Spare Me

I have more to say about this guy Hemingway. On the advice of my internet friend Joan, who reads this blog faithfully, I searched all over for a copy of That Summer in Paris in which Morley Callaghan talks about knowing “Hem” as a young man, in Paris in 1926. A Canadian journalist at the time, Callahan very modestly described what he saw and understood about all those boozy ‘expats’, including the beautiful and damned Scott Fitzgerald and his spellbinding wife Zelda with the dark gold hair, Zelda on whom Fitzgerald based several of the characters in his fiction, from Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby to Nicole Diver in Tender is the Night.

I’ve always felt a definite fondness for poor Fitzgerald, trying so hard to work in spite of worsening problems with alcohol, not to mention his efforts to help his wife manage her own faltering mental health.

Hemingway, by contrast, I’m always mad at, maybe because of that macho swagger of his. And then of course he had to go and commit suicide, which brought my judgment down on him for years, at least until my friend Mary pointed out that his whole family of origin was plagued with depression and mental illness.

The guy has always been hard for me to like or understand, even after reading the remarks of this Callaghan fellow, which seem very modest and therefore truthful..

Apparently Hemingway was always insisting that Callaghan box with him, implying that he could teach him much in the ring. He knew Callaghan had boxed in college and that seemed to goad him on. He wanted to put the guy to the test and even tried to force him to box right in his own living room.

One day at Hemingway’s gym, they went a few rounds. Callaghan says he was the better boxer only because he had gone up against so many fast boxers in his college years. He emerged the victor in any case and Hemingway came out of the fight bloody and bruised.

Yet every chance he got he tried to box with somebody. “He had all the lingo, he hung around gyms, he had watched fighters at work. He wanted to be seen as the sage of the ring. Writes Callahan “something within him drove him to want to be expert in every occupation he touched.”

This is the point where I get off the Hemingway bus. I have known too many men like that in my life – and then too he was so uncharitable about poor Scott, who wanted his simple friendship.

Callaghan writes about his own talks with Fitzgerald and how impressive he found the then-29-year-old:

“I remember drawing back and looking in wonder at this slender, charming and secretly tormented man. This was the man who was supposed to be leaving a crazy disorderly life? Yes, he did get a little drunk, did crazy things, and people thought of him as the wild irresponsible playboy of the era. Yet what fantastic energies he had stored in him! What power of concentration while at the same time he watched over the wife who Hemingway called crazy! Here he was telling me of the production which could only come from an exacting rigid discipline, What haunted him I was sure was that he gave only his spare time to the work that was closest to his heart… He made him me feel lazy, as I was, and it seemed incredible that a man as knowing as Ernest would talk of him as if he were simply an alcoholic. He worked much harder than Ernest did. In fact he made me feel I didn’t work at all…”

Later, when he saw Hemingway, he told him that he and Scott had talked for hours.

“I had liked Scott’s shrewd opinions, quick fine intelligence, extraordinary perception and tireless interest, and I remember that Ernest merely shrugged,, unimpressed. Ernest was simply unbudgeable. It was depressing. Was no one else to have an insight about Scott? Was Scott’s story written and no line ever to be changed? A drunk who knew he was wasting himself and his talent?.. He seemed to have some other feeling about him, some other hidden resentment.”

Hemingway was jealous of Fitzgerald, is how it sounds to me.

Oh I guess I admire the guy a little. His style of writing certainly changed everything in 20th century American literature from the moment his work emerged. But he was vain and greedy for love it seems to me and well, I’ll take a fallible man beset by self-doubt over a guy like that any day.

I’ll take Fitzgerald, who made pure magic with words and did his best with the tools he had to work with and died suddenly and young of heart attack and not a bullet in the brain.

Golly Houston

The sand is gone from my bathing suit, the sunburn from my nose. I guess it’s time to stop talking about that lovely cruise I went on. It’s just that I found Hemingway was right about one thing: you DO see a thing more clearly when you’re away from it. He could see his boyhood in northern Michigan in Paris much more clearly than he could ever see it when he was actually there. In fact it took going to Paris and drinking the many drinks with comrades good and true who had seen war and knew that a man must …. (Ha ha, sorry. It’s hard for me not to parody the guy, especially where I just finished reading The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account of what it was like for his first spouse living. It was like living with a cad of the first order.

“Talk about a thing it and you’ll lose it,” he told somebody once. I was a new writer when I first came across this piece of advice I sensed the truth of it right away. I have always been sorry I didn’t come across it earlier in my life. I’m sorry I told even four people about the time I hunted down my father and sat with him for an hour in my 19th year. Now I can only remember the words I used in the telling and not the reality of the meeting.

If I had written about it maybe I would have described his hands and the way his hair went back in waves from his forehead which was high, like mine.

Instead the thing I sealed inside the melodramatic words of that college sophomore and I can’t get to it. It’s like when you make a document into a PDF. Kind of a mistake, you think to yourself after in that you can’t mess with it anymore.

I almost got to ride on the Shuttle years ago, meaning I was a National Semi-Finalist and one of the youngest and most idealistic of the thousands of journalists who entered that competition. It was cut short by the Challenger disaster though I’m aware that many young people out there don’t know what this disaster entailed.

I entered the contest because I knew NASA needed to sell the idea of space travel to the American taxpayer if it wanted to put anything up there, and they themselves told the society of professional journalists that they needed a wordsmith; that the astronauts themselves, were hopeless at conveying what saw from low earth orbit. The best they could so was say “Golly Houston,” on seeing our little blue earth blinking in and out of sunlight…

I can’t do much better when it comes to saying what this little boat ride was like.

All is a few pictures.

I look at them now: this one of Old Dave and me in the dining room.

And the one at the top where the ship itself looks like a baby whale.

And this super-short video of the surging deep. Ah, the briny deep, mother to us all.. Where are my fins? Why did we have to evolve?

It’s the People Watching



What I like best on any cruise is the people-watching.

Seeing the way folks lick their ice cream down for example.

I could watch that all day, and did in fact, since they serve ice cream all day long out by the pool on Deck 9.

Some eat it the way a cat would.

Others more puppy-style as in Down the hatch! in one quick gulp.

To me the people-watching is the best fun thing about all travel.

I remember being at Disney World one day when the weather was so hot Snow White was running sweat all down her back under that satiny costume.

We were tolling along the main drag trying to fight our way toward Space Mountain, that famous indoor ride with the twists and turns where we figured we could cool off anyway if we could ever get there and here came this red-faced father walking fast behind his ten-year-old son.

“Slow down!” he hollered at the boy. “I told you 50 times stop running ahead!”

The boy stopped, turned.

“Dad I’m not even walking fast,” he said.

“You shut your mouth or I’ll take off my belt!”

“Dad, you’re not wearing a belt.”


That’s some pretty good people watching, when you get to see someone make a jackass of himself in front of a hundred witnesses.

Of course it’s all much milder on a cruise ship. It’s more like being in a room with a lot of sleeping zoo animals. People sure look funny when they fall asleep with their mouths open!

We had the chance to watch a lot of people because we hung out on deck three where sooner or later everyone passes by on their way to the Casino or the Chapel, the Library or the Fun Shops.

The cabins are lovely, paneled in warm wood with balconies and ingeniously-designed little bathrooms where every surface sparkles and the towels are infinite in number and the water from your shower never ever slops onto the floor but still….

You want to have maximum fun on a cruise curl up in one of those window seats and watch the whole parade of humanity pass by.

It’s the Canterbury Tales all over again.

Here’s Nan doing that on our last cruise, book in hand.  

Drink and Get Diapered

There’s a jaunty amateurish quality to the daily announcements on board ship that made me smile every day on this last cruise. It’s as if they were written by people new to the language.

“Like money? Like to be Pampered?”  The author of these squibs wrote in one paragraph, capitalizing the verb form of the word ‘pamper’ as if it were a  proper noun; as if to say Here’s a nice kind of onboard fun: have someone diaper you!

It goes on: “Then then you’ll loooooove what we have in store for you.” (Yep: six o’s in the words ‘love.’) “Play 7 Huge (more upper case mania) games on one card giving away over $1,000. You couldn’t beat this deal if you tried, not that you’d want to!”

But …. you WOULD want to beat it if you could, wouldn’t you? Beat a good deal with a better deal. It doesn’t make sense but there is something sort of dear about it anyway.

Here’s another: “Step right up because we have all the lights, bells and buzzers to make you feel right at home! “ it says regarding a night at the casino I suppose.. But do we HAVE  lights bells and buzzers at home? Should we? What are we missing?

Ah but isn’t that the question at the root of all advertising. People can’t bear to think that they lack a thing that everyone else has. How else to account for all those Pet Rocks we bought a few decades ago?

I bought a few things: some cheap jewelry and a pretty satin evening bag… A Deep conditioning treatment at the salon in Deck Nine and about 35 glasses of wine… I’m not immune to suggestion, far from it.

Below a picture of the last time I was on a  ship as merry as this last one.

They had Toga Night and it was right there in the Daily announcement: No Sheet No Eat it said.. They even supplied us with the requisite linens.

Here are Old Dave and I with my Cousin Sheila and my sister Nan. We were all on this cruise too…   Looking at the four of us you have to wonder: can getting diapered be very far off?

I Was a Wreck (So I Took a Cruise)

I was a wreck, so I took a cruise.

This was me two weeks ago.

I don’t look all that much better now but I feel better.

Cruising today isn’t like cruising 100 years ago when wealthy wasp-waisted women dressed for dinner in their rustling silks, and their gents came in white-tie-and-tails. Today, for as little as $500,  anyone can revel in a week of total spoiling, and far from the chill Atlantic to boot, moseying instead among the sapphire-tinted harbors of the Caribbean.

During this whole cruise I took I kept thinking, Well here we all are, waddling about in our scanty beachwear consuming literal tons of food at the almost-continuous all-you-can-eat buffets; shopping obsessively, both on ship and shore; and gambling day and night in the jingling casino spaces you can’t cross the 5th deck without having to walk through. No wonder much of the world finds us laughable. We’re a boatload of Baby Hueys, I kept thinking, getting fed and fussed over, having our pants changed, practically, by a vast staff of people 95% from developing countries.

But hey: why be negative? Basically it’s AWESOME to be on a cruise. Awesome to see how many ladies for example, succumb to getting their hair lashed down in the tiny island-style braids that unless you have the face of an angel and a noggin to match, make you look like ET.

Awesome to notice how middle-schoolers find each other so unerringly on a cruise, making friends fast and moving in packs around the ship, the girls shrieking “Omigod!” every five minutes and the boys bellowing “Dude!”

It’s even fun waiting in line for the iron in the laundry room, with the dozen others trying to gussy up for the big Captain’s Reception. It feels like a college dorm then, or a real friendly apartment building. The whole experience feels like a big sleepover we were all having.

But the best fun on a cruise is what you notice the first night out and that is this: when you lie in your bed, the bed moves.

All night long it moves, and you sleep rocked like an infant, dreaming lovely long dreams with complicated plots and sub-plots.  And even later, the boat docked and the cruise long over, when you sleep once again in your own bed, you can still feel it: that something much larger is holding you and you, great baby, are just along for the ride. AH!

Also, show me a nicer sight than this eh?

Now picture yourself with your eyes closed , on bed in your cabin, face down and clinging lightly to the bedding, as a baby chimp clings to its momma’s fur as she swings slow and easy through the treetops.

That to me is the best part of the whole deal.

This is Me Since Thursday

I’ve been kind of AWOL and I’ll tell you why.

This is me since Thursday.

I know I should move about some.

It’s cold.

It’s late November.

A mouse has eaten the edge off the hem of my skirts.

Plus I have all this mending.

But I ate so much Thursday, what with the Nantucket Bay scallops

and the buttery corn,

the creamed onions

and that big old turkey roasted to perfection and dry-brined for three days beforehand.

Never mind all the pies, the homemade Anadama rolls, the sugar-butter, the fresh cranberry sauce that sets up all by itself, so much pectin is in the skins of those wee rubilous orbs…

Oh and the savory herbed cubes of bread the bird was stuffed with.

I’m stuffed myself still.

Stuffed even now.

Maybe I’ll just sit out here in the sun a little longer, til that big old wind blows in later today.

Maybe by then I can roll up in my feather bed live off my fat and sleep until spring.

Talk amongst yourselves

Talk amongst yourselves, as our teachers used to tell us when they wanted to nip into the hallway and gossip with a colleague. That’s my way of saying I don’t have much entertainment for you today.

What did I do yesterday that could entertain you or make you laugh?

Not much.

Um. I saw Lincoln after school but that was only awesome and not funny at all  –  unless it’s funny to see what a wonderful wreck is Tommy Lee Jones’s face nowadays, Tommy Lee who Old Dave played football with at Harvard when he looked so nice. (Well, MY Dave STILL looks nice.)

What else?

I got a kick out of studying the Subaru-and Prius-jam in the Whole Foods parking lot yesterday. I couldn’t park!

So I went instead to the good of Stop & Shop at 6 o’clock this morning to beat the crowds, thinking I could fashion a centerpiece out of a few bronze-colored mums and some vegetables: I thought two pomegranates, a few artichokes and some of those nice bumpy squashes that look like the nose on that e Rembrandt self portrait.

BUT wasn’t open yet, and here I thought I was so ahead of myself, having gotten up at 4am to bring a kid into the airport. (Safe travels Hazees!) And now it’s 8 am and here I am three hours late posting.

I have to take a bath, make breakfast, bring two guys to work, and hit Hi-Lo Aerobics by 9:30, all before beginning my real work of the day involving writing for pay, polishing silver, opening the dining room table and standing amidst yards and yards of linen tablecloth which wrinkles as quick as you iron it .

Ah well. Have fun talking  amongst yourselves, as I say. Your stories are doubtless more interesting than mine anyway

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