Living alone has its perks.
Not very many mind you, but there’s something to be said for being able to eat whatever you want – whenever you want – and being able to watch whatever mindless dribble you can find on the television without having to apologize for it.
For me, that meant settling in on Christmas Day and watching a marathon of old episodes of vintage game shows from the 1970s and 1980s including “The Match Game,” “Hollywood Squares,” and “Classic Concentration.”
But after watching five or six consecutive hours and eating my weight in homemade chili, my mind began to wander as I wondered to myself who I might invite over for dinner if my options were endless.
I briefly considered inviting game show regulars Richard Dawson, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Betty White over for a snack, but I eventually settled on the idea of bringing together some of my favorite authors instead.
You see, I have a dream of retiring one day to the wilds of western Maine to write the next great American novel and it would surely be beneficial if I could pick up some pointers from some guys who have actually done that sort of thing.
At the top of my list would be Walt Whitman (1819-1892).
I don’t fancy myself to be much of a poet, but Whitman’s commentary about the civil war is haunting and I’d love to hear it in his own voice.
Whitman has an Ohio connection, too.
His 1865 poem, Come Up From the Fields Father, centers around a family living on a farm in Ohio who receives a letter informing them that their son has been killed in the war.
As one of Whitman’s most frequently anthologized poems, it was most likely written after the death of Oscar Cunningham, a soldier from Delaware, Ohio, who Whitman had cared for while working in a Washington, D.C. hospital during the Civil War.
The poem is simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking and would serve as perfect pre-dinner entertainment.
Because every dinner party needs some drama, I would also invite Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain (1835-1910).Imagine the stories Twain could tell.
From what I’ve read, Whitman didn’t particularly care for Twain. Practically penniless, Whitman reportedly despised Twain’s commercial and financial success. Ironically, it was Twain who donated $50 to help cover Whitman’s medical bills late in his life.
Mississippi author William Faulkner (1897-1962) was known for his rich writing style that showcased his stream-of-consciousness narrative and insanely-complex sentence structure.
Faulkner once said “to understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.” Having recently spent a chunk of my life there, I couldn’t agree more, and it would be fun to compare stories about the Deep South with Mr. Faulkner.
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) would be my guest of honor. I’ve always been fascinated at his uncanny knack of telling a story with simple words and short sentences, although Faulkner would not be impressed.
In fact, Faulkner and Hemingway didn’t care for one another so that might take some of the pressure off of Whitman and Twain to play nice with one another. Just for kicks, maybe I’d also invite F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), who had his own beef with Hemingway and Faulkner and reportedly didn’t care much for Whitman or Twain either.
To keep things interesting, I’d also let Hemingway serve as our bartender. His mint mojitos were legendary and would probably liven up the rest of the literary stiffs.
If that doesn’t do the trick, perhaps inviting poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), would help matters.
Ginsberg helped define the beat generation and after reading his autobiography recently, I think this country would be well served by having somebody like Ginsberg lurking around Washington.
To even things out with all the weirdos, drunks, and quirky personalities, I’d also invite Cormac McCarthy (1933-), whom I am convinced is the greatest American author of our generation.
With masterpieces like The Road, No Country For Old Men, and All the Pretty Horses already under his belt, I think McCarthy would get a kick out of hanging out with Ernest, Walt, and the gang as much as I would.
And perhaps more importantly, he could help cook. McCarthy is from Santa Fe and surely he knows his way around the charcoal grill.
If not, we’re ordering pizza.
I hear Hemingway likes pepperoni.
David Gustafson is the not-so-mild-mannered editor of the Chagrin Valley Times, Solon Times, and Geauga Times-Courier. Tucked away in his modest home library are a number of autographed books – including his most-recent purchase, a 1976 signed copy of Mary Hemingway’s autobiography about her life and tumultuous marriage to Ernest Hemingway.