To my left is Tom, who has just lost his wife, suddenly, after a three year battle with cancer of the pancreas. I got a text while doing a chore at home involving dust, too many books, Pani Korbonska's burgundy leather bound Britannica 14 edition I saved from a trash can in the rain, making way for a new stove to come; he wanted to tell me in person. He is, as was she, a good friend to a barman. I shower, I'll be there in fifteen. Of course I will; my mind leaves my own problems behind.
I get there. Up the stairs, put my bike helmet in the corner, sit down next to Jim. Hey, how you doing, man? He's doing okay. Sure, I'll have a glass of Beaujolais. How you doing, man... Sitting immediately to my right is a couple, having wine and dinner at the bar. There are many open tables but they wanted to sit at the bar. Voices rise entrees are served. Laughter as she tries a bite of his liver. I watch my friend deal with them, conversing in an obligated way, more gracefully than I, calmly.
It turns out to be her birthday. I remember them from coming in a year ago, and they bring me up. He's sitting right next to you. It's my birthday, she explains. Oh, Hemingway's was just a few days ago. I'm a writer, she says. Oh, Tom is too, I say, not mentioning my own habits. Tom knows his literature. What do you write, I ask. Screenplays. You know, Hemingway wrote when he was drinking, and I do too, and I think it works. She laughs, holding her pack of cigarettes in her hand.
Tom checks in with the truth that no, in fact Hemingway did not drink while he wrote.
Only the truth is interesting, she says, as a writer.
Stick around, Tom says. She has gathered her Capris, and her man, a good looking guy, is shepherding her away from the bar and down the stairs.
I find out later she had spent a few hours that afternoon across the street at Dry Bar.
Hemingway was happy to point out at which point Faulkner had started drinking in his writings. Hungover or not, Hemingway got up at early light and wrote in his mornings, ideally, and when he quit, around noon, after six hours of craft, yes, then he would have a drink. There is only one reference I can think of, later in A Moveable Feast, where Hemingway has his story going well and so has a plate of oysters, seeing the muscle react as he squeezes lemon over the half shells, having a glass of Muscadet, as if to celebrate being in the moment back there up in Michigan.
Tom and I get back to talking about the Kenneth Rexroth poem, and about how he met his lady, and about some of what you go through between treatment and hospice.