There are people who have inspired me, nurtured me and taught me much about money, business and everything else. So I thought I’d share a few stories about two famous men who brushed my life when I was at my most vulnerable.
The first is about Ernest Hemingway. For most of us, our most vulnerable age is when we’re about to burst into the adult world, full of dreams and misconceptions. All I wanted to do at that time was to sit in Parisian cafes with a notebook and a drink, and become the Great American Novelist. In the summer of 19S9,1 went to Pamplona, Spain, running with the bulls and searching for my own Lady Brett. Hemingway was also there, on his last visit. The Sun Also Rises was one of the three novels that most influenced me early in life.
Hemingway was traveling from corrida to corrida that summer, tracking a bullfighting competition between two matadors: Dominguin, the veteran, and Ordonez, the young challenger. They were engaged in a series of shootouts, mano a mano, pursuing ears and tails. I knew that if I could get close to Papa, even for a few minutes, I could coax out of him the secret to literary fame and fortune. Problem was, he was constantly surrounded by an entourage that a friend described as “various picadors, reporters, suck-ups and Smith College English majors.”
I tracked the great man for three days looking for an opening, three days of running the bulls, enduring what seemed like a year’s pressing of grapes squeezed into my mouth, my eyes, my ears, my shoes, my shirt, from hundreds of wineskins. I cruised the plazas. I slept in the backseat of a Simca, a car as unreliable as a weather prediction. I slept little, drank a lot and sat in the sun wondering about the people who could afford beds.
Then one night, at about 10:30,1 spied Hemingway exiting a cafe and heading for dinner. He rolled when he walked, swaggering like a high-school football player. He moved away from his entourage, gesturing for them to wait while he detoured down a side street. I followed and came upon him urinating next to a fountain off the main plaza. I stepped up to Papa and unzipped.
“Mind iflwhiz next to you?” Iasked.
Hemingway looked at me. “Whiz is what women do,” he said. “Men piss.”
“I actually want to write,” I told him, “not whiz.” He snorted at me. “Let me tell you something, kid,” he said. “Don’t talk about what you want to do. Do it. Run with the bulls. Watch the horns, like a fighter—feint, punch, feint, punch. Have a good leak, kid. Men also call a piss a leak. But whatever you call it, it’s easier to do than writing.”
The next afternoon, the sun was so strong it made you feel as if you were looking at a mirage. I was sitting with two friends outside the bullring. They were drunk. Everyone in Pamplona was drunk. But my friends were the only ones in Pamplona getting their sneakers shined by three different shoeshine boys. In three different colors. Hemingway walked by, surrounded by a crowd of college students, Spanish companions and other keepers of the flame.
“There’s the Whizzer,” he called to me, making his hangers-on jealous. “You have your tickets?” “In the sun,” I said.
“Watch how they feint,” he said. “Watch how they feint, Whizzer.” His entourage swept him along into the corrida.
When I got out of college, starting lawyers were paid around $6,000. Naturally, I would meet people then who invited envy. They were success stories, early heroes who made
Us young bloods wonder if we’d ever make it in life. One of these was the center fielder of the Red Sox in the early 1960s, Gary Geiger. He was my roommate in the Army Medical Corps at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. There was a draft in effect, so a lot of major league ballplayers enlisted in the reserves for six months active duty followed by several years of reserve training, once-a-month meetings and two-week drills in the summers. After basic training in the fall, ballplayers would join a unit in a specialty (like infantry or medical or intelligence). They all went to San Antonio in the winter to stay in shape, and get out in time for baseball season.
Geiger and I were squad leaders in Texas, sharing a small room. He came from Sand Ridge, 111., a whippet-thin six-footer, built like an axe handle, with forearms like Popeye. He seldom smiled. And he gave off a look of intensity that said, “Do not mess with me.” Most of the troops gave him a wide berth, which was just fine with Geiger.
In our room, the first night we were alone together, he said, “I’m a big league baseball player. I’m not drinking or smoking, and I don’t have time or interest in doing anything but playing ball.” Then he winked at me, “I’m in my 20s and I make $15,000 a year; I’m in a cocoon. When I’m marching, shooting the M-l, in the chow line, I’m thinking about baseball. If you ever want to really make it in life… you have to be pure.” He meant intense.
“Wow,” I thought. “Life is too complex to be pure.” Then I thought, “I’ll never make $15,000 a year.”
I spent a lot of time with Geiger. He brought me off base to Trinity College in San Antonio where 1 threw batting practice to several of the other major leaguers in the Medical Corps. My hardest pitches were like lobs to them.
“I think I’d hit 1,000 if you pitched to me every day,” Geiger said. Other than these practice jaunts, Gary Geiger would never go on road trips to Mexico or even Saturday nights to town.
“Mr. Yawkey really likes me,” he said, “because I’m pure and I can hit the baseball. I’m never gonna take the chance some cowboy hits me with a beer bottle in some pissant bar. I just want the checks to keep cornin’.”
Health issues did Geiger in eventually. He finished as a major leaguer with 77 home runs and 283 RBIs. He called me after retirement when he saw I had several books published.
“You were a lousy pitcher,” he said, “but at least a piece of you was pure.” I cherish that.
What did these adventures teach me, before I went off into the real job world? Two lessons will benefit you in your career. One: Be mindful of the absurdities in life and how often they’ll occur.
Two: Never take yourself too seriously. Almost every time I think I’m really smart, I get my tail handed to me.