On being a Hemingway Wannabe

If Ernest Hemingway interrupted efforts to cover Occupy Madrid and came to Berkeley and was told by the street people that their ranks were swelling because a local (several?) hospital(s) were dumping indigent patients on Shattuck Avenue, how would he react?  Would he raise funds for and write and provide the narration for a documentary film titled <I>The Berkeley Earth</I>?  Would he write the best of all his novels and title it “<I>For whom the UCB Campanile Tolls</I>”?  Would it delineate the exploits of a <I>fashionista</I> who joined the ranks of the legion of destitute victims of home foreclosures who were struggling to put an end to the economic domination of the work force by the one percenters?  If he did that would he be vulnerable to charges of exploiting the panhandlers for his own fame and fortune?  Since Hemingway has been dead for more than 50 years, he won’t have to deal with these hypothetical challenges.  What about the legion of Hemingway wannabes?  How should they handle the issue in his stead?

To a high school student the prospects of studying long and hard to become a lawyer or doctor who would work relentlessly for 50 weeks of the year just to be able to afford a better vacation paled in comparison to a career that would require a fellow to go to far away exotic locations, meet the movers and shakers of the world, and then write it up for fabulous sums of money.  The life of a writer errant seemed like a more appealing vocational decision.  Positive proof of the lopsided nature of the choice might be evident when the latest copy of LIFE magazine arrived in the mail box containing photographic evidence that such an escape from tedium was possible.  For a kid who hasn’t yet experienced the much desired rite of passage known as passing the driver’s license test, the chance to travel the world for pay held a hypnotic allure.

Growing up in Scranton Pa., offered a basic binary choice:  you could go to work in the coal mines (literally or figuratively) after high school, or (if your parents could afford it) you could go to college and then get a job in coal mine management, marry your high school sweetheart, and have bunch of kids.  The fact that Scranton became the setting for a fictionalized look at the absurdity of working in “The Office” would only become apparent much later in life.

In the Fifties, the ticket out of what Fred Allen called “The Treadmill to Oblivion,” was to become:  a rock star, a movie star, one of Mickey Mantle’s teammates, or learn to type as the first step on the Hemingway wannabe road to fame and fortune.  In high school, given the choice of two more years of Latin vs. learning to type, a young man didn’t need “Papa” Hemingway by his side to make the call.

The grim reality that <I>Collier’s Magazine</I> would, after 1957, no longer be available to subsidize sending the next generation of Hemingways to far away places with strange sounding names was irrelevant because at the same time that they folded, a young writer named Jack Kerouac was demonstrating that if you subsidized your wanderings, you could always recoup the bankroll by publishing the results in book form.

After college, books about Hemingway began to appear.  Heck if you couldn’t write like Hemingway, you could always write about Hemingway.  Using that logic had its drawbacks because that would indicate that eventually some writers would be writing about this Kerouac fellow who had, by the Vietnam War, faded into obscurity.  It was worth noting, however, that this beatnik fellow made more appearances on “The Tonight” show than Papa Hemingway did.

The torch had been passed to a new generation of writers and guys like Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson were generating scads of publicity for inventing “new journalism,” which some (sour grapes?) critics dismissed as repackaged and relabeled examples of the Hemingway formulae “<I>Veni, vidi, escribi</I>.”

Unfortunately, reading novels such as “Goldfinger,” “The Big Sleep,” and “The Maltese Falcon,” meant that when it eventually came time to enter the “Good Page of Bad Hemingway” contest, this columnist would submit something that sounded like:  “He was an old detective who worked alone out of an office on Santa Monica Blvd. and he had gone eighty four days now without a client.”

Hemingway’s name was synonymous with hunting and fishing but if the A. E. Hotchner or Carlos Baker biographies mentioned that Papa supported conservation, this columnist didn’t notice such passages.  Sure he was glad to lead the wolf pack of writers (called the War Tourists) to the cause of the workers in Spain, but did he ever say anything about the retched treatment that was given to Native Americans?

All the Hemingway aspirations had been safely tucked away in the recesses of the World’s Laziest Journalist Memory Archive until we began to read books such as “Gellhorn” by Caroline Moorehead and “The Women Who Wrote the War” by Nancy Caldwell Sorel at about the same time that we began to cover the Occupy Oakland, Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Berkeley, and Occupy UCB stories.  When we got the chance to see a screening of “Hemingway and Gellhorn” at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, we were fully aware of why the plight of the ordinary citizens objecting to high tuition, home foreclosures, union busting, and layoffs sounded so very <I>déjà vu</I>.

Authorized biographies provided a stealth introduction to spin.  Reading the Gellhorn biography by Caroline Moorehead, copyrighted and published in 2003, recently, it was a bit of a shock for a Hemingway wannabe to learn that Mr. Macho consistently delivered shabby treatment to the women in his life.

If he were still alive, the newer books revealed that the Nobel Prize for Literature winner would also be a leading Souse and Louse of the year award.  Does the Modern Drunkard online site even give such an award?

Is the new HBO film a variation on an old existentialist trick?  While he was a POW, Jean-Paul Sartre staged a play that was about the history of ancient Greece.  The Germans running the POW camp didn’t notice that it was also a metaphor for their heavy handed methods for governing an occupied country.

There is an old saying that those who forget history are bound to repeat it.  How many young folks in the United States know what the issues that sparked the Spanish Civil War were?  If Rupert Murdoch will not permit any disparaging words about the US during the Bush Era, could a film about a tempestuous love affair between two writers covering the Spanish Civil War actually be a clever way to slide the topic of the age old struggle between the wealthy (and their lackeys – the politicians, the police, the press, and the clergy) against the wage slaves past the old biddies delivering Murdoch’s rules for living on the Fox New programs?

Disgruntle slaves have always infuriated the plantation owners by their lack of gratitude via the “Oliver Twist” question:  “Please, sir, may I have more?”

Back in the Thirties, Ford shot strikers and Chevrolet caved in to their demands and ever since then, it’s been a continuing struggle for the landed gentry to regain the upper hand.

Which automobile company response to strikers would Hemingway have endorsed?

In the biography “Gellhorn,” readers are informed that the only time Martha Gellhorn ever saw Hemingway cry was when he learned that a Franco victory in the Spanish Civil War was inevitable.  After Tuesday’s election results in Wisconsin, we wonder if another Fallangist victory (no matter how well it was disguised) would still get the same result.  Would Hemingway see a Republican domination of the US Presidential Election in 2012 as another fascist victory?  Would Hemingway notice similarities between the causes of the Occupy protesters and the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War?

Hemingway loved bull fights because of the ritualized ceremony’s pageantry (a High Mass for sadists?) and that makes us wonder if Papa would note the similarity to the paradigm script for modern controversial wedge issues in American politics.  When a controversial wedge issue is decided by the voters, the electronic voting machines must always decide in favor of the conservative program.  The bull must die even if a relief matador (from the bull pen?) has to be brought off the bench.

Would Hemingway be intimidated by the prospect of being called a “conspiracy theory lunatic”?  The fact that unflattering criticism did seem to wound a man who was being called the greatest writer of the century and that he worked tirelessly to build and protect his image indicates that he might have been vulnerable to such a threat.

If Spain is going to have to endure austerity measures, will it hurt only the workers or will the wealthy also suffer?  Would Hemingway (and Gellhorn?) rush off to cover the impact of austerity on the average citizen in Spain (if they were still alive)?  Regardless of what the banks do, won’t the <I>glitterati</I> attend this year’s “Running of the bulls” and won’t it be held on schedule?

Reading about the long list of journalists who were alarmed about the possibility that the struggle of workers in Spain against the Falangists was a prediction that eventually and inevitably the USA would be forced to participate in a European war against fascism, and then reading about the frantic scramble to get an assignment to cover the European phase of World War II, only makes a columnist in America all the more aware that Journalism in the states today bares a remarkable resemblance to the paucity of news available to Germans during the Hitler era.  Reading or listening to foreign based news was strictly <I>verboten</I>.  Reading or listening to a non conservative point of view in the USA today is just about as foolhardy as listening to the BBC in Berlin was in 1943.  (Google hint:  “gray and black radio propaganda”)

Friday, June 8, 2012, is World Ocean Day and it isn’t hard to figure out how Hemingway would celebrate it, but that causes us to wonder:  If the Gulf oil spill kills off all the Marlins would Papa attack the company responsible for the atrocity against nature?

Hemingway tended to see life in terms of a prolonged boxing match, so we like to imagine that if he were still alive, he would enthusiastically urge the Liberals in Wisconsin to get up, take a standing nine count, and then plunge back in the fight by starting a new effort this weekend to collect signatures for another recall move against Scott Walker.

Somewhere along the way, the Dionysian approach to writing new columns about a variety of topics, in the Herb Caen manner, began to appeal to the World’s Laziest Journalist more than the Apollonian formula of spending months of pounding out a novel.

Consequently, to put it in the terms that would be understandable to someone who read extensively about the exploits in the old West of the U. S. Cavalry, the World’s Laziest Journalist tends to approach the world like an Indian Scout rather than like an egotistical general.

Santa Monica had to contend with the rumor that some cities were giving their charity cases a one way Greyhound ticket to “Skid row by the sea,” and Los Angeles had a scandal about patients being dumped on Fifth Street, so if the rumors about increase in the size of the Shattuck army of panhandlers is true, other writers can do the extensive amount of reporting that the topic will require; meanwhile this columnist will start checking the logistics for tackling other topics such as this year’s Running of the Bulls or the 24 hour sports car race at Le Mans.

In “Death in the Afternoon,” Ernest Hemingway wrote:  “There are two things that are necessary for a country to love bullfights.  One is that the bulls must be raised in that country and the other is that the people must have an interest in death.”

Now the disk jockey will play “Frankie and Johnnie,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “I wish I was 18 again,” and the Plimsouls’ “You cant judge a book (by its cover).”  We have to go see if LIFE magazine wants to assign us to write “The Dangerous Summer on the road to the Hemingway Days in Key West” story.  Have a <I>Botellazo</I> free week.

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