Well Tom Pynchon’s Liquor Cabinet has entered its sixth month of life, and two Pynchon books remain undrunk from: Slow Learner and Against the Day. The latter I haven’t even read yet (looking forward to getting into it soon). But the former has a decent little list awaiting for our attentions. Unfortunately, Tommy Boy doesn’t mention anything alcoholic in his (otherwise fascinating) introduction. But the first story, “The Small Rain” gets the drinking kicked off with a Tom Collins.
“The Small Rain,” Pynchon says in his introduction, was actually his first published story–and I had thought this made the Tom Collins Tom Pynchon’s first published drink, not counting the story’s preceding anonymous beers. But I’m reading it through again now, and I’ve just come across a four pages earlier vermouth that I’d missed last time through. So that’s stolen the pole position. (No doubt I’ve missed others in all the books–please let me know if you notice any!) While I’m on the topic, ‘anonymous’ isn’t really the right word for some of those preceding beers–page 39 brings a bar with “a rack of beer mugs with people’s names on them.” Whatever faults Pynchon finds in this story in his introduction, it sure does get straight into the alcoholic milieu so much of his work from the decades since has shared.
The Tom Collins appears at the end of (main character) Levine’s day moving post-hurricane corpses, when he meets a blonde girl “who called herself little Buttercup” for a date. Page 49:
He got to the bar and went inside and there was little Buttercup waiting for him.
“I got us a car,” she smiled. He was aware all at once that she had a slight Rebel accent. “Hey,” he said, “what y’all drinking?”
“Tom Collins,” she said. Levine drank Scotch. Her face got serious. “Is it bad out there?” she said. “Pretty bad,” Levine said. She smiled again, brightly. “At least it didn’t do anything to the college.”
Buttercup the Tom Collins drinker turns out to have pretty unpleasant opinions about the hurricane’s fortuitous choice of victims. They leave the bar, she takes Levine to a cabin “out in the boondocks of nowhere,” where, as Pynchon says in the intro, “some kind of sexual encounter appears to take place,” and that’s pretty much the end of “The Small Rain.” A Tom Collins is gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda water, with a cherry. My attempt at it was a bit sub par, all the gin stuck unmixed at the bottom. And after that I just felt too much like a beer to give it another shot. It seems like a decent summery drink in theory. Buttercup doesn’t make the most appealing advocate for it though. It seems to suit her pretty well too–the mix of sweet and sour, and the cheery decorativeness of the cherry, seem appropriate accompaniments to her blithe celebration of the demise of a poorer community. But I’ll try not to hold that against the Tom Collins. I’ve got some simple syrup left; I’ll give it another run tomorrow.