In 2003 I went to the Ernest Hemingway Festival in Key West, Florida for my book The Naked Man Festival and met a man with a white beard called Tom Grizzard. Tom was one of 150 men with white beards who were all competing in the Hemingway lookalike competition (I took the above photo of him and his colourful fan club). It was Tom’s fourth attempt at winning the coveted prize and yesterday, after nine years of trying, he finally won! When I met him in a karaoke bar in Key West five six ago he was very sloshed indeed. This is what I wrote about him in the book…
On the way back to the hostel I passed a Karaoke bar. Ernest Hemingway was up on stage singing ‘Chantilly Lace’. I never knew Papa sang. He had quite a good voice, too. After Papa, another Hemingway got up to sing. Well, when I say sing, I mean howl. He howled his way through ‘Lady’ by Kenny Rodgers. He was so drunk he almost fell off the stage.
His name was Tom Grizzard and, besides having a very red nose, he was a realtor (American for real estate agent) from Leesburg, Florida. I wonder if his house-selling spiel was done à la Hemingway: ‘Walk into this room that is the ensuite. The toilet is desired by everyone until the new winds draw close. And the bath beholds the very gentle and the very strong by the new French windows.’
Tom had brought his fan club along. All twenty people sitting at a long table were all wearing yellow T-shirts with ‘Tom Grizzard – Wannabe Pop’ printed on them. This was his third attempt at winning the title. I asked him what he thought his chances of winning were. ‘As Hemingway would say,’ he slurred, ‘the fun is in the hunt, not the catch.’ I told him I was writing a book about festivals. ‘What’s Hemingway got to do with vegetables?’ he asked looking very confused.
‘No! Festivals!’ I shouted over a fat bloke’s boisterous version of ‘Rhinestone cowboy’.
‘What sort of vegetables?’ he said looking even more perplexed.
‘Hemingway loved carrots,’ I shouted.
‘Really? I didn’t know that.’