Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In Search of Hemingway Daze

The dimly lit world of Hemingway's Captain Tony's Saloon.

I had come full circle, and a circle in Key West isn’t as long as you would think. I was back in front of Hemingway Days headquarters. I took a deep breath and went over to the patio bar and ordered my beer of choice. There was no one around, I guess I missed it all. I do seem to recall that this was a patio event and the early morning rains had ended by the time I woke up.

After my second beer in silence the barkeep asked me if I was here to attend the workshops. I told him that it had crossed my mind but that it looked like I missed it.

“It’s upstairs,” he said while rinsing out some glasses.



“Yeah, I know,” I lied.

After my third beer I made my way to the upstairs patio. I passed through a throng of people on the staircase, none of them giving heed or hindrance to my celebrity. My self-importance. The journey for me appeared to be over. I passed through the open doors and rested against the back wall. I didn’t know if I had to talk to anyone or register. I could only see the tops and backs of people’s heads. None of them looked familiar.

I stood uneasily in the back.

Where was the bar?

Where people think Hemingway drank his mojitos.
The audience claps like trained seals hoping that the speaker will notice them. The speaker is Abby Hemingway, I guess I missed the great poet Sebastian Blacque.

Abby is a granddaughter, grandniece or grand something of the original Hemingway. She's done a better job of living off a name than I have. I’m sure Gregor is paying her more than the $700 he's paying me to speak today and Abby isn’t really speaking. She’s reading from a two year old story that I read at the time in The Times.

“Because of my name I drank. Those of you familiar with Papa are aware that his drinking was legendary. But you seem to miss the point that his drinking is what killed him.” Abby, hiding behind dark sunglasses, then relates her own sorry tale of alcohol abuse. She mentions to the audience before beginning her tale that, “This is where I usually find people leaving.” Nobody leaves during Abby’s sermon, Abby also knows that nobody ever has left during her sermon.

Her story was poignant enough but I doubt that the trained seals expected to sit in on an impromptu Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I know I didn’t come here to listen to her proselytizing. Abby is oblivious to all of this, she thinks that by exposing the open wound that is her life it will further her own literary career. Her career though has been limited to these types of speaking arrangements. Abby ain’t no Hemingway. No matter what the birth certificate reads.

By flaunting the family name Abby has ensured herself a life of leisure. Her 20 years as a drunk was a springboard to her capitalizing on the next 20 years speaking about the evils of alcohol. Reformation is inevitable when the free tab runs full.

Though I caught the sermon, I had arrived late for her speech. What else was new today? I was downstairs drinking my beer when she began, maybe the beginning of her oration was worthwhile listening to. Maybe that was how she had trained her seals.

This was unbearable. Abby's tale of woe left me thirsting for a drink. I was too far from the bar to be inconspicuous. No one was at the bar. At the conclusion of Abby’s speech there was polite applause as if one was in a church. No one stirred. Not even the birds. I couldn't hear a rooster yakking away and roosters always yak in Key West. She asked if there were any questions. No one spoke. The seals, though trained, were shy. I wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass. I moved forward from the wall and asked Abby, “Can you tell me if I can buy a beer here?”

Abby was stunned.

She didn’t expect my question. She didn’t answer my question. Abby and I both knew that she wanted a drink. She wanted to return to the abyss. She was alive in the abyss. She wanted to join me and splash about. Abby did want to continue the family legacy.

Mine was the only question asked of Abby. When she didn’t reply I made my way over to the bar. “I’ll have a double,” I said. "A double what?" asked the barkeep. "It doesn't matter," I said by way of reply. The smirk on my face was a mile wide."I'm drinking for two."

I must have broke the tension of the terrace because the seals became people and they started to get out of their seats. Some went up to the front to say whatever to Abby, others made a beeline to the exits, but the real troopers joined me at the bar. Abby wasn’t going to do any one-on-one chit-chats with anyone. Her job was done, she wasn’t being paid to mingle.

Abby came toward my position at the head of the bar. As she got closer I noticed that she was a frail portrait of someone who had seen better days. She was escorted by two bodyguards each supporting an elbow. Abby didn’t even have the decency to take off her dark glasses when she spat in my face before exiting. I shrugged my shoulders at the pompous caricature and quickly ordered another double to celebrate the fact that I got under her skin.

I noticed Gregor notice what had just transpired. He was making his way over to me. The bar was three deep at this time. There was no escape. I’d have to come up with a story and come up with one quick. I was up next.

A Key West sunset...how Hemingway could tell day from night.


(Excerpt from Hannah's Bedtime Story. Any similarity between people living or dead is incoherent at best. They are merely figments of the imagination who torment the writer's sleep. At the moment he is enjoying Bellini's at Harry's Bar in Venezia, Italy. More on that later. Hemingway Days in Key West, Florida begin July 19.)