Satire: I Went Back In Time To Make Hemingway Do A Modern Thing He Probably Wouldn’t Normally Do
I remember it like it was yesterday. The Germans wore gray, I wore a funny little propeller hat. As I blinked the Dramamine from my eyes, I realized I had finally arrived in the year 1928. My plan to kidnap Ernest Hemingway in his prime and bring him to my time period to help me write a hilarious (yet poignant) satire article was already going much better than expected.
But let me back up for a moment. Because this classic, human tale actually begins in the future — the year 2022, to be exact.
It was September. I had just broken up with Cassandra. It wasn’t working out. She was always challenging my beliefs and pushing me to be the best version of myself. Red flag. The breaking point was when she confessed that she took any information I shared about almond milk “with a grain of salt.” Some burnt bridges simply cannot be repaired. Things fall apart. The center does not hold.
I decided to let her down easy. She had invited me to a small café with a text that said “We need to taalk.” I figured I’d break it off there — in public — after pointing out the typo in her text.
We sat at a corner table where the staff wouldn’t be able to see the huge bag of baby carrots I snuck in.
“Look, you’re a nice enough guy, but — ,” Cassandra said. But I didn’t want to prolong her agony any further: “It’s over!” I said, baby carrots spewing from my mouth.
When my eyes finished watering from an intense allergy flareup, I hazarded a look at Cassandra. The poor dear issued a heartbroken sigh of extreme relief. I watched with pity as she stood up for a moment to solemnly click her heels together and then sit back down.
“This is for the best,” she said in a tearless sob, bravely managing to stifle the sadness beneath the largest smile I’d ever seen. “See ya around!”
My heart bled for the grief she was experiencing at the loss of me. But as I watched her boogie toward the door, she turned and said something that prickled my ears: “I really do wish you the best and hope you find something worth changing for.”
With that, and another mournful click of her heels, she was gone. But her parting words hadn’t left with her — those buzzed on in the tinkle of the café door bells. Who did Cassandra think she was, stealing the last words for herself? Did she think me some slob who couldn’t change if he wanted to?
I chewed my baby carrots meditatively, barely registering that I had finished the baby carrots and was actually biting my fingers. My mind was elsewhere — devising a scheme. Yes, the gears of my brain began churning for a single, solitary purpose: To make Cassandra rue the day she let me — the full package — slip through her carrot fingers.
Then, it hit me — the perfect scheme. Cassandra was an oddity in that she liked to laugh and she liked to read. It was one of the things we argued about. She was always laughing and reading and I preferred to play my lute.
So, to win back the upper hand in this breakup, I devised a plan to produce a hilarious satire article about Ernest Hemingway doing something amusingly modern. It was a particular genre of humor that she was hopelessly drawn to. Yes, this was a surefire way for me to “break the internet” and also remind Cassandra of one of my most endearing qualities: a need to be admired by hundreds of strangers.
By the time I got home from having my fingers bandaged, I had determined the two main problems with my elaborate plan: 1) I had smashed my computer after an almond milk ad appeared before a video I wanted to watch (hippo pooping). And 2) I had never read any Hemingway and had no idea how to write a tremendously entertaining article about him that would send the academic community into a fit of absolute head-nodding and smirks.
So, I threw on the nearest cardigan and set out to do something I swore I’d never to do: visit the nearest library. It didn’t go well. I was asked to leave after using their computer to try to watch a perfectly innocent video (hippo pooping). So, I packed up my dignity and headed to the second nearest library. There, I checked out every Hemingway book that I could find, even his older stuff that nobody likes. I tried reading them, which made my stomach hurt. Who could enjoy this? So many words and yet not one picture, not even when he was going on and on about bulls and hills.
I began to lose hope in my plan. Then, like manna in the desert, I had a revelation: Why write this myself when I could go right to the source? That’s right: time travel. I resolved to go back and bring Ernie into the present day to do funny modern stuff and have him write about it in that oh-so-special way he apparently writes. It was the perfect plan for my plan.
All I needed now was some kind of time machine to take me back to the 1700s or whenever Hemingway was “doing his thing.” I returned to the library and was ejected for trying to watch another harmless video (two hippos pooping). So I went to the only other place where one should go when seeking an escort to the past: a downtown McDonald’s.
I arrived in a sweat and after about five crispy McChickens, I began to look around the restaurant for a lead. In the corner by the bathrooms, I spotted him. A small man with a laminated sign that said, “Time Travel/Character Drawings.” I slid into the booth and got right down to business: “Draw me surfing and with big muscles,” I said. The man shook his head. “I don’t do that anymore,” he said. “These days, I only draw the truth.”
“And what is truth?” I retorted.
“This is truth,” the man said, and held up a very swollen hand. “My naked mole rat bit me last week when I tried to put a little sweater on him for a holiday card.”
He didn’t say what holiday it was for. It was currently September. Labor Day, maybe, was my guess, but he wouldn’t confirm it.
After I explained my “Hemingway situation,” he said he’d be willing to take me back to Hemingway times on one condition: $4 million dollars. Deal. I figured that’d be a fraction of the sums I would make once my funny satire article went viral on English professor Facebook groups. We shook on it. He made me shake his infected hand to make sure I was serious. Then he told me to call him “Tabby Cat” and led me to the dumpster where his machine was.
I tried to tell Tabby about Cassandra but he said he wasn’t interested and that it was better if we didn’t get to know each other too well in case things went south and he was forced to eat me. Fair enough, I thought.
The machine looked like a slightly enlarged Oreck vacuum cleaner from the 1980s. Tabby unzipped the dirt bag and said, “Get in.” I got in.
I blinked hard and examined my surroundings. They were tight quarters, and several unfinished paintings of Tabby’s infected hand were strewn about. Tabby saw me looking at them and gathered them up embarrassedly and tossed them in a closet. “Never mind those,” he said. “They’re very good,” I said. He blushed and went over to a computer control panel.
“What year?” he asked, all business now. I hesitated. What year was it, exactly? “Let’s see, Parasite won Best Picture in 2019, so that makes today…”
“No, what year do you want to TRAVEL to,” Tabby said. “Phew,” I said. “Let’s go with 1928.”
Tabby typed that in the computer and told me to strap myself in. He also told me to stop taking off my pants, because that wasn’t required for time travel. We argued for a bit, but ultimately my pants stayed on and off we went.
Time travel, it turns out, is kind of boring. There is no loud flash or blinding strobe light. It’s just a mild rumbling and Tabby going on and on about the time he got yelled at for shaking the Pope’s hand with Dorito-stained fingers.
I drifted off to sleep. When Tabby woke me, it was 1928.
I found Hemingway pretty easily. Suspiciously easily, really. Almost like someone wanted me to hurry up and get to the point. He was sitting in a café, annoying the waiters. Tabby helped me knock him out and carry him to the vacuum. The waiters all looked relieved. We left a generous tip.
At first I felt a little guilty about the kidnapping, but then I looked at his notes and realized we’d arrived at just the right time: Hemingway was in the middle of writing a final farewell to his arms. “Tabby, we just saved the greatest writer of the 20th century’s arms,” I said. Tabby tried to respond but he’d gotten some peanut butter stuck in his eye and was distracted. We loaded the acclaimed author into the Oreck and set out for the 21st century.
When we arrived in the right century, I immediately set Ernest Hemingway to work at the library and showed him that video of the hippo; he said he thought it was pretty cool but then something started leaking from his ears. This concerned me a little, but Tabby said it was normal for time travelers.
I took Hem around to do modern things he wouldn’t normally do. The juxtaposition would be so funny. First I took him to the laundromat to do my laundry. He was pretty scared, but he did it. One thing that was annoying was that he kept passing out from the stench of my clothes. I figured it was because where he came from they didn’t really have smells like this, but then Tabby smelled my clothes and passed out, too. Eventually the owner told us to leave because we were scaring the other customers with all our screaming. I told him I had to wait for my clothes to finish washing, but he told me he legally couldn’t let me leave with those clothes because they were a “health violation.”
“People in this century sure are weird, eh, Hem?” I said. Hemingway just looked at me kind of sad and said, “Yes, Lord.” I began to suspect he thought I was some kind of deity, because he kept kissing my ankles and saying, “Forgive me, God.” I looked to Tabby for help but then Tabby got on his knees too and said, “Let your light shine upon me, Lord.”
“Good Lord,” I thought; you can’t find good help anymore. Next I took Hemingway bowling because I thought that would be pretty funny, but it was a total bust. Hemingway just kept drooling from his ears and saying, “I’m so sleepy.” Meanwhile, Tabby kept getting his swollen fingers stuck in balls that were too small for him. And if that all wasn’t bad enough, the guy at the front desk said legally I had to pay to buy my rented bowling shoes because of the condition they were in when I returned them. He said it was a “health hazard.” What is it with this century, anyway?
I was rapidly running out of modern things for Hemingway to do, and Tabby said Hemingway wasn’t looking so good. He’d begun to sweat and kept asking us to take him to the Louvre, whatever that means. Desperate, I decided to bring out the big guns: I’d make him watch TikTok. It was my last resort. Tabby held him down while I put the phone up to his face.
“Holy God, why do thy test me,” said Hemingway.
“Just say something funny about this!” I screamed. “I’m done playing games! Say something funny!”
“Something funny,” Hemingway said, smirking.
“Do you dare mock your God?” I said. “Tabby, increase the TikToks!”
“We can’t!” Tabby screamed. “Anymore and we’d overload him!”
“More!” I shouted. “We go until he amuses me with a stiff sincerity that is cleverly misplaced onto a silly situation!”
Tabby rolled the TikToks and I watched with increasing horror as Hemingway’s mind turned to mush. What had I done?
“Stop!” I cried. “Tabby, you fool! Stop this at once!”
But when I looked over at my little time traveling friend, he was stiff as a board: Drowned in his own peanut butter. “No!” I cried again. “What kind of a god am I?”
With a strength I didn’t know I possessed, I lifted Tabby’s lifeless body onto my shoulders and waddled him to the time machine. I punched in a date — any date — to before this tragedy had happened. Hemingway crawled in after me. “My Lord, take me with you,” he moaned. “Alright,” I said, taking off my pants for the trip. “Get in!”
Hem smiled and coughed a hairball on the floor. The Oreck shook and we watched Tabby’s body for any signs of resurrection. “Speak to me, Tabby!” I said. “Tabby!”
Nothing. He was gone. I hung my head.
“He’s gone,” Hemingway said sternly. “Nothing now. Nothing but a name. A name is all we leave behind.”
Suddenly, I found myself thinking back to an argument I’d had with Cassandra months ago — an argument that wasn’t about almond milk. It was about this very subject: death and names. Like Hemingway, I’d lamented that that’s all we were in the end: a name on a tombstone that no one remembered; that my fate was ultimately to be forgotten. Cassandra disagreed; she said there were still memories passed down by loved ones that kept us alive — and those didn’t go away. I’d scoffed. I said, “Oh yeah? I bet you don’t remember anything about your great-grandmother.” But Cassandra was defiant. She began listing slightly thin facts about her great-grandmother that had been passed down: She said her great-grandmother was a revered cook; she was tall; she’d hoarded shrimp paste during the war. Everyone remembered her shrimp paste most of all, and long after she’d passed on there were containers of shrimp paste, old and expired and filling up cabinets.
And as I sat there in a dingy time machine — Tabby’s lifeless body in my arms — and pictured Cassandra’s face telling me about her great-grandmother’s shrimp paste, I realized she wasn’t trying to beat me in this argument — she was trying to make me feel better. She was trying to give me hope. The uncomfortable realization of this washed over me — but it wasn’t a cold one. It warmed me. I was warmed. And I realized I’d been wrong about a great many things.
“No, we’re not just names, Hemingway,” I said. “We’re more than that. What we do — how we treat people — that lasts. Even if it’s not obvious. What we do here matters, even if your name doesn’t end up as famous as ‘Ernest Hemingway.’”
I looked up and Hemingway was staring at me, his eyes shining.
“That was beautiful,” he said. “You truly are a wise and just God!”
“Thanks,” I said, blushing, and there was a brief silence.
Then he said, “Why do you keep calling me Ernest Hemingway? Is that my angel name?”
“I — Wait, what?” I said — but I didn’t have time to pursue this line of questioning because, suddenly, we heard a strong, wet fart sound. I looked over at Tabby’s body.
“Tabby?” I said, shaking him. “Say something! Say anything!”
“Anything,” he squeaked. There wasn’t a dry eye in the vacuum. “You little asshole,” I said. “Don’t you EVER scare me like that again. You hear me?”
“Yes, my king,” he said and got up and bowed before me. Hemingway clapped.
We flipped on the Oreck’s TV to try to figure out what year we were in. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King had just won Best Picture. It was 2003. We laughed and laughed. Then we heard some ruffling and turned to see Hemingway standing behind us with a big lead pipe in his hands. He pointed it at us deliberately:
“I don’t know who you are or who Ernest Hemingway is. Or what a TV is. But my name is Henry and I’m a scuba diver from 1920s Paris. You stopped me from saying farewell to my arms, and for that I’m grateful. But I think it’s high time for me to take control of my own destiny. You don’t scare me anymore.”
“That’s it!” I screamed. “That’s the article! I’ve got it now! I’ve got it!”
And as Hemingway struck me in the frontal lobe with a pipe and proceeded to destroy the time machine controls and make his escape, I couldn’t help but smile. Not only would the most deserving film win Best Picture this year (2003), but the most deserving man/deity would surely win the heart of Cassandra back with an article documenting his ability to change for the better — or at least a little better, anyway.
And I know this may all sound a little strange to you, a humor magazine editor in 2003, but I would like you to hold onto this piece and make sure it’s not published until October 2022. It is a bit of a wait, yes, but I can assure you it is for someone worth waiting for. Trust me.
I’ll see you there.
P.S. If you could lend me $4 million in advance for this, that’d be great. There’s a certain time traveler I know who, somewhat ironically, is getting a little impatient with me.