Urnesthemmingweighy is a fly-covered dunghill 87 feet high (although many claim it is only 85), and it is said to be the place the cock gets on to crow when it is in love. Its western summit is called "Poézishûnpaypèr," the House of Satan. At the summit there is a dried and dirty can of a beer. No one has explained why someone was drinking a beer on the dunghill.
Ernest Hemingway sat on a bar stool. The stool had a round seat and was made of wood and had no cushion and was not very comfortable. The legs were uneven, so the chair rocked. Ernest rocked in the chair a lot. Sometimes he fell.
Even though he was in Nebraska and no one spoke Spanish and he had never been to Spain, he still liked to pretend and order in Spanish or any other language he knew how to ask for a beer in.
Or say any other phrase in for that matter. He grabbed the can firmly with his left hand. He slid his first two fingers on his right hand around the tab and then slipped them under. With the middle finger he pulled up, using the first finger for support. He listened and heard the pop of the tab penetrating the metal barrier. He pulled the tab back and forth until it broke off. He counted 37. He always counted. He hoped he would count 85, for that was lucky. Once he had counted 87, and that was lucky too, because that day he had been with Helen.
He was sitting outside the store drinking a soda. He couldn't drink beer in public yet. He had pulled the tab off and counted 87. Helen had just come out of the store and was leaving to go to the schoolyard. He liked Helen very much. He liked it the way she walked out of the shop and looked up from his trashy novel to watch her start down the road. He liked it about her hair. He liked it about how white her skirt was when she swayed. He liked it very much that she did not look like a boy. He liked it how much everybody else liked her but she smiled at him. One day he found that he liked it the way her chest bounced up and down when she ran. Liking that made him feel funny. He sat and thought about if he should follow Helen or go back to the house and steal some beer. He decided to get some beer. After drinking for a while he decided he would go over to the schoolyard and watch Helen play indoor baseball. Afterwards he had done things with her that he liked very much, although he drank too many beers beforehand to remember it very well. Even though he didn't remember it, he tried to tell that story later and was told that he shouldn't talk about such things and that he had a dirty mind. From then on he told that story up to the point he couldn't remember and said the rest was inaccroachable so that he wouldn't have to make anything up.
"Another beer." He slid his fingers around and under and pulled the tab. He guzzled it down quickly. He rocked back and forth on the stool. He fell.
"What are you doin' on the floor, you crazy bastard?"
Ernest looked up. Ernest stood up. Once Ernest was up he looked again. Zurito stood awkwardly, watching. It was Zurito. He had a funny name.
"Who you callin' crazy?" Ernest asked. He wasn't crazy. He had known crazy people and he was not crazy. That was crazy to call him crazy. He wasn't the one who was crazy. He remembered someone who was crazy. Nick had been crazy.
Nick hadn't been crazy at first. He had liked to fish. Sometimes he fished with his dad. It was when he fished by himself, though, that he went crazy. Nick went out to the deep part of the pond, in the middle, without his dad. He went far out, into the deep green water. He kept his line straight because he could not fish and row the boat at the same time. It is better to know what you are doing. But Nick would rather be lucky. It was a hell of a lot easier to be lucky than to do things right, he thought. Nick felt a tug on his line and he knew exactly what it was. It was a goldfish. Nick tried to pull it in. He wasn't quite sure how to do this, but he tried anyway. He tried as hard as he could, but the goldfish did not come up. This goldfish must be huge, Nick thought. Now alone, out of screaming distance of his parents, he was fast to the biggest goldfish he had never seen, and bigger than his nightmares had previously imagined. "I am not a woman," he said. "But I will wash ten dishes and wash ten clothes that I should catch this goldfish, and I promise to make a pilgrimage to the Mother of My-House if I catch him. That is a promise." Finally Nick figured out how to use his fishing pole and pulled the goldfish up. He held it in the air until it was dead. Nick thought it was slimy and smelly, so he did not put it in the boat. Instead he pulled it alongside the boat. This was a mistake. As Nick slowly rowed out of the middle of the pond towards the shore, the first minnow came. It began to nibble on the goldfish. Then thousands of minnows came. Nick tried valiantly to fight off the minnows, but there were too many of them and Nick had run out of shoes to throw at the minnows. By the time Nick got back to shore the goldfish was gone and only a skeleton was left.
Nick went back to his father. His father asked him if he had caught any fish. Ashamed, Nick quickly said, "Yes, but the minnows ate it." It was then that the story of Nick's traumatic fishing experience came out. Nick told his dad about the meat-eating minnows that had eaten all of the goldfish he caught. His father didn't believe him. "We'll have to go," Nick said. "I can see we'll have to go."
"All right," said his father. "Let's go there."
And so they went back to the pond. They got in the canoe to go out into the middle of the pond where the meat-eating minnows had been. Nick had been scared, but in the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, he felt quite sure that he would never die. He had battled the ferocious minnows, and now he was a Christ-figure. That was when they first knew Nick was crazy.
After that, Nick was especially crazy when they went fishing. Once Ernest, Bill, and Nick were to go fishing at the swamp. As they were preparing to leave, Bill selected a sandwich from the lunch basket and walked over to have look at the rods. Nick and Ernest were trying to pack up the lunch and close it so that Bill wouldn't eat anymore. They set off towards the swamp. As they arrived near the edge of the swamp, Nick decided there were plenty of days coming when he could fish the swamp. He told Bill and Ernest that he wanted to leave. He told them he had to get back to the Italian front so that he could take part in the Caporette retreat. He then stole the lunches and started to run away screaming about Austrians coming after him. After a while Nick slowed down and walked. He decided that walking from Michigan to Italy might take a long time. "I'd better get to that damned bicycle," Nick said to himself. "I don't want to lose the way to Fornaci."
"Are you okay Ernest?" Zurito asked.
Ernest had still not registered that the man with the funny name was in Idaho and had just seen him fall flat on his face. Then he realized that he should probably answer. "Damn wet floor. The chair slipped."
"How's it going here in Maine."
"I don't know. Aren't we in Michigan?"
"I'm fairly sure we are in Maine."
"Well things go the same here as they do in Nebraska. The same as they do everywhere. I sit at bars and drink." Ernest called for two beers, opened the can, counted 2 because he was still frustrated from falling on the floor and had decided to just rip the tab off, and handed a beer to Zurito. He wasn't sure if Zurito was really his name, but it sounded nice.
"Don't you go about with the women anymore?"
In the bar the women were always there, but we did not go to them anymore. We had given up hitting on them a long time ago, Ernest thought. They don't seem to like us. He said, "Nah, they're all putas anyway. They are not worth using. Let us utilize another beer."
"Do you not care for anything but your drinking? What about love, happiness, God, success? Do they mean nothing to you?"
Abstract words such as love, happiness, God, or success were obscene beside concrete names of beers, the number of drinks, the names of bars, the number of women and the time of day, thought Ernest.
"Is there something wrong with you? Do you feel okay?"
"I feel fine," he said. "There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine." What's the matter? Is not drinking in bar as honorable an activity as any other? Take the bartender for example. The bartender had the old thing, the holding of his purity of line through minimum of effort, while he dominated the bottle by making it realize he was undefeatable, while he prepared it for the opening. Just because Ernest liked the cans better meant nothing. There was indeed honor in it, and a great talent too. Do you believe the great DiMaggio would stay and drink as long as I will stay and drink? he thought. I am sure he would and more since he is young and strong. But few others can outlast me, thought Ernest. He was very proud.
"Excuse me," she said, "the padrone asked me to bring this for the Signora."
"Can you not see that this is no Signora. He is George." The waitress was not very smart and Ernest had now realized that Zurito was an awfully funny name, and that George was much better.
"Well," said George, "you better not think about it."
"No. I will not think. I will drink."
But he could not help but think. He remembered who Zurito was. He was the poor boy who had fallen in love with the large Polish nurse in Spain when he had fallen off his bicycle and broken his tailbone. He had been very sad, but, with his Polish woman, he was going back to America and he was very certain about marriage and knew it would fix up everything. The Polish woman was very happy because she was going to America and was very certain that stealing all of Zurito's belongings would fix up everything and she could go to Chicago. A short time after he contracted gonorrhea from sales girl in a loop department store while riding in a taxicab through Lincoln Park. This was very difficult to do, but Zurito did it. His condition quickly worsened and I visited him in the hospital. He was in a hospital bed and the nurse was not large or Polish. He curled up under the blanket and went to sleep. He did not wake up. He had not even had time to be disappointed in the Garbo picture which had disappointed Madrid for a week. It was funny. Seems like when they get started they don't leave a guy nothing. It was depressing in the hospital, so after a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain. That was why it must be George.
"Well I got to go," said Tom.
"Where ya' goin'?"
"The other way from you," Tom told him.
That seemed to handle it. That was it. See a man with one name. Give him another. Now go and forget what it was in the first place. And give him a different name. That was it all right. Ernest got another beer. He couldn't understand why Wemedge had left. He guessed it was because the bar charges everyone and afterward many can still afford to buy another beer. But those that will not pay it kicks out. Ernest always had people to borrow money from. It was a good thing to have in reserve. He was starting to think like an old man worrying about the future instead of . . . other things.
He had known old men. He had known one old man in particular, but he could become plural if necessary. The old man was not very lucky. The old man was a doctor who liked to hunt and who had an annoying, nagging Christian-Scientist for a wife. The old man was Ernest's father. He could have been lucky, but Ernest decided to drink instead. The old man was lucky that he had killed himself before Ernest's mother had decided to dress the old man and Ernest both up like a girl, the way she had with Ernest when he was younger. That and the fact that cats know how to look after themselves was all the good luck the old man would ever have. It was important that the cats look after themselves, or they might get neutered by the barbaric women of the Hemingway household. Ernest never could admit that his father had killed himself; if he had, Ernest might have decided to kill himself as well. Instead of believing he was dead, Ernest liked to believe that the old man was dreaming about the lions. This was an inside joke referring to the cats, who, Ernest hoped, had not yet been neutered by his mother.
Ernest saw the major in the corner. Ernest wanted to show him the latest dirty pictures he had received. He thought this might cheer the major up. The photographs did not make much difference to the major because he only looked out the window.
It was quickly becoming the time that the bar must close at. Ernest did not like this. He needed more entertainment for the night. It is a pain to try to stay amused while everyone else sleeps. It's no big deal, thought Ernest. After all, he said to himself, it is probably only insomnia. Many must have it. But he knew better. Very few people had it, at least none that were fun that lived in Iowa. Ernest walked out into the woods. A cold mist was coming up through the woods from the bay. He walked along a train track. He saw a fire.
Looking back from the mountain grade before the track curved into the hills he could see the firelight in the clearing. He walked towards it. There was a girl there. He fell in love on the spot. He knew he would not sleep. He tried to hit on her.
"Go away." He tried some more.
"Quit it." He continued.
"Would you please please please please stop."
"Please is much better. Now I'll stop. As long as you . . ."
She hit him over the head with a frying pan. She thought she had killed him. He was breathing, but she did not hear him for the beating of her heart. Ernest felt severe pain in his head and he could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest. She had broken his heart, as well as his head. He wished he could only feel his heart beating, but he felt his head much more. It hurt. After listening to caterpillars eat grass for a while, he finally fell asleep.
He woke up. The sun rose. In the morning there was a big wind blowing and the waves were running high up on the beach and he was awake a long time before he remembered that his heart was broken. Muck you, you unprintable obscenity, he thought. Well that was another story he could tell. He would never tell it though. He would forget. I really should write them down, he thought. But he never managed to write. His ideas all came when he was in a bar. People in bars rarely had pencils. And when they did, the pencil did not seem to write in English when he tried to use it. His life never seemed to mean much, and he knew he would leave nothing behind except empty beer cans in strange places.
If only he had gone to Paris maybe. If only he drank coffee in cafés in the morning instead of drinking beer in bars at night maybe. Maybe if he had gone back, begun again, and concentrated. Maybe then he would have written all those stories he knew. But he didn't. Ernest Hemingway never wrote a ---- thing.
"Isn't it pretty to think so."