We’re fast approaching our 100th drink snuck from papa Pynchon’s liquor cabinet, but this is only the second straight from the Slow Learner shelf. SL did share some vermouth concoction with Against the Day and a tequila sour with Lot 49, but its only solo credit here to date was a Tom Collins way back in 2014.
Well Slow Learner is reappearing in style today. Somehow, the collection of early stories probably mostly read for its self-deprecating introduction has managed to secure exclusive Pynchonia-wide rights to the classic martini.
“Low-Lands,” the second story in the collection, introduces us to Dennis Flange, a Long Island attorney who has decided not to go to work and is home drinking with his friend Rocco Squarcione. Pynchon apparently wrote this story as an undergraduate at Cornell; it’s gladdening to consider the devotion he’s maintained towards his sophomoric enthusiasm for ludicrous names over the decades since.
Flange sees a therapist (Geronimo Diaz) once a week. Flange’s appointments with the “crazed and boozy”, “clearly insane” shrink involve mostly being “screamed at over martinis about his mom.” Diaz really devotes himself to his unorthodox psychotherapeutic methodology:
[He] spend whole sessions reading aloud to himself out of random-number tables or the Ebbinghaus nonsense-syllable lists, ignoring everything that Flange would be trying to tell him. Those sessions were impossible: counterpointed against confessions of clumsy adolescent sex play would come this incessant “ZAP. MOG. FUD. NAF. VOB,” and every once in a while the clink and gurgle of the martini shaker.Slow Learner, p. 58
Martinis for me tend to suggest a Churchillian upper crust alcoholism. Diaz is leaning right into that, along with a heaping helping of the intellectual’s raving madness. Flange keeps going back though, not least of all because “the martinis were free.”
I’ve never been a martini drinker myself. I picked up these two glasses after one of my neighbours left them out for hard rubbish. But I am much enjoying this. It’s 3 parts gin to half a part vermouth, shaken with ice and garnished with an olive. Tastes clean and elegant, sophisticated. Adult.
Even as a non-initiate, shaking a martini struck me as a bit of an abomination. I generally hew close to the principle that an all-booze drink should be stirred. But Diaz pours his analytical martinis from a shaker, so I thought I’d better shake here in the name of verisimilitude. I did neglect however to chant any nonsense syllables.