One of the things I like about the internet is the ability to instantly look things up. I used to keep my own library to be able to do that, and if my volumes didn't contain the information needed, I would make a trip to the closest large Public Library. Unfortunately, that usually involved planning. And notes. One of the problems I have with the internet is that things change, sites disappear, information itself is malleable. Review a muckraking Wikipedia entry after a month and you'll see what I mean. It is harder to change the printed word, at least when it is printed on papers bound together with a spine.
I did not expect to be back here at the blog quite this quickly. I gave in to checking an online almanac, damn that Mercury ruling planet curiosity. I've returned to mark the birthday of one of my literary heroes, one of the guys who put words on paper. Two of my favorite wordsmiths, both storytellers of the highest order, have birthdays this week. Radio legend Jean Shepherd's birthday is this coming Friday. I have to work very hard to not attempt to imitate him. One of the problems I encountered when I used to write with any frequency was that I often assumed the voice or style of whomever was my most recent obsession. I probably shouldn't have read all that Dickens, I don't get paid by the word. For awhile there, I had a problem worse than florid Victorian sentences. I tried to write like Raymond Chandler. For all three of these guys, the joy isn't necessarily in the story itself, but in the way the story is told.
Raymond Chandler, whose birthday is today, drank. A lot. When he finally gave in to writing in a desperate attempt to make money at the age of 44, he was rewarded by publication in the once famous pulp magazine, "Black Mask". His first story was entitled, "Blackmailers Don't Shoot". Chandler was a guy who made similes smile, his metaphors were verbal film noir. One of his earlier short stories, "Red Wind", opens with this;
"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge."
Mention Chandler and someone will mention the opening of "Red Wind". Nobody seems to remember the next few lines describing a cheap new dive, and the young barkeep worried about a guy who was "doing his next week's drinking too soon", who probably watered down the guy's next because he looked, "as guilty as if he'd kicked his grandmother."
"The kid said: "I don't like drunks in the first place and in the second place I don't like them getting drunk in here, and in the third place I don't like them in the first place."
"Warner Brothers could use that," I said.
"They did." "
"It was a cool day and very clear. You could see a long way--but not as far as Velma had gone",
or a note that
"dead men are heavier than broken hearts".
It's been a long time, and I don't quite remember anymore, but if the opening of "Red Wind" didn't get me hooked, I dare say it was this bit from "The Big Sleep";
“I don't mind your showing me your legs. They're very swell legs and it's a pleasure to make their acquaintance. I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter nights.”
If you read Chandler, you'll find more than a few things like these:
"She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight."
"From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away."
"Tall, aren't you?" she said. "I didn't mean to be." "Her eyes rounded. She was puzzled. She was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her."
"I'm an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard."
"The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings."
I could go on, but I don't want to spoil a reader's fun.
Try a little Chandler on for size, you'll find a line that draws you in...
"I guess God made Boston on a wet Sunday."
"The streets were dark with something more than night."
Happy Birthday Mr. Chandler, thanks for Philip Marlowe, The Long Goodbye, The Little Sister, Trouble Is My Business, dames with names like Velma, and those hot dry Santa Anas...