I wrote this back in October when the stock markets were plummeting and the media prognosticators were project doom and gloom, which may be what awaits us, but anyway, here it is a little levity for your weekend reading pleasure...
Friday morning, the little television panel in the elevator going up to the office, the one normally tuned into CNBC, was tuned to Sesame Street. It made me laugh. Since things are not greatly improved from Thursday, may as well carry on in the same vein... Maybe I?m challenging my inner drag queen again, but I say when life gets you down, throw on some extra sequins and another feather boa. PG Wodehouse agreed with me. In ?The Code of the Woosters? when Bertie is stuck between an Aunt and an Aberdeen terrier, and life seems to be aiming right for his jugular, Jeeves suggests donning the white tie and tails for dinner, just to lift the spirits. It works.
Dashiell Hammett understood this as well. In the 1930s, when all seemed bleak, the hardest of hard-boiled mystery writers created Nick and Nora Charles, the whimsical twosome who made being married actually look attractive, and did most of their most daring detecting deeds at cocktail parties, and who wouldn?t given the choice? The pair were brought to the screen in 1934 and portrayed by William Powell and Myrna Loy. Hammett may have meant to model Nick Charles on his own sweet self, but William Powell gave the character life and breath and dimension beyond the prototype. He was a perfect anecdote to breadlines and market crashes. Yes, he could give the bad guys a sock in the kisser when needed, but he much preferred the quiet life of drinking away his wife?s money with style, grace, and elegance. No world could be that bad if William Powell managed to look that good in the white tie and tails while in it. He had enough machismo to satisfy convention, but still had the good sense to wear a dressing gown, never scratched his dangly bits in public, and named the family dog Asta ? not Rex or Butch or Max. Sadly, Hammett did not live up to the William Powell model, failed to comprehend the difference between a couple of cocktails and lifetime of drunkenness, and for all I know scratched his dangly bits in public often and with enthusiasm.
Wodehouse maintained this sensible outlook throughout his long and prolific career. All through the bleak years of depression, war, movies about giant insects, and leisure suits, Wodehouse remained true to his world of country houses and cocktails. Everyone dresses for dinner, whether they?ve just lost their shirts at the races, become engaged to a woman who drips infantile sentimentality with every step, or pinched a police constable?s helmet, the dinner jacket is slipped into before descending into the dining room for the evening?s mayhem.
There?s a time for cold-eyed steely resolve, for grim-faced gumshoes and whiskey taken neat, and I?ve got Hammett?s Continental Op and a bottle of Jack Daniels on the shelf in case we reach that time. But for now and until I can think of a reason to do otherwise, I?m slipping into my fancy evening dress, lifting my chin and my spirits, and blogging about books, writers, cocktails, elixirs, concoctions, and anything else that makes life colorful, sparkling, and interesting. Jeeves! Another brandy.