Everybody my age knows about Hemingway's story about measuring F. Scott Fitzgerald's penis in A Moveable Feast, but maybe it's a good way to introduce a younger generation to Big Papa's work. I've always wanted to write a poem about it, but nothing I ever came up with came close to matching Hemingway's account. The story is this. F. Scott Fitzgerald asked Hemingway to advise him about an important problem that had come up between Scott and Zelda. (So to speak.) So Scott and Papa go to Michaud's ("on the corner of the rue Jacob and the rue des Saints-Peres") for lunch and consultation. Fitzgerald swore Hemingway to tell "the absolute truth" when answering. Hemingway says, "He drank wine at the lunch but it did not affect him and he had not prepared for the lunch by drinking before it." (This doesn't have a lot to do with the story, but the sentence knocks me out; I think it's the "did not" and "had not" constructions.) Anyway, Zelda had told Scott his penis was too small. Here's the Hemingway:
"Finally when we were eating the cherry tart and had a last carafe of wine he said, 'You know I never slept with anyone except Zelda.'
'No, I didn't.'
'I thought I'd told you.'
'No. You told me a lot of things but not that.'
'That is what I want to ask you about.'
'Good. Go on.'
'Zelda said that the way I was built I could never make any woman happy and that was what upset her originally. [This conversation was held somewhat after what Hemingway describes as "what was then called her first nervous breakdown."] She said it was a matter of measurements. I have never felt the same since she said that and I have to know truly.'
'Come out to the office,' I said.
'Where is the office?'
'Le water," [the men's room] I said.
We came back into the room and sat down at the table.
'You're perfectly fine,' I said. 'You are O.K. There's nothing wrong with you. You look at yourself from above and you look foreshortened. Go over to the Louvre and look at the people in the statues and then go home and look at yourself in the mirror in profile.'
'Those statues may not be accurate.'
'They are pretty good. Most people would settle for them.'
'But why would she say it?'
'To put you out of business. That's the oldest way in the world of putting people out of business. Scott, you asked me to tell you the truth and I can tell you a lot more but this is the absolute truth and all you need. You could have gone to a doctor.'
'I didn't want to. I wanted you to tell me truly.'
'Now do you believe me?'
'I don't know,' he said.
'Come on over to the Louvre,' I said. 'It's just down the street and across the river.'
We went over to the Louvre and he looked at the statues but still he was doubtful about himself.
'It is not basically a question of the size in repose,' I said. 'It is the size that it becomes. It is also a question of angle.'
I explained to him about using a pillow and a few other things that might be useful for him to know.
'There is one girl,' he said, 'who has been very nice to me. But after what Zelda said--'
'Forget what Zelda said,' I told him. 'Zelda is crazy. There's nothing wrong with you. Just have confidence and do what the girl wants. Zelda just wants to destroy you.'
'You don't know anything about Zelda.'
'All right,' I said. 'Let it go at that. But you came to lunch to ask me a question and I've tried to give you an honest answer.'
But he was still doubtful.
'Should we go and see some pictures?' I asked. 'Have you ever seen anything in here except the Mona Lisa?'
'I'm not in the mood for looking at pictures,' he said. 'I promised to meet some people at the Ritz bar.'"
I love so many things about this. I love how throughout AMF Hemingway gives exact locations of the bars and cafes he frequents; I love how Scott hasn't drunk any whiskey to prepare himself for this manly lunch among manly men; I love how H. inspects Scott's, er, "junk" in the bathroom; and I really really love that they go to the Louvre to compare Scott's penis with the penises of sculptures and paintings. Can't you just see Hemingway with a laser pointer? And the "question of the angle" is a hoot. So why have I been unable to write a poem about this? Maybe from the point of view of old man Michaud, who has to take a leak and pushes open the door to the toilet, just as Hemingway is squatting down on his haunches to look at Scott's package in profile, saying, "Pull it a little, see if it does anything."