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Jay Gershwin

Hemingway Kool-Aid

When my father was young and newly married, he decided to invent a new flavor of Kool-Aid called "Hemingway in New York."

"If coffee can taste like raspberries and soda like licorice, why can't a glass of Kool-Aid taste like Ernest Hemingway in New York?" he said.

He was fascinated by The New Yorker's legendary profile of Hemingway's 1950 trip to New York City. He wanted to capture its ambience: bearded old Papa in his tweed jacket and wool necktie lumbering through the streets of Manhattan.

"You're a fool. How can Kool-Aid taste like Hemingway in New York? How is that even possible?" my mother said.

"Just wait," he said. "You'll see."

If he could invent a flavor of Kool-Aid that tasted like Hemingway in New York, he could sell the patent for millions and spend all day at his typewriter becoming a famous writer himself.

He began by looking through recipe books. Was there a particular spice that captured the smell of an important novelist on Fifth Avenue?

"Besides, why are you so obsessed with Hemingway in the first place?" my mother said. "Why can't you be obsessed with your own God-damn life?"

It was a good question but my father made hundreds of concoctions till at last he produced a prototype. "I've done it," he announced running into the bedroom holding a glass of gray-colored Kool-Aid. "My God, we'll make millions! Here, taste."

My mother sipped and said, "Tastes like grape."

"Grape?" he said, aghast. "It's not grape. It's Hemingway in New York!"

But others had the same reaction: "Tastes like grape."

What I need is more information, he told himself. He reread The New Yorker profile looking for clues and learned that the author – Lillian Ross – was still alive and writing for The New Yorker almost fifty years later.

"I'm going to New York," he announced at dinner.

My mother got up, carefully poured chicken soup over his head and threatened to end their marriage if he went. Most men in his position would have surrendered, but being covered in chicken soup was my father's natural habitat in those days. He slicked back his hair, left the table and flew to New York the next day.

In Manhattan he made his way past the asparagus skyscrapers and into a midtown café where Lillian Ross met him in a gabardine coat and old-lady gloves she removed while sitting across from the weird collection of sweat, typewriter ink and unwashed jeans that defined my father.

"The original profile was actually quite longer," she told him without shaking his hand. "It was cut for brevity."

"Yeah? Which parts?" my father half shouted. He could smell a breakthrough.

"When Hemingway was in town," she said and glanced left, right and lowered her voice to a whisper, "he rode the carrousel in Central Park."

My father was stunned and thrilled.

He jumped to his ruined sneakers. Finally! he thought. He'd uncovered the singular piece of information he needed. If he could translate "Central Park carrousel" into a flavor and add it to the recipe he'd already concocted, there was no question he'd get the taste he was after.

Sure enough, within a week of returning home and experimenting with hundreds of fructose varieties, he whipped up a batch of Hemingway in New York that tasted like no other.

He approached a man outside the supermarket. The man sipped and frowned at the glass and said, "Interesting. What flavor is this? I don't think I've ever had this before."

"You tell me. Describe it," my father said, excited.

The man said, "Well, it's definitely not the normal favor of Kool-Aid. It tastes like… I know this sounds crazy, but it reminds me of this book we read in high school. A Farewell to Arms. Remember that?" He sipped and squinted, searching for an apt description while my father trembled with delight. "And you know what else? It reminds me of New York City."

"Yes!" my father cried, raising his fists.

My father polled hundreds of others and got the same reaction, so that when he finally offered a glass to my mother, she too was charmed.

"My God," she said smiling, "it does. It tastes like Hemingway in New York."

Triumphant, my father said, "Just think! We'll have every English major in the country drinking this stuff."

He sold the recipe to a Japanese energy drink concern, who mass-marketed "Hemingway Kool-Aid" to creative writing students as a kind of Red Bull for creativity, complete with TV commercials of Hemingway sitting at his desk and cracking open a can. "Ahh," Hemingway said. "Farewell to Writer's Block."

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