“small as a whorehouse beer”

from the Paris Review interview with James M. Cain:

INTERVIEWER

Were there other signs [that you were going to be a writer]?

CAIN

Well, when I went to Baltimore to work for the gas company, the first of the meaningless jobs I held when I was just out of college, I kept going down to this whorehouse on Saturday nights. I never did go upstairs, though twice I wanted to. One night I met this girl who was awful pretty, and she had pretty legs. I badly wanted to go upstairs with her, but I was afraid because of the disease which I imagined she had. (In Paris during the war I bumped into a girl, and I was horribly lonely, didn’t particularly crave her physically, but she approached me, and asked me to spend the night, and I’m glad I didn’t because I think she would have had my wallet with everything else.) But during this six months I worked for the gas company, I kept going down to that area around Josephine Street. At one of these places you could buy a bottle of beer for fifty cents. “Small as a whorehouse beer” was an expression then. They’d serve them up in glasses so small that thimbles were twice as big. For that fifty cents you were welcome to do anything, downstairs—get along with the girls, stick around—I was just eighteen years old. I listened a lot downstairs. Upstairs was another matter. I was a potential customer, of course. I guess the things you didn’t do . . .

It seems like there’s more to the story, but the interview moves on.  Later Cain claims that Alice In Wonderland is the greatest novel in the English language.

alice

Cain on Chandler’s The Big Sleep:

That book about a bald, old man with two nympho daughters. That’s all right. I kept reading. Then it turned out the old man raises orchids. That’s too good.



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