A Farewell to Contests

Here we go again. Imitation Hemingway time. Harry's Bar & American Grill is going to hold this travesty for the 11th go-round--supposedly selecting the best page of truly "bad" Hemingway submitted from around the world. Hah.

Last year, they only got 1,700 submissions, down from about 2,400. Declining interest undoubtedly represents a groundswell of reader support for moi . As you may know, I've used this space to point out how unfair and bogus the contest obviously is, since I have yet to win (I did finish second back in 1980), even though I submit the most clever and stylish parodies year after year.

Should you be tempted, you must mention Harry's "nicely" in your entry. The deadline is Feb. 15. Send it to Harry's at 2020 Avenue of the Stars, Century City 90067, or 500 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco 94102. Include your address and phone number. The top prize is a round-trip and dinner for two to Harry's in Florence, Italy, where the manly novelist often got soused and stuffed himself silly.

As I do each winter, I've been trying to analyze why they keep choosing inferior entries over my own perfect gems. This year, I think I'll hold back on the gags and obvious cliches (big fish, bullfights) and go with a contemporary, fully rounded--but still virile--story they can't resist.

Here's a rough draft:

"We must do something," the publicist said.

"I know."

"The team is 0 and 6."

"I'm the coach. I know."

"Attendance is a joke."

The coach punched the publicist and felt better. "I suppose the picture with the gorilla."

"Not if you don't want to," the publicist said.

They rode out together on the team bus. The bus was long and green and had tobacco stains on the floor and on the back of one of the seats someone had carved Ralph loves Bubba. The aging quarterback was with them. No one spoke. The team had lost 14 straight games over two seasons and now the coach was riding to the zoo to be photographed with a gorilla that communicated in sign language and liked to watch football on television. It was the kind of day a man could die and not feel good about it, the coach thought. He watched the aging quarterback caress the football and wished he had a good woman with him and then he felt a great emptiness inside and wished he had a meatball sandwich instead.

When they arrived, the gorilla was watching NFL highlights in his cage. The gorilla's trainer let them in. The gorilla grabbed the football from the aging quarterback. He stiff-armed the coach and flattened the photographer on an end run.

The trainer helped the coach to his feet. "Are you all right?"

"Who cares," the coach said. "Can he blitz?"

The gorilla passed his urine test and was signed in the supplemental draft. He had a higher IQ than The Boz and could bench-press 900 pounds. He played both ways in the next 10 games. He sacked opposing quarterbacks 243 times and scored 87 touchdowns. There were a lot of penalties and two fatalities but every game was a sellout. The gorilla was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and had drinks with Burt Reynolds at Harry's Bar. He signed to do underwear ads just after the team won the playoffs. The coach felt like a young man again. He felt like a young man back in Michigan when the spirals were tight and you could smell the autumn and it was a good smell and you could smell mildewed sweat socks, although that was not such a good smell.

At the Super Bowl victory celebration, the quarterback poured champagne over the gorilla's head. The gorilla strangled him on national television. The coach put his arm around the gorilla's shoulders.

"I love this big ape," he said. The gorilla's trainer translated in sign language.

The President called to invite the gorilla and his teammates to the White House.

"I wish I had you as my Secretary of Defense," the President said.

Everybody in the locker room laughed except the gorilla. He had heard stupid jokes, he thought, but this was a truly stupid joke.

Wait a minute! This is way too good for the Hemingway competition. I don't need them--this is blockbuster movie material! I'm not sending it to Harry's, I'm registering it with the Writers Guild!

We'll call it "Gorilla My Dreams." It'll need a villainous opposing team. We'll make the trainer a beautiful babe--Kathleen Turner. The gorilla's got a crush on her, see, but she falls for the quarterback. The gorilla grows increasingly jealous, becoming crazed on the eve of the Super Bowl. The QB gets hurt just before the last play of the Big Game--down by 5 points. It's up to the gorilla to Win It All!

I see Gene Hackman as the coach, or maybe Carl Weathers. Austin Pendleton as the publicist. Harrison Ford as the QB. OK, we can go younger. Tom Cruise, with Demi Moore as the trainer. And for the gorilla, Sylvester Stallone.

No, scratch that. He'd have to learn sign language. We'll get Schwarzenegger.

And if the management's really nice, we might take a coupla meetings at Harry's.

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