"I love this guy. Just when you think he's going to drivel on interminably he throws out one of those little gems of dazzling insight that leaps off the page and into your common human experience. Just listen to this: 'Finished,' he said, speaking with that omission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners. 'No more tonight. Close now.' Only Ernest Hemingway could have the clout and wherewithal to characterize someone talking down to a drunk as stupid. You've got to love the guy."
The lounging man reached over the side of the bed to get his snifter of cheap brandy. He continued in between short, delicate sips that far overstated the low caliber of the liquid. "And you have just got to be drinking when you read him. And not just anything, it wouldn't be appropriate to drink something like beer while reading Hemingway. I mean, I'm sure Hemingway had his share of beer but he doesn't really personify that sudsy, malty style. You know what I mean? It isn't that he couldn't identify, or fit in with that macho, sweaty, beer-on-tap, guzzle-in-a-bar wharf rat kind of scene. I just think he's removed from it."
He set his drink on the carpet with exaggerated grace and adjusted his small reading lamp so that the spot fit better on the page which was resting on his hairy belly at an angle. "I think that Hemingway is, kind of, beyond beer really. It may sound funny, 'beyond beer,' but I think it's true. If his characters were beer swillers, he would be inside that kind of scene looking out. Beer is a beverage of fraternization and not observation. Hemingway didn't sit inside a scene like beer sits inside a group conversation, there, sitting in the middle of the table, in a big pitcher that everybody pours from. Or coming from a common spout, hundreds of cracked and greasy mugs held under the same source. Hemingway was a sit-in-the-corner type of writer; a sit-in-the-corner, with a lone, special, bottle, sitting in the torment of the tropical heat and malaise, veiled by a dark shadow kind of writer. Off, away from the lights of public observation, a drama is played out, watched by the thoughtful, calculating eyes. A young Spanish maiden talks non-sense to her muscular and jealous suitor playing with his emotions, twisting his essence around a delicate finger and laughing out-loud.
"Beer breeds sincerity, an arm over the shoulder, a drunken song staggering to and fro to the beat. Hard liquor inspires that sort of ham-handed, smarmy, black-tuxedo, hair greased down, slap-on-the-back, kind of insincerity that displays the mordant side of life which can be juxtaposed against true and pure passion. A beery sot would already be half passionate and, by usurping a bit of sincerity, destroy the contrast in scenes.
"What do you think dear?"
His wife had already let her magazine drift flat on the quilted spread, her head pointed to the ceiling in the large, white pillow. "Well," she said sleepily, "a lot of his characters drank wine. Like everybody in 'A Farewell to Arms.'"
The man scooted up onto his pillow a little higher to sit nearly up right. He pushed one eyebrow low and the other higher swelling with the newfound conundrum and pondering its resolution. He snatched up the brandy, more brashly than before, catching the stem neatly between his four fingers, and swirled the brown liquid inhaling deeply its vapor. "Ah yes," he said pressing an index finger to his lips. "But that was in Europe. You must realize that I'm talking from a purely American perspective. In Italy, everyone is passionate to an American. From that perspective you can juxtapose against any sort of hard drinking."
The snifter went up high and the last of the burning liquid went down his throat. He fumbled for, and found, the bottle with its tin, screw top. He poured out a healthy shot, screwed the lid back on, and then smacked the top of the bottle with the palm of his hand pressing in the imaginary cork that fit his mind-set. "Really," he went on between more liberal sniffs and snorts, "Hemingway personifies Americans in the world. What is more an American archetype in the world at large than that of an overbearing, oaf of a man, talking loudly and stupidly, with that omission of syntax, to a foreigner? You can just picture some huge Texas millionaire pasting back the ears of a slight, genteel, French waiter, leaning over him with his hot breath, demanding a bottle of watery, American lager over a fine wine. 'No, no. Me, beer. Go now. Get beer.' Can't you just picture that Honey?"
"Mmmm-hm, yeah," came the voice, face hidden from view in the bulges of the pillow.
"I mean, Hemingway really turns the tables on them. The person on the receiving end of baby talk isn't stupid. It's the one doing the baby talk who is stupid. Really, when you're drunk you don't suddenly become stupid. You're drunk and nothing more. People act as if you've lost your faculties. People, that is, who don't really know what it's like to be drunk. I can just picture some tape-on-the-glasses, booger-dribbling bellhop walking up to Ernest Hemingway and saying something like, 'Finished. No more tonight. Closed now.'"
The man took in a large sip and breathed heavily through the nose while he swirled the cantankerous liquor around his mouth imagining it a fine, French, Napoleon Cognac. A sort of pride- filled liquor, distilled from the bloody fields of France through years of toil under hard Nazi boots. Put into the bottle for a time when its drinking could be done with a head held high, as if encapsulating the best of France out of reach of the Nazi over-lords, it cheated the conquerors out of the best of spoils. It was the sort of liquor that ended up in the writer's glass as he toasted the liberation of Paris. The glasses go high. "Vive le France," comes the cheer from a crowded bar.
His little fantasy faded from view more quickly than he wished and he continued. "His characters drank a lot but he seldom characterized them as drunks; at least not hopeless ones. What was that he called them in 'Islands in the Stream'? It was, uh.... honey? What was that he called them?"
He gave the lump in the blankets a bump with the elbow. "Huh, what?" his wife said raising her head off the pillow to look toward her husband.
"What was that word Hemingway used to describe his characters in 'Islands in the Stream?' Do you remember?"
"Darling, Hemingway used lots of words." She lowered back into the pillow disappearing again.
"I mean, he didn't say the word 'drunk' to describe them. He said something else. What was that?"
"Oh, it was 'rummy.'"
"That's right. He said they were rummy. Now that fits. A drunk is someone who can't help but be there. A rummy is a person who goes by choice. Fed up with the niceties that mask true human turmoil disillusioned by the controlling entities of society, rummy retreats to a bar to simply obliterate it all and observe. A rummy doesn't retreat from society because he can't handle it, like a drunk. He retreats because he has already wrapped his arms around the futility of it all. He retreats for a vantage point, to poke fun, to have the last escape from hopelessness in the form of humor and satire. You won't find a rummy in a neighborhood bar with the same old yucks and chums who harbor such a place day in and day out. A rummy can be found in saloons with creaking floorboards, perched on a cliff over the Costa Brava, on moonlit nights, breathing the salt air and dreaming of a time when the innocence of youth masked the reality of cynicism. And out on the calm sea the moonlight streaks a path of invitation into the dark waters of the unknown. There our rummy can sit and sip, with his crusty, sardonic exterior protecting what is left of that innocent, disillusioned child inside."
For a moment, the bulbous snifter in the hand of the man became a small shot glass. In front of him there was an old table, with a dusty half-filled bottle of brandy. He was sitting on a splintered wooden chair whose joints were just loose enough to exaggerate any tipsy state. The corner was dark. A ceiling fan creaked, pushing the heavy, muggy night air. Across the room, at the far end of the battered old bar a young, dark-haired woman with a curled lip stood, her rounded buttocks moving muscularly under the silk of a dress that dipped too low for a good girl. She blew out a puff of smoke along with a few sharp words in her Latin tongue. Red lips sprouted surly from her smooth brown skin, which shone copper in the yellowish light of the storm lantern. She spied the American watching her. She turned and made toward him. Both contemptuous and voluptuous her legs slid back and forth until she was standing in front of him. "American," she said breathlessly from a heaving chest, a tongue running across white teeth, "you do not know me. Why do you stare?" The hard, grizzled, weatherworn man pulled the cork from the bottle and refilled his glass. He looked up into the glaring, fiery and beautiful eyes and, for just an instant, he believed that they saw something behind his disengaged exterior. In the flash of a moment, as dying embers scatter while being quenched, he thought there was a connection of souls. And then... and then...
His wife let out an exceptionally loud snore that shook him from his dream. He got up and turned off his little reading lamp, walked around the bed and turned off his wife's. Down the long carpeted hall he walked until he came to the large living room. He put his hands on his hips and studied the silence. He walked to the front window and pulled back the blinds to peak outside. The porch lamp illuminated the mown, sod yard and coiling walkway, which led up to the front door from the street. The street was wet with dew.
He stood thinking about the house, the car, and his job at the firm. He thought about his financial commitment to things -- the house and car -- and how they necessitated his continued labor at the firm, and how one was inextricably linked to the other. The connection seemed profound to his rummy mind.
"How I wish I was there," he whispered in grandiloquent conclusion. "God, I wish I was on the high seas."