April 6, 2021
This can’t be coincidence. Just when we’re rediscovering Ernest Hemingway, who chronicled the Roaring 20s so memorably in “The Sun Also Rises,” along comes a prediction that we’re headed for a post-pandemic blowout that’s already been dubbed the Roaring 2020s.
At least we’ll have legal booze, which no one did during Prohibition. But unlike Jake Barnes, Brett Ashley, and the others in the novel, we won’t be bouncing from Paris to Pamplona any time soon, especially with France back in lockdown. I’d settle for the trip to Florida that my wife and I have had to postpone twice because cases there were so high. That’s not in the cards yet either.
Still, there are similarities between the eras. Hemingway’s characters were damaged by the Great War, none more so than Jake, whose wounds left him impotent. My American lit professor in college told us Hemingway wrote to his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald that the title should’ve been, “The Sun Also Rises (Like Your Cock If You Have One).”
Our war has cost us 31 million U.S. cases, 555,000 dead, an uncounted toll of long-haulers, and tens of millions unemployed, some possibly forever. Even us lucky ones have social and psychic hangovers. Due to stress, my tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is consistently worse than before. My legs are stiffer than old wood from lack of exercise, and “restful sleep” is often oxymoronic. (I’ve also got a new form of PTSD, Post-Trump Scrolling Disorder, which even now causes compulsive reading to find out what H-bomb might fall on our democracy next. The Georgia voting law isn’t helping matters.)
It’s worth remembering that those who came of age in the war years and the 20s, who were labeled the Lost Generation by Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, weren’t as aimless and decadent as they appeared in books. Hemingway thought his characters had been “battered” but were also resilient, which their real-life counterparts demonstrated when they survived the Depression and became the parents of the Greatest Generation. We’re strong too, but we don’t need to set the bar that high.
We do have to stay focused on protecting each other until cases and deaths go down for good, which isn’t happening yet. It’ll be worse than horrible if we have yet another damned surge, or as F. Scott put it, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
I’m ignoring the clatter about “what next,” “is the old normal good enough,” etc., having been happy with life before last March and not about to make any cosmic changes. However, I plan to catch up on the Hemingway I didn’t get around to in college, and ASAP I’ll be making tracks toward France, Spain, Key West, and other places. Take care and be safe.