So here's the deal on the twice-ringing postman

I mentioned yesterday that past and present reads of James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice left me wondering: What postman? The first time I read the book, I was in 5th or 6th grade, so I went directly to my oracle: the librarian. I have some wonderful librarian stories to tell, but sadly, this is not one of them. She scolded me for reading filthy smut, which really just made me want to search out more filthy smut and read it. Anyway, flash forward to the Golden Age of Google.

Cain originally wanted to be an opera singer, and his novels are definitely cross-pollinated with music -- metaphors, melody, and rhythm. "Writing," he once said, "was distinctly a consolation prize." Cain says the genesis of the story was a random stop at a filling station somewhere in Southern California.
"This bosomy-looking thing comes out--commonplace, but sexy, the kind you have ideas about. We always talked while she filled up my tank. One day I read in the paper where a woman who runs a filling station knocked off her husband. Can it be this bosomy thing? I go by, and sure enough, the place is closed. I inquire. Yes, she's the one--this appetizing but utterly commonplace woman."

His working title for the resulting novel was Bar-B-Que.

But Cain was also fascinated by the case of Ruth Snyder, a Queens housewife who enticed her corset salesman lover into helping her kill her husband, and then tried to off the Lothario with a poisoned bottle of wine. Damon Runyon described Snyder as "a chilly-looking blonde with frosty eyes and one of those you-bet-you-will chins." She is said to have received 164 marriage proposals while on trial for murder. When she was subsequently executed at Sing Sing, a journalist from the Daily News strapped a camera to his ankle and pilfered an infamous photograph of her last moment in the electric chair.

Shortly before her death, Snyder converted to Catholicism and confessed all. She'd tricked her husband into signing a personal injury insurance policy that paid double in case of death (hence the phrase "double indemnity"). To keep him from seeing the payment coupons that came in the mail, she persuaded the postman to deliver the coupons directly to her. The postman's private signal: ring twice. A catch phrase was born. "Watch yourself, sport, 'specially if the postman always rings twice, eh?" Wink wink nudge nudge.

And then there's this:


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