Friday, February 15, 2008

A fully rounded metaphor

I think I've inadvertently started a new collection:
Ahead of him was a TWA jet, which trundled into place at the head of the runway, roared and vibrated a few seconds, and then began galumphing away like Sydney Greenstreet playing basketball.
That's from Donald E. Westlake's first Dortmunder mystery, The Hot Rock (1967). A few weeks ago, I pointed out another simile built around Greenstreet, this one also from Westlake, from The Jugger (1965), one of the Parker novels that he wrote under the name Richard Stark:
Gliffe at last came through the draperies at the far end of the room, like an apologetic Sydney Greenstreet.
Because Greenstreet is such an unforgettable physical presence, both of Westlake's images work instantly. You can easily imagine Greenstreet thumping and flailing under the basket, utterly unable to harness his bulk on the court. And while his usual state in films was a sly unctuousness, an apologetic air isn't impossible to conjure up--though knowledgeable cinephiles would surely expect it to be married to an unwavering eye for the main chance.

Greenstreet didn't make the transition from stage to screen until he was sixty-two, so his filmography is limited, but he nevertheless is one of the great joys of cinema, especially when serving as a foil for Peter Lorre's more wildeyed performances. I like the idea of him living on in literature as a handy, adaptable descriptive tool:
"The next morning the sun announcing my hangover was like Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca: huge, round, smug, and disasteful."

"She was built like Sydney Greenstreet, and even had his laugh, but you couldn't take your eyes off her--which, come to think of it, made her even more like Greenstreet."

"Give it up, man--you couldn't keep a lid on this story if you put it in a steamer trunk and plopped Sydney Greenstreet on the top."
The problem facing my collection is that my only published examples so far come from a single author. Now, I'll continue to gather and share any Greenstreet references I find, but I also have a more ambitious plan--one that requires your help: I propose that we make a pact to actively increase the number of Sydney Greenstreet similes in the world!

I'm willing to solemnly promise that if I ever publish a novel I will somewhere in its pages compare something to Greenstreet. Budding authors out there in Internetsland, are you willing to make that promise? Who's with me?

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