louche

I like the taste of louche, and I like a taste of the louche.

I don’t mean I actually like hanging out in shady, sketchy places. Genuine criminals lack charm for me. But I like the fantasy of infraction, of impropriety, of pulling at the seams on the underskirts of life. I like it some in movies – film noir, British thieves, American gangsters – and I like it in music.

When I tell you what music, you’ll see how I mean it’s a charming fantasy. I especially fancy two popular musical duos for their louche touch: the Pet Shop Boys and Steely Dan. Here, listen to the lush lashings of the louche, from the licks and the lips of Tennant and Lowe and Fagen and Becker.

Just listen to that music slouch, the sly undercuts like a low-slung deuce. I could have given you many Pet Shop Boys tunes and just about any Steely Dan song at all – I nearly picked “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “Babylon Sister.” It’s all so loose and sly, looking at you sideways from a squinting eye. But of course those musicians aren’t gangsters at all. They’ve never hurt anyone or been shot at. It’s all an act.

But it’s still the opposite of spending the Sabbath at shul (literally the reverse: /luʃ/ – /ʃul/). No, this word doesn’t come from a reverse reading of the Yiddish word for ‘synagogue’. If you want a backwards echo, look at the word itself: louche – echuol. It can echo you well. It shows you not the mirror but the shadow you cast, and if you follow your shadow it will always lead you farther away from the light, always just ahead of you. Watch that it lead you not straight to ouch.

But you really need to squint to see this word. Or you need to be squinting: French louche, from Latin luscus ‘one-eyed’. Do you think of pirates with eye patches or criminals with ocular scars? You could also think of a wink, a flash of the lashes. A delicious pair of soft peepers, one of them open to look you over, the other closed just for a moment to signify an invitation to come over to the dark side. And then a lick of the lip – “l,” but so silent, so soft – a luscious exhalation of release and delight, “oo,” and a “sh” to silence you as you slip into something shadier… just a little role-playing, nothing dangerous

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