By Terry Berkson
After a visit with relatives in central Florida, my wife, Alice, and I headed all the way down to Key West to see one of those famous sunsets. The last 100 miles on the causeway were like flying low in a turquoise sky. We arrived in the late afternoon, paid through the nose for a room and headed over to Mallory Square to watch the sun go down. There was quite a crowd standing there with drinks in their hands, all facing west, like cows to the wind as a live band played Dixieland Jazz. The sun was just touching the water, giving the impression that it was melting into the gulf, and as it did, the water around it turned red as though some giant crimson ink spot was bleeding into the sea.
I was impressed, but just as the sun was at the peak of its ebb, a tugboat hauled a huge barge across the horizon and blocked the view for everyone on the pier.
All cried “Boo!” as the band played on.
I think that tugboat captain had quite a sense of humor. He knew just what he was doing when he dragged his curtain across the stage and probably laughed all the way to wherever he was going. An even more insidious suspicion of mine is that the Key West Chamber of Commerce pays the guy to block out sunsets so that people will come back to Key West again to try and witness the entire spectacle.
Later, we headed over to Sloppy Joe’s and had grouper and chips for dinner.
Hemingway was supposed to have frequented this place where actress Marlene Dietrich had sat on a bar stool and drank with him, but I read that the original Sloppy Joe’s was a much smaller place situated around the corner.
Also, I was surprised not to see any extreme boozing, boxing or arm wrestling going on. In spite of the lack of those macho activities, Alice thought that the place was noisy and wasn’t impressed with the connection to the great writer.
In the morning, I woke up early to the crow of several roosters nearby. My wife chose to snooze instead of making a pilgrimage to the house where Hemingway lived for about ten years before moving to Cuba.
It was a short walk to Whitehead Street, where his impressive estate is located. After paying the price of admission, I passed through the house, went upstairs and crossed the catwalk to Hem’s study where the typewriter that he wrote on was displayed. Knowing the mess that I make when trying to get something published, I thought to myself how neat the room was, but from what I’ve read in Carlos Baker’s biography, I think Hemingway was a slob like me and must have had books, piles of paper, notes and reminders tacked up all over the place.
Later, I was out in the garden looking at Papa’s animal cemetery when this little guy in a trench coat with a pencil mustache slipped out from behind a tree, looked both ways and said, “Hey buddy you want to buy a Hemingway chicken?”
I happen to raise chickens.