Under the Black Flag

Boozing With Papa

Fifty-four years ago this month, dizzy with happiness at having been freed from the jail that was boarding school, I ventured down New York’s 5th Avenue looking for fun and adventure.  I knew a place called El Borracho, Spanish for “the drunkard,” where my parents used to dine.  The owner was an agreeable Catalan who had decorated the walls with paper smudged with lipstick.  Whenever he’d spot a client who was beautiful, he’d ask her to leave an imprint of her lips on a square piece of paper, which would end up on his walls.  This had caught on, and the women—everyone wore red lipstick back then—whose lips adorned his walls were among his best customers.

Now I remember the day as if it were yesterday, in fact much better, as at my advanced age I sometimes do not remember yesterdays.  It was three in the afternoon, I was tired from walking up and down 5th, and I decided to hit El Borracho, hoping the barman would remember me.  I had very little money, but when one’s 18, things like that hardly register.  The place was just off Madison Avenue in the mid-50’s.  I walked into the dark, cool room and plunked myself down at the bar trying to act bored and sophisticated.  That’s when I noticed the man three stools down.  My heart skipped a beat, then another and another.  It was the greatest man in the world, Ernest Hemingway himself.  He was...

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