Archive for April 14th, 2007

shades of Hemingway / Part 5, I’ll drink to that

April 14, 2007

We made it back from Fort Zachary Taylor late in the afternoon and after a brief stop to freshen up ( I stashed the shoe horn under our mattress) we decided to head down to Mallory Square for the “sunset festival”.  Mallory Square is awash with activity an hour or so before sunset.  Street vendors and circus like entertainers stake out a spot to practice their craft and on-lookers surround the particular group that holds their attention the longest.  One gentleman suspended himself in mid-air wrapped up in a straight jacket and escaped in record time.  Another man had trained cats (!) that jumped through hoops, walked narrow rope bridges and leapfrogged each other.  They’d jump up to his shoulder to get treats from his lips and he’d smack a little kiss to them.  His rapid fire little laugh annoyed me but Keith and Laura were enthralled.

There were a couple of young men doing an acrobatic act that was very good.  They sounded British or perhaps Australian.  They amazed us with their comical banter, unicycle stunts, juggling while balancing on pop bottles and on and on.  Every entertainer “passes the hat” towards the end of their act and we gave generously.  (a couple of bucks)  Annette made sure every performer we stopped for  (no matter how long we paused) got something from us.

Then, as if on cue, everyone went to the edge of the square and stood along the railing to await the sunset.  There were small sail boats out in the bay, the water was calm and sea birds flew over head.  A hotel had a cafe near the water and the patrons stopped what they were doing to witness the grand spectacle.  You wouldn’t think a sunset takes place every night the way these people reacted to it.  But there we were, holding our breath until soon the crimson sky turned off it’s source by dipping the sun like a taffy apple.  We all bathed in the afterglow.  Everyone applauded.  (Annette did not tip here)

We decided we were hungry and made the trek back up to Duval St. then started scouting out restaurants.  We chose one a few blocks up that was originally one of the historic homes on the same block as Sloppy Joe’s Bar.  Sloppy Joe’s is infamous for being a hang out for Ernest Hemingway while he lived and played in Key west.  It is packed with nostalgia and the walls are adorned with pictures of the era.  But there were people waiting to get in as we passed, so we walked on promising ourselves we would get an earlier start tomorrow and put Sloppy Joe’s at the top of our list.

I wish I could remember the name of the place we ate at, but I can’t.  I do know it had a buffet style atmosphere and intimate dining areas in several rooms.  We were happy to load up our plates with the amount of our choosing and found a nice table that allowed us to look outside and watch the pedestrian traffic.  I have a  rule about mixing meats, some just seem to digest easier than others.  I am cautious when it comes to eating chicken with steak or steak with seafood, etc.  So while Keith, Laura and Annette gobbled as much shrimp, oysters and maui maui they could scarf up along with chicken fingers, pork ribs and steak, I chose to eat grilled chicken. 

Soon we were back on Duval St. looking for a bar to wrap up the evening with.  We approached Sloppy Joe’s Bar but the line to get in seemed longer than before. We decided to cross over and moved down the street to the Hogs Breath Saloon, which was crowded as well but welcomed us with the stage up front right as we walked in.  Some guy was accompanying himself on guitar and singing a song about Key West.  It went something like this:  My home is in Key West, where drinkin’ is considered a sport.  I’d rather be here, just sippin’ a beer than freezin’ my ass off in the North.  We decided this was the place for us.  We mingled in with the crowd and enjoyed the solitary performance well into the evening.  I even requested a John Prine song, Paradise which he did in grand style.  (Annette made sure he got a tip.) 

I wish I could say we partied on like Wayne and Garth, but around 10 that evening the fun and frolic began to catch up to us.  We bid the Hogs Breath Saloon a fond adieu and once again found ourselves making our way up Duval to Fleming St…  not quite at a crawl, but feeling no pain.  I still hadn’t mentioned the shoe horn and had nearly forgotten I had taken it.  But the night was young…

It had been a long day and with all the walking, eating and drinking involved… we were tired.  Keith and Laura went off to their room as soon as we arrived back at Marrero’s, Annette and I were more than happy to do the same.  Hitting the sheets we were both out like a light in a matter of moments, at least until I heard that sound again.  rat-tat-tat ding! (carriage return)  rat-tat-tat ding!  (carriage return).

Suddenly I woke up though it was still dark outside.  I found myself walking towards Sloppy Joe’s Bar.  The streets were wet and empty, the neon from the sign reflecting ominously on the sidewalk.  One lone figure was leaning against the building  just out side the front entry, smoking a cigar with one foot propped up on the wall.  He was dressed like a sportsman, possibly for fishing and as I approached I recognized him as the man in the Estate study.

“How ya doin’ there, Sport?  Long time no see.”  I knew right then that it was Ernest Hemingway; young, vibrant and talking to me like we were old friends.


“I ain’t your friggin’ papa!”  he snarled good naturedly.

“Mr. Hemingway?”

“I’m not my father, either.  Call me Hem, it’s easier!”  He clasped my hand firmly then patted me on the back.  “Come in here, Sport, we’ve got a lot to talk about.”  

We sat at the bar drinking shots of whiskey and chasing them with draft beer.  The only light was around the bar which cast long shadows on the hardwood floor.  We were alone except for the phantom bartender I never clearly saw.  Hem was in good spirits.

“I want you to go to work for me,” he was saying as he blew smoke rings with his cigar, “I want you to write a modern version of my life; my travels and adventures, do you think you’d be interested, Sport?  I’d help you, of course… sort of like a ghostwriter!”  Then  he jabbed me in the ribs with his elbow and laughed at the inside joke.

I couldn’t believe I was being offered tutelage by the great man himself…  ofcourse I was interested!

But I was puzzled.  “You’re world famous, Hem.  What could I possibly write about that could add to that?”

“Listen, Sport, it ain’t about obtaining fame, you’ve got to maintain fame.  Otherwise people will forget about you completely.”

I pondered that for a moment, just as 3 voluptuous vixens appeared.  One stood alongside of me, the other two hung on either side of Hem.

Hem put his arms around them and squeezed the women to him, making their breasts bulge.  He smiled broadly and winked, “The spoils of war, Sport, the spoils of war.”  The babe next to me started stroking my inner thigh.

“I must be dreaming!”  I said aloud.

“You think you’re dreaming?” Hem chortled.  He fondled a breast in each hand.  “Is this dreaming?”  The woman next to me raised her hand higher, smiling provocatively.   “Still dreaming, Sport?”  Hem was rolling his eyes with a ghastly grin and the whores joined in the laughter.  One reached for a glass of beer and threw it in my face. 

“Still dreaming…?” echoed in my ears…