Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Ernest Hemingway Museum in Hemingway's home town of Oak Park, Il, has no plans to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Papa's suicide, which will take place this July 2nd.
In years past, the museum has celebrated milestones such as Papa's 92nd birthday with a running of the bulls and his 100th with a Cuban-themed Fiesta del Hemingway. Those hoping for a suicide-themed party will be sorely disappointed. Startled, too -- a town that would convert itself into a child-friendly Pamplona by equipping marathon runners with paper mache bull heads could bowlderize anything.
Truth be told, I kind of hate Hemingway. It's not his fault: I went to high school in Oak Park and worked for many years in a bookstore a few blocks away from the museum --- Papa's been crammed down my throat since before I could drive. I've never liked his short sentences or his machismo. As it turns out, I'm not alone: the Tribune reports that Hemingway's dropping off syllabi left and right. While I'm glad teachers are more reluctant to valorize him, I'm sad today's soft children won't be forced to slog through The Old Man and the Sea as my hardscrabble generation once did.
Nor will they understand among the most surreal incidents I witnessed as a bookseller. Crazy George, an erratic customer of ours fond of misshapen sweatpants, came in one afternoon, all drool and goggly eyes.
"HEY," Crazy George yelled, approaching the counter. "DO YOU KNOW HOW HEMINGWAY KILLED HIMSELF?"
"Yes, George -- he shot himself," I said.
"HE SHOT HIMSELF IN THE HEAD WITH A SHOTGUN!" Crazy George yelled, then cackled madly all the way back out the door.
One thing I can say for Hem: he liked kitties (the photo above is one of many he took with cats). Oh, and he really knew how to write a love letter.