We’re in the second section of Chapter five (in which Stencil goes west with an alligator) of V., and Winsome’s sitting on his “grotesque” espresso machine smoking something referred to as “string.”
The string was from Bloomingdale’s, fine quality: procured by Charisma several months before on one of his sporadic work binges; he’d been a shipping clerk that time. Winsome made a mental note to see the pusher from Lord and Taylor’s, a frail girl who hoped someday to sell pocketbooks in the accessories department. The stuff was highly valued by string smokers, on the same level as Chivas Regal scotch or black Panamanian marijuana.
String smokers? Assuming Winsome’s not inhaling the fumes from a literal length of parcel string, what’s this actually about? I don’t smoke much of anything myself; maybe it’s common parlance among some in-crowd. Google mainly throws up Pynchon though, along with a bit of To Kill a Mockingbird, where “summer was Dilly by the fishpool smoking string.” The impulse is to link string to hemp rope and conclude he’s smoking pot, but from Bloomingdale’s? Likely not, even if this is 1956. The definitive record of the English language, despite listing umpteen noun definitions for string mentions nothing smoking related. Seems like it’s probably tobacco though, or a type of tobacco. (Edit: A friend of mine suggests that it might refer to ribbon cut tobacco, which I’m told is cut in really long strings. Thanks facebook.)
Anyway, we’re not here for the string, we’re here for the Chivas Regal its smokers value so highly.
The idea here, by the way, is that I’m drinking everything mentioned however peripherally in every Pynchon book and jabbering a bit about what it’s like. So what is Chivas Regal like? I’m tempted to say that a screaming comes across the tongue. That it has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now. (And actually, what do I compare a whiskey to? Other whiskey presumably–it has happened before that I’ve drunk the stuff. But only cheap stuff, and mainly quickly and in large quantities. I’m maybe not too well qualified to pass judgement on Chivas Regal.)
But no screaming comes. It’s just beautifully smooth and syrupy. Tastes warm and a bit spicy. A little banana-ey? Smells terrific too. I’m willing to endorse the taste of the string smokers. No comment on the black Panamanian marijuana, but Winsome and co seem to know where it’s at.
The passage of V. mentioning Chivas Regal is from p.124 of my edition. I drank the standard 12yo on ice.
Update: Chivas Regal also gets a mention in Vineland, where DL steals “a bottle of PX Chivas Regal for the sensei.” PX, as far as I can tell refers to the military shopping centre she steals it from. That’s page 125.