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Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1879

Story by Neville Cole

My latest project is The Underground Men, an informal band of literary brothers led by the original Underground Man, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The Underground Men are willing to serve just about any intent or purpose for a nominal fee

 

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

Here follows the first meeting between Dostoyevsky and Hemingway during which they discuss matters of the heart.

What is LOVE, Mr. Hemingway?

An uppish fellow named Hemingway came by my office today. I could not endure him. He was earnest enough but simply would not be humble. He was: “just up from the Keys and soon was bound for Cuba,” he said. He carried with him a typewriter with which he punctuated his sentences by clanking its keys in a disgusting way.  He was, he noted with smug glee, a writer of some artfulness and, much as I hate to add, displayed a rugged charm that many (I’m sure) find intoxicating.

I decided to probe him relentlessly OUT OF SPITE. For I sensed our interaction had turned and I was now on trial, not he. He paraded the room, clanking those damn keys (a ROYAL typewriter, no surprise) while I hunkered in the corner behind my desk, taunting myself with the spiteful and useless consolation that an intelligent man cannot become anything seriously, and it is only the fool who becomes anything. Yes, a man in this century must and morally ought to be pre-eminently a characterless creature; a man of character, an active man is pre-eminently a limited creature. That is my conviction of fifty years. I am fifty years old now, and you know fifty years is a whole lifetime; you know it is extreme old age. To live longer than fifty years is bad manners, is vulgar, immoral. Who does live beyond fifty? Answer that sincerely and honestly I will tell you who do: fools and worthless fellows. I tell all old men that to their face, all these venerable old men, all these silver-haired and reverend seniors! I tell the whole world that to its face! I have a right to say so, for I shall go on living to sixty myself. To seventy! To eighty! … Stay, let me take breath.

You imagine no doubt that I want to amuse you. You are mistaken in that, too. I am by no means such a mirthful person as you imagine, or as you may imagine; however, irritated by all this babble (and I feel that you are irritated) and so, begrudgingly, I return to my interview with Hemingway.

“You strike me, sir,” I interrupted him mid-clank, “as a somewhat mercurial, volatile, extreme even, someone who did and still does terrible things.”

“True.” He answered simply, without elaboration bar the raising of one glorious eyebrow. “Yet I have known and married several incredible women, not pushovers, independent, feisty, fearless and clever and each one tolerated my behavior, my wandering eye and my forever fondling hands. If I had been such a monster all the time, I don’t think any would have stuck around.

Hemingway and Jean

Hemingway and Jean

Such confidence! Such boasts! Yet, this was no veneer, gentleman. I cannot exaggerate the incredible depths of his charisma and he was, of course, jaw-droppingly handsome to boot.

“Sir,” I finally interjected. “This is all well and good, but The Agency, you understand, has certainly expectations. An Underground Man must have qualifications beyond peer.”

“Ask me your questions,” he said directly, finally setting aside his typewriter, “I tell no lies. Lies are for men who have never had to fight off their last breath. Lies are for those who will not stand before the charging bull. The man who has killed the lion knows the only truth there is. Only he will not lie.”

“Fine,” I grumbled. “I get the point. You are, it is clear, a man of words and letters. That is good. Our clients are more in love with words than money or looks. Why sir! They are more in love with words than life. But words… (I asked this ONLY to try and catch him up) Don’t you find words have their limit? What more can you offer a woman of means than words?”

“NO!” Hemingway bellowed like a bull elephant struck a heavy blow. He instantly pulled himself to his full height and began to pace the floor with heavy, crushing steps his eyes blood red and his fist pounding any piece of furniture that dared cross his circuitous path.

“Words are the only means,” he cried. “You see, a conversation with a woman is like moves of a chess game in which you must be careful not to stare and not to look away. If she’s angry, you can’t tell her to calm down or else she will scream louder; if she’s depressed, you can’t tell her to cheer up or else she will cry harder. If she’s anything besides angry or depressed, you’re not speaking with a woman. (In which case: congratulations.) And if you suggest a solution to whatever inconsequentiality has vexed her now—because you’re capable of logic—she’ll just go crazier, and then neglect to thank you when your brilliant fix works. Because she doesn’t want you to solve her problems; she wants you to validate her invalid emotions. She doesn’t want to hear your voice of reason; she wants to hear her voice complaining, and wants to make it the soundtrack of your life. To hell with women, anyway. If there’s one thing I hate it’s bullshit. And women exhale bullshit like men exhale carbon dioxide. I won’t put up with bullshit. When I’m with a woman I lay it out straight. Take off your pants, baby, I say. We’re all friends here. Let me tell you something: I was a perfect husband to my wives. Aside from cheating on them in quick succession. And, uh, slapping one. But like I like to say at the end of a first date: I didn’t want to kiss you goodbye — that’s the trouble — I want to kiss you good night — and there’s a lot of difference.”

“You have a highly original view of love,” I noted finally after he stopped pacing but then I held my tongue for I could see he was still talking but quietly now, almost reverently:

“I believe that in love that is true and real creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving or not loving well, which is the same thing. And when the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face like some rhino hunters I know or Belmonte, who is truly brave, it is because they love with sufficient passion to push death out of their minds. Until it returns, as it does to all men. And then you must make really good love again. Think about it.”

“Sir,” I said, when I could see that he had no more in him to spare. “Welcome to the Underground Men.”

You can follow more tales of the Underground Men at -iamasickman.wordpress.com