Classic Royko: My dinner with James Bond, 1980s style
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Editor’s note: Mike wrote this one for the Chicago Sun-Times on Nov. 18, 1980.
(Recent news item: The literary executors of the late Ian Fleming’s estate have decided to bring Secret Agent James Bond back to life. Another mystery writer has been chosen to write three books about Bond. Fleming died in 1964, after writing 14 books about the dashing British agent. Author John Gardner, who will write the new Bond books, said Bond, whose adventures took places during the 1950s and early 1960s, will be brought into the 1980s. He will have more modest personal habits and will be sensitive to such modern developments as women’s liberation.)
Upon learning that Bond was returning, I phoned him and arranged for us to have dinner. He suggested we meet at his club. He arrived at 6:30 p.m. and strode purposefully into the dining room.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said, “but I had trouble finding a parking space.”
“How is it running?” I asked.
“Your car. I can still see it. One of the last of the great 4 1/2 liter Bentleys, with the supercharger by Amherst Villiers. Battleship gray, I recall, and a convertible. Capable of cruising easily at 90 miles an hour with another 30 miles an hour in reserve. Do you still retain the same devoted mechanic who tunes it for you?”
“Good Lord, no. I got rid of that thing years ago. Couldn’t afford the gas. Eight miles to the gallon. I’m driving a VW Rabbit these days.”
A VW Rabbit? You? But how could you ever outrun an agent from SMERSH, the dreaded killer agency, in a Rabbit?”
“Not that difficult. Most of them are driving Honda Civics. We just keep going until one of us runs out of gas, actually. Best m.p.g. survives.”
The waiter came to take our drink order. Before Bond could speak, I interrupted:
“Let me order, James. I think I remember your favorite before-dinner drink down to the tiniest detail. Waiter, bring Commander Bond a dry martini. But serve it in a deep champagne goblet. You will make it with three measures of Gordon’s Gin, one measure of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it is ice cold, then add a large, thin slice of lemon peel. If you have a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, it will be even better. Do I have that right, James?”
“Yes, but I think I’ll skip the martini tonight.”
“Of course. Then you prefer a double bourbon on the rocks. That was one of your favorites, too.”
“Uh, no bourbon tonight. I think I’ll just have a glass of white wine.”
“What? White wine? You? At least have the Brut Blac de Blac 1943, if they have it, which you considered the finest champagne in the world. I distinctly remember your telling that to the beautiful Vesper Lynd the first time you and she dined at Casino Royale.”
“Please, just white wine. Or even Perrier. I’ll be truthful: Do you remember all those people I killed? Do you know why I killed them?”
“Of course I do. You were Agent 007. The 00 designation gave you license to kill.”
“Actually, that’s not entirely true. The reason I killed them was that I was loaded to the gills most of the time. Bourbon before lunch, crazy martinis before dinner. Champagne. Then cognac after dinner. By the time I got around to my job, everybody I met looked like a Russian spy to me. I think the last five people I shot were all innocent bystanders.”
“Didn’t know that, James. Then let’s skip the drinks and order dinner.”
As we looked at the menus, I studied Bond’s appearance.
For evening wear, he used to wear a thin, double-ended black satin tie, a silk shirt, and a single-breasted dinner jacket.
“Do you still have the same tailor?” I asked.
“No. Inflation. Can’t afford it anymore. This suit is from the Johnny Carson line. Double knit. Do you like it?”
“Oh, yes, of course.”
He took out a cigarette and lit it. He caught me staring at the cigarette.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“Well, as I recall, you used to smoke your own brand. A Turkish and Balkan mixture made to your specifications at Morland on Grosvenor Street. They had three golden bands. Those don’t appear to be the same.”
“No, they’re not. These are called Breath. No tars, no nicotine. Made of dandelion, actually. Couldn’t take those Morlands anymore. Every time I tried to sneak up on some Russian agent to kill him, he’d hear me coughing and wheezing a mile away.”
“I see. And I notice your lighter. That isn’t your old black oxidized Ronson?”
“No. It’s a Cricket propane. I buy them in packages of three at the discount store. Lost my Ronson.”
The waiter appeared for our dinner order.
“At least we can eat the way you used to, James. Ah, what a gourmet you were. Let’s see if I remember some of your favorite dishes. We shall have the Beluga caviar, with thick hot toast. Then possibly some stone crab legs with faintly burnt butter in which to dip them. And you would like rare tournedos with sauce bearnaise and a coeur d’articaut. Will that do?”
“Uh, I really would prefer broiled whitefish with some cottage cheese on the side. And a salad with just some lemon.”
“James! You, cottage cheese? What about prime rib? Or the cold langouste? And some pate de foie gras? You never ate cottage cheese in your life.”
“And I wound up with a 52-inch waistline. The Russian agents used to laugh at me and call me Agent-Double-O-Tubbo. I was a wreck. Actually, I think I’ll just have the California Fruit Salad with yogurt.”
“Well, you still look trim, so the diet must help. Tell me, James, are you still the same ruthless cad with women? I remember how you put it when a female agent was assigned to work with you. You said women were for recreation. On a job they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them. Then, of course, you slept with her.”
“Well, uh, no. I now have a significant other.”
A significant other. That’s someone with whom you live and have a meaningful relationship to the exclusion of others.”
“Yes, we jog together. Ten miles a day, although she can do 12.”
“James, why did you come back?
“Damned if I know.”
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