Wanted: One Really Good Page of Really Bad Hemingway

The 13th International Imitation Hemingway Competition is history.

The judging was held, as usual, in Harry's Bar, in Century City, and was followed by the usual Italian-American feast.

The problem this year, I think, was that the quality of the entries was poor and the judges were too contentious. There were seven judges of varied literary credentials, including Ray Bradbury, George Plimpton, Bernice Kert (author of "The Hemingway Women"), Barnaby Conrad, Digby Diehl, Dean Faulkner Wells--a newcomer, publisher of the Yoknapatawpha Press and a niece of William Faulkner--and myself.

As you can see, that is a group not likely to agree on anything, much less a mess of bad imitation Hemingway. The rules specify that contestants must submit "one really good page of really bad Hemingway." With those guidelines, what could one expect? Mostly the entries were really bad Hemingway indeed.

A panel of college professors had reduced the thousands of entries to 10, from which we were to select the winner.

By the time we finished reading them we were of seven different minds. Bradbury found only one he could vote for. Everyone else picked another. No one entry had two votes.

I picked a nostalgic piece about the Jeep. It read, in part, "It was more than a vehicle. It was a symbol. As he gazed on it his soul filled with fahrvergnugen . This truly was America, from the days when cars were steel and hoods were square and men were men and women wore earrings and music was swell and Mitsubishis were only found in Hawaii in December. . . . "

Plimpton gave it a B-minus, but nobody else even graded it. Plimpton voted for one about a urinal. I did not think a urinal a suitable subject even for bad Hemingway.

The other entries were heavily involved with testicles and heavy drinking. Bradbury chose one about Nick Adams and Ernest (Hemingway?) in which Nick is trying to explain his dysfunction (all the men are dysfunctional). Ernest is more interested in "the poetry of hunting." Bradbury dismissed all the others as rubbish.

I agreed with him on that. Plimpton's favorite line was, "He stepped close and jammed his clenched fist downward on the rusted urinal handle as if he were jamming the beak of a muleta into the damp muzzle of a bull."

In another a man and woman are contemplating the castration of a collie. It wasn't popular. One that combined hard drinking with a touch of Hemingway style was, "I was very hungry and the meal was good and I drank a bottle of Capri and a bottle of St. Estephe and a bottle of Chianti and a bottle of grappa. Afterwards I felt splendid and I could see the cold little stream floating by the inn with the hard pebbles at the bottom. Some of the pebbles were round and some were not so round but they were all good, hard, tangible little pebbles."

One was concerned with the castrating of bulls and the eating of their testicles. "He gnu the tough, brave and gamy gristle of fine wild bull testicle."

Finally Diehl seized control and whipped us into a consensus. At first no one was agreed. Finally Bradbury gave up, sadly, and so did I. The two women were for one about a man who was trying to die like a man. I thought it was sexist. The man said, "A man should not talk of death with a woman. They know nothing about it. Only men know death." He also said, "Women remember too much. They hunger for memory like lions for zebra blood."

Maybe it was this paragraph they liked: "My third wife who I loved with the love that was hard and fast until the bad thing happened that caused the terrible wound and I could only feel pity for her when she faced the firing squad and refused the blindfold and waited for the bullets and still did not know death the way a man knows death when he stands before a mirror nailed down to a flame tree on the green hills of Africa and holds the cold steel of the razor to the soft flesh of his throat lathered white as the snow on Kilimanjaro. . . . "

The two women judges began shouting "255! 255!" (That was the number of the entry.) Several other women gathered about the room (they had also read the entries) began shouting "255! 255!" We men were outshouted. 255 won by default.

The winner was Owen McKevitt of New York City. His hero falls face down and dies with his face in a bowl of Spanish peanuts. It ends in a burst of Hemingwayesque prose: "The women laughed and clapped . . . and talked of Paris and the men they left behind the day the Germans marched down the Champs Elysees in the boots that were shining and black. . . . "

Diehl read the winning entry at dinner. It got lots of laughs. Digby could make the Lord's Prayer funny.

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