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One September afternoon in 1960 I was having a drink with an old newspaper friend, Ken Jonstone, when unexpectedly he told me he had a message to pass on from Ronnie Jacques, the well-known New York photographer. Jacques had been in Sun Valley taking some pictures of Hemingway, and they had got to talking about me. After a while, Hemingway, really opening up, had become warm and jovial. In the old days in Paris he used to box with me, he said. It had all been rather wonderful and amusing, Hemingway assured Ronnie, and there had been one ridiculous occasion when Scott Fitzgerald had acted as timekeeper, and everybody had been full of wine. Anyway, Hemingway sent his warmest regards. But what had really happened? Ken Jonstone wanted to know.
Shrugging, I made some light-hearted comment and didn't answer. Since I hadn't heard from Hemingway for years, I was surprised. I suppose it made me meditative. Of course it wasn't true that we had all been full of wine that afternoon in Paris in 1929; yet come to think of it, maybe Ernest, even years ago, had determinedly chosen to regard it in that light. He could have made himself believe it, too.
As I sat at the bar with my friend hearing how Ernest had recalled our Paris afternoons, I wondered why I wasn't more deeply touched. No man had meant more to me than Ernest. But in the years since those days he had gone far along another path. He had gone right out of my life. The Ernest I had known so well had been the author of A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and the early stories. Though I had gone on reading his books he had become a public figure, a man of legends, and I could hardly recognize in those legends the man I had once known who had all my affection. As for Fitzgerald, that charming and talented man, memories of him had always aroused in me a half-guilty regret, a twinge of shame.
So the second-hand greeting from Ernest only made me wonder and smile. It didn't put me in a sentimental mood. Anyway, I was now feeling confident and sure of myself. In the last ten years I had written The Loved and the Lost, The Many Coloured Coat, and was finishing A Passion in Rome. What Hemingway might have thought of any of these books, or whether he had even read one of them, had ceased to matter to me.
It was the following summer when a man from one of the wire services telephoned and told me that Hemingway was dead. I couldn't believe it. After a pause I said, "Don't worry, he'll turn up again." The newspaperman insisted that Hemingway had blown his head off with a shotgun. Walking out to my wife I said, "Hemingway is dead." "Oh, no," she said. "He can't be." Even though we hadn't really talked about him for years we assumed that he would always be secure in some place in some other country strutting around, or making a fool of himself, or writing something beautiful. Now it was like hearing that the Empire State Building had fallen down – a nine-day wonder; but at the time I was shocked rather than sorrowful and I went around saying, "If that was the way he wanted it ..." or, "If he knew he was sick and dete-riorating it would have been unbearable to him." No man could have sounded more objective than I. A month passed, I would be out walking with my wife and suddenly I would remember something Hemingway had said in the Paris days. Or something Fitzgerald had said about Hemingway. One night she said to me, "Do you know you're talking about Fitzgerald and Hemingway all the time now? Why is it?"
"Well, isn't it strange that only last year he should have been talking to Ronnie Jacques in Sun Valley about those times with Fitzgerald and me in Paris in the summer of '29." That night I couldn't sleep. Little scenes from our lives in the Quarter in Paris kept dancing in my mind. That Raspail and Montparnasse corner would light up brightly with the cafés crowded and the headwaiters shaking hands with the regular patrons. Or down at the Deux Magots I could see Fitzgerald coming to meet me with his elegant and distinguished air. And in the oak-paneled Falstaff, Jimmy behind the bar, and Hemingway coming in, looking lonely, then his face lighting up with his quick sweet smile when he saw us, friends he could feel free to sit down with. It was all too vivid in my mind.
Going to a desk drawer I hadn't opened for years I rummaged around through some old letters. And there was the one from Scott, written from Paris, date January 1, 1930. It began: "Dear Morley, I apologize unreservedly for having sent you that stupid and hasty telegram ..." and then the line, "I have never mentioned the matter to Perkins or Edmund Wilson ..." Perkins at that time was his editor at Scribner's and mine and Ernest's too. But Wilson seemed to be the one who was Scott's good conscience about writers and writing. How odd it was to come across this line in the old letter! A few years ago I had told Wilson some of the facts in this story ... And then Scott's concluding line: "I will gladly make amends to anyone concerned, or to you in person on my return in February."
Poor Scott, with all his talent and all his fine sensibility, forever managing to be the one who got himself into a bad light no matter how honorable his intentions. When he wrote that letter to me something had ended forever between him and Ernest.
Still rummaging through disordered papers I found the letters from Ernest. When I had read them I was full of profound regret. Looking back on it over so many years, Ernest, laughing jovially, had been able to see the thing in a happy perspective – happy for him. But how do I know? Being Ernest, he could have known from the beginning he hadn't needed Scott's close friendship and admiration. Even before the trouble I had seen him resisting Scott. As for me – why did I never get in touch with Ernest again? Nor he with me – not personally, anyway. He could say, "Well, I never heard from you, not even when I won the Nobel Prize." It was true. So I sat there for some hours brooding over those old letters, remembering how desperately important it had once been to me to get to Paris and enjoy the friendship of Scott and Ernest.CHAPTER 2
I have to tell how Paris came to have such importance as a place for me, and if possible, what I was like too in those days. It can only be done by telling where I was and what I was doing in 1923 when I was twenty and in my second year at college in Toronto. Five foot eight, with dark brown curly hair and blue eyes, I was not over-weight then. I was fast with my tongue and, under pressure, fast with my fists, but they tell me that I moved around rather lazily. At college I played football and boxed. For years I had played baseball in the city sandlot leagues. That summer in the holidays my cousin got me a job in a lumberyard "slugging" lumber with five husky immigrant laborers. We unloaded six-by-two scantling from box-cars. At the time, I was also reading wildly. I read Dostoevski, Joseph Conrad, Sinclair Lewis, Flaubert; The Dial, The Adelphi, and the old Smart Set, edited by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan; Katherine Mansfield, D.H. Lawrence – everything. Yet in the summer it was baseball that absorbed me. I was a pitcher. My brother, a catcher on the same team, was a singer, bent on studying opera. Our ball team, a very good one, one of the best in the city, had some rough tough players with a rich fine flow of language who were not concerned with my interest in Conrad and Dostoevski or my brother's beautiful voice – only in my curve ball and my brother's batting average. After I had been working two weeks in the lumberyard, my turn came to pitch a game. In the first inning I noticed that my arm was unusually light; coming around on the pitch it felt weightless, and yet I had no speed. "To hell with that lumberyard," I said.
A friend of my boyhood, Art Kent, had a job reporting on a morning paper. Sometimes at night, for the sake of his company, I had gone with him on his assignments. Reporting, I told myself, would be much easier on a pitching arm than slugging lumber, so I paid a visit to the Toronto Daily Star. The elderly gentleman at the reception desk, impressed by my earnestness, and believing I had a big story to report to the city editor, called a Mr. Harry Johnston. This stocky, plump, long-nosed man with hair graying at the temples and a deliberately alert manner, came out to the desk and said brusquely, "The city editor, Mr. Hindmarsh, is on his holidays. I'm Mr. Johnston. What is it, young fellow?" I told him I was from the university and was a very good reporter and wanted a job. The disgusted expression on his face as he looked at the old gentleman abashed me. "We're not hiring anybody. I'm busy," he said. But when he opened the city room door I followed. With a knowing air that must have carried a strong conviction I added urgently that a newspaper could always use a good reporter, wasn't that right? As he half turned I said, "Let me work around here for a week. If at the end of the week you think I'm no good, don't pay me anything. Let me go. What have you got to lose?" A flicker of interest in his eyes, he said, "I'll think about it. Come in tomorrow," and he got away from me.
At the same hour next day I was back at the reception desk, expecting to be led into the editor's office. Instead, Mr. Johnston, now in his shirt sleeves and with an impatient air, came again to the hall desk. He was sorry, but they weren't taking on any more summer replacements. This time I walked right into the city room with him. "Look here," I insisted. "What I said yesterday must have sounded good or you wouldn't have told me to come back. If it was good yesterday isn't it good today? I'll work for nothing for a week. If I'm any good, keep me on and when the city editor comes back you have in me another pretty good reporter. What do you lose if it doesn't cost you anything?"
My effrontery had seemed to attract him. Smiling a little, he asked, "What's your name?" and he wrote it down. "You won't be on the salary list but come in at seven in the morning," and he walked away abruptly.
I had never been in a newsroom. This one had a row of desks running the length of the room and a big round city desk at which there were four deskmen. At seven in the morning Mr. Johnston was one of them. He hardly spoke to me. I sat down nervously. In a little while one of the deskmen came hurrying to me with a small sheaf of clippings from the morning newspaper. "Scalp these obituaries," he said. For two hours I rewrote obituaries.
When the assignment book was made up and brought out from the city editor's office, I gathered around it with the other reporters, my heart jumping. My name was there. I was to cover a druggists' convention at the King Edward Hotel, just along the street. Hurrying over to the hotel I found hundreds of druggists assembling in the lobby. Out of this morning assembly, I thought, I had to get a witty story about druggists and drugstores. Back in the city room I wrote in long hand what I was sure was an elegant and amusing story and handed it to a young deskman named Jimmy Cowan, who began to read it. I watched him drop the first page in the basket. The second page only got a glance from him. There was no change of expression on his face. As my pages, one by one went into the basket, I waited for him to speak derisively to Mr. Johnston. Instead, he simply went on with his work. I was so worried I could hardly eat any lunch. My druggists were getting down to business in the convention hall right after lunch.
At the reporters' table I found myself sitting beside an older man from the morning paper. Without any shame I told him how green I was. I told him I didn't know what kind of story to write or what to do, or even what was expected of me. A few "sticks" were needed for the afternoon edition, he said, and a few more for the later one. He even told me the deadlines of my own paper. An hour later, after glancing at his watch, he wrote two little paragraphs of hard cold news and told me to get it over to my city desk and come back. I didn't even bother rewriting the paragraphs. Two hours later I was back in the office with three more paragraphs in the same hand. That day I learned something I never forgot. Wherever I have been in the world and have wanted to know something or get something done, I have gone to a newspaperman and confessed my utter ignorance, and have always been helped.
Whenever I think of Mr. Johnston now I think of those short legs of his in rapid motion. At the end of the week the legs moved rapidly in my direction, then stopped. "I've put you on the salary list at twenty a week," he said. I went to the telephone, called home and said quietly to my mother, "I got on the Star." "I knew you would, son," she said. So I went out and loafed along King Street, nursing my delight and vaguely aware that I might be coming to a turning point in my life.
In those days the Toronto Daily Star was as aggressive and raff-ish a newspaper as you could find in any North American city. Its newsroom was the kind of a place Napoleon must have had in mind when he spoke of a career open to talent and ambition. It had a promotion department that went in for baby elephants, bal-loons and Santa Claus funds. Star reporters moved on great disasters in far places like shock troops poured into a breach by an excited general. A reporter might get a quick salary increase or be fired promptly. Since I did not have a family to support, or a mort-gage to pay off, I loved this turbulent arena. In the freebooting society of our room each man was intent on looking after himself and I got two salary increases in a month.
One day on the street I had encountered an older man I had known in a YMCA when I had been in high school. He was a good earnest likeable man. How astounded I was to learn from him that he had become the secretary of the newly formed Communist party of Canada. We looked at each other and laughed. I called him a dirty Red; he called me a cheap hireling of the dirty capitalist press. Yet he said he might have stories for me if I didn't distort them. For example, W. Z. Foster, the leader of the American Communist party, was being smuggled into Canada that weekend to make a speech. Would I like to meet Foster, who was crashing the immigration barrier? Hurrying back to my Mr. Johnston, I electrified him, telling him Foster would be in Toronto and I would be led to him by an emissary who would meet me at a street corner on Saturday night at nine.
"Good, good," said Harry, his eyes shining. "Our Mr. Reade will be there. You take our Mr. Reade with you. It's a scoop, a great story." Our Mr. Reade, a man about twenty years older than I, a Rhodes scholar, wrote all the fancy special stories.
On Saturday night I appeared at the street meeting, and while listening to revolutionary speeches, I circled warily around the crowd. But of course I was such an unimportant figure on the paper that our Mr. Reade couldn't be expected to know me. I was supposed to know him. Everyone on the Star was expected to know Bobby Reade. Then a young Communist whom I had never seen before grabbed my arm. "You're Morley Callaghan, aren't you? Come on." And he took me to a store about a mile away along King Street and in the back room with his devotees was W. Z. Foster. I spent the whole evening with him. Afterward I went back to the city room, worked all night on the story, then went home.
My mother had left a note for me: Call Mr. Johnston, but by that time it was nearly dawn. I went to bed. At nine the phone rang and it was Harry Johnston. "Why didn't you meet Mr. Reade?" he shouted angrily. I said, "I was there. Why wasn't Mr. Reade there?" But he screamed, "Mr. Reade was there," and I said, "Why didn't Mr. Reade speak to me?" and he yelled, "Mr. Reade says he doesn't know you." And I yelled, "What makes Mr. Reade think I should know him? The story is in your box." "It is? Well, we'll see," he said threateningly. "A Star man doesn't have to be told things, Callaghan. If he can't pick up things in a week, a simple thing like knowing who our Mr. Reade is, we don't want him around." And he hung up. But when I went into the office on Monday he told me he had put me down for a five-dollar raise. Only then did he introduce me to the scholarly Mr. Reade.
I was getting along. In the mornings there was the hotel beat, and loafing from hotel to hotel, in the hope of encountering a vis-itor who might make a good interview, my thoughts were usually on writing. Visitors to the hotels might be strange characters I could use in stories. Why did I dislike so much contemporary writing? I would wonder. The popular writers of the day like(Continues…)
Excerpted from "That Summer in Paris"
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