September 24, 1936
It’s my birthday today. Yes world, beware! I am 21 ! I feel as though I have so much independence. Mother gave me a new wardrobe. I think she’s just justifying my insatiable want for clothing. This should last me until the next new trend. I got an absolutely sensational dress; way off the shoulders and yards of skirt. I’ll have to save it to make Kenzie jealous at the next bash. (It’s only a matter of time until “her” Frank comes running to me!) Oh life is good! Daddy of course is trying to out do mother since their split. I still think it’s absolutely scandalous, but I do love all the attention. He gave me a yellow GM which is absolutely sensational! I took it into town and I was an absolute smash!
Mother of course picked out my date for tonight -- the nerve! She is really such a controlling woman. She asked Brad to escort me around town because she absolutely adores him. He’s so .... good! I hate that. He doesn’t dance in the fashionable way; only waltzes and such stuff. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, it’s enough to drive a girl crazy! Anyway, mother arranged for us to meet in Asheville since I insisted that if she wanted me to go along with this plot, I had to be able to drive (dump the boy somewhere rather). He said he’d meet me at the Radison. So I told him I would meet him at the Grove Park Inn (at least I can smoke there). Mother says cigarettes look terrible on young people like me. I think it makes me look like a brunette Gretta Garbo. So I continue to smoke.
About six I drove the car into town. Oh how I do love it! The Grove Park Inn is right in the middle of Asheville so it wasn’t too hard to find parking. I love the lounges in the Inn; they’re so modern. The whole room is decorated in cool colors and geometrical shapes. I love the blues. Sarah got a dress made in that same color to wear there. How utterly crazy! There are mirrors everywhere. They say it’s to make the room look larger. Personally, I think it’s so girls can primp without going to the powder room. She can keep a closer eye on her fellow that way. Protect him from those wanting to take over her territory.
The maitre d' showed me to a nice, very conspicuous table in the middle of the room. If one can see all, then all can see her. I ordered champagne, so as not to shock Brad when he came by drinking hard liquor. The room wasn’t that full yet, it was still early. Brad wasn’t due for a while yet, so I observed my fellow loungers. There was a woman of some indistinct class. Probably no one of consequence, but the airs people put on! Ordering those poor waiters around like that. In the far left corner there was a rather large man, a shady figure. Most people don’t make me nervous, but this one did. The fact alone that he made me nervous made me nervous, so I didn’t contemplate him too much. Sitting at the table next to me was a shabby figure of a man. He wore a simple brown suit. It was a bit rumpled but his collar was starched stiff, the tie was poorly knotted, and his right arm was in a massive cast. It bent at the elbow and made the entire arm point towards the ceiling. He was hunched over somewhat-- as much as the cast would allow. He was very shaky and couldn’t pour his own brandy without spilling it, poor chap. He looked as if he had just awakened. He was probably drinking the hangover off. After watching his ministrations for a minute or two, I stood up, walked over to his table and poured his drink for him. He stared at the glass, watching it fill, and then looked at me, so I sat down.
I’m not really sure what drew me to this man; maybe it was the gauntness of his eyes. There was a misery that seemed to leak from him. Not the type of person I’m usually attracted to, I assure you. But I suppose that even I have a sympathetic heart, as much as it pains me to say it.
He took up the glass and drank the brandy straight so I poured him another. This one he only took a sip from. He asked me who I was so I asked him his name. He said I could call him Scott. This of course, led to small talk of why we were here and what we did, ages and all that. I soon discovered that he was the author Fitzgerald! Imagine! The very man who inspired me to become debauched! What a fabulous birthday present! The very man who was in charge of the age of bath tub gin, wild parties and flappers! I was sitting next to the voice of the era I longed to be a part of. But of course I’m too young and missed it.
We went on chatting about the thin dribble of the day. It was his birthday too, so we talked about that, and inevitably my curiosity got the better of me.
“What happened?” I asked.
“To your arm.”
“Oh, well, I got shot after saving one of my friends from a stray bullet, Hemingway is his name.”
“What?” I said totally shocked that I hadn’t heard of it before.
“He- m-ing-way,” he said very slowly. “He’s a writer.” I just sat there and stared at him blankly. He rolled his eyes, probably deciding I was an idiot.
“Actually, I wasn’t shot. I broke the clavicle of my shoulder after trying to dive off a diving board. They put me in this lovely contraption they call helpful. A painful hindrance if you ask me.” He sighed and took a large swallow as I grimaced.
“I don’t understand” I said. “How does a great writer like you end up drinking bad brandy in a place like this? Why aren’t you out writing, or experiencing life or meeting women or something?”
“What? You, child, have a very vivid imagination.” I looked at him puzzled for a minute and he continued, “I am not the romantic you seem to think I am. The trouble is I am too much a moralist at heart, and really want to preach to people in some acceptable form, rather than entertain them.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My idol, the very voice of the bohemian age was telling me that he wrote to preach the evils of the flapper era! He didn’t really want to inspire! My God! The man must have been drunk.
“Surely you don’t really mean that.” I said.
“Don’t I? Look at me. What do you see? A wasted shell of a man. No, not a man, less that that. My life is falling apart in my hands. I’m drunk. I’m so slobbering drunk and wasted that I can’t even grieve over my mother’s death, I can’t fix my marriage, I can’t see my little girl grow up. I haven’t lived, I’ve wrecked. They used to say I was such a great writer. Well look at me now. All I did this summer was one short story and two articles for Esquire. This isn’t a life! This is a failure!”
I sat there. Shocked. I couldn’t believe what I was. He took my hand with his good left hand.
“Listen to me. If you learn anything from me and my stories, then learn this: Don’t waste your life like I did. Don’t become a drunk before you turn thirty. Don’t be in such a rush to grow up and find your fame. Just let it be. This life is all you have. If you waste it, it’s gone.”
He sat there his hand making my hand shake. He just stared at me as if it would somehow assure him that I really heard what he was saying. He finally let go of my hand and made a bad attempt at standing. The maitre d' came over and helped him up and out of the room. I just sat there. Speechless. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have anything to say.
Brad came and we went. It was, as promised, a boring and drab evening. But I couldn’t get Scott’s words out of my head. He had spoken with such force. He was so sincere. I still have to think this thing through. I just can’t believe that the man was all that he said he was. Oh the ironies in this world!