I’ve always had more than enough Christmas cheer by Thanksgiving. The Apartment, one of the greatest of the great Billy Wilder’s comedy-dramas, is just the antidote I need. A comedy that features a suicide attempt and lots of self-loathing, this five-Oscar-winning film has one particular scene that always cracks me up: on a most depressing Christmas Eve, a drunken blond picks up an equally plastered Jack Lemmon, who has been thrown out of his own apartment so that his married boss can have a place to screw the elevator girl (Shirley MacLaine). The blond, “Mrs. MacDougall,” attempts to draw Lemmon’s attention by blowing the tips of straw wrappers at him. When the assault fails – Lemmon is too snockered to notice the little paper torpedos– she staggers over and blurts, “Ya buy me a drink, I’ll buy ya some music.” Then she slams her empty glass on the bar and shouts “Rum Collins!”
I’ve seen the movie countless times, but I never had a Rum Collins until this year – the first cocktail hour after Halloween. That’s the day the endless Yuletide began. No sooner were Halloween’s decaying corpse masks off the shelves and party lights and tinsel and rousing carols whirlwinded in, sending me into a borderline psychopath. The Rum Collins helped.
As I looked through various cocktail books for both classic and variety Collins recipes – Dan was still at work – I imitated Mrs. MacDougall’s best lines at least 15 times. Armed with her refreshed Rum Collins, she recites, with a hilariously bored expression, her own adaptation of Clement Clarke Moore’s gag-worthy classic: “‘Twas de night befo’ Chissmiss, ‘n alll trew de house/ not a creatchuh was stirrin’. Nuthin’. No action. Dullsville. Ya married?” If a stranger said that to me at a bar he could have me within the minute.
So what’s in a Rum Collins? The Collins family is all about lemon, seltzer and a touch of simple syrup. A Tom Collins, for instance, features gin; Tom’s cousin John uses bourbon; John’s Mexican husband, José Collins, employs tequila. I did not make up that name. Nor am I making up the Sandy Collins (Scotch), or the Brandy Collins, which although made with brandy, was actually invented in honor of the Looking Glass tune from 1972: “And the sailors say ‘Brandy, you’re a fine girl…” (Okay, I did make that one up.)
The Rum Collins features a variant sour-citrus flavor – lime juice instead of lemon; otherwise it follows the pattern. Don’t limit yourself to so-called expert opinions: vary the proportions as much as you want. You’re drinking it, after all. But I must insist: there is no reason whatsoever to use a mix. This is a simple drink, people. Buy the few ingredients individually. No, don’t bother squeezing fresh limes. Use unsweetened bottled juice instead. And if you don’t have simple syrup, just toss in a little sugar before adding the seltzer. One thing to keep in mind: club soda has salt in it. Use it if you want, but seltzer makes a fresher tasting drink.
The Rum Collins
2 parts light rum
½ part lime juice
¼ tsp simple syrup or sugar to taste
As much or as little seltzer as you like.
Put the first three ingredients into a tall, empty glass. Stir to mix, then add chilled seltzer slowly to avoid wasting the fizz. Finish it off with a couple of ice cubes. Avoid the tacky formaldehyded cherries unless you have a death wish.