Monday, July 22, 2013

The work of the man who is committed to chronicling instances of Sydney Greenstreet similes and depictions of hangovers in literature is never done!

While on vacation last week in Michigan, I read, among other books, a pair of Donald Westlake novels that I'd not previously gotten to, The Fugitive Pigeon (1965) and Dancing Aztecs (1976). And they happened to offer new instances of two of the aspects of all of literature that I have decided are important enough for me to track: comparisons to Sydney Greenstreet and descriptions of hangovers!

Westlake is the master--perhaps even the originator--of the Sydney Greenstreet comparison. That said, he cannot be relied on to spell Greenstreet's first name correctly. (Perhaps he should have added it to the sign he hung above his desk that read "Weird Villain," the two words he had the hardest time spelling.) So please understand that the misspelling in the second example is Westlake's rather than mine.

Here we go. From The Fugitive Pigeon:
I looked back, and at first I couldn't see the Packard, but then I caught an evil glint of chrome in the darkness back there. That car was the mechanical Sydney Greenstreet.
Let's be honest: that's a fairly weak example. The Packard was big and menacing, but so is George Raft, and Lee Marvin, &tc., &tc. But as I think that's the first Greenstreet comparison of Westlake's long career, I'm willing to cut him some slack.

And from Dancing Aztecs:
Krassmeier sat on the leather sofa to one side, sneering contemptuously at everybody like some road-show Sidney Greenstreet.
I like that one because it gets away from the obvious point of comparison, Greenstreet's girth, focusing instead on his general air of cynical, been-round-the-block superiority.

Let us close the evening with a reminder of what some folks out there will wake up with tomorrow, the hangover, as described by Westlake in Dancing Aztecs:
There are three kinds of hangovers. There are hangovers that are green and wet and slimy, full of queasiness and trembling and the conviction that one has somehow been disemboweled in one's sleep and a recently dead muskrat has been placed where one's stomach used to be. Then there are hangovers that are gray and stony and cold, in which the granite of one's skull has been cracked like the wall of the temple, and the rock of one's brain has been reduced to rubble within, painful rubble. And finally there are hangovers that are red and jagged and jolting, lightning bolts shooting in one ear and out the other, more lightning in the elbows and knees, buzzers and electric chairs and whoopee cushions in the stomach, flash bulbs in the eyes and battery acid in the mouth. Those are the three kinds of hangovers, and Pedro had all three of them.
Whatever your tipple, may you wake tomorrow with none of the three.

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