(Copyright © 2000 Al Aronowitz)

(Photo by Brenda Saunders )


Cosmos found Ernest Hemingway cleaning the pool at a set like the Finca Vigía.  Six-toed cats observed his progress as he lifted the leaves of 12 varieties of mango tree out of the pool.  A natural heavyweight, running to fat.  Hemingway's liver coiled around his trunk like a strangler fig, or remora.

He asked:  

"You talk to Faulkner yet?"

"Yes.  I did."

"Was he soused?  Out there in Tinsel Town, drinking highballs with umbrellas in them?  Did he have a hanky in his sleeve, and smoke with a cigarette holder?"

"He was drinking bourbon and branch water.  Just as you are drinking light rum and water."

"There's no water in this rum.  No ice.  Just rum."


"It's four in the afternoon.  I was up before the break of day.  Writing.  Drinking Vichy water.  After I wrote, I swam, then read, and answered my mail.  I had a couple of glasses of wine with lunch and took a nap at siesta after making love to Mary.  Now I'm having a drink.  With your permission.  I'll have wine at supper, whiskey afterwards.  I'll read until bedtime.  I'll be in bed by 10.  I don't get shitfaced drunk unless I'm on holiday and I'm not on holiday when I'm writing. You don't write the books I've written, the number and the quality, and drink like the people I write about drink.  There's drinking and writing.  Writing comes first.  I'm told you no longer drink."

"I drank that way as long as I could.  Writing came first.  When I couldn't control the drinking, I quit."

"I would have too.  My suicide came first.  A clinical condition unrelated to the use of alcohol.  Although alcohol, a depressant, may have exacerbated it."

"If you say so."

"I say so.  If you haven't committed suicide you don't know shit about it."

"You're right.  I haven't and I don't.  In fact, it sounds to me like you are controlling the drinking.  The electric shock treatments and memory loss were probably worse for you than a drink after supper.  If you were drinking because you couldn't write, the lack of writing caused the drinking, rather than the drinking causing the lack of writing.  Have one for me."

A: One for you, one for me, and one for good measure.

Q: Did you read what Toni Morrison said about you being a racist?

A: Toni Morrison isn't fit to carry my jock.  She's an affirmative action laureate.  A token.

Q: You said once that the Nobel prize ruined every writer who won it.

A: I didn't say that.  I was reported as having said that.  Listen.  Don't believe everything you read in the papers.  Don't you know that yet?

Q: How do you feel about the Nobel Prize?

A: It's not given for the work that wins it for you.  It's given later, when you're past your prime.  That's not the same thing as saying you don't deserve it, or it jinxes you.  More like, it ratifies the jinx.  You're already jinxed, so you might as well have the prize, too.

Q:  Are you a racist?

A:  Yes, and a misogynist and an anti-Semite, too.  I reflect my time, my social class, my race, my sex, and my age.  Just as Toni Morrison does.  I hope I portrayed myself accurately.  Just as a nancy boy does.  Tom Williams, say.  I'm glad I got out of Key West before the fairies took it over.  If you think straight white Protestant males have a mafia, it's nothing compared to Jews, queers, and women.  Masons and Catholics.  It's okay for them to be a clique because they are oppressed.  But they out-Herod Herod.  It goes back to Shakespeare, the Greeks, and the Bible.  As Faulkner is so fond of saying.  Freud didn't read Freud.  He read Sophocles.  And The Golden Bough.  Which he misinterpreted, because he wasn't there, in the field, observing firsthand.  I am not any more class-bound than anybody else, because I'm conscious of it, make allowances for it, am ashamed of it, and try to dredge it up and root it out.  Not wrap it around me, like the flag, while pointing my finger at someone else in a smokescreen of cuttlefish ink.

Q: Toni Morrison is a wonderful writer.  Millions of women, and people of color---well, women of color---look up to her, and enjoy reading her books.  Well, anyway, buy her books.

A: People read the funny papers, too.  But that doesn't make them literature.  People vote Fascist, or vote Communist, and think they belong to something bigger than themselves.

Q: "A man alone ain't got no fucking chance."

A: She makes my shit detector twitch.  Eva Peron had a following.

Q: Been to the movies lately?

A: What's that mean?

Q: Madonna's a writer.  Dennis Rodman is a writer.  Spike Lee is a writer.  Some people would say you started that.  The cult of celebrity.  The writer as movie star.  Which turned into the movie star as writer.

A: There were celebrities before me.  That's why I became a writer.  To get strange pussy.  Fuck beautiful women.  Come out of a nightclub with Marlene Dietrich on my arm and hail a cab, the flash bulbs popping.  But the writing takes over.  It isn't about that.  After awhile.

Q: Telling the boss to go piss up a rope.

A: You don't tell Maxwell Perkins to go piss up a rope.  Charles Scribner, or Gingrich, at Esquire. Writers don't make or break Life magazine.  Life magazine makes or breaks writers.  You play by their rules or you don't play.

Q: Would you say you wrote about that?

A: Obliquely.  You can't attack from the front.  You have to outflank them.  No, I never solved how to do that.  A Moveable Feast was a start.  Parts of To Have and Have Not.  No, I never solved it.  I like to think I would have, if I hadn't gotten sick.  Old.  Tired and afraid.  Fatigue makes cowards of us, I said.

Q: What writers would you say wrote about it?

A: Nelson Algren.  In his Conversations With Nelson Algren.  Who Lost an American.  Notes On a Sea Diary.

Q: Subtitled Hemingway All the Way.

A: That's the one.  Ezra Pound.  They locked Old Ez up.  Called him a traitor.  Henry Miller.  I admire Henry Miller tremendously.  All writers are in debt to him.  He freed the language up.

Q: So did you.  By using unprintable.  Making it obvious that there were words you, Hemingway, could not use.  That made it impossible for them to censor the words any longer.

A: Thank you.  But not like using the words and being banned in your own country for three decades did.  He's the hero of that battle, not me.  And you are carrying on.  Sending a screenplay to the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition and calling yourself Unprintable.  To show that blind judging is wrong.  Fiction is wrong.  It opts us out of the real game, which you have had the guts to stay in.  My hat's off to you, sir.

Q: Thank you.

A: No problem.  You want a blurb?

Q: I already made one from you up.

A: Oh.  Well, why not?  Whitman was state agent at that.  ##



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