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The Sincerest Form

Excerpt from Beer in the Sergeant Major’s Hat, a parody found in Raymond Chandler’s notebook:

Hank went into the bathroom to brush his teeth.

‘The hell with it,’ he said. ‘She shouldn’t have done it.’

It was a good bathroom. It was small and the green enamel was peeling off the walls. But the hell with that, as Napoleon said when they told him Josephine waited without. The bathroom had a wide window through which Hank looked at the pine and larches. They dripped with a faint rain. They looked smooth and comfortable.

‘The hell with it,’ Hank said. ‘She shouldn’t have done it.’

He opened the cabinet over the washbasin and took out his toothpaste. He looked at his teeth in the mirror. They were large yellow teeth, but sound. Hank could still bite his way for a while.

Hank unscrewed the top of the toothpaste tube, thinking of the day when he had unscrewed the lid of the coffee jar, down on the Pukayak River, when he was trout fishing. There had been larches there too. It was a damn good river, and the trout had been damn good trout. They liked being hooked. Everything had been good except the coffee, which had been lousy. He had made it Watson’s way, boiling it for two hours and a half in his knapsack. It had tasted like hell. It had tasted like the socks of the Forgotten Man.

‘She shouldn’t have done it,’ Hank said out loud. Then he was silent.

He had written it on Aug. 7, 1932, and dedicated it to “the greatest living American novelist — Ernest Hemingway.”