Archive for May, 2007

whilst I was away…

May 22, 2007

Gee, take a few weeks (okay, seven…) to write a short story and post it on your blog then guess what happens?  The world continues to spin merrily along without your commentary and that can be a bad thing.  After all, there are a least a few (okay, a couple of…) people that are interested in what you have to say.  (aren’t there?  please say yes…) 

So without further ado these are some of the things that have passed by while I was developing The Shades of Hemingway and making it available free of charge for your enjoyment.  (which only proves how much I love you)

1)     Anna Nicole Smith died…

Yes, it is true she died before I started working on the story but they are still talking about it now so I could have said something earlier on about it and chose not to.  In retrospective I can say that for finding fame and fortune, success seemed shallow for the blond bombshell.  She obviously was not a happy person despite her celebrity status and that should be a lesson for the rest of us.  Happiness comes from within, folks.  It is truly something money can’t buy, perhaps it only aids in detaining it. 

Rest in peace, Anna Nicole.

2)      Don Imus said “nappy headed ho…”

I’ve never been a fan of Mr. Imus, but I can’t help but feel he is a political scapegoat for the likes of “Reverend”  “Big Al” Sharptongue.  I can’t figure out if people got pissed because he said “nappy headed”  or “ho” or the combination of “nappy headed ho”.  But really, how many people that were listening that day got offended?  It wasn’t until somebody decided to go public and complain that the rest of us heard about it then turned it into a public scandal.  Not only that, but Don repeated what another guy said first and then laughed at his terminology.  Imus didn’t come up with it on his own but he was the star and there was a political agenda so he had to go. 

I can’t help but think of little Stevie Wonder and his song entitled:  I Wish.  It goes like this…

Looking back on when I

was a little nappy headed boy,

then my only worry

was for Christmas what would be my toy.

Or are we talking about being called a “ho”?  I wonder where that slang came from in the first place?  Guess those words are okay when blacks use them.  Sorry Don, you were born white, are now affluent and just too easy a target. 

What a double standard…  

3)     Virginia Tech tragedy…

A sick bastard who couldn’t accept that the American dream is what you make of  the opportunity, not what you might think you are entitled to shoots innocent students.  You know, the State of Utah allows for the carrying of firearms in public, even on university campuses.  I can’t help but wonder if this senseless act of violence would have taken place if the perpetrator had the inkling that his intended victims could fire back. 

I am not for gun control, I am for gun education.  I think as dangerous as the world is today that everyone should have some training in the handling of firearms.  Our Founding Fathers would not want the public to shrink back from this right to bear arms.  We should have them, be trained and use them in our self defense.  Less armed crazies victimizing unarmed citizens, more self protection and determination to thwart intimidation by gun toting thugs.  The government can’t provide protection for us individually and the situation is getting worse, not better. 

It is our right to bear arms and we should not forsake it.

4)     Sheryl Crow saves the environment one square at a time…

Gosh,  it must be rough being a rock star…  the world hangs on every word that you say and just when they think that you are hip, it turns out that you’re square.  Sheryl said that the world could save itself if it used only one square of toilet tissue per bathroom visit, which she later recanted as a joke.  Still,  I think there is a song there…

People laugh but I don’t care…

are you strong enough to use one square?

5)     Florida beats Ohio State for a second National Championship.

Never thought Florida would win the first one let alone a second.  I thought Ohio State would want revenge for their last loss against Florida but I obviously was wrong on all three counts. 

Gotta hand it to the Gators… 

6)     Tainted dog food.

It is a scary thing when our pet’s food composition is outsourced to a third world country that contaminates it.  Makes you wonder if that could happen to animals why couldn’t it happen to humans?  These countries are not regulated like America is, they can use pesticides that we have banned then turn around and sell us these food products we should be growing ourselves.  I don’t agree with N.A.F.T.A. or any of these foreign trade policies that put us at risk.  FDA, where are you when we need you?  

Something needs to change before we are all S.O.L. …

7)     Toyota passes GM as the #1 auto maker in the world. 

Wow, that wasn’t so hard to foresee.  American cars suck, why should people buy them?  Out of loyalty?  Toyota makes a better product and backs them better, who wouldn’t want to get their monies worth?  I have owned American and foreign made vehicles.  It seems the quality of the American made gets less and less while the foreign car continues to improve.  

Wish I could say different… 

8)     Jerry Falwell dies.

Not much on religious leaders, don’t follow the T.V. evangelists and could care less about their doctrine.  I don’t know why he suffered such intolerences as a man of God but I figure Ol’ Jer’ll end up meeting his maker and in the end He will straighten things out.

Amen.

9)     Zach Johnson wins the Masters.

Not much on golf but this guy is from Iowa City (my home town) so I am pleased to make mention of him. 

10)     Last and certainly least… (and absolutely the last time I mention her on this blog)  Paris Hilton got 90,  er… 45,  uh…  23 days? mmm… maybe a slap on the wrist, no still too harsh…? a tap?  c’mon… a scolding,  maybe a time out?  How about another free pass because she is a spoiled rich kid that the stupid public seems to be enthralled with…

Discusting lack of justice, if it were you and me there would be no discussion so is that fair?  I thought justice was blind but it is bought, paid for and segregated between the rich and the poor which is in turn a bigger crime than hers and morally corrupt.  What does it teach the impressionable young?  respect the law?  not hardly. 

The Paris Hilton soap opera… as my stomach turns.

.

Ofcourse… the war is still going strong, politics rage on as usual, gas prices are higher than ever and the economy seems to be worse than it was back two months ago. 

But I am still here and attentive to your needs, if you have room for optimism…

peace.  

shades of Hemingway / epilogue

May 14, 2007

 (author’s note:  This is the last chapter in a series of 14.  In order to start at the beginning you must scroll back to Part 1.  Sorry for the inconvenience.)

                                                 *     *     *     *

The last thing a person wants to do on a Saturday night/Sunday morning is to be caught in a holding cell at the Key West Police Department.  It took a while to convince the authorities to contact my friends at Marrero’s Mansion.  It took even longer for somebody to come from the Ernest Hemingway Estate to claim the shoe horn and press formal charges against me.  I figured it best not to mention my encounters with Officer Jordan otherwise they might REALLY think I was a trouble maker.  I began to worry that I might not make our ferry that evening.  I worried more about the chance I might not be leaving the jail for a while.

One stroke of good luck was the curator of the estate came personally to claim the property I was “stealing” (no one believed I was actually trying to “return” the shoehorn) and wanted to see me.  I was surprised to find out that he was the same man who guided our tour of Hemingway’s home and he remembered Keith, then eventually me, too.  Seems he enjoyed his work so much there that he rotated being a tour guide amongst his other duties as a curator just to be near the Hemingway mystique.

He patiently listened to my wild eyed story without interruption, appearing slightly amused at times but not entirely in disbelief.  After I was finished he asked me if I was sorry for what I had done.  I replied that though I did not enjoy being in jail or labelled a thief, I did not regret the experience.  (a stance I was sure Hem would have been proud of)

Then the elderly gentleman told me a bit about his background.  He was the nephew of  one of the crewmen that used to hang out with Papa Hemingway at Sloppy Joe’s Bar and  on fishing trips aboard his boat, Pilar.  He never had the privilege of meeting Ernest Hemingway but becoming involved with Hemingway’s Estate was his way of paying homage to his uncle and Key West’s most famous citizen. 

Apparently I was not the first person involved with “removing” an artifact from the estate.  Back in the ’70’s there was a statuette of a cat (!) that belonged to Hemingway that had been removed for awhile but was eventually returned.  Coincidentally around that time several stories by the late owner had been published posthumously. 

I don’t know if the curator believed my story, thought I was crazy or just a harmless vacationer who had had too much to drink but since the shoehorn was returned and appeared undamaged,  he decided not to press charges against me.  Ofcourse, I had to agree to stay clear of the Ernest Hemingway Estate which would not be a problem since I was going back to Ft. Myers that evening.  So with my court appearance scheduled (I was still charged with criminal trespassing and had to return in six weeks to plead my case) I was released.

Keith, Laura and Annette were waiting for me.  Keith had met the curator when he had come in and said that though he appeared to be worried about the condition of whatever it was I took, he didn’t seem too surprised by it being taken.  So now I had many questions to answer and some good natured ribbing to endure but I was glad to be out with my friends and anxious to “spill my guts”.

Leaving the police station we passed a wall of honor, a tribute to those police officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.  Some of the pictures date quite a ways back but one picture caught my eye, making me stop and take notice.  The most recent policeman to have his picture enshrined was a young man that looked like he smiled easily.  He had a helmet tucked under one arm and the other hand steadying his mountain bike.  His name was Robert Jordan, he had died the year before.

  

Postscript…

 This story is true and accurate to the best of my recollection with the previous disclaimer fully intact and the following exceptions noted:

I didn’t throw back any beers except in my dream at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, I drink cheap Zinfandel wine and little else.

We did rent an electric car, but I didn’t jump the curb or cause any serious damage to the undercarriage or rooftop thus putting the vehicle or my insurance carrier at serious risk.

I never actually saw Laura naked, there was a shadow cast from behind and I only glimpsed a silhouette.

I never actually saw Keith naked or noticed his flopping manhood when he jumped up and down on the bed… that would be gay.

Annette did not throw up or punch on me and the room we stayed in was really #18.  I changed that part because I thought nobody would believe that we would stay in Enriquetta’s room.

And if they decide to make a movie of my experience in Key West I would want Leonardo DiCaprio to play me…

… and now as the credits roll I imagine we would be on the Key West Express heading into the sunset accompanied by the following song…

                                                                 (scroll down)

    

Allman Brothers – Soulshine

May 14, 2007

Soulshine 4.28.95

thanks for reading… peace.

shades of Hemingway / part 13, it’s getting very near the end

May 13, 2007

I remember feeling damp and bone chilling cold as I moved through the darkness that engulfed the Key West Cemetery.  Occasional light cast eerie shadows as I walked in low lying fog towards an old brick crypt with gabled roofs and arches.  It seemed the closer I got the more I felt I was being pulled back by my shirt tail.  I struggled forward towards the vault and some misty shroud of light.   A large black crow was perched above and he “caw, caw, cawed” as I approached.  Then as I came in full view of the vault the black bird changed into a parrot and gave me a sideways look.

“You’re the Devil.”  he spoke, head bobbing. “You’re the Devil… the Devil… you’re the Devil.”

“I’m the Devil?” I asked, “Why am I the Devil?”

Hem stepped out of the shadows along with a salty, seafaring looking character fresh out of Robert Louis Stevenson’s,  Kidnapped. 

“You’ve betrayed our trust, Sport.  You’re going to send it back and do nothing.”

Other forms roamed the perimeter, just out of the realm of light, murmuring… whispering… crying in the shade.  All the souls there in that graveyard awakening and accusing, pointing their fleshless, sinewy fingers at me.  The parrot hobbled to the edge of his perch then fluttered to the shoulder of the gnarly looking ships mate, bobbing his head.

“You’re the Devil.” 

“I didn’t betray anything!  No one knows I’ve met with you or talked to you!  They’d think I was crazy!  This whole thing was just a huge mistake!”

“You and me, Sport… from the begining it was you and me.  But you listened to him and now you’re mind is made up.”

“Hem…  him is you!  Ring is you!  We’re only trying to preserve Papa’s name and legacy!  Your name and legacy!   It wouldn’t be the same otherwise!”

Hem’s face was drawn, thoughtful and sad.  He began to drift back into the shadows.

“The same?  I told you, Sport… I should’ve been buried here.  What is wrong with being different?  Why not change… adapt?  We could have been something, you and I… we could have been unstoppable… you could have been my successor,  there might have been a Hemingway revival…”

“You’re Ernest Hemingway! you don’t need a successor or a revival!”

“The Devil.” said the parrot.

“The Devil.” said Hem, shaking his head, turning away in disappointment.

“The Devil.” whispered the crowd of souls, swaying in the cool night air.

The parrot became a crow again as he leapt from the shoulder of the buccaneer, who was shaking his fist at me and snarling. 

“The Devil.” the chant grew louder. “The Devil!”

The crow squawked  and flew directly at me.  I ducked, turned and began to run away, stumbling over roots, thatch and grave markers.  I could hear the flapping of wings above me, but instead of one bird now there were 3, then 5, then a dozen cackling overhead.  I kept running until I tripped and fell… feeling myself floating in mid-air…

                                                               _______________

I sat up in our bed at Marrero’s, Annette was there beside me weeping.  I tried to console her…

“What’s wrong?”  I asked, wanting to put the brakes on the dream that left my heart racing.

“You left me!” she is sobbing.  “You left me here with nothing!”

“No, sweetie, I’m here… I haven’t gone anywhere!”

“No!  You left me here! You left me with nothing!  You’re the Devil!”

She began pounding her fists at my face and chest.  I rolled out of bed and stared at her in disbelief.  Annette wasn’t herself, she had turned into Enriquetta Marrero.

“You’re the Devil!  you left me here with nothing!”

I ran out of our room and bounded down the stairs.  I went to Keith and Laura’s room then pounded on the door.  Laura answered the door standing there in the nude, her eyes were rolled back inside of her head. 

“Father!” she said and ran back inside.  I looked in the room.  Keith was naked, jumping up and down on the bed, Laura climbed up and joined him.

“Play with us, Father, play with us!” they chanted.  My friends had become possessed by the ghosts of Francisco Marrero’s children.

“No!” I shook my head, “stop it! Hem! leave them alone, Hem!”

“Play with us! you’re the Devil!  play with us!  You’re the Devil!  play with us!  play with us!”

I shot outside to the veranda with my blood pulsating through my eardrums.  I looked in my hand and found I had left our room with Hemingway’s shoehorn clutched tightly in my fist.  I knew I couldn’t wait until morning to return it to the study at the estate.   I had to go back right then if I was to restore my sanity and return my life to any sort of normalcy.  I figured I could just throw it over the wall that fenced in the yard and be done with it.

I went out to the street and jumped into the rental car.  I u-turned and sped up the street towards Whitehead, my brain throbbing with the events of the past few moments spinning my thoughts uncontrollably.  I pulled up on the side of the estate, got out of the car and made it to the sidewalk.  I paused and looked down at the memento, the initials EMH clearly visible from the street light further down Whitehead St.

“You havin’ second thoughts, Sport?”

I looked up and saw Hem sitting on top of the wall, eased back like he had been stargazing. He smiled at me.  I took a step and made ready to hurl the shoehorn with all my might, defiant… sure of my decision.

“It won’t work, you know.  Throwing it away like that.  You have to return it.”

I stopped, pulled my arm down and looked at him.

“What do you mean?  I am returning it, this is where I got this damn thing!”

“No, Sport… you took it from my study, remember?  You have to take it back to my study.”

“This is a trick, you’re trying to make me keep it longer… you want me to change my mind.”  I raised my arm again, drawing  back… making ready to pitch the shoehorn and all that came with it over the wall.

“Okay, throw it then… see if it makes any difference.  The yard man will find it and give it to his supervisor who’ll in turn give it to the curator.  He’ll have to authenticate it, research and file it, then make a report to the trustees of my estate … it’ll take a long time to get it back to the study, if at all.  You might never rid yourself of these shades, Sport… at least… not going about it that way.”

I pondered that for a brief second.  I wasn’t sure if I was being set up or not.  But my bleary eyed thinking reasoned that Hem might have a point.  I knew I couldn’t go through the front gate, it would be locked and there would be security, perhaps even a night guard.  I looked up at Hem again.  If I could scale that wall…

I went back out into the street and got into the electric car, put it into gear and backed up a few feet.  I got a slight running start forward then jumped the curb, crossed over the sidewalk and eased up to the wall, parking parallel to it.  I got out, went to the rear, tucked the shoehorn into the back of my pants.  I climbed up onto the roof of the car which put me only a few feet from the top of the wall.  I stepped over and hoisted myself up easily then sat down next to Hem, my feet dangling over the opposite side.

“Very good, Sport.  I knew you were a bright boy the first time I laid eyes on you.”

I nodded solemnly, wanting to thank him but said nothing.  I began to ease myself down and looked Hem in the face just before I dropped… he was smiling that smile, the same as from the begining… when he had stepped out from the bathroom in his leather slippers… a disarming smile that left me wondering if this would be the last I would hear of  the shades of Hemingway.

I landed in the grass and rolled over to absorb the impact of the fall.  I got to my feet and started brushing myself off then made a move towards the carriage house.  It took me less than a half a dozen steps to trigger the alarm…

   

shades of Hemingway / part 12, a blind pig, the silver slipper and Jose’ Garcia Rio

May 10, 2007

It was mid-afternoon, around 4 o’clock, really too early to settle in to one bar for the rest of the day, but it was our last night in Key West.  Actually, any time in Key West is right for partying. (or so I gathered)  We all agreed that it was time to dump our car back off at Marrero’s and take the short walk over because no one would probably be fit to drive by the time we were finished. 

I remember thinking about the shoehorn still tucked safely under our mattress and wondered how I could get my friends to agree to revisiting Hemingway’s Estate so I could (as inconspicuously as possible) return it.  I decided against telling them of the events of the past day and a half because;  1)  I didn’t want them to think I was so un-cool as to steal, (yep, still hung up about that one) and 2)  I didn’t want them to talk me out of returning it,  and finally,  3)  I didn’t want to talk myself into keeping it  (which I knew I could easily do with some well intentioned prodding by Keith).  So we freshened up in each of our respective rooms taking about 15 minutes, (the shoehorn was still there, I checked) then we met back downstairs and headed for Duval St.

There is an interesting history that goes along with Sloppy Joe’s Bar.  Joe Russell, the original owner, ran a speakeasy during Prohibition that became the first licensed establishment in Florida the day that Great Experiment ended in 1933.  Originally called the Blind Pig, it wasn’t near as glamorous as the name implies.  Located at 428 Greene St., Joe rented the place for $3 a week and catered to a pretty rough crowd that enjoyed cheap whiskey, gambling and not much else.  But he met Ernest Hemingway there and after Joe cashed a $1000.00 advance check for Papa (that the local bank had refused to honor), the two became fast friends.  Soon other celebrities that enjoyed the Key West lifestyle mingled in with the seedy bunch of locals that Hemingway would eventually fashion some of the famous characters from his books after.

Russell figured business was booming and wanted to class the place up.  He added a dance floor and changed the name to the Silver Slipper, though the place was still a dive.  But it was adored by Hemingway, the locals and visitors from all over.   Joe’s notoriety grew.  Then one day there was talk of a name change and Hemingway suggested “sloppy” Joe’s after an infamous night club in Havana that was run by another “Joe”, Jose’ Garcia Rio.  That club served hard liquor and iced seafood and was actually a cut above Joe Russell’s place.  But it had one flaw.  Apparently during those hot Cuban days the iced seafood melted and water ran all over the floor.  Patrons teased the owner Jose’, taunting that he ran a “sloppy” establishment.  From that, Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West was born.

But it wasn’t long before the landlord wanted to cash in on Joe Russell’s success.  Deciding to raise the $3 a week rent to $4, an outraged Joe took his name, business, fixtures and patrons across the street to 201 Duval St. virtually over night.  It is said that as the move progressed, patrons literally got up from one bar stool, walked across the street and sat down to another one without missing a beat, …or a drink.  

Today’s Sloppy Joe’s has much of the original furnishings and flair of Joe Russell’s time.   In fact, when Hemingway left Key West in ’39, he stored some of his belongings in the back of the bar that weren’t uncovered until 1962, a year after his death.  Many of those items are on display along with some of Joe’s own pictures to accompany the large wrap around bar.  

Joe died in 1941 of a heart attack and Hemingway’s visit’s to Key West were less frequent after that.  Now modern day 201 Duval St. is actually three establishments rolled into one with arcade games and a clothing line for sale.  Still… the notorious past clings to it’s walls like rolled paper.

We entered off of Duval and walked to the rear where the stage was.  Since it was still relatively early finding a table for the four of us only took about 45 minutes.  We casually hung out by the bar though there was really only one seat that was unattended and that was stuck back in the corner.  But patience is a virtue and eventually a table cleared out.  We swooped down upon it like vultures but the with style and grace of seasoned bar hoppers.  We were beginning to feel like we had some seniority since we had been in Key West for nearly four days.  We even felt sorry for any newcomers who didn’t have the savvy over that section of Monroe County that we did. 

The Pete and Wayne Show was our entertainment for the evening.  They are a raunchy couple of middle aged guys that dressed like 90’s grunge and parodied some well known songs with their own brand of humor.  Their connection with the patrons was superb.  They sought out good looking women from the audience to come up on stage to titillate the crowd with silly questions like, “Where are you from?”  “Who are you with?” “Why are you here?” Ofcourse the crowd of mostly young, obnoxiously virile males requested more than once that they “show us their tits!” 

It was somewhere between Pete and Wayne’s rendition of  “Ugliest Woman Blues” and “The Rectum of Ella Fitzgerald” that I looked back from the show and scanned the people that had filled the bar stools and most of the available floor space.  I thought I could see Hem off towards the rear with a group of old timers that looked to be part of the old crowd from the 30’s.  Hem was facing me and raised a shot glass in my direction just as I turned towards the show again.  I looked back to acknowledge him but young groups of new millennium partiers was all I could see.

We stayed, ate and drank until nearly 12 then decided it was time to head back to the bed and breakfast.  Though our ferry didn’t leave until 6 pm the next day, we had to check out several hours before then.  We also knew we wanted to make one last run around Key West and perhaps go back to some of the places we liked the best.  So having come to the realization that we had accomplished about all the partying that we could stand and still legally walk the streets, we left.  Once again we walked up Duval St. pleased with our ability to consume chicken wings and alcohol with impunity.

When Annette and I made it to our room, we were so worn out that we ended up sprawling across our bed fully clothed, ready to zonk out without even worrying about disrobing.  Annette was cutting zzz’s within seconds of hitting the sheets.   I had the presence of mind to reach under the mattress and pull out Hemingway’s shoehorn to examine it for a few moments.  I was tired and a bit tipsy but still aware of my decision to return the item and distance myself from any further influence.  But I felt a bit sad lying there looking at the ivory shank that spread out into a curved tongue designed to aid with the slipping on of hunting boots.  I ran my thumb over the initials EMH that were inlaid with gold on the inside of the hilt.  I wondered how many times Papa had held that instrument and worked to pull on his foot gear without giving a single thought to the future. 

I started to doze off clutching the shoehorn to my chest, sad that I had to leave it and my memories of Key West behind.  I was only slightly aware that I was also welcoming the  rat-tat-tat ding! (carriage return) that had beckoned me just two days earlier…  

shades of Hemingway / part 11, all that is golden does not glitter

May 5, 2007

The museum founded by Mel Fisher was only a couple of blocks up the street from us.  It is in an antiquated building at 200 Greene St. that not only houses some of the famous treasure that he sought for over 20 years, but also includes many artifacts from those shipwrecks of nearly 3 centuries ago.  So a visitor can satisfy the craving to actually hold lost treasure (one display offers an authentic gold bar that you can hoist up with one hand)  and get an education there.  Brilliant exhibits are on hand regarding notorious pirates and their famous ships, like the Queen Anne’s Revenge.  You can learn the origins of the Jolly Roger and other styles of flags that were hoisted up by those defiant scoundrels of the sea.  There is even a section dedicated to the history of pirate women.

Ofcourse, most of us are interested in the treasure Mel Fisher found.  It is worthy of note that though he spent years looking for a specific ship’s haul, he did uncover other bits and pieces of treasure that in turn helped to spur him on to the “motherlode”.  But to his credit, Mel Fisher’s museum is more about the time capsules contained in those clear waters off the Florida coast then a “How I did it!” guide to finding lost jewels and bullion.

At first the four of us move about together but soon we splinter into individual foragers, setting off into different directions to admire 17th century relics and read about the man who claimed his interest in pirate treasure was piqued when as a boy he read the classic,  Treasure Island.

In the lower section of the museum is a display of a ship’s inner hull that depicts the value of properly ballasting a ship.  With masts that rocket into the sky and sails that billow in the tradewinds, the weight of cargo and the structure topside, ballasts keep the ship upright and steady.  In fact, most ships found have lost their upper decks through time because they’ll eventually rot, break free and float away leaving the hull and heavier items such as cannon, anchorage and ballasts behind.  It was while I was admiring this display that Ring Lardner, Jr.  a.k.a. a young Ernest Hemingway paid me another visit.

“You don’t have to do it, you know.” His voice was behind me and solemn.  He came up alongside and looked at my face, almost pleading.

“Do what?”  I replied, pretending I didn’t know.  But something inside told me the truth.  There was an apparent power struggle between Hem and Ring Lardner, Jr.  They were at odds over Papa Hemingway’s legacy.  One wanted to protect it while the other wanted to exploit it and I was the catalyst in between. 

“For what ever Papa has done or accomplished in his life, he was always true to himself.  Don’t take away his integrity.”

“But Ring,” I couldn’t believe I was actually calm enough to carry on this conversation, “you’re dead, what does it matter?  This is a chance for the world to remember Papa’s life all over again, future generations might not read about or know him otherwise.”

“Is that why you’re doing this? to enhance his celebrity?  Or is there something else?  a chance to further your own agenda?” 

I couldn’t argue that point and I found myself wishing that we would be interrupted by someone… anyone,  to make this particular shade of Hemingway disappear.  But it wasn’t happening fast enough.  Ring had me cornered and my earlier misgivings only veiled the desire I had to be a success, even if it meant cheapening the memory of the man he would become.

“I didn’t ask for this assignment.” I offered weakly.

“Assignment?”  He almost spat out the word, “You took something that doesn’t belong to you like a common thief.  Now you intend to “borrow” something else that you have no business getting involved in.  You want to compromise your principles, fine.  But please, don’t steal our dignity.”

I was looking into the face of a meliorist, a youth that had his whole life before him to live and lose while waxing poetic with the very words I hoped to harness for my own feeble attempt at virtue… and I understood.  Seeking fame is for the shallow, greatness lingers past the accolades.  Hem was the inner most motivation of Ernest Hemingway that drove him to achieve his success, but he was  not the sum total of Hemingway’s parts.

I was left feeling lower than the ships that had sank off the coral reefs, my heart pounding with the daggers of self condemnation.  No matter how innocently I had become involved with the heritage of Ernest Hemingway I could not betray it for T.V. ratings or any other scheme that could be dreamed up.  My golden opportunity had lost its sheen,  I knew I had to return the shoehorn to the Estate and with it my link to the great man’s ego.  But I felt there was still a story to tell. 

“I understand, Ring, and I’m sorry… I never meant to betray your memory.  I promise I won’t compromise…”

I could sense the relief Ring felt, his features softened and he offered me a smile.  But I pressed a little bit, risking the dialog that had been opened between us.

“But what about this story?  why did this have to happen to me? do I get to tell what happened and if I do… who’ll believe it?”

Ring’s whole stature changed, from a young man barely twenty he morphed back and forth towards middle aged wisdom and youthful exuberance.

“Do you remember when you arrived at Papa’s house yesterday, you wondered how it was to be him, the feelings he had for the house and the times he had there?  You opened yourself up to his presence as few people do.  Entering the study, the value of those items never entered your mind, you centered on Papa’s creative process.  And when you held onto his property, it wasn’t a trophy that you shared with others, it was a personal item that you safeguarded.  Spirits are attracted to those characteristics, they stand out in our realm like a ship’s beacon, we call it ‘soulshine.’ ”

I allowed that to sink in momentarily.  Though my motives had not started out entirely noble, I felt humbled by what I was being told.  Kind of like I had reached the brink of an identity breach and then come to my senses. 

“I never meant to take that shoehorn, Ring, it was almost like I was stuck with it and didn’t know what to do.  I should’ve returned it right then, but things kept coming up… seeing you and Hem, those dreams… I guess I got caught up in my own desire to be a success at writing.  It was never my intention to ruin or besmirch the name of Hemingway.”

He nodded, the contented smile of a man 40 years his senior easing back into oblivion.

“Tell your story then, when the time is right… and tell it honestly… you’ll do fine.”

“I will, Ring… thanks…”

Ring smiled again and began to fade from view, standing smartly in his military uniform and offering me a casual salute. 

“Please,” he said; a smoky, waning silhouette against the inner wall of the ship on display, “my friends call me ‘Papa’. ”

Keith, Laura, Annette and I collected together at the outset of our touring the colorful past of pirate booty and all things Davy Jones to figure out where we would go next.  Tomorrow was Sunday.  In about 24 hours  our ferry would depart at 6 pm and take us back “north” to Ft. Myers and the life that we had led up there.   One place had been left conspicuously out of our realm of experience up until now and we decided to finish our Saturday afternoon and evening at Sloppy Joe’s Bar.    

   

shades of Hemingway / part 10, trashed and treasures

May 2, 2007

I left the cemetery and headed back towards the bed and breakfast, my brief conversation with Hem and the events of the past 24 hours rolling through my head.  From what I already knew and had just read about Ernest Hemingway, he was permanently ingrained in American folklore, a hero… an icon.  Nothing could possibly add to his stellar accomplishments, especially no reality T.V. series.  I arrived back feeling glum, wishing I hadn’t “found” that shoehorn.  But when I pulled up front Keith was on the veranda watching the world go by and seeing my good friend made my misgivings quickly retreat into the background.

Keith was reading the local paper and feeling his cheerful self again.  He informed me that the illness he and Laura had been feeling subsided about mid-morning.  Annette, too, was back to normal and they were all anxious to get out of the house for awhile.  The girls were together in Keith and Laura’s room getting ready to join us on the veranda.  My timing had been perfect.  So with those few minutes alone with Keith I figured I’d let my friend in on what I had been going through since our visit to Hemingway’s Estate.  But I would leave out all the incriminating, far-fetched or unbelievable parts.  

Keith is also a writer and understands the struggle we contend with all too well.  If he had the chance to become a famous author, how would he react?  If the opportunity arose to use someone else’s ideas and then present them as his own, would it bother him?  Would he risk involvement in a project if it meant compromising his principles,  or worse yet, being unscrupulous?     …and what if nobody could possibly find out?

He would go for it!  …naturally. 

I began to wonder if I was being too noble.  What would be the harm in capitalizing on Hem’s idea?  After all, it was his desire to be “front page news,” not mine.  I was merely carrying out his wishes and reaching my own aspirations as well.  I could always return to my misguided morality later…

The girls came out as I was pondering this, all excited to see our electric chariot which meant no more walking for us.  We piled in and drove down the street, careening around cars and pedestrians like we on an Olympic slalom course.  I navigated the narrow streets as a seasoned veteran.  We sped past the Key West Cemetery, managed to shoot the loop at the southernmost point and the White Street Pier at a top speed of about 28 miles per hour.  When we finally decided it was time to get some lunch, I reminded everybody that we were wanting to visit some local hangout and suggested the Green Parrot.  With the emphasis on “local” patrons the vote was in and it was unanimous.  We turned back and found the corner bar with the “reputation” Officer Jordan spoke of.  We were not to be disappointed.  

The Green Parrot enjoys a seedy atmosphere with a long bar that greets you off to your left as soon as you stumble in from the street.  It also has several pool tables as well as a modest stage for live entertainment.  Cargo netting, lanterns, life preservers and all things nautical adorn the walls.  Remnants of rowing oars, grappling hooks, mooring lines and pilings,  a ships figurehead composed of the bust of a nude with flowing blonde hair grace a far corner.  Every bar stool has a body perched upon it and it seems there are dozens of people watching us as we wander in all wide eyed and innocent, but only for a moment.  Judging we are harmless everyone turns back to their beer, their broads or their boredom.  Keith suggests I get us some drinks and a menu while they pick out a pool table so I belly up to the bar and wait to get noticed. 

A friendly, middle aged woman with big boobs, a skimpy halter top and some serious tatoos takes my order for drinks and points to the menu board.  We had tried to make a good first impression but everyone there knew… we were tourists.  Thinking we had committed a serious faux pas,  I tried to compensate by announcing Officer Jordan told us about this place and said we’d have a good time.  The bar maid said she had heard of Jordan but since she was new to the area she had never met him.  She smiled apologetically and offered our drinks on a tray.  I went back to the pool table feeling a bit dejected but happy to be back with my friends again.  I didn’t think much more about it while we played some pool but it wasn’t too long until a couple of men approached and watched us for awhile.

I thought they were more interested in our women than the pool game and felt a little uncomfortable until one of them asked how I knew Jordan.  When I said I had met him that morning at the M&M Laundry and then later at the public library the other one laughed and pulled the first one away.  They walked back to the bar and joined a third man who was watching us contentedly.  After a brief exchange of words, he laughed, too, but he continued watching us for awhile longer. 

Ofcourse, Keith, Laura and Annette wanted to know who Officer Jordan was.  While leaving out the part about Ring Lardner, Jr., the vaudeville skeletons and the exploding soap boxes I explained how I’d fallen asleep at the laundromat (I had to tell about the puke in the blanket, much to Annette’s chagrin) and someone must have called the police assuming I was drunk.  Then I told them how later I’d been to the library and some old fart thought I’d been in the bathroom too long and must have called the cops.  This guy, Jordan was the patrolman who showed up on both occasions.  We all agreed that I had been very lucky to have gotten off with a warning.  Since we were feeling our alcohol and the inhibitions from earlier had diminished considerably we drank a loud, boisterous toast to Officer Jordan,  which once again garnished the attention of the three men at the bar.  I saw the gazer shake his head and they all three laughed again, turned around and ignored us for the rest of our stay.

We managed to eat some bar food and throw back a few more beers.  Nobody in our group actually played pool, but it was a pleasant diversion for a couple of hours.  After the local color lost it’s allure we decided it was time to check out Mel Fisher’s Museum.  We were far from being inebriated, just primed for a good time and ready to enjoy our last night in Key West.  We left feeling much more akin to the joint than when we had first arrived and I even waved good-bye to the three men who thought my meeting up with Officer Jordan was so funny.  They watched us leave but didn’t bother to wave back.

 Mel Fisher is this treasure hunter who struck gold with his search for shipwrecks off the coast of Key West.  The amazing thing about his discovery was not the millions of dollars it was worth, (which was substantial) but the tenacity of the man searching for it.  Forget about the things you see in the movies, hunting for lost treasure takes long, hard work.  I had heard about Mel’s struggles, now we were about to visit the museum dedicated to his success.

… and I would learn that all that glitters is not gold.