April 23, 2014:
Before we jump right into Phillip’s BIG day, our second day on the Keys and a hugely adventurous day all its own, I fear I have one small tale that I simply must tell. It’s time again, my friends, for another story:
Have You Ever Heard of Hemingway
As you are now aware, we pulled into Key West on a sunny Wednesday, April 23, 2014, the day before the Captain’s birthday on the 24th, and I, unfortunately, found myself admittedly lacking in the gift department. I know that sounds terrible. We had been planning this trip to the Keys for half a year. Surely I could have put two and two together and realized that we would be in the Keys for Phillip’s birthday and that I might ought to think to bring along a gift. Okay, true. I’ll give you that. But, rather than admitting that it actually did slip my mind (which I am not yet prepared to do – I did think about it–often–I could just never decide on the right item). And therein lied the problem. You see, the Captain doesn’t really like gifts. Particularly not useless little items that you buy out of obligation or unnecessary courtesy – you know, a cute little wooden frame with a sailboat on it,
a set of quilted coasters with sailboats on them,
just darlin’ …
a cheap, Chinese-made Captain’s hat with his name embroidered on it.
(But that doesn’t apply to me, Brother. I LOVE cheap, Chinese-made crap with my name on it!)
Captain Jo says “Ahoy!”
No, a real gift to the Captain is a meaningful, well-thought out experience. Something you put more mental effort into than running into T.J. Maxx on your lunch break. Something you had to go the extra mile for. Something that comes with a story.
Well, you know my history with stories. Here’s mine.
When we backed into Key West mid-morning on April 23rd, I had a plan. We had been reading a lot during our sail down to the Keys, particularly one book of interest was The Paris Wife. If you recall we found it at the book swap at Port St. Joe. If I haven’t stressed it enough, I LOVE marina book swaps!
You never know what you might find. There’s usually the typical John Grisham, Dean Koontz, Patricia Cornwell thrillers – many of which you’ve read, or if you’ve read one you feel like you’ve read them all.
Often there’s a Danielle Steele-type with the Italian-looking long-haired beefcake on the front, his shirt conveniently open to reveal his chiseled abs and some scantily-clad damsel in distress pining for him in the corner.
But, sometimes you come across a real gem. A no-shit book you’ve been wanting to read, a New York Times bestseller, sitting right there for free in the book swap. When we found a treasure like that, we began to call it “book mojo” and while we definitely did NOT have it in many other marinas we popped into, Port St. Joe seemed to be our mojo haven. There we found The Paris Wife, tucked away at the very bottom of the little end table that served as the book swap, buried under a stack of decoy books. The Captain said a friend had recommended The Paris Wife to him a while back (knowing he is an avid Hemingway fan)
and he had been wanting to read it for quite some time. We nabbed it, left behind a mediocre Lee Childs number (sorry PSJ!), and Phillip curled up with it first,
And finished it somewhere between Charlotte Harbor and Ft. Myers Beach and then passed it on to me. I dug in and was about half-way through when we touched down in Key West. I was, of course, still wrestling with the idea of Phillip’s gift and what I was going to do and, after nixing several exceedingly embarrassing ideas (writing a song and singing it for him on the ukulele, writing him a story about one of our passages (boring!), or perhaps perform some other service he would appreciate. You know, clean the entire condo, make him a special dinner … Seriously, people, this is a public blog. And, while he would be grateful, those are pretty mundane things – certainly not 40th-birthday worthy). So, I was thrilled when the idea jumped right out at me from the pages of The Paris Wife.
In the book, the author, Paula McClain, does an incredible job of telling the tale of the Hemingways’ early years in Paris from the imagined perspective of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley.
(There she is!)
In the book, Hadley offers a pretty riveting account of Hemingway’s early struggles as a writer, how he painstakingly fought over every word, struck and re-wrote every sentence until it was perfect, how he agonized over it. I understand the feeling. I do it, on occasion, when I’m really trying to polish a piece to perfection, and the result is always worth it, but it takes like five days to write two pages. It’s grueling, but ‘tis the life of a true writer. Perhaps with a little more time and gruel, I’ll get there.
I, myself, see the Captain as a bit of a Hemingway character—sure, he’s not a cursing, sparring, riotous drunk—but he does have an insatiable thirst for adventure, experience, all things in life that cannot be bought. With this perception, I grew a bit of a kinship with Hemingway’s first wife while reading the book. I felt a part of me understood her struggles. And, when she was discussing Hemingway’s daily toil and angst over his first book, I knew that was it! It was something Hemingway himself had spent months, years churning over, carving, crafting out of blank papyrus. And, it was also something Hadley spent months, years, encouraging him to do and supporting him while he often neglected her during the process. It was the product of such effort, such sacrifice, and the embodiment of such accomplishment – Hemingway’s First Book! That was it! That was the perfect gift. It was called In Our Time. And, this was OUR time, too. Phillip and I were finally sailing our boat, this beautiful Niagara 35, down to the Keys. We were on the adventure of a lifetime, finding ourselves daily in the simultaneous throws of struggle and triumph. This was OUR time, too. How perfect. Thank you Hadley!
But, here’s the real kicker. I am just blonde enough, while having immersed myself in a book entirely about Hemingway on the way down to the Keys, to have completely forgotten the man’s very history in Key West. (Although I tell myself, looking back now, that The Paris Wife, was all about his time in Paris, so it’s okay that I forgot about his time in the Keys. It is, right?). But, turns out the man did kind of live there for a decade, where he cranked out the majority of his note-worthy novels and his house now stands as a sacred monument and museum. Yeah, that part slipped my mind, when I wondered, worriedly, whether any small-time book store down there might have Hemingway’s first book. Surely this was going to be a long shot …
But, I was on a mission. I was going to go the extra mile. I was going to run to every book store on the island if I had to. I was going to find that book! So, right after we docked at Key West and got the quick tour of the marina and facilities from Postal Bob, I was trying to think of some reason to get away for a bit, just thirty minutes is all I figured I would need to make the run. I was pilfering through potential reasons and excuses in my head, when the Captain gave it to me. “What do you say we hit the shower?” he said.
I told the Captain to go on ahead and get his own suite while I rounded up my toiletries and would be right behind him. Right behind him … Yeah, after I made my jog to the book store. Once he was out of sight, I packed up my shower bag, grabbed my towel and wallet, slipped on my shower shoes and started running. I had no idea where I was going. This was my first time on the Keys—seriously, my first steps in that town were a heated jog in squishy shower shoes. But, I figured in a touristy town like this there HAD to be a bookstore nearby. Surely. And, hopefully they had at least heard of, and carried some books, penned by this famous Ernest Hemingway character. Hopefully.
Yes, these are the real thoughts that ran through my mind as I ran through the streets of Key West.
But, I had two pretty major problems. First, I had my shower bag with all my toiletries, a towel and change of clothes with me. Not something you want to be carrying when you’re trying to make a mad dash. It felt like an awkward ruck-sack, but I slung it way over my left shoulder and held it fast to my back with my left arm, leaving my right arm to swing wildly to keep my balance. Second, I was just wearing my bathing suit. Yes, just a bathing suit. Well, a bikini to be exact.
Yep, that one.
On the sailboat and in the marina, a bikini is decidedly the in look. Totally appropriate. While sprinting wildly through the streets of Key West … not so much. It’s kind of a novel sight. I was certainly getting some stares.
But, there were more problems. Let’s face it, I had plenty. A string bikini top is not really the proper sports apparel for sprinting. And, ladies, you can empathize with me on this one – while having your *throat clearing* ladies bouncing wildly around while you’re running in a bikini may work well for Pamela Anderson
when making an overly-dramatic nineties water rescue,
“IIIII’lll be reeeaddy. I’ll be ready!”
in the real world it’s not comfortable, not near as pretty, and is certainly not good for the ladies. Let those things flap around enough and you’ll end up with a pair that look far more like a common household fruit than a Pamela pair.
Yep, that one. Ladies, I think you know what I’m talking about …
Like I said … not pretty.
So, despite the inappropriateness of it (I mean, I’m already running around town in a bikini), I placed a firm right hand on the “ladies” to hold them in place while I ran, thinking the faster I run, the less they’ll see of me. Which didn’t seem to hold true. It seemed the faster I ran, the more attention I garnered, but it was too late. I was on a mission, and I was running out of time. I popped in a few shops and breathlessly asked where the nearest bookstore was. After getting a couple of conflicting reports, I decided to ask at the tourist train station. Surely the people that give TOURS of the bloody island are going to know exactly where the nearest bookstore is. I ran up and grabbed a tall bloke who was dressed like a conductor and spun him around by the arm.
Know that I will later, when Phillip and I are boarding the conch train, have to sheepishly avoid this man’s eye contact and pretend I’ve never seen him before. “No sir, you’ve never seen me before. I’m afraid we’ve never met. Now, Phillip, get on the darn train already! Let’s go!”
I pant out my question to him about the bookstore and, after a few silent seconds of him eyeing me up and down with a frown, he points me seven blocks and two streets over. Seven blocks?! Jesus!
But, I’m committed. I’ve already gone too far. By now it’s been about fifteen minutes. The Captain is probably already lathered up and singing showtunes in the shower by now, thinking I’m in the stall next to him, and I’m still bookless. I grab the ladies and start running. By about the fifth block, my shower shoes are letting out a horrendous squeal with every other step. I’m sweating like a fat farmer at the county fair and I’ve got a raw, red blister forming on the inside of my foot. Things are not looking good. But, I finally see it – the bookstore! There it is!
I fly in. Panting, sweating, pushing wet, matted hairs away from my face. The clerk who is ringing out some polite, well-clad fellow and clearly displeased with my sweaty, wild-eyed entrance, gives me one quick glare and then continues his tedious checkout process, taking his sweet time bidding the old man a farewell and discussing his upcoming reads.
I stand patiently in line, twitching and pulling at my bikini until it’s my turn. The clerk gives me a fervent stare before snarling at me, “Can I help you?” Ahh .. finally! Yes, yes! I hope you can.
“Yes. Tell me, have you heard of Ernest Hemingway? He’s kind of a famous author? Wrote A Farewell to Arms and some others? Would you happen to have any books by him?”
The man looked at me as if I had just pulled my eyelids inside out, stuck out my tongue and said “Dook wut I tan do!” Like I was seriously disabled, disoriented, or just downright disturbed. Completely unaware of my now tangible stupidity, I continued, “Hemingway? Ernest?” And, I’m trying to think of other books by Hemingway to help this poor teller understand the obviously obscure, around these parts anyway, author I am referring to. The poor clerk. Yeah, I know—NOW—the gravity of the situation. The poor Annie.
He looks at me dead-pan and blurts out flatly, “We have a whole Hemingway section.” He points behind me to a huge Hemingway display with the man’s name in big, block letters, pictures of him everywhere, and three whole racks of books by Hemingway, books about Hemingway, books even remotely mentioning Hemingway. How fortuitous! This random little book store in Key West, the place I ran to on an off-chance I would find a Hemingway book and they have a whole section on … Then—yes, only then—it starts dawning on me. Oh yeah, he lived here. This is Hemingway’s home … I remember my own shameful question,“Have you heard of Ernest Hemingway?” Ha! I now realize what a wildly entertaining scene I have made.
But, embarrassing myself is a daily occurrence in my world, and I really could care less what a blithering idiot I must have looked like when I started scouring the shelves and saw it. Right there in front of me. In Our Time … They had it. They actually had it. Hemingway’s first book! Now the whole sweaty, painful, embarrassing adventure was going to be worth it. They had it!
I bought the book, avoided the clerk’s pointed stare as I checked out, declined the 8×11 headshot of Hemingway that they give out free with any Hemingway purchase (although I’m wishing now I had kept it – but I did have a good bit of running left to do), and made my way out the door. I sprinted back to the showers, snuck into a stall and started washing up as fast as I could, texting Phillip and telling him the stalls were all booked when I came and that I’d had to wait to get in, but that “I’d be quick!” I hid the book in my shower bag and later wrapped it in paper towels from the bathroom to give to Phillip the next day. Like I said, the man loves experiences, stories, adventure, not pretty wrapping paper. I knew it wouldn’t matter to him. It’s one of the many things I love about the man. And, I had certainly earned a story to go along with it. I couldn’t wait to tell him, when he opened the gift the next day, all about my shower shoe adventure.