Also, there's an extended riff—seemingly frivolous, but not really—on why a martini should be shaken and not stirred. One that anticipates Bond, although Bond would be unlikely to go on about the molecular reasons for the desirable, shaking-derived "foaminess" exalted here, a foaminess that stands as a metaphor for the intoxicating insubstantiality of this glittering world of ritzy speakeasy debauchery all built on froth. A world that in 1931's nervous interim was itself shaken if not stirred.
And then there's the sudden intrusion—as in Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death"—of a deadly seducer: gold.
Gloria's uncle, who has been a regular player on Wall Street, gets the vibe of the coming plunge and tells her, "I've been getting rid of everything I can and do you know what I've been doing? Buying gold."
"Bullion?" she asks.
Yes, he says. "The real article. Coins when I can get them and gold bars and a few gold certificates but I haven't much faith in them. You know I don't like to frighten you, but it's going to be a lot worse before it's any better."
No, he doesn't want to frighten her at all.
Then he tells a long story about a prophetic market trader, "A Jew, naturally." (I am of the opinion that the racism and anti-Semitism expressed by certain of O'Hara's characters do not reflect O'Hara's sentiments but, rather, his novelist's ear: They are reminders of how recently open expression of such sentiments was not shamed. In O'Hara they are denigrations of the characters who express them, not of their objects.)
In this case, Gloria's uncle almost seems to have a mystical, worshipful feel for that Jew's prophetic ability to foretell the collapse: He called the market turn and sold everything in August 1929; moved to France for the "whoopee" (translation: sex); and then set sail around the world with some Follies girls, landed on a South Sea Island, sent the girls home, and established himself as the owner of a copra plantation in order to watch from a distance the decline of the West. He became Conrad.
That was then, the flight into gold like the flock of seabirds trying to outrace a storm. It's interesting how gold still has the mystical power to ignite end-of-the-world emotions. Shortly after reading that passage in O'Hara, I came upon an eloquent jeremiad, attacking today's fixation on the supposedly pre-apocalyptic rise in the price of gold. Gold and the end-of-the-world fears it inspires. Art critic Adam Lindemann wrote recently in the New York Observer as he watched gold soar:
I've never bought an ounce of the stuff in my life and I hope I never do. The price of gold is a barometer for our collective anxiety and irrational neuroses. I'm referring to global financial meltdown, famine nuclear meltdowns, tsunami, anarchy in the middle east and eventually hyper inflation. But I was already scared and buying gold will only confirm my innermost "end of the world" fears which is the very thing I'm trying to suppress.