For this week’s editorial I almost penned some fiction in honor of the short story’s godfather, Ernest Hemingway. Almost.
Until we sampled a cross section of locals and tourists. Fittingly, our study was done on Duval Street during peak drinking hours, but the answers left me sad. Cats and The Old Man of the Sea was the most popular response – nothing about womanizing, boozing, bullfighting, or For Whom the Bell Tolls.
As a Creative Writing major from the Midwest, I relate to his work. Fishing, hunting, boxing, cockfights, and a discerning palate for beverages. Not crap like Miller Lite or Red Bull and Vodka, but the cool drinks like Absinthe, Mojitos, wine, rum mixed with green coconut water and lime, or the hundreds of the cocktails he wrote about that made his works like A Movable Feast and The Sun Also Rises resemble a bartender’s guide as much as instant piece of classic literature.
I discovered E.H. and Key West in the same year – and it was good. Having just completed a 4000 level Hemingway course, I took a cruise to Key West and headed straight for 907 Whitehead. My picture was taken next to his urinal and my eyes watered.
Upon returning to my hometown, which was a few hours from both his boyhood home in Oak Park and his family’s summer home in Petoskey, Michigan, I immediately sought out Professor Clarence Lindsay, who is currently working on a study of anti-Americanism in Hemingway’s American characters.
“Koler,” he bellowed. His glasses dangled on the tip of nose and a loose sweater dangled from his shoulders in the same manner as his jowls hung from his face. “You have seen Key West and I deem you ready for the world. In the near future you will attend a cocktail party and facilitate a great pedagogical discussion on the androgynous themes in Hemingway’s work. You will be brilliant.”
Three weeks earlier, the swine had given me a ‘B’ for Hemingway: 4010, destroying my GPA.
“You are foul-mouthed swine,” I said.
Oddly enough, the professor’s face twinkled in the faint glow of University Hall. A crowd of ashen-faced students fell back and then closed in around the two of us leaving plenty of room.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect when he dropped his stack of books. No one said anything and there were all those pimply faces around us and he took a swing and I hit him with a left and his mouth started to bleed. He swung again and I hooked him hard to the right eye twice before he went down.
“Don’t you bleed on me, you son of a bitch,” I said as I brought my hand up fast and loose and knocked his head back and then backhanded him across the face again.
I won the literary Battle Royale with him that day and if you enjoyed these last few paragraphs, please pick up Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream – it is a family book about submarine hunting in the Caribbean. The novel was published posthumously in 1970, and is divided into three sections and also contains some good drinking and fighting.
Some say The Old Man and The Sea is the fourth section of the book.
Hemingway was much more than a bearded drinker with an affinity for six-toed cats. His stories and persona made it cool to be a writer and I feel damn lucky to live in the Florida Keys. Enjoy the bars, weather, fishing and the celebration of this author’s work.