar 29, 2002


When I was in the Navy during World War II, I won all the money on the ship – all the time. And when you win all the money, the game is over. So, I had to loan money back to my shipmates (I had a book of accounts in which I recorded how much each of them owed me) and play payday poker. As I have told you before, I joined the Navy during World War II when I was 17; I was old enough to fight and die but I was not old enough to drink in the bars, but they let me play poker with the older men if I was wearing my Navy uniform.

Well, because I had won all of my shipmates' money by the time we reached port and got liberty, I had to put on the party – a little gratitude get-together – or they would have made a "glunk" out of me. A glunk was a piece of obsolete Naval equipment that they bored a hole in, dropped over the side of the ship, and listened to it go "glunk, glunk" as it sank. I did not want to be a glunk, so I put on the party.

At one of the Japanese ports where we got liberty, there were only about three things you could do while in port. You could go sightseeing, but it was dark and you could not see anything; you could have the company of a geisha girl, but I had a wonderful wife and a little baby girl at home in Oklahoma, so that option was out; or you could go drink in the teahouses. I decided to take my shipmates to a Japanese teahouse.

We were all dressed up in our first-class uniform of Navy whites when we hit the streets, and our hair was a little kinky – we had been a long time at sea. The teahouse was very cold, and had charcoal burners going under the little low tables. A geisha girl served us hot rice wine called saki. Inasmuch as the teahouse was very cold, that warm saki tasted real good. I had never been a drinker, so this was my first introduction to drinking – and it straightened out some of the kinks in my hair. I partook of far more of that saki than I should have. I was a mess; I was sick, and I was drunk. My shipmates wanted to take care of me, so they started to lead me back to the ship where I could sleep it off.

In this Japanese port, there were no underground sewer lines and the sewage ran in the ditches along the sides of the cobblestone streets. As I was weaving across the street, I stumbled and fell into one of the filthy ditches, and my buddies dragged me out with a boat hook. There I was in my Navy whites, drenched in sewage.

My shipmates cleaned me up as best they could and smuggled me past the officer of the day into the ship, where they threw me into a shower to clean me up.

I thought I was going to die, and in a most ignoble way. Then and there, I made a covenant with the good Lord: "Lord, if you don't drown me in sewage any more, I'll never again drown myself in booze."

I had learned at an early age that I wasn't cut out to be a drinker, and I've never been drunk again since that day. I always like to be in control of my faculties, and that's another good reason why I don't drink. If you see me drinking at the poker table, it's usually Dr. Pepper or a bottle of water – but I will buy you a drink.

Until next time, stay

Editor's note: "Oklahoma Johnny" Hale is the author of Gentleman Gambler, available through Card Player, and the creator of the Seniors Charities and the Seniors World Championship of Poker. His E-mail address is, and you can visit his website at