Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Raymond Chandler Acid Test

Her voice had a remembered quality, as if he had heard it before.

He sat down opposite her, in the chair where Leopardi had been sitting.

The red-haired girl said: "The drink's on me. I was with him."

Steve said, "Coke with a dash of bitters," to the waiter.

The waiter said: "Madame?"

"Brandy and soda. Light on the brandy, please." The waiter bowed and drifted away. The girl said amusedly: "Coke with a dash of bitters. That's what I love about Hollywood. You meet so many neurotics."

Steve stared into her eyes and said softly: "I'm an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard."

by Raymond Chandler

The bar was quiet. The bartender had helped me out before, and I asked him what he'd heard about Coke with a dash of bitters. He wiped the bar meditatively, with a a vague frown.

I told him it was mentioned in a hard-boiled detective short story written by the same guy who did the Philip Marlowe novels.

He frowned for another moment, then shifted his eyes quickly, left and right. "When was this?" he asked. "'Way back when Coke was . . . ?" He tapped the side of his nose diplomatically.

Nix, I said. This was written in 1938. Coke had been clean for about forty years at that point.

He walked away without comment. A few moments later he came back carrying a neat glass, with a dark carbonated liquid in the bottom and an inch of stiff brown head standing on top, like a float. He pushed it across the bar toward me and waited.

It was Coke and a dash of bitters. It tasted like root beer. You could drink it, but I couldn't see the point.

I tipped him and left.

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