Dale And The Surreal
James told the most incredible stories. The most incredible things seemed to happen to him. A trip to
the grocery or pumping gas was woven into a fascinating story so dramatic that it seemed as if you just heard a pivotal point in cosmic existence.
He was interesting to have at gatherings. He stole the show with all his adventures and stories that seemed contrived if told by anyone else, but he told them with such conviction and honesty that no one ever challenged the veracity of his conclusions.
At James’ last gathering at my home were 10 friends, academics and artist. My brother Dale was visiting for the week. I gave him a chance to do something more intriguing to his tastes rather than listen to my intellectual friends babble. Dale was three years older than me. I admired him greatly, mainly because he was not me. He was a simple man of few words and even fewer emotions.
He told me he wouldn’t mind being around my friends for the evening and smiled that half smile of his and said, “I’ll stay out of the way, little dude. I won’t embarrass you.”
Erin Withers, a musician I had my eye on for some time, entertained us singing a few folk songs as she played guitar.
Erin and I held hands as Walton Beasley recited one of his poems.
The evening, though, was going to belong to James. His stories and delivery was infections.
James took a seat at in view of everyone. He flipped his long hair over his shoulders. He was like a musician tuning his instrument.
“Get this,” James said lighting up like a neon sign. “I was in Key West. I wanted to write something about Hemingway. I walked all over town looking for the old folks that might have known him. An old grizzled fisherman at a bar tells me to go this house just a few blocks from this bar.”
“I went there and knocked on the door. This old lady comes to the door. She’s really old. I talk to her for awhile. She says she vaguely remembers Hemingway, but I sense she’s not telling me everything. I mean why would the old guy at the bar tell me to come here anyway, unless he felt there was something there.”
“I told her I’m not interested in her, only Hemingway. After a while I developed a trust with her. She tells me she was Hemingway’s mistress.”
Everyone seemed to light up and lean forward for more details as James’ story appears to be intriguing and of literary importance.
James leaned forward in his chair. “She takes me on a tour her home. We go to the bathroom and shows me where Hemingway wrote some of the Old Man and The Sea, on the crapper.”
“I thank her for her time and before I leave she gives me the buckle from his portfolio. Can you imagine that, the buckle!”
Everyone is delighted. They can now tell friends that they knew the man that had the buckle of Hemingway’s portfolio, met his mistress, and seen where he wrote the Old Man and the Sea while easing nature.
“The story doesn’t end there,” James continued examining everyone’s attention. “Two years later I go to Ketchum, Idaho and find Hemingway’s home. Some relative lives there, a nephew. I knock on the door and he lets me in. We chat for a while and I tell him about the encounter in Key West with the mistress. I show the buckle and the guy says wait a minute. He leaves the room and comes back. He’s holding a brown leather portfolio. The buckle is missing! That verifies the old lady’s claim of being Hemingway‘s mistress.”
“I’m not done, yet,” James said smiling and knowing everyone was now into his world. “Suddenly the wind, which had been blowing quite hard, stopped, but the temperature in the room dropped drastically. When the wind stops the temperature goes up right?”
James paused as if to accept any challenge. None was forthcoming so he continued. “Here’s what I think and you can’t convince me otherwise; that portfolio and buckle were meant to be together as much as Hemingway and his mistress were meant to be together.”
“I left the buckle with Hemingway’s portfolio. I think we are here on this earth to put things together. I felt that at that very moment. It was surreal. It was as if I was there, but not there, but my purpose was more intrinsic than my being.”
Everyone relaxed. But a good story teller like James knows when he has his audience. He lets them settle, but not for to long.
“Now I'm going to tell you what is even more intriguing,” James said with a confident twinkle in his eye. “A year later I go back and I have to reintroduce myself; I explain the portfolio and the buckle. And here’s where it gets strange and really, really surreal. The nephew doesn’t remember me. He said it was an old lady who brought him the buckle.”
“Come to find out the family did not accept the mistress. Hemingway wanted to marry her, but the family disapproved and this was a signal for the family to finally accept the old mistress form Key West.”
James scooted to the edge of his chair and with all sincerity said, “And get this, I later found out she died while I was at the Hemingway home.”
James liked to confront doubters and was masterful in challenging his conclusions with their logic.
James looked hard at Dale. And I felt like telling James not to question Dale.
“You doubt that story don’t you?” James said looking at Dale.
“Did a horse kick you in the head?” Dale said. “The only time I had a surreal moment is when a horse kicked me in the head. Besides Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea in Cuba. Get your facts straight before you go hauling manure.”
James smiled condescendingly at Dale. A smile he thought would cast doubt on Dale’s simple remarks.
James quietly left while everyone else took turns with Dale as he told simple, honest, and brief stories about camping, hunting, living life as a cowboy, oil rigger, merchant marine, and Alaskan hunting guide.
And that’s how Dale met his wife, Erin.
At the moment it seemed surreal or in Dale’s terms like getting kicked in the head by a horse… but I recovered.