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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Good Buys, Bad Bouys

For a good decade or so I would have said that my favorite genre of fiction was some pretentious thing called "Black Mask Detective." I've probably tried to get into the definition in the past, probably on this very web site. It's also called stuff like "noir" or "hard-boiled" or just "really cool." It gets its name from the pulp magazine Black Mask, where guys like Dashiell Hammett got his start. He wrote The Maltese Falcon, among many others, but that's the one you've probably heard of.

Anyway, of all those authors my favorite is probably Raymond Chandler, whose manipulation of the English language is an amazing mix of Hemingway and a high-school lit student with a bit too much confidence in the simile department. He created Phillip Marlowe, who you may remember being played by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. Marlowe likes chess, whiskey, hats, and blondes.
“From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.”

“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”

“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”

You get the picture. This is the kind of writing that is best read in a dark office with light shining through black-out blinds, painting a pattern across your weathered face like a half-finished chessboard dangit now I'm doing it. It's infectious.


I don't know if I have a favorite genre of fiction nowadays. One of my goals is to eventually render human conversation completely unbearable. By not having a favorite of anything, I'm able to stop many conversations before they even start! This is all in the name of efficiency and not having to buy birthday presents.


Anyway, speaking of books, I just read The Long Goodbye. It was the last Chandler novel I had left. It's considered by some to be his best, so I saved it. I left it on my shelf and kind of cherished it, knowing that it would be the only time again in my life that I could read a Phillip Marlowe book for the first time. It was like the last bite of a chocolate rabbit. The solid chocolate, mind you. It's in your drawer in a plastic bag and you know it's there. As long as you know it's there you know that you have something. A little treat for when it gets really bad. Just knowing that treat is there, well, sometimes that's enough.


One day Kristin and I decided it would be fun to read a chapter of a book to each other every night, and this was the first one we tried. It was fun. It's a good book to read aloud. It's also a little iffy on the sexual politics which leads to Kristin's adorable feminist frown sometimes.

Marlowe is that typical male character in a book written by a man who has women throw themselves at him for generally no reason at all. Sure, he's cool. He doesn't fawn over them. He's tough. He's got that hat. OK, so maybe there are reasons. I don't know. He talks about how there are some types of blondes you want to slug, and others who are alcoholic and "soft and willing." We both made a frown at that.

Listen, though. It's the 2010s, or whatever we're calling them. We all talk different now but still want some love. Do you need help? Well pull up a chair, I have some advice. You, too, need a lovely woman (or man) to frown at misogyny in 1930's literature, and here are some fool proof tips:
  • When you're in the diner, flip the script. Look meaningfully at your date while asking your waiter, "Garcon! The lady and I would like two milkshakes, but one straw." Wink knowingly. 
  • This has never happened to me personally, but I see it all of the time on your better 90's sitcoms: If a woman approaches you and asks if you believe in love at first sight, play it cool, Marlowe-style. Finish your beverage. I don't care how much is left in the cup. Just drain that thing. Then, when you're down to the ice and it's just that horrible slurpy sound, just keep at it for way too long. Then look up at her, smile, and say "Nope." 
  • Make impressive claims that are completely unverifiable. Like say, "I was the first person to say 'It is what it is." Or "You know I named the Pokemon Hitmonlee?" 
  • Show confidence: at a conference recently our break snack was a tray of fresh-baked cookies. There were as many oatmeal raisin as there were chocolate chip. That takes some moxie, my friend. Insane, naive, optimistic-in-the-face-of-all-evidence moxie. I want to see that out there. *smacks your butt* GO GET EM. 
  • Find a girl who was home-schooled. As Disney Princess movies have told us, home-schooled girls are extremely well-adjusted, even though they have sometimes been held against their will in a tower or lived their live as a slave. They've been lied to by authority figures, and told that the outside world is a threat, but trust doesn't seem to be an issue. Also they'll marry the first man who they meet. 

This last one may take some work, as she never learned many of the rules you learned on the schoolyard.


Here's a sample conversation with your home-schooled girlfriend:

You: Sweety, I love you so much.

Her: I love you infinity.

You: See, this is what I'm talking about, you don't go straight to "infinity."

You and her together: I'm sorry.

Her: Personal jinx

You: YOU DON'T GO STRAIGHT TO PERSONAL JINX


Persevere, though, and there may be some smooching in it for you. Just be sure to call it smooching when you go in there.