A Had Pandemonium

Is it just me or can there be too many had’s?

All I needed was less than a paragraph to slam the book down on the table.

“Uh oh, Doodie doesn’t like that book!” Leo closed the fridge door smiling at me.

He calls me Doodie. Shut up – it has nothing to do with poop, it’s a female Dude and it fits me to a T. Especially when he dresses it up and turns me into a Super Doodie, or a Double Doodie, or a Heavy Doodie. You get the picture, but I could go on – I just wanted you to know…

“Don’t you just hate it when people over-use the verb ‘had’ when they write?” He gave me an odd look which I took as an invitation to go on. He pulled a slab of meat out of a zip-lock and slapped it down on the cutting board.

To make a point I read the 2nd sentence from the book:

“I had never expected to be allowed to return to the country that I loved more than any other except my own and would not return so long as any of my friends were in jail. blah blah blah if I did not recant anything that I had written blah blah blah…”

Incredulously he looked at me, put the knife down “I can’t believe you want to edit Ernest Hemingway!”

“I never said I wanted to edit him, I just can’t believe how many times he uses the word ‘had’ it’s kind of annoying.” I looked at the book and picked it back up, I randomly flipped through the pages. “That had never gone away.” I shot him a glance and threw more examples “blah blah by what we had seen and felt blah blah blah we had driven that day blah blah blah Luis Miguel had fought that day  blah blah and I was glad he had not seen what Antonio had done that day. Three! Three had’s in one single sentence!”

Leo finished a clean cut across the piece of meat. He put the knife down again. “This is Hemingway we’re talking about. Hemingway! One of THE most famous writers in American history.” Holding the book in my hand I waved it towards his face “I know, but… I don’t get it”

He shook his head and cut another long strip of meat. He took great care in preparing our carne asada. Skirt steak is great but it’s tougher to eat than a baseball glove if it isn’t cut right. “Marie, you read the Paris Wife and now what? You think you’re an expert on Hemingway?”

I laughed at his silly remark. “The Paris Wife has NOTHING to do with this. I’m sure Hemingway was a great writer, but I’d hate him as a husband.”  This time he was the one to laugh at me “That was just a book. A romantic rendition of what may have been. Remember the difference between fiction and NON fiction? You do know that The Paris Wife is fiction right?”

Once I was done reading the book, I became obsessed with Ernest, and the kind of man he was or may have been. We talked about how in relationships one often sacrifices their dreams because the couple can’t support two great people, that and the fact that one’s destiny may be obviously set in stone whereas the other one plays more of a supportive role.

“OK, I get it. I know that. But what I don’t get is the first thing I was ever told in my writing was to reduce how many times I use the word had. Most times, it’s not even needed!”

“Marie, remember that movie we saw about Capote? How his editor told him his book was so good it was going to change how people write? THAT is the influence Hemingway has had on the American literature world”

“I think in that instance you could simply say the influence he had on literature.”

“Wait a minute, how many books of his did you read? What was it again? Oh yeah, I remember: NONE! I’ve read many of his books, trust me they are works of art.” He put the pieces of meat back in the bag and in the fridge. He rinsed out the knife, wiped it down and put it away. I knew he was getting tired of this argument because he was putting the knife away. Leo hates arguments, he was probably afraid of what may happen if the butcher knife was too close. Well, not that he’d ever do anything, but I was fascinated by the fact he put the knife down every time he answered me.

He ended the argument by simply stating “There is not a writer in America who hasn’t dreamed of being as talented and respected as Hemingway” and walked out.

I put the book back on the shelf.


Friends came over for cocktails later that night. At one point in the evening, Jewels who’d had a few told us about her dog: “And then, once he had finished his bowl he looked for more food, but I told him he had eaten enough and of course I knew he had understood when he nudged his nose on the cabinet door with the way he had looked at me with his sad puppy eyes!”

I moaned. Leo looked at me and said “Doooon’t!” as if ordering a puppy not to beg. Jewels looked at the two of us “What’s THAT all about?” Simultaneously we both smiled and answered “Don’t ask!”

This is a Studio 30+ writing prompt based on two simple words: Don’t ask. It took me foerever to come up with something. I also wanted to write a dialogue. I am intrigued by them.

And no, to this day I still haven’t read any of Hemingway’s books. The quotes are from The Dangerous Summer – which I most definitely plan on reading even if there are too many had’s – an abundance of had’s.

This is somewhat of a fictional story. I did have a conversation with Leo about this, but Jewels never joined us for cocktails. I don’t remember what he was doing in the kitchen, but I’m sure if he was there, it’s because he was either mixing a cocktail or preparing some carne asade.

p.s. Jewels – tag you’re it!


22 thoughts on “A Had Pandemonium”

  1. Brilliant I love this so happy you were able to finally write something. i love it especially the end where you both speak at the same time and say Don’t ask to cute.


  2. Being an editor, I’m always looking for those “had” words I can cut out in my copy (at least professionally, as I ramble on my own time.) Anyway, I always get peeved when people don’t use a contraction and insist on both words. For instance, “Once he had finished…” could be “Once he’d finished.” Ta-da! Problem solved, people.


  3. I love those moments in a relationship where there’s this huge backstory that spills over into some life moment and NOBODY else gets it. Here’s mine. Scott and I, when we first started dating, realized we had both read Chinua Achebe’s (I’m probably massacring his name) Things Fall Apart. Somehow, this led to the discussion of the time when a husband couldn’t beat his wife with a whip any larger around than his thumb.

    That’s the back story.

    Weeks later, we went off to a friends’ party, and we all started playing Taboo. It’s a word game where you have to describe a word to your partner without using either the assigned word OR a series of synonyms. Scott picked up his card and said, “I can’t beat you with one of these larger than my thumb.”

    And I said, “A whip!”

    And the whole party got really quiet as they thought they had stumbled upon some serious S&M secret.


  4. I haven’t read any Hemingway yet though my husband tells me it’s great stuff.
    I get that he revolutionized literature and he’ll always hold a place in history BUT that doesn’t mean his style hasn’t been improved upon. It’s true of any form of literature. Do people still write like Dickens or Austen and get published? Probably not. Styles evolve and change and eventually, even Hemingway will be looked on as a bit of a crap writer stylistically 😉


  5. Hemmingway may be great, but that doesn’t mean his style can’t be annoying. I totally feel your pain on the ‘had’ thing.

    And for what it’s worth, I’d totally get into a knife fight with someone with my rather unpopular opinion that Shakespeare was overrated.

    Your dialogue was a lot of fun to read. Really nice job!


    1. Whooo… you think Shakespeare was overrated! My high school English teacher would totally kick you in the butt with her socks and birkenstock covered feet for saying that!


  6. Now I am going to add paranoia about using “had” to my existing paranoia about using too many “But” and “so”.
    In the end it is what you enjoy when you read. If you pick up on particular words, I guess the witer just hasn’t connected.
    Loved this post. Especially the imagery of Leo putting down the knife in the discussion


  7. You HAD me at Hemmingway … sorry, just HAD to do it. I’ve tried “The Sun Also Rises” and didn’t like it or get it or something. Someone has suggested trying “The Old Man and the Sea.” Ironically, that’s the only book my husband has ever willingly read.


    1. The only book your husband ever willingly read? How sad… a writer married to one who must be forced read. Like a chef married to a forever dieting person. (Is there a word for that?)


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