Archive for September, 2008

Shades of Hemingway / Deja’ Voodoo – Part 4, At the la Floridita

September 28, 2008

Author’s note:  This is a continuation of a series.  For more information see Shades of Hemingway and Shades of Hemingway / Medium Exposure.

     It was like deja’ vu all over again.  It had only been a scant 8 hours earlier that I was explaining to Detective Jake Barnes of the Key West Police Department the same thing; why I had come to Key West, who I had been traveling with and how I had met them.  I started talking about my first visit to Bone Island with Keith and Laura which seemed to spark a mild interest in Sgt. Garcia.  When I mentioned our visit to the Hemingway Estate, his face brightened up a little.  The fact that I had “accidentally” made off with an artifact and kept it for the duration of my visit then ended up going to jail over it brought a faint smirk to Sgt. Garcia’s lips.  I did not mention meeting the shades of Hemingway feeling that I might have been perceived as some sort of a lunatic.  My having been chosen and directed by the ghosts of a Nobel Prize winning author to find the killer of a Key West police officer on bicycle patrol was such a stretch of the imagination I had difficulty believing it myself.

     Yet I did mention to the bar maid at the Green Parrot that we had been recommended to the place by Robert Jordan, the rookie cop whose killer I was supposed to expose.  If Garcia had been told this then he did not let on to me that he knew of my indirect connection to the dead cop whom I had only met as a ghost.  Garcia seemed to be more interested in the shoehorn I had “lifted” from the carriage house study and Key West’s most famous resident, Ernest Hemingway.

     “Ernest Hemingway is highly respected and very much admired here amongst my people.”

     “Really?” I inquired, “Are his books still that widely read?”

     “He has been regarded as a great American ambassador and one of Cuba’s favorite sons.”

     I was taken aback by how little I did know about the man whose legend was still alive and well 40 years after his death.  Living in Key West for over 10 years, Hemingway had produced some of his most famous work.  Now I was learning there was a whole other country  who laid claim to him as one of their own.  I was a bit embarrassed over my lack of knowledge and made a mental note to make amends to Papa the next time I saw him.

     “Hemingway was a resident of Cuba?”  I struggled with the concept.  Everything I knew of Cuba was anti-American.  How was it possible one of our own had dual citizenry with a nation that despised us and yet was considered their friend?

     “Mr. Hemingway lived here over 20 years, Mr. Fiore, his hotel room at the Hotel Ambos Mundos is enshrined not too far from where we are now.”

     My head started to spin.  The fact that I was here trying to rescue Robert Jordan’s sister, Rachel, from kidnappers with no shoes or change of clothing was daunting enough but I had no source for information outside of Sgt. Garcia.  I doubted even the cops downstairs knew why I was there, for all they knew I could be a criminal.  I needed to contact the shades again because the clock was running.  If what Sgt. Garcia had told me was correct I didn’t have much time.  My mind picked up on Sloppy Joe’s Bar back in Key West and my first meeting with Hem there.  It was a shame, I thought; I had no such place here.

     As if on cue there was a knock on the door.  Sgt. Garcia rose to answer it and allowed one of the men from downstairs to enter, carrying several garment bags.

     “I am afraid we had to guess your size, Mr. Fiore, but I am sure you will find something suitable within these selections.”

     Suddenly I felt tired and grimy.

     “What I could really use is a shave, shower and a stiff drink!”

     Sgt. Garcia smiled.  “I know just the place, Mr. Fiore.  After your shower, of course.”

     “I’d love to see the shrine you spoke of at that hotel.”

     “The very place I had in mind.”

     La Habana Vieja is Old Havana, the area the Hotel Deauville is in.  After I have cleaned up and dressed in modest attire we left the hotel and headed inward, away from the gulf waters and towards the Hotel Ambos Mundos.  The traffic is brisk and I am content to look out at the pedestrian onslaught of vendors, locals and tourists.  We turn a corner after traveling a few blocks and Sgt. Garcia points to a building on our left.

     “That is the El Floridita, a place Ernest Hemingway used to frequent quite regularly for it’s now world famous daiquiri.”

     I look over at the tavern that has a giant sized bottle just off it’s doorway beckoning to passers by to come in and indulge themselves.  Immediately a light bulb clicked inside my head.

     “Wait!”  I shouted, “Stop the car!”

     The driver instinctively hit the brakes causing the tires to squeal and us to abruptly lurch forward.  I grabbed for the handle and pushed the door open.

     “What is it?” a startled Sgt. Garcia asks.

     “This is the place!” is all I can say. 

     I jumped out of the car and scampered across the street.  A car horn blared it’s disapproval and the sedan’s engine roared behind me taking off down the street before Sgt. Garcia had a chance to follow.  I could hear him shouting commands to the driver as I reached the side entrance to Hemingway’s alternative watering hole.

     The ceiling is tall but the rooms are narrow.  Pictures in black and white of celebrities from the golden age of Hollywood line the walls.  I can hear music being played somewhere in front of me as I make my way towards the bar.  It is fairly busy for being mid-afternoon.  I am searching around for something but I do not know for certain what it is.  A bartender dressed in a white shirt and matching slacks with a full red apron sees me but says nothing.  Looky loos must go with the territory in this establishment, to him I am just another tourist.  Finally I see it at the end of the bar.  An area is roped off and a solitary bar stool sits alone in the corner.  I glance up at the wall and a bust of Ernest Hemingway is placed on a mantle, below it is a black and white photo of Papa with a young Fidel Castro.  Looking back I see sitting on the stool is Hem, sipping a daiquiri and reading a newspaper.  He looks up at my approach and grins.

     “Hey Sport!  Long time, no see!  What brings you to this neck of the woods?”

     His lighthearted manner is frustrating to me but I try to remain calm.

     “Hem, what in the hell have you gotten me into?”

     “What on earth could you mean?”

     “Hem, someone’s taken Jordan’s sister, Rachel.  Her life is in danger.  I need to know who they are and where they’re holding her.”

     “Around her waist, no doubt…” Hem grins again and sips at the large drink.

     “This is serious!  I don’t know where I am or how I’m going to get out of here but her life is in danger!  I’m the only one that seems to be willing and able to do anything about it!  I need your help!”

     “You… willing and able?  My… we’ve come a long ways since that time in my carriage house haven, haven’t we, Sport?”

     “Hem, I’m in trouble.  I have no money, no I.D. and no passport.  I’ve come to a country that I have no business being in except for the fact that you put me on this wild goose chase that continues to befuddle me.  Help!  I need to get to Rachel and find us a way back to the States while there is still time.”

     “Do you remember a certain item you liberated from my study?” Hem says with a slight twinkle in his eye.

     “Hem, that was an accident and I did my best to return it.  Besides it was a long time ago.  Surely there are no grudges here…”

     “Ah… but there is a connection, Sport.  It all connects.”

     “Tell me the connection!  What should I do?”

     Hem sets his glass down, spins around to face me and leans back against the bar.

     “There is someone here in Cuba that I think you oughta meet.”

     “Okay, how?  I don’t know my way round, I don’t speak the language and I was brought here by a Cuban police Sargent that I just managed to ditch a moment ago.  The cops will probably be coming through that front door in about 30 seconds wondering what the hell is going on while I’m standing here seeking counsel from a friggin’ ghost!”

     Hem puts up his hand in order to calm me down.

     “Hear me out, Sport.  This fella goes by the name, Lord Cristobal.  He’s very influential in these parts, sort of a holy man… much revered by many of his people.  But be careful, he’s a colorful character that lives beyond the grasp of Cuban authorities, if ya know what I mean.  Find this man and you will no doubt find out who’s holdin’ Rachel.”

     “How do I meet him?”

     “Are you familiar with the song, ‘I Ain’t Gonna Grieve My Lord No More’ ?”  Then without waiting for my reply, Hem begins singing the song to me…

     ‘Oh, you can’t get to heaven…

     in Papa’s car,

     ’cause the gosh darn thing

     won’t go that far!’

     “Do you know that song, Sport?  Of course you do.  Do the chorus for me.  Sing… ‘I ain’t gonna grieve my Lord no more.'”

     My brain is garbled.  I can feel the heat rising up to my temples and I want to scream at him.  All I can grasp is this sense of panic and impending doom while Hem is flashing that famous grin at me.  But out of the blue… the lyric does come to me and I begin to sing softly.

     “Oh, I ain’t a gonna grieve my Lord no more,

     I ain’t a gonna grieve my Lord no more,

     no I ain’t a gonna grieve… my Lord no more!”

     “You are here to find the Lord?”  A voice comes from behind the bar causing me to lose my concentration and face it’s source.  It is the bartender that eyed me casually as I had walked in.  Nervously I shift towards the entrance, expecting Sgt. Garcia to come following me in but for some unknown reason I do not want to be found by him… not yet.  I take a few steps closer.

     “Yes,”  I replied, “can you take me to him?”

     “Where are you from?”  He suspiciously asks.  Without thinking I blurt out…

     “Key West.”

     The man looks at me for a moment.  I had just divulged that I was an American.  I felt nervous in my stomach but found myself staring back into his dark eyes unflinching and defiant.

     The man grunts,  “Follow me.”

     I have no choice, really.  Typically and without a word edgewise, Hem has vanished…

Shades of Hemingway / Deja’ Voodoo – Part 3, Arriving in Havana

September 24, 2008

Author’s note:  This is a continuation of a series.  For more information see Shades of Hemingway and Shades of Hemingway / Medium Exposure

     All I know about the area we are heading into is the Copacabana is the hottest spot north of Havana ala Barry Manilow.  All the hustle surrounding the Port of Entry to this foreign and extremely private land catches me a little off guard.

     It is large in its expanse, and while I expected cranes and cargo containers, I did not foresee the simple manner that the workers carried out their duties.  We tied off at the dock and one of the first sights I engaged was an old Chevy pickup truck from the early 50’s.  It would have been considered a collector’s item back in the States, even though it was painted a putrid green with dark blue fenders.  A couple of stevedores were taking a break in the shade of a tarp that was lifted across the back end in military fashion.  They were enjoying a mid-morning siesta with portions of the boxes they had been loading now offering support to their backs.  I have been in ports before, the Port of Tampa comes to mind, which is huge.  The Port of Havana seemed less hectic, less mechanical and more human.  Though I did notice workers dressed in t-shirts and short sleeves, there were no logos in sight.  No football jerseys boasting a favorite player, no t-shirts making a political statement or sexual reference, no glamorous celebrities’ faces or rock stars.  I was in another country.  For the first time in my life I felt like a foreigner and a long way from Ft. Myers, Florida, U.S.A.  Sargent Garcia was at my side and resting his hand on my shoulder again.

     “Welcome to Cuba, my friend… welcome to Havana!”

     We made our way to the end of the dock and were greeted by two men which I presumed were part of the police force.  They smartly saluted Garcia as we approached them.  One spoke excitedly in Spanish while the other casually nodded in my direction.  Garcia took in the information, asked a couple of questions and then turned to me.

     “These men will provide us an escort, Mr. Fiore.  I do not mean to rush you along, but  you can rest at our facility where we also have some refreshments prepared.  I will also see about getting you some proper footwear.  Follow me, please.”

     The car that awaited us was an older style European sedan.  As I climbed into the back seat I figured that because I was with Sgt. Garcia and his fellow police officers that I would be taken to the local precinct.  But instead I found myself buzzing down the weaving Avenue de Maceo and turning back the hands of time.  The buildings we passed were weathered and worn, clamored together so tightly they seemed to prop each other up.  Traffic consisted of cars, trucks, bicycles and even a horse-drawn cart.  We briskly maneuvered the pavement with a large seawall on one side of us concealing the view of the gulf waters but spotted with pedestrians and loiterers.

     “The Malecon'” pointed out Sgt. Garcia.  “The wall stretches the outer rim for several miles and attracts many tourists.”

     “Wow!  It’s incredible!”  I say, though I have a hard time seeing over it.

     Eventually we rounded a corner and came to a stop in front of the 14-story Hotel Deauville which stands out from the rest of the surrounding buildings because of its red color.  My perplexity must have been obvious because Sgt. Garcia was grinning sitting next to me.

     “You are a guest of the Republic, Mr. Fiore.  We intend to make your stay here as comfortable as possible.”

     We entered and one of the policemen approached the front desk perched between two pinkish columns and began speaking in Spanish to the clerk while I looked around the lobby.  The furnishings of wooden veneer could have come from a fashionable fifties shop at the Patio deLeon in downtown Ft. Myers.  I looked out a large glass window at the traffic shooting by and saw a tractor trailer pulled city bus heading towards the east with multiple arms dangling from its open windows.  Coming from the opposite direction a bicycle cab peddled past.  I was impressed how older American vehicles from the 50’s blended in with newer European models from the 70’s and 80’s.  Cuba is a nation that recycles, nothing is wasted or thrown away that can be rebuilt, refurbished, reclaimed or reincarnated.

     “It’s like stepping back in time,”  I finally volunteered to no one in particular.

     The two policemen waited in the lobby as Sgt. Garcia and I rode a tired, rickety elevator up to the 11th floor of the hotel.  The elevator car groaned to a stop and paused for a moment, as if it were trying to decide whether to let us exit or not.

     “State of the art,”  I mused aloud.  Sgt. Garcia chuckled, “The stairs are not so crowded.”

     “Perhaps I’ll try them…  going down.”  The elevator door finally opens and we step out into the corridor.

     “We Cubans are never in a hurry, Mr. Fiore.  You’ll find our people much calmer than those of your country, our approach to life is simpler… unrushed.”

     I imagined the reason for the Cuban populace’s “calmness” and simple “unrushed” utopia had more to do with their being suppressed by the local government, but I bit my tongue and said nothing.  Each moment in the company of Sgt. Garcia was putting me further from returning to the U.S. and I did not care to risk any further stress on our fragile diplomatic relationship. 

     I was led to a room with a breathtaking view over the gulf waters.  The accommodations were much like what I had seen in the lobby; sparse, wood veneer furniture that sprung from an earlier Ozzy and Harriet time capsule.  True to his word, Sgt. Garcia had arranged for some fresh fruit to be waiting for me to eat.  A small pitcher of un-iced water with lemon was left to round out the offering and I immediately sat down to eat without being told to do so.  My last meal had been left-over lasagna and wine with Rachel the night before, which seemed like an eternity ago.

     Sgt. Garcia pulled the other chair from the small table and sat down, intently watching me gorge myself with the sweet taste of melons, bananas and citrus.  From where I was seated I could see an old fortress jutting out into the water, and further past it across the bay that leads to the port, another equally imposing stronghold appeared.  Sgt. Garcia followed my eyes to the view behind him.

    “The Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta is the first one nearest to us, the second is the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro… citadels guarding the entry to the Port of Havana for hundreds of years.”

     “They are magnificent!”  I volunteered, impressed with the centuries old architecture I missed from our arrival by boat but now was surveying from my perch 11 stories up.

     “Perhaps I can arrange a tour, Mr. Fiore, they are open to the general public and their guides are quite informative.”

     I recalled my last tour being that of the Hemingway House in Key West and the beginning of my wild adventure.  I looked at Sgt. Garcia, a man who seemed proud of his heritage and the country that for the most part had spent nearly half a century out of favor with the government I indirectly came to represent.

     “Normally I might take you up on that offer, but regrettably and as you well know I am not here as a tourist.”

     Sgt. Garcia nods, “Yes, regrettably this is so.”

     I pushed back from the table slightly to signal that my meal was completed and I meant to get down to business.  With that Sgt. Garcia rose and stood by the window looking out at the broad expanse of water that we had just crossed not more than an hour ago.

     “I’m here to find Rachel and try to get the two of us back to the United States… with your help, of course.”  I remind him but he is un-moved from his position of looking out at the chasm that separates our countries, cultures and beliefs.

     “What can you tell me about your relationship with Rachel, Mr. Fiore?”

     “I beg your pardon?”

     “When was the last time you saw her?”

     “Less than 12 hours ago.  But look, what does this have to do with anything?  This morning you said you knew where she was!  I presumed that meant here in Cuba since you virtually whisked me away with no explanation and brought me here.  If that is true then lead me to her so we can get the hell out of Dodge and get our ass’ home!”

     Sgt. Garcia puts his hands behind his back and gravely turns to face me, his pleasant demeanor replaced with a grim solemness.

     “She is in Cuba, Mr. Fiore… kidnapped and brought here against her will.  But in order for me to be able to help you I must know everything about your relationship with her.”

     “I don’t know anything about her, we met last night for the first time.”

     “Under what circumstances?”

     “Sgt. Garcia, aren’t we wasting time?”

     “Tell me everything.”

     “I don’t know where to begin.”

     “Start with your arrival to Key West that first time.”

     I looked at Sgt. Garcia, a little bit of fear welling up inside of me.  He had recognized me from the Green Parrot Bar!  Nervously I looked about the room trying to gather my thoughts on where to begin, but Sgt. Garcia followed my head and stepped closer to me.  I was trapped in a barren room 11 stories up in a country I had illegally entered with no viable ally.  My throat started to lump into a stranglehold.  My life in Ft. Myers seemed very far away.

     “Mr. Fiore, 12 hours have passed since you last saw Rachel, yes?”

     “Yes.”  I replied, nodding slightly and looking up into his face, a face that now seemed anything but friendly.

     “I can just about guarantee she will be dead in less than 48, unless…”  His voice trails off.

     “Unless?”  I’m trying to remain calm but my voice is coming out as a frightened squeak.

     “You must tell me everything that has happened, everything you know. Tell me now and leave nothing out, no matter how insignificant you think it is.”

     I have just about resigned myself to the notion that I may never see the United States again let alone find Rachel.  I start trying to imagine what Cuban prisons were like and how they treated captured Americans.  What had I gotten myself into and how was I ever going to get back home?

     I took a deep breath and began…

Shades of Hemingway / Deja’ Voodoo – Part 2, A Cruel Cuban Irony

September 21, 2008

Author’s note:  This is a continuation of a series.  For more details see Shades of Hemingway and Shades of Hemingway / Medium Exposure

     As the island of Key West faded into the northern horizon I retreated below deck.  My thoughts turned to what little I knew of Cuban history and that was the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I recalled how our government had been embarrassed over the Bay of Pigs incident, where we planned and carried out a fruitless attack to over throw communism.  With the missiles of October a year and a half later, relations with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro would worsen because of those armaments supplied by the Soviet Union.  It was a political tug of war that would go on for decades.

     Che Guevara, one of Castro’s officers, taunted then President Kennedy by way of messenger after the botched attack organized by our CIA saying, ” Before the (Bay of Pigs) the revolution was weak.  Since then it is stronger than ever!”  Even Fidel boasted it was “the first defeat for Imperialist America.”  Che’s image is one of lasting endearment to the people of Cuba.  His face as recorded by photographer Alberto Korda is reported to be the most recognized symbol of the 20th century.  Even boxer Mike Tyson has Che’s likeness tattooed on his stomach.  But historians paint a different picture of the revolutionary hero that thumbed his nose at our president.  He is recalled to have been a brutal thug and murderer.  Che was a mercenary whose gun was for hire and legend was more the stuff of Hollywood than a cause for celebration as a symbol of freedom.  He ended many men’s freedom by taking their lives… or so says history.

     I was never much for politics and I didn’t really care who ran Cuba, but I knew by living in Florida that refugees made the desperate, 90 mile journey over the Straits of Florida often.  Dictatorships, no matter the locale, were generally not conducive to happy citizens.  I wondered how I would fair in this country that was not overly friendly to Americans, especially with no one except a police Sargent knowing who I was or why I was there.

     As I settled in a small stateroom below deck my mind traveled back to the beginning and  I recalled my first visit to Key West.  I thought about Keith and Laura and how our relationship began, meeting Keith as I had in a coffee house having breakfast, shooting the breeze over local politics.  We had wrestled with social issues far outside our scope of influence yet easily solved them with common sense and our own brand of practicality.  It turned out that Keith’s wife, Laura, had known Annette, my former girlfriend through professional association.  Keith was an independent contractor that traveled throughout the southern reaches of our hemisphere, from south Florida all the way through the Caribbean. eastern Mexico and parts of South America. 

     A former Marine, Keith had the lifestyle that made him affluent in multiple subjects and opinionated on many more.  A seemingly common and approachable man, Keith was in the enviable position to come and go as he pleased yet still managed to make a fairly comfortable living doing so.  I had never ventured out of the continental U.S. before and was enthralled with Keith’s stories of him and Laura visiting exotic locations just over the gulf waters.  It was his suggestion that Annette and I accompany them to Key West as a foursome that got me tangled up in this mess in the first place.

     And then there was Rachel, Robert Jordan’s sister.  Why did I feel this attraction towards her, other than the fact that she was beautiful, alluring, intelligent and mysterious?  I felt drawn to her and wary at the same time.  This whole ordeal was so topsy turvy that I felt like jumping off the boat and taking my chances with the sharks, except I probably could not have made the swim back.  My  good reasoning won out and I resigned myself to my fate,  still wishing I were back home in Ft Myers.

     Ring Lardner, Jr. had told me Robert Jordan’s killer was very close, but I didn’t feel any closer to exposing him.  Since initially having the dream that I had with Hem detailing my quest before I left Ft. Myers all things appeared the same.  Papa warned me about the kyklos tod mene’, the Cycle of the Death Moon, and the possibility of another murder taking place with me as the intended victim.  Hem had later warned me that everything was not as it appeared.  All three shades had given me bits of information but I couldn’t figure out where it all came together, how it all fit.  What was Robert Jordan, a rookie cop on bicycle patrol, involved with that made his death such a disruption to the spirit realm?

     I was sitting below in the stateroom of the yacht just out of sight of the wheel room and scanning the southern horizon up above the steps leading to the upper deck.  Suddenly two military gunboats appeared and began heading towards us.  Just as I reasoned they must be part of the Cuban Navy, Sgt. Garcia appeared and spoke reassuringly.

     “Do not be alarmed, Mr. Fiore.  The ship you are on is part of the fleet belonging to the Republic of Cuba.  Our protocol requires an escort into territorial waters.”

     “Then we must be getting close?”

     “Yes, we will be docking soon.”

     “I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough, but… how do I find Rachel and get us back to the States?”

     Garcia chuckles.  By that I am reminded that I am a complete stranger to these parts and customs.  I have no identification, no money, not even a pair of shoes on my feet.  Being snuck into his homeland to me seems a cruel Cuban irony considering most people want to be smuggled out.  Garcia pats my shoulder reassuringly, but I don’t feel comforted.

     “Soon, Mr. Fiore… all things will be explained to you.  Meanwhile, it would be best if you remain below until we have entered the port.  Our military is not as tolerant with Americans as the police force is… out of necessity, of course.”

     “Of course.”  I politely agree.

     Through the large portholes I can see a gunboat on either side of us sifting through the waters towards the unknown.  I do know that in my present state I am increasingly reliant on Sgt. Garcia’s good graces.  Recalling how I had berated his president while on the comforts of American soil, I tried to make amends as best I could by being inquisitive and friendly as we waited below deck.

     “Back there in Key West, they called you ‘Manolo.’  What does it mean?”

Garcia smiles and nods in recollection.

     “Are you a man of faith, Mr. Fiore?”

     “I believe in God.”  I reply, trying not to sound too defensive.  It had been a long time since my days at Sunday school and I really didn’t claim any religious affiliation.

     “Hmmm… but this belief, does it motivate you, guide you… serve as a protector for you?”

     “I get by…”  I’m trying not to sound put off by the questions but at the same time I want to be polite and sound genuinely receptive to the notion that I am guided by a higher power.

     “Manolo means, ‘God is with us’  Mr. Fiore, my men use it in terms of reference.”

     “They think you are God?”  I smile, amused and bereft of any restraint.

     Sgt. Garcia looks at me and studies my features for a moment.  The fact that I am belittling his countrymen doesn’t seem to bother him.

     “No, they know I hold no such claim to a deity.”

     “Then why do they need you as a point of reference, as you say?”

     Garcia looks ahead through the cockpit off into the horizon and the faint appearance of land.

     “We’ll be arriving at the Port of Havana soon, Mr. Fiore.”  He stands and turns to walk away from me and heads up to the open deck.  I fear I have offended him with my slight attempt at humor and I quickly reach for his arm to apologize.

     “Sgt. Garcia, I didn’t mean to cause offense…”

     Garcia turns to me and smiles slightly.  He places his hand over mine.

     “God is with us in our struggles, Mr. Fiore.  You must believe this in order to save your Rachel.”

Shades of Hemingway / Deja’ Voodoo – Part 1, Tenete’ on the Serengeti

September 17, 2008

*Author’s note:  This story is a continuation of a series.  (see Shades of Hemingway and Shades of Hemingway / Medium Exposure for more details.)


     “Well, are you going to shoot him or just let ’em run over ya?”

     Hem is obviously impatient with me.  Typical of his temperament his words are more a challenge than a question.  He kicks at the ground as if he has exposed something of value, all the while disgusted at my lack of interest.

     I look up to see the charging rhinoceros bearing down on us.  Hem was casually standing just off to my right, dressed in fashionable hunting fatigues from the 30’s, a high powered rifle resting in the crook of his arm.  I find myself similarly dressed with a gun in my hands.  I am perplexed and uncertain of my bearings, Hem’s words jolt me.  My surroundings surreal, I am awake within a dream.

     “Shoot him?  Why should I shoot him?  He’s done nothing to me.”

     Hem has a tobacco pipe clenched in his teeth.  He takes it out of his mouth and examines the contents for a moment, then lifts his foot and taps the ash out on his heel.  The gentle breeze scatters the particles of singed tobacco, the remains of a life poured unceremoniously from the urn of a crematorium.

     “It’s called a hunt, Sport, and during the hunt you find big game… and once you’ve found big game, ya shoot ’em!”

     He has stopped kicking at the ground and looks at me; that wide, famous grin flashes across his face reminding me that I am in the company of a man’s man.

     It is a picturesque day, one that could have come from the pages of a magazine, one of those that boast the exotic getaways of a sportsman’s paradise.  Life is teeming all around, I imagined every sort in nature had made it out onto the grassy plains.  I take a long, deep breath and look at the rhino again, still charging and angrily bearing down on me.

     “Is that a White?”  I’m stalling a bit, trying to buy some time.

     Hem is obviously in his element.  He moves comfortably, purposely.  In my mind there is nothing Hem could not know, nothing left to surprise him.  All of life’s secrets have been turned on their backs and exposed to the warm, caressing fingertip rays of this morning’s glorious sun.  Hem looks out at the beast and shakes his head.

     “Naw… gotta be a Black.”

     “Well… he looks white to me.”  I squint a bit, adding authenticity to my astute calculation.

     Hem returns his pipe to his mouth and sucks a little, then pulls it back out and goes through the procedure of cleaning out the clog of ash once again.

     “Color has nothing to do with it, Sport.  Blacks are more indigenous to this area.  Besides, he’s too small to be a White.”

     I look out at the plains of the Serengeti and watch as the magnificent creature storms towards me, thrashing his head to and fro.  I should feel anxious, but I don’t.  Matter-of-fact I turn back towards where Hem is standing.

     “He doesn’t look all that small, Hem.”

     Hem flashes that trademark grin of his again and points the tobacco pipe tip at me like it is the barrel of a pistol.

    “He’s gonna get a helluva lot bigger if you don’t shoot ’em soon!”

     Hem seems satisfied that his pipe is cleared.  He pulls a pack of tobacco from an inside pocket and begins filling it.  I look at a black man standing to my left, perhaps a guide or an interpreter… possibly both.

     “What do you say?  Is that a White or a Black?”

     He simply gives me a broad, toothy grin and shrugs his shoulders.  Hem clears his throat.  I sense Hem’s irritation and his voice confirms it. 

     “Tenete’ is Nigerian.  His expertise lies in the traversing of the African frontier, not the identification of it’s occupants… though I dare say he could handle both tasks with extreme ease.  But I tell ya, Sport… you need to shoot that rhino and quit doddlin’!”

     I want to press the point, why I do not know.  This 2000 pound raging battering ram is about to slam into me at some incredible rate of speed, but I find myself wanting to bicker with Ernest Hemingway’s ghost over the morality of our endeavor.

     “Shoot him for what?”

     The ground that held such a fascination only a moment before becomes an object of disdain.  Hem makes an exaggerated kick at the earth sending a chunk into the air.

     “For the sport!” Hem is angry now.  “C’mon, raise that rifle up and show me what you’re made of!”

     “I don’t see the sport in shooting an unarmed animal.  Maybe if he had a rifle I’d feel more inclined.  I wonder how many great white hunters there would be if their prey had the expertise to fire back?  Besides, what I’m made of has nothing to do with it.”

     The beast is approaching very fast now.  I can hear his pounding hooves and make out the clods of dirt he is kicking back as the rhino makes his approach.  I turn to look at Hem; his eyes fixed on the raging rhinoceros, his face shone with enthusiasm, Hem’s excitement causing his whole body to shudder.

     “I don’t understand it, Hem.  He’s just a dumb animal protecting his habitat.  Why should I shoot him for that?”

     Hem brings up his free arm and places his hand on his hip, very indignant.  “Then what the Hell else are we here for?  Shoot the brute, for chrissake!”

     I raise up my rifle and aim at the rhinoceros, zeroing in on me with the determination of a heat seeking missile.  But after drawing a bead on him I stop and lower my weapon.

     “What are we here for, Hem?  I’m supposed to be rescuing Rachel, not big game hunting with you in Africa!”

     With that Hem raises his rifle and fires in one fluid movement, dropping the rhino.  The armored mammal sprays us with flying dirt and debris as he crashes to the ground only a few feet away.  Hem lowers his rifle and walks over to the dying animal still heavily breathing.  He raises a foot up and rests it on the shoulder of his kill as if to pose for a photographer.  Then Hem pulls out a wooden match and strikes it on his backside, putting the flame to his pipe and begins puffing away.

     “We are here,” Hem bellows, flamboyantly gesturing with the lighted match still in his hand, “because this is Heaven!” and with a theatrical sway of his arm to show the broad expanse of the Serengeti he pitches the match aside.

     I walk up to Hem, puzzled.

     “Excuse me, but… am I dead?”

Prelude to Shades of Hemingway / Deja’ Voodoo

September 14, 2008

I was sitting around minding my own business today thinking about the overwhelming success of Shades of Hemingway / Medium Exposure when the notion struck me, why not post the sequel?

In Shades of Hemingway / Medium Exposure  I was visited once more by Hem and told my adventure in Key West (the original Shades of Hemingway ) was not over… actually, it hadn’t even started yet.  Without divulging the contents of that story here, suffice it to say I left many things unresolved that had to be addressed further in Shades of Hemingway / Deja’ Voodoo.

This continuation has been knocking around my head for months, and I have been working on it… honestly I have.  It is not the “making up” of the story that has been difficult, because I know the story… it happened to me.  The hard part has been that I have been writing more than I ever have in the past six months and this project just kept getting pushed back. 

I told Keith I was ready to post the sequel and he was very enthusiastic, but of course… he had also been drinking.  I also mentioned it to his wife, Laura, and she was generally disenchanted but I determined it was because she had not been drinking enough.

I thought long and hard about what happened the last time I posted a series like this… my readership plummeted.  It was a sobering experience that made me realize something… to ere is human and I continue to refine my own caricature.  Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the blogosphere.    

So not to be deterred I have decided to begin the series as I had posted the two previous parts, looking for Wednesdays and Sundays as the entry dates.

If you are not familiar with this series, it is recommended that you find the Hemingway category on this blog, click on it and scroll back to the beginning… otherwise you might not get it.

Of course, there is no guarantee that reading the previous entries will help you to get it either, but at least you’ll know where I’m coming from…

See you Wednesday. 


Elvis Presley – Hound Dog, the complete performance

September 13, 2008

Hound Dog (Complete Performance)

My sister always thought that Chubby Checker ripped off Elvis with the “Twist.”— see what I mean?

Elvis Presley Jailhouse Rock 1957

September 13, 2008

Elvis Presley Jailhouse Rock 1957 colour

My sister always thought that Chubby Checker ripped off Elvis with the “Twist” — see what I mean?

The Twist with Elvis

September 13, 2008

The Twist with Elvis (Chubby Checker)

My sister always thought that Chubby Checker ripped off Elvis with the “Twist” — see what I mean?

politics and the Billboard top 100 hits of all time… pathetic

September 13, 2008

anytime you get the explanation of “a formula was used to compensate…” you know there has to be some politics involved somewhere.

Is there any reason not to look at these best of lists with suspicion?  I mean, I know it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, but please…

the Twist?

for more info see, They Are Dumbing Down Our Rock & Roll  posted 5-10-08


Born Laughing Out Loud

September 11, 2008

My French Canadian sweetheart fills me with admiration and awe.  I hope you guys never tire of hearing me wax on about her.  To sing her praises is to expound on the enrichment of love and she continues to inspire me to do so just in being herself. 

For example;  I have enjoyed writing since I was very young but the exercise of it came sporadically to me.  She, too, is a writer and since our meeting I have increased my output by volumes.  Is it more than merely drivel?  Possibly not, but to her that resurgence (however meager and trite) is the holy grail because it comes from within, inspired of my heart.  To have her approval in that regard makes me a King (or a Brown, an Atwood, or a Thoreau)  Little things mean everything to me.  I write more, I read more, I think more.  Is this dangerous? No.  Is this healthy?  I think so.  Is it exciting? Yes!  Thrilling?  Absolutely! 

I just bought a book the other day, Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.  You remember him, right?  The “wild and crazy guy?”  I am 3/4 the way through it and I have enjoyed learning about the man that helped create in me the ability to laugh at myself… at myself!   To hear Steve describe himself as insecure and struggling to find his identity as a comedian makes me think of how we all are looking for something to make us happy. 

There is this inward desire to search out something to make us laugh and Steve had to find his routine amusing first.  It is interesting to note that much of his stand up was initially rejected.  Steve was constantly trying out new material, then keeping record of what worked and what didn’t.  Sometimes his stuff was too cerebral and Steve found that with his performance he would be bombing night after night.  But the staff… the very waitresses at the night clubs that heard his jokes, laughed and found them amusing each time Steve repeated them.  That was his barometer. 

Steve Martin’s audience had to catch up to him.

Do you ever think about babies and their ability to laugh?  How the first time you hear them erupt it is like a reassurance that everything is right in the world?  They haven’t just heard a great “baby” joke or seen something funny on television.  The family pet or a picture on the wall is unrecognizable to them.  When you come up and go, “goochy goochy goooo…” they don’t think you are clever or childish or even remotely close to a stand up comedian.  But they laugh because they feel good, life has made this emergence unto their developing conscientiousness and the realization of it has produced them happy.

I think love is the same way.  Like searching for happiness, love gives us the ability to see ourselves happy… it is the re-emergence of our inner baby’s self awareness.  Laughing… not at the external things, but at ourselves… with ourselves.  The things outside (jokes, sight gags, bawdy humor, etc.) may coax it out of us, but subconsciously it is there all along waiting to be released.  Only one word can describe it’s effect…

Joy.  Without love there is no joy.

Laughter is a joyous sound.  You’ve heard the expression, “He loved to laugh?”  If you knew of a person or know a person that that description fits, that person knew/knows joy. 

I wonder sometimes if my fair one really knows what a joy she is to me.  We are miles apart, and time has separated us from the moments we continue to play over in our minds.  But I have comfort in the knowledge that we share the same sun each day.  My sentiments are carried to her on the gentle breezes.  She inspires the migrating birds of the North to return them to me with their song.  She is my joy… I adore her.

I laugh alone… because I am catching up to her.