Farewell My Lovely

“In twenty minutes you can sink a battleship, down three or four planes, hold a double execution. You can die, get married, get fired and find a new job, have a tooth pulled, have your tonsils out. In twenty minutes you can even get up in the morning. You can get a glass of water at a nightclub—maybe.”—Raymond Chandler

I love Raymond Chandler. Farewell My Lovely is rife with great bits of writing (“She was the kind of woman who could make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”) as Philip Marlowe goes looking for a missing singer only to find himself sinking deeper into a corrupt cover-up the further he goes.

But this book also reminded me how hard it is to judge prices when they show up in old stories. I’m used to the big figures—that a crook having 25 grand in his safe is an impressive haul translated into today’s money—but when Marlowe refers to an 85 cent lunch as “resembling an old mailsack” I’m not sure if that was a fairly expensive meal or dirt cheap (in 1940, I’m thinking the former). Likewise, the Neil Simon play Prisoner of Second Avenue has the recently-fired protagonist refer to $75 a week secretaries bringing him donuts in the weeks before the firing and not asking for money; I’ve known if that’s significant because they’re so broke it’s incredibly generous or so high up the secretarial ladder that they wouldn’t normally be nice.
Someday I’d like to do a story where a timetraveler keeps screwing up his budget because he can’t keep track of how much of his paycheck he’s shelling out for meals, clothes, etc.

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