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The Importance of Being Ernest

“Baby shoes for sale, Never Worn” 
“If a writer stops observing he is finished. Experience is communicated by small details intimately observed” - Ernest Hemingway.
Cops love T-shirts, especially black or blue ones that have a message. The words can be about them or how they think of themselves, or identifies them with their unit. Many times the tee is worn unseen. When off-duty most police officers like to keep their identity somewhat hidden since not everybody loves men and women who wear a badge. It can also be a problem if you run across somebody you’ve arrested or sent to prison.

Most criminals look for uniformed officers in black and white patrol cars with light bars. It’s all about context. The crooks may see you off-the-clock in public somewhere but not make the connection if you’re out of uniform. There were times I’d see a person I’d put cuffs on and see them staring at me, trying to place me. Since most of my arrests were made in “plain clothes” it wasn’t too hard for the errant lad to make me. As they would leave a café or wherever, they’d signal recognition with one prominent finger. It was then unmistakable they’d made me. Oh, well.

EMTs, Firefighters, and the many different denominations of police officers will buy anything, including jersey t-shirts as long as they have a Caduceus and six-point cross (for medical rescue), a cross of St. Florian (looks like a Maltese cross for the patron Saint of the fire service) badges or stars, or even references to St. Michael (patron Saint of the “coppers” since the days of “Constables on Patrol,” Bobbies, and any uniformed shillelagh (‘billy club’ night-stick) carrying beat COP.

After several successful arrests members of the task force revealed they had unit t-shirts. On the front was a badge with “tú fugitas, tú non abscondas” (Latin for ‘you can run, but you can’t hide.”) That was appropriate since we tracked fugitives. As they say we had “job security” since at the time in Bernalillo County alone there were about 30,000 + outstanding felony warrants. On the reverse was a quote, “... there is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.” Ernest Hemingway [1899-1961].

The FBI agent on the task force who designed the layout thought the quote was from the novel or short story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro. That sounded right since it took place in Africa and involved a big-game hunter.

Over the years it nagged me. Reading both versions I couldn’t find the quote. It dawned on my addled brain to search for it via Internet. (What did we do before?) In seconds there were thousands of references. The quote came from “On the Blue Water” a short story Hemingway wrote for Esquire magazine’s April 1936 edition. It was a tad curious since it was about two men talking about fishing, in particular ocean (blue water) fishing and fly-fishing. You should read it, like most of “Papa’s” works it was enticing, interesting and thought-provoking.

Yeah, yeah, I know the Pulitzer and Nobel prize winning, best-selling author is an acquired taste. If it’s been awhile give him a second look. His themes are universal and his dialogue is sharp.

The man was a mess. He was an alcoholic, likely bipolar, diagnosed as suffering “manic depression.” He committed suicide, had four wives and had received electroshock treatments. His father, two siblings and granddaughter Margaux also took their own lives. On the other hand, he’d received the Bronze Star (as a civilian) been shelled, had malaria and dysentery and survived several plane crashes and other accidents and was with the invasion forces on D-Day. He also survived other war zones in the Spanish Civil War, Italy and Turkey.

Here’s some quotes from him and his works to chew on.
- “I drink to make other people interesting.”
- The best rules for writing: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.”
- “Show readers everything, tell them nothing.”
- “There isn’t always an explanation for everything.”
- “There is nothing to writing. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
- “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
- “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
- “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”
- “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
- “Never confuse movement with action.”
- “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, s.. t detector.” [You’ve probably heard it called a “b.s. detector.” You can’t buy one on Amazon.]
- “We are stronger in the places that we’ve been broken.”

All other things aside, Hemingway is important and should be read. His keen attention to  “small details intimately observed,” of man and woman, relationships, hunting, fishing, safaris, war, peace, creativity are all well worth consideration in American literature. You know, they say that the creative mind teeters on the verge of madness.

Maybe we should make t-shirt about the importance of being Ernest. Here’s a quote from me, “You don’t have to be a snob to read or understand literature. It’s all good, if it’s true and from the heart.”

Travel well. Jeff C. Campbell