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Hemingway in Cancun

I believe that if I ever got myself completely organized, I could write the bible or something close to it. In fact, let's take a moment to acknowledge all the administrative assistants who helped out on the bible before there were copiers, faxes, and even word processing programs. There oughta be a St. Administrative Assistant Day. Oh wait, I think there is.

Last night, I spent an hour looking for a short story I had started eight months ago. I went through all my folders and eventually found it stuffed into a folder behind some New Yorker articles I had cut out. I really do have a filing system. Honest.

In the midst of my searching, I found this little gem which I will share with you now. It's an anecdote from summer of 2000. I will only say that no, not all of my stories involve Russell Crowe on some level. The movie, Gladiator, had just come out that summer.

This is a story I like to tell when I'm asked about working in corporate America. Ladies, you might see it as an example of men being stupid. Fellas, you might see it as an example of girl being teases. Either way, it is what it is.

First, the set-up. I started work at a financial company at the beginning of summer. After working there three weeks, they sent me down to Cancun, Mexico to help out at the annual sales convention. It was nine days of a bit of sun, a bit of work, a bit of fun, and a few jerks. Before you write me off as a bourgeois corporate bimbette, a month before, I had been working in a dark airless pit of hell. A five star resort with beaches and pools was a bit of a change.

One night in Cancun, after having a nice dinner in one of the hotel's restaurants with some of the nice office ladies, I noticed the All-Star game was playing on the television in the hotel bar. I dragged the other ladies into the bar and settled in to watch the game. It was obviously in the ninth inning because Mariano Rivera was pitching. Still, I felt calm as if I was in a place that I understood. I had bar stools and a ball game. All I needed was a beer.

Next thing I knew, the head of the department was buying a round for the office ladies and myself, and I was drinking Corona. My boss sat two yards behind me as he held court with a bunch of young sales reps. Before flying down to Mexico, I had learned that his last assistant got drunk and fell into a glass table. The table was smashed, but she was okay even though she probably was smashed herself. This incident had been the scandal of the convention, so I knew I was being watched. I also knew that drinking a beer or two while watching baseball would not send me into a table or any other piece of furniture or a window or a swimming pool.

Into my world lumbered a guy who looked like a bad caricature of Ernest Hemingway with white hair and a white beard. He wore an annoying tropical shirt, and damn, he was tanked.

‘Do you want to do shots?' he slurred.

‘No. I'm drinking beer.' I said.

‘Can I sit down?' Hemingway asked. The bar stool next to me was unoccupied. One of the office ladies had gone to the bathroom.

‘No, my friend's sitting there.' I said, and Hemingway swayed but managed to stay on his feet.

At this point, I knew I had the upper hand. I was in control. I knew my boss and the head of my department and the office ladies and the bartender were all watching. I knew I could become not just the new girl, but the smart girl.

‘So wanna do shots?' he asked again.

‘No, as I said before, I'm drinkin beer.'

‘So what do you do?' he asked. This is where the fun begins.

‘Did you see that Gladiator movie?'


‘I kicked Russell Crowe's ass.'


‘Yeah. There's a scene in the movie where the Gladiator has to fight a woman in the Coliseum. I was the woman. Anyway, at first the Gladiator refuses to fight her because he is too honorable, but then when she starts to fight him, he has to defend himself. It was mostly hand-to-hand, not a lot of sword work. Three goddamn days under hot lights and sun. Crowe missed a jab at one point and got me right in the ribs. Ohhh, that hurt, but he was a nice guy about it. Kept saying how sorry he was. Next day, I got a nice bottle of wine.'

Okay, it was bullshit, but it was working. He bought it. He kept nodding and nodding. I sold him on it. Maybe I ought to get into acting. I can be really convincing when the audience is drunk. I spoke the whole thing so casually, so nonchalantly that of course, in his drunken state, it just had to be true. And his response was:

‘You must be an excellent kisser.'

The office ladies frowned and the bartender looked ready to deck him, but it takes more than drunken compliments to make me blush.

‘Yeah. I am, but you'll never know for sure.' I threw my right cross, but he still had a few breaths left.

‘So what are you doing here in Cancun?' he asked. He was running out of steam, falling back to clichés.

‘A group of us are down here to make a movie.' I said.

‘Ohhhh.' He said. He still believed me, but I was bored with the whole stunt girl charade.

‘See that guy over there.' I said as I pointed to the head of the department who was buying rounds for everyone.


‘He's a big time producer.'

‘He is not. I know him.'

Ah-hah! Hemingway thinks!

‘Yes, he is.' I said.

Then, Hemingway turned to one of the office ladies.

‘I know you too. How are you?' he said, but the office lady wanted nothing to do with him. She ignored him with every fiber of her will. I knew that he would keep pestering her because floating somewhere in his liquid brain was the notion that he was getting to her. And he was.

‘Hey. She's a friend of mine. Let her enjoy her drink in peace.' I said. I was defender of the weak and annoyed. Besides, you don't meet nice girls in hotel bars.

‘Sorry.' He mumbled and wandered off into the night.

The head of the department bought still another round, and I got another Corona. I knew I had exorcised the smashed glass table.

The office lady was unhappy. She thought the guy had embarrassed himself and the company. Well, he will definitely wear sunglasses in-doors tomorrow. Besides, I worked for the company too. If that's typical company garbage, bring it on. I didn't even have to stand up.

The next day, I was at the convention hospitality desk with the office boys, who were not there the night before, when who comes up but Hemingway and his girlfriend. Hemingway looked the worse for worst and looked even more worried when he saw me right in front of him.

‘So did you make it back okay?' I asked.

The girlfriend frowned. The office boys demanded details, and I told them the whole story.

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