So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Las Vegas Has Elvis Because Key West Picked First

There' nothing like going on a week's vacation...arrive in town to find two hundred portly, middle-aged-to-elderly men who all have worked very hard over the years to look like Ernest Hemingway in his later years. Each years' winner becomes local royalty. For them, it's a good thing; all they have to do is come back each year to this overpriced spit of land out in the Atlantic and judge future contests. No more political campaign-like madness for them, thank you very much.

And it does feel much like a political campaign, when you look at it from the surface. I saw screen-printed t-shirts, fans, placards; heard chants of individual supporters - usually family and close friends - more money raised and thrown about (in the general direction of the Key West High School scholarship fund) over the course of three days. Sloppy Joe's, the KW bar where 'Papa' Hemingway was reported to have written some of his greatest works, appears to be the center of the universe; Capt. Tony's, just up the block heading west, probably handles the overflow handily.

So, what would 'Papa' do?

I had the chance to talk to the preeminent, the primary, and the persistent. On Saturday morning just before a ritual "running of the bulls" finalist parade, a kindly gentleman, one of the more recent 'Papas,' took the measure of my question. He thought for a few seconds, and replied, 'I'm not certain that "Papa" would understand it.' The family member of a first-timer, fervently (and drunkenly) cheering for his Italian-accented, stumbling moment in the spotlight during the second round of 'Papa' wannabes, told me she did not think Hemingway would understand it, either.

They may be right. A man like Hemingway, who wrote much on the dignity of the individual identity...the aloneness of the man on a mission (or fool's errand), would have been confused by the number of men over the past 27 years who have tried to physically emulate him...many of them on their 20th attempt at last count; the organizers provide pins counting the number of years each participant has show up to pony up his U. S. Grant...and then some. The closest one was a local. The farthest one came from Australia.

And it's the elderly, portly 'Papa' they emulate; a young man was prohibited from competing in years past as the young Hemingway, complete with World War I-era Red Cross ambulance driver uniform.

I guess it means something. We - and by we, I mean our society - look at the decadent, white jump-suited, paunchy Elvis; to the paunchy, hard-drinking, hoary and hirsute Hemingway, as our ideal men. Perhaps this has much to do with the lives of leisure they led prior to their tragic departure from this mortal coil. Problem is, we forget how much labor and effort, the ball-busting, blood, sweat, toil and tears they shed in the development of their craft. A Hemingway short story, such as A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, or Death In The Afternoon takes much longer to write than it takes to read. It's the work, and the life experience that seeps into each word, each page, that takes so much longer. All that labor and expense paid dividend in the end, allowing both their aimless, chemical-induced life.

I have more respect for 'Papa' than for Elvis, though. At least he was still able to walk from Sloppy Joe's to his house, with a potty stop at the kapok tree on the way. Hemingway could be content with buying a drink. Elvis had to buy his friends.

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