7.07.2008

Great Tragic Idols: Fiction Edition.

I trooped up to the Mid-Manhattan Library on a Sunday to drop off a few Marilyn DVDs (Bus Stop, Some Like It Hot) before heading out of town. It took a long time to actually get to the library, encountering at 5th Avenue a long, fantastic gay pride parade with onlookers 2 rows deep, having to walk uptown 2 blocks in order to cross the avenue, having to wait, then moving sightly closer to the crossing point, then waiting again, sweat running down my neck and legs, then crossing and walking back down 2 blocks while watching waxed Dominican men in tight white briefs dance enthusiastically to techno beats atop a huge, slow-rolling float.

The library was a perfect oasis after all that stimulation: cool, nearly empty, and of course, quiet. There was no finer moment for falling in love again with The Great Gatsby.

There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before.

Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb.

At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.

By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing up-stairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors, and hair shorn in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.

The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath; already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the centre of a group, and then, excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light.

Suddenly one of the gypsies, in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and, moving her hands like Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform. A momentary hush; the orchestra leader varies his rhythm obligingly for her, and there is a burst of chatter as the erroneous news goes around that she is Gilda Gray’s understudy from the FOLLIES. The party has begun.

2 comments:

Baby Party said...

The heroine of the book I'm reading (Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler) reads (or perhaps re-reads) The Great Gatsby. The morning after I read that passage, I saw your post. I think the universe is telling me it's time to read Gatsby, which I started and quickly abandoned at age 11 (I was too young for it).

Erica said...

Hi baby party!

There is some new book that heavily references Gatsby as well -- my mom saw something on Oprah.

Ah, the jazz age.