Paying E. Hemingway A Visit

Paying E. Hemingway A Visit

by Hani Sallum

I materialized outside of the home of Ernest Hemingway on the fifth of June in 1955 at nine in the morning, ready to spend the day interviewing him in field research for the Encyclopedia Intellectica. I was also going to give him a piece of my mind.

I didn't really like field research for the Encyclopedia, but it always paid the rent and gave me something to boast about at parties. It's great to interrupt some know-it-all snob in the middle of a Let-me-tell-you-about-this monologue and mentioning that you had, in fact, written the article he's quoting.

Anyway, I had to interview this sap Hemingway for documented research, and had to make the appointment a year before just to see him. Thank God for time travel. On the other hand, how else would I do the research?

I checked to make sure I had my recording device and walked up the gravel driveway to the main entrance. The front door was made of pure, stained mahogany; with the usual brass lion-head knocking things. Greedy bastard.

Okay, okay, if you haven't noticed, I do hold a grudge against old Ernie. Well, I've read a lot of his work...

Okay, a few of his books...

All right, one book. Sue me. I still didn't like his fucking attitude.

I knocked on the disgustingly grotesque lion-head knockers which should have been condemned to corroding at the bottom of one of the Atlantic Abyssal Tracts instead of being plastered onto the mahogany door, and waited. After a few moments, a dark, robed and hooded man opened the door, and suddenly everything around me turned a shade darker. Definitely a bad sign.

I conducted a quick but thorough search of the door and adjacent walls from the place I was standing for a sign or plaque bearing a legend along the lines of ``Home of the Grim Reaper,'' ``Death,'' or ``The Mouth of Hell,'' but found none.

The worst that could have happened, I figured, was that the guys at Processing sent me back in time to the wrong house. Now, I'm no physicist, but projecting atoms through the continuum can't be that hard. They must have been rushing to finish before the coffee break, that is, of course, if they screwed up --- I'm not saying they did --- but I don't trust them ever since the thing about the Zulu War and Margaret Thatcher... but I won't get into that.

I turned back to the hooded guy, who I suddenly noticed was about eight feet tall.

``Can I help you?'' He said. He enunciated as if each word was a struggle to emit.

``Ahhb... ive ive vaaaaaah vahb faa faa...'' I started, then straightened myself out. ``Ah, yeah. I've got an appointment with Mr. Hemingway for today.''

The man looked at me with, as far as I could discern from what was visible of his face, slight distaste, probably because the clothes I was wearing wouldn't be in style for another two hundred and forty years. Not that he was the very model of an impecable butler. It's kind of hard to have that image when there can be seen small tentacles growing out of your neck.

``Ah, yes.'' He said, still enunciating. ``The reporter.'' I saw a faint glint under his hood as a ray of light gleamed off of one of his teeth.

A chill ran up my spine so fast that it shot out of the back of my neck, narrowly missing my head.

``Follow me.'' He said, turned, and moved inside. I followed.

We entered the mansion.

``So, uh... what's your name?'' I asked, attempting to mask my unease with small talk.

``Everyone calls me Hooded Screech-of-Death- Capable-of-Instilling-Great- Insanity-From-Impres- sive-Distances.''

My heart stopped beating for a moment to submit a formal request to leave my chest cavity. ``Oh... so, what's your real name?'' I finally asked.

He turned to look at me. ``I just told you. I had parents that remarried several times. Completely by coincidence all the last names went together to form that phrase. It's... strange.''

I suppressed the urge to jump through the nearest window screaming MY MOTHER IS THE ANTICHRIST!!

The man turned out to be, after a few more questions, Hemingway's butler. Unfortunately, my initial questioning began him verbalizing some convoluted thought process, resulting a sort of dissertation about one's physical image in relation to their sense of presence.

Now, I'm not a pure, sinless human being, but I felt that I really didn't deserve this. I had a job to do, and I didn't feel that I had to listen to some eight foot tall specter going off on weird tangents I couldn't follow. But, then again he was eight feet tall, and me being my modest 5'10'' I opted on keeping my yap shut for the moment.

He got to a point at which he began using himself as an example. By this point I had completely lost his point and where he was in his argument. So naturally this was the point at which he asked me a question.

Now, I really didn't want to answer, but he was the only way I was going to get to Hemingway through the maze of corridors in the unnecessarily expansive, gaudy, overembellished house of one of Literature's most respected talents. Being an asshole and ignoring the guy might not get me to where I wanted to go. Cooperating with a guy who has tentacles coming out of his neck is a really good idea most of the time.

``Oh,... uh, I really can't see much with that hood on...'' I said. No sooner than I had said this, he whipped around, pulled the hood back, exposing his face, and smiled evilly; the kind of smile that gave people the impression that life had popped him just a few too many times on the head.

At first glance (second, third, and fourth also), I decided I liked the face a lot better when the hood was between most of it and my eyes.

As I mentioned before, it's hard to uphold the image of an impecable butler if there are tentacles growing out of your neck. This was finally proven true to me upon seeing the butler's full face. Along with the tentacles were a set of flippers. Oh yeah, and a beak coming out of his forehead. Other than that he looked... well, alright. Aside from the tusks.

I thought for a second about how I should reply. I picked one reply out that might not result in the separation of me and my limbs.

``Yeah, well... what can I say?'' I answered.

He nodded, put the hood back on, and continued leading me to Ernie, the discussion apparantly over.

After a few more minutes of moving down halls and up flights of stairs in the huge mansion, we finally arrived at Ernie's study.

``Just knock.'' said the butler.

``Okay, thank you... Hooded... Screech of... great distance, err-''

He gave me a humbling look. ``Don't even try.'' he said. With that, he turned and walked away.

I looked at the door. Nothing special to make a note of. I knocked. An old, annoying voice emanated from behind the door; the kind of voice that resonates in one's spinal column if the conditions are right.

``Come in.'' it said.

I opened the door. It opened halfway before jarring on a stack of typewritten papers. They were accompanied by other similar stacks of papers; some bound with twine, others loose and scattered.

``Don't mind the papers, just step over them.'' Said the voice from beyond my view.

I stepped over the numerous piles to get through the door. I even made an effort to kick at a few of the bound stacks so that they would scatter. To my surprise, the piles of loose papers moved around slightly on their own accord. The bound ones, however, did not. Strange.

I knelt to examine the writing on one of the papers that lay scattered on the floor, moving around slightly. It said:

``Adam, the goodliest man of men since born his sons...''

``A bold, bad man.''

``Our colleges ought to have lit up in us a lasting relish, for the better kind of man, a loss of appetite for mediocrities.''

``A brave man struggling in the storms of fate...''

``There is still one absolute weapon... that weapon is man himself.''

And other passages similar in meaning, stressing the importance of man. Figures. I looked at the top page of one of the bound piles. It said:

``A woman is a sometime thing.''

``Women's degradation is in man's idea of his sexual rights. Our religion, laws, customs, are all founded on the belief that woman was made for man.''

``There is not a woman in the world the possession of whom is as precious as that of the truths which she reveals to us by causing us to suffer.''

``A woman is always a fickle, unstable thing.''

One of the papers from a bound pile I had knocked over read:

``The usual masculine disillusionment is in discovering that a woman has a brain.''

No doubt that this was old Ernie's study. I still couldn't get over the strangeness the whole place radiated.

Then it occurred to me. It had happened before.

``Of course!'' I said, hitting my forehead with the heel of my hand. ``Processing put me in the wrong universe again! Those stupid asses!''

I kicked at some of the moving paper-piles.

``I do believe,'' said the owner of the voice, calmly, in a thick English accent, ``that I don't, nor do I want to, know what you are talking about.''

``Oh, cut it out,'' I said, amused, ``cut the accent, I know you're from Illinois.''

The owner of the voice, an elderly figure sitting in a swivel-chair by an oak desk, sneered, and stood up. He walked over to me and sized me up.

``You that reporter from last year?'' he asked.

``Yeah, that's me.''

The figure nodded to himself. ``Well, for starters, I'm Ernest Miller Hemingway.''

``Really?'' I asked rhetorically as I entered the physical description of him secretly into the recorder.

``Yeah. Have you had breakfast?'' He asked.

``Yeah, before I-''

``Good. Neither have I.'' He said, and walked past me out the door, beckoning me to follow. I did.

After a breakfast of Belgian Waffles and Vodka, he showed me through his mansion, garden, and grounds. He went on from ten a.m. to noon talking about himself and how much money he put into his property, all of which I inserted into the recorder.

From noon to four in the afternoon he showed me his Nobel and Pulitzer Prize room, or shrine, which was incredibly dull. I spent most of the time cleaning my fingernails.

At four, we had a late lunch. I took that opportunity to give him the piece of my mind I had reserved for him.

I sat across from him at a lawn table that offered an unobstructed view of the backyard, which contained over two-hundred pink flamingos.

He was eating a lightly grilled muskrat, French-dip Style. I was amply repulsed. All I could say was that Processing was getting a big complaint form from me this month.

``Mr. Hemingway,'' I started, ``can you tell me about some of the connotations in `A Farewell to Arms,' and if these are similar in respect to any of your other works?''

He paused halfway through a mouthful of muskrat and looked up. He began to speak, stopped, spat out the partially chewed muskrat at the flamingos, and continued. The flamingos seemed indifferent.

``Oh, you read `A Farewell to Arms,' did you? Good book, I thought. One of my best, I think. It was based on a true story about myself during the war. I was stationed in Northern Italy, and I-''

``Yeah, I know.'' I interrupted. ``You told me about it around eleven this morning. Can you expand on, for me, the character of Ms. Barkley?'' I wanted to see if he was as big an asshole as I figured him to be.

``Oh, sure! She was your basic woman... stupid.''


``Yeah, okay. Why?'' I braced myself.

``Oh, all women are like that.'' He said, eating another bite of muskrat. ``I've been around a bit, you know, I can tell you that. Every woman I've ever met. All body, nothing upstairs. Not that I'm complaining...'' He leered.

I was finding it extremely hard not to clock the guy's bearded head right there. It's too bad my strongest assets aren't things I can get paid for.

``Oh, yeah.'' He went on, stopping momentarily to pick a muskrat bone from between his teeth. ``Someone once told me what the perfect woman is and I believe them; a woman who's about waist high, no teeth, and has a flat head you can rest a drink on-''

``Alright, That's It!!'' I screamed at him, leaping up from my chair as I did so. This action gave the lawn table a nasty shock which caused the umbrella to spontaneously fold upward with a loud ``foomp!'' noise.

Ernie, who had been holding the rapidly disappearing muskrat in both hands, was so startled by my outburst that he launched the muskrat over his head and onto the flamingos in reflex. The flamingos seemed a little less indifferent.

He stood up. ``What was that all about?!'' He shouted.

``It's about you! You with your misogynistic bravado and the way you talk about women, and the way you portray them in your books!''

``Well, it's true!!'' He retorted.

``No it isn't!! And for that matter I hate your assholier-than-thou attitude too!!''

``Oh, Yeah?! And how many Pulitzer prize-winning books have you written lately?''

``That's just my point! All you are is talk. Talk, talk, talk; that's all you do! Maybe if you looked at women a little differently, you might not have to look for a new wife every couple of years!!''

``Hey!! Now that isn't my fault-''

``Oh, don't give me that shit! It's about as likely as the story you were telling me about the nurse in the Italian hospital!''


``You probably missed and grabbed someone's enema bag and thought you were getting lucky!''

``Oh, this is a really nice attitude!! After I fed you Breakfast and Lunch, too!''

``What Breakfast? I didn't eat!''

``You could have!!''

``No I couldn't!! I saw the waffles you gave me! They were wax! And while you were drinking Vodka, I was looking at a glass of vinegar!!''

``Picky, picky!!''

``Oh, I'm picky! What about that checklist for women you were telling me about, you slime?!''

``Okay, okay, so it's hard for a woman to be long-legged and still be waist high, but I can compro- Hey HEY!''

I stopped Ernie mid-sentence by knocking over his lawn table. I pulled out my recorder and pointed at him.

``I hope you're proud of yourself, because you're getting the worst biographical write-up in the history of the Encyclopedia Intellectica! I've done a lot of them, let me tell you! Shelly! Dickens! Pohl! L. Ron Hubbard! And I'll tell you now, I'm going to bury you in so much shit your name will never be associated seriously with literature ever again! You're through! I've got you by the balls, and now I'm going to crush them like walnuts!!''

I realized I had gone a little bit off course, not to mention irrational. I also felt a bit silly. Ernest was peering nervously at me from behind his lawn chair. Apparently I had been a little harsh. No matter.

I straightened myself up, ``Good day, Mr. Hemingway,'' I said coldly, and left.

I walked out the front door after ten minutes of trying to find it, and continued down the driveway. After a moment I stopped, turned around, and headed back toward the mansion.

I ripped one the the grotesque lion-head knockers off of the door and heaved it amongst the flamingos in the backyard. The flamingos were extremely less indifferent this time. In fact, one of them yelled out: ``Oh, C'mon!! Give us a break, will you?!''

I continued down the driveway.

My planned twenty-four hour visit with Mr. Hemingway had been cut short to about seven hours. The people at the field research department were going to have conniptions. I didn't care. The meeting, I felt, had been completely successful.

No, not quite... not yet. I went back to the door and ripped the other knocker off the door and signaled Processing to bring me back.

Momentarily I was torn apart into my component bits and pieces then reassembled in the processing lab in the basement of the headquarters of the Encyclopedia Intellectica. Ruth Browning and Paul Brogle were working the console. There were several spilled cups of coffee and various danish crumbs on the equipment. Papers were spread everywhere, odd scribblings of Hamiltonian gibberish all over them and all the chalkboards in the room.

``Hey, you made it back!'' Paul Brogle said, spewing crumbs from a blueberry muffin out of his mouth and into a nearby molecular analyzer.

``How did it go?'' Ruth Browning asked, dripping coffee onto an exposed hard drive.

I smiled my best PR smile. ``Wrong universe, folks..'' I said, hefting the brass knocker in both hands, ``... again. I...''

I swung around once, and connected the head of the knocker with the side of Paul Brogle's head. It ricocheted from there nicely onto Ruth Browning's head. They both collapsed to the floor.

``... HATE this fucking job...'' I said, dropping the knocker and heading towards the lab door.

I turned and looked back once at the unconscious bodies behind me. ``...but it's got it's plus sides.''