First published by Tin House.
The three-years-running champion of the Hemingway look-alike contest moves like a broken-nosed boxer, big and graceful in his size-thirteen penny-loafers. He’s 45-years older than I am, but we have a lot in common. We both drink like someday our livers are going to forgive us. We tell bad jokes punctuated by hitting each other hard on the arm.
The Hemingway festival, in Key West, is a week-long tribute to the father of American short prose where 154 old, white-haired men contend for the title of most Hemingway-looking look-alike. There is also an arm wrestling contest, and a fishing contest, and the winner receives one year’s worth of free drinks from Sloppy Joe’s Bar. It is not a literary event.
The three-years-running champion of the Hemingway look-alike contest is named Charlie, but he asks me to call him Papa. He wears a red letterman’s jacket, and I tell him he looks like Saint Nick. He laughs, rubs his belly, and hooks his index finger on the bone of my jaw, pulling my face close to his and saying, “You gonna let me go down your chimney, little girl?”
I do not call him Papa.
The three-years-running champion of the Hemingway look-alike contest has a boat named Pilar docked off the coast. This is where he sleeps during the festival. This is where I sleep during the festival. In the evenings, before the competitive drinking begins, we stop by the boat for a siesta, where I dream – in short sentences – of narrow-hipped matadors and very brave bulls and warm nights in Spain. I would rather be in Pamplona, in July, for The Running of the Bulls, but I am in Florida, which is as far as I can hitchhike.
Later, when I wake up next to my friend and I feel the rolling of the Gulf of Mexico through my entire body – I, unfortunately, remember that I have never liked anyone I have ever woken up next to. And with the taste of a 64-year-old man’s semen still in my mouth, I walk to the edge of the boat, overcome by terse heroism and a bad hangover, I vomit into the sea. And I give it everything I fucking have.