February 17, 2013

"Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets..."

"... and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. "

This sentence — can you tell it's from "The Great Gatsby"? — is for betamax3000, the upstart genius of the Althouse commentariat, who's vocally jonesing for another "Gatsby" sentence (after a couple of Gatsbyless days on this blog).

On post #1 today — "How the police handled this — they were the judge, the jury and the executioner" — he was all: "Dang. I thought we had segued from Fitzgerald sentences to Mickey Spillane."

And on post #2 — "And down the street is a retro-chic bakery, where... the windows are decorated with bird silhouettes — the universal symbol for 'hipsters welcome'" — he was in full-on "Gatsby" project mode:
"There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind, and as we drove away Brad Pitt was feeling the hot antlers of panic."...

"She went out of the room calling 'Pitt!' and returned in a few minutes accompanied by an embarrassed, slightly worn young man, with shell-rimmed glasses and scanty blond goatee."...

"They knew that presently dinner would be over and a little later the antlers, too, would be over and casually put away."
Don't understand the references? Maybe this post is not for you.
This post is for betamax3000 and the rest of the subcategory of commentariat that is coming along for the ride in the careening car that is the isolated, ripped-out-of-context "Gatsby" sentence. Scanning my e-book just now, I hear myself mutter "ah, there's a great gatsby sentence," and I wonder if I'm saying "a 'Great Gatsby' sentence" or "a great 'Gatsby' sentence." But I'm saving that one for tomorrow. It's a doozy. A daisy. Today's sentence is a bit more subtle. Subtle and wan and vague and faded and sadly smiling over all the things that might have been but were never pursued.

Here's this woman with whom the narrator not only has no relationship, he only imagines following her off the main avenue down the hidden street where her apartment would presumably be on a corner. By not following her, you don't have to see that she would not turn back at you and smile. But in your mind, she could smile. And then even in your fantasy, she goes into her apartment without you. And she doesn't even forthrightly go in — she fades through. And there isn't even a real interior space where real people could embrace. There's only warm darkness.

Ah! But warm darkness... fading into... hidden street... We're not talking about the the landscape of the city at all, are we? It's the landscape of the female body. And, of course, when you see a woman walking on the avenue, you can only imagine traversing that place.


betamax3000 said...

Naked Drunk Writer Analyst Robot detects a 73% probability of Writer Intoxication in this sentence.

Naked Drunk Writer Analyst Robot compares syntax and word choice against a technical re-statement of the sentence. The Deviation from Coherency is weighed against Punctuation and Alliteration Algorithms, then blind-tested against a random sample of Drunk Simulation Models to produce the Probability of Inebriation in the Writer at the time of the sentence's Conception.

There is also a 12% probability that the writer was in the Black-Out Drunk strata.

Note that a Writer's Self-Loathing can sometimes skew Results.

ricpic said...

Fitzgerald, for all of his arrow collar good looks and charm felt himself to be unworthy, hence the stalking; Hemingway had no such problem, other problems but not that.

betamax3000 said...

This sentence is in VERY "Those Who Listen in the Walls" territory.

Fitzgerald is hearing the Voices tell him the things that he desperately wants to hear but cannot fully admit to himself.

"Follow her" the Voice says; the Writer adds the clause "in my mind" to keep a veil of Civility over What Lies Within.

The Voice says "they turned and smiled back at you" and the Writer has them fade into warm darkness before things get out of hand. They smiled at you -- they WANTED to be followed.

Of course, the Writer only added these things after sobering up: it was always interesting to see what Black Out Drunk Writer had written, and what now needed to be partially obscured.

betamax3000 said...

Sober, Fitzgerald was an engine out of oil, all smoke and cracked writer's block.

When Black Out Drunk the words would flow and tumble -- a "ride in the careening car" as it were. Sing-song alliteration and flights of fancy fluttering through the endlessly blowing curtains with no thought given to restraint.

Sober again, he would review the Gift that he had left himself as Black Out Drunk and shape the clay, leaving out the odd line From That Song In His Head and hiding the self-loathing to the best of his skewed abilities.

edutcher said...

I was thinking Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler.

betamax3000 said...

"The door that I pushed open, on the advice of an elevator boy, was marked 'The Swastika Holding Company,' and at first there didn’t seem to be any one inside."

Elevator Boy = Voices. I did not choose the door, the Elevator Boy pointed the way.

Perhaps Elevator Boy was a specific person at a specific elevator, encountered only briefly, that Black Out Drunk elevated to spirit guide.

"Sometimes, Elevator Boy told me to follow them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets..."

Morning comes, and Elevator Boy is relegated to "in my mind", back in the box.

Mitchell the Bat said...

[A]nd they turned and smiled back at me . . .

The absolutely best erotic dreams are the ones where the woman actually has a face.

But they seldom do.

I doubt that's where Fitzgerald's headed.

EMD said...

"Upstart genius?"

He's got nowhere to go now but down.

betamax3000 said...

Ewing is another iteration of Elevator Boy: Fitzgerald is summoning out the Black Out Drunk and belittling him, showing the Voices with their scanty hair just who is in charge. The embarrassment is what Fitzgerald no doubt did the previous night, if he Could Only Remember.

betamax3000 said...

Re: "He's got nowhere to go now but down."

Headfirst, baby: headfirst.

Inga said...

Ahhhhh, those who listen in the walls are by far the most interesting category.

betamax3000 said...

""Sometimes a shadow moved against a dressing-room blind above, gave way to another shadow, an indefinite procession of shadows, that rouged and powdered in an invisible glass."

Fitzgerald in the morning, trying to make sense of Black Out Drunk from the night before. Can't remember faces, only shadows of possible interactions.

"that rouged and powdered in an invisible glass."

Black Out Drunk no doubt originally wrote "poured in an invisible" glass. The glass was close to non-existent, just a form of passage from the bottle to the mouth.

Fitzgerald knew that if he drank directly from the bottle that would mean He Might Have a Problem. So "powdered" it is.

betamax3000 said...

""Gatsby, pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes."

Wash the face with cold water. Then: the first look into the mirror in the morning, self-loathing and fear staring back.

So much of Gatsby is a Cry for Help.

betamax3000 said...

"Black Out Drunk's notoriety, spread about by the hundreds who had accepted his hospitality and so become authorities on his past, had increased all summer until he fell just short of being news."

Fitzgerald knows that without Black Out Drunk he will not be remembered. Elevator Boy tells him this, day after day after day.

kentuckyliz said...

Obviously a fantasy/imagining. No sane woman would smile at a stranger as she enters her apartment or house; it might be misconstrued as an invitation. The the purvy stranger pushes thir wy in behind you while the door is open. Feels very rapey to me. If I didn't know it was an imagination moment, my stress response would kick in.

betamax3000 said...

"Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if Elevator Boy no longer nourished his peremptory heart."

kentuckyliz said...

*their way

Shining example of reader response theory, eh?

betamax3000 said...

""... and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness."

They do not recognize Elevator Boy. They do not understand the things Elevator Boy would wish to do. Elevator Boy's Darkness is Not Warm.

Fitzgerald cannot face this in the harsh light of day: he will warm the darkness instead. It is what a Writer does.

betamax3000 said...

Fitzgerald is being relentlessly scolded by Elevator Boy that Hemingway is pulling farther and farther ahead: you will be forgotten, lost in the clouds of dust that Hemingway is leaving in his wake.

Have another drink, says Elevator Boy.

betamax3000 said...

Without Elevator Boy you would just be another of the clerks and young bond-salesmen, lunching with them in dark, crowded restaurants on little pig sausages and mashed potatoes and coffee.

betamax3000 said...

A tray of cocktails floated at Fitzgerald through the twilight, and he sat down at a table with the two girls in yellow and three men only he could see, each one introduced as Elevator Boy.

Elevator Boy #1 told Fitzgerald that the girls in yellow had no idea whatsoever about who he was.

"They know who Hemingway is," added Elevator Boy #2.

Have another drink, said Elevator Boy #3.

betamax3000 said...

At times Elevator Boy felt constrained by Fitzgerald: he was at the mercy of the Weak in Will.

Elevator Boy knew what it was to be Strong.

betamax3000 said...

"We can only go Up or Down" Elevator Boy said.

"I would strongly suggest Up," he said. "We need more bourbon."

betamax3000 said...

Elevator Boy say her first: her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crêpe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering.

DO something, Elevator Boy urged. She is smouldering for US.

betamax3000 said...

That was the last thing Fitzgerald remembered about the night. He woke up with The Shame, and looked over the pages Black Out Drunk had left him.

betamax3000 said...

"I am beyond Ohio," Elevator Boy said. "I am the Quality of Distortion."

In his heart Fitzgerald knew this to be true. Without Elevator Boy and Black Out Drunk he was a trembling little man, holding out a trembling match to Greatness.

betamax3000 said...

Out of the corner of his eye Fitzgerald saw that the blocks of the sidewalks really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees, he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder and be blissfully free of Elevator Boy.

"You don't have the guts to do it," Elevator Boy said. "Without me you have no guts at all."

betamax3000 said...

"For Whom the Bell Tolls. Tender Is the Night. Do you not see the difference?" Elevator Boy demanded.

betamax3000 said...

"Hemingway wrote the Bread of Life; you write the frosted wedding-cake. Soon Black Out Drunk will give up and leave you in disgust and you will be a useless empty husk penning verbal flourishes for greeting cards."

betamax3000 said...

"Drink you Magnificent Empty Bastard, drink!!"

betamax3000 said...

Sometimes Elevator Boy would take the Blacked Out Fitzgerald out for a boisterous night on the town. Sure, they would get into the odd scuffle or fight, but when Fitzgerald awoke the black eyes and busted lip were his alone.

betamax3000 said...

Elevator Boy knew that the Great American Novel could only come from someone who had woken at least once to a black eye and a busted lip: that was America.

If you want to have someone else do your fighting for you then go write the Great French Novel, coward.

Elevator Boy remembers the Great War.

betamax3000 said...

Elevator Boy told Fitzgerald that what the book needed was a REAL hero, not some collection of wimps without the gumption to go get a REAL girl, one with Moxie, not some limp flower like Daisy.

Black Out Drunk would then insist the novel was going to be HIS way, the maudlin sad sack.

It could fill Elevator Boy with rage, what he was forced to deal with.

From Word Origins:
wimp, n.2 This slang term for an ineffectual or weak person was first recorded in 1920. The origin is uncertain, but may come from the verb to whimper.

betamax3000 said...

If Elevator Boy could get Fitzgerald drunk before Ten in the Morning he knew it would be a Productive Day.

Things would Get Done.

betamax3000 said...

"On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d’œuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold."

God, how Elevator Boy hated that sentence. Black Out Drunk, describing a table of food like it was a twenty-dollar whore. Madness.

betamax3000 said...

Sometimes Elevator Boy would mock Fitzgerald with his own words.

Are you being unobtrusive and with a bantering inconsequence again, Fitz?" for instance. "How delightful."


"Of course you see women with 'impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire' -- they are looking at YOU."

Elevator Boy would try anything to shake Fitzgerald loose from his morosity. Alas, it was always to no avail.

betamax3000 said...

Elevator Boy knew that -- one-on-one -- he could take on Hemingway. He could match him book-for-book, scuffle-for-scuffle, woman-for-woman. How frustrating that the Fitzgerald would have none of it: he liked things safe, pretty, wistful, viewed from a distance with clean hands and clean shoes.

It was to Elevator Boy's eternal discomfort that he could show a door to Fitzgerald and open it, but could never push him through.

Fitzgerald feared who and what was behind the next door; Hemingway couldn't wait to bull rush his way through.

betamax3000 said...

Elevator Boy dreamed of Running With The Bulls, of Bullfights and boozy Spanish streets at Three AM.

Fitzgerald would rather spend hours buffing a sentence like

"There was a ripe mystery about it, a hint of bedrooms up-stairs more beautiful and cool than other bedrooms, of gay and radiant activities taking place through its corridors, and of romances that were not musty and laid away already in lavender but fresh and breathing and redolent of this year’s shining motor-cars and of dances whose flowers were scarcely withered"

in a hundred different ways, some minutely better, some minutely worse.

Sometimes it is better to have a bull's shit at your feet rather than spend the time polishing your own.

betamax3000 said...

Fitzgerald had a Dream as he polished those words: some day -- and who knows, it could be right around the corner -- movies would actually have real talking in them!

And who would do that talking? Why, the writer, of course!

How else could it work? The Writer would narrate his carefully crafted words in crisp tones for all of the audience to hear, as the actors silently pantomimed the narrative.

They might have to make five movies to encompass Gatsby -- maybe six.

He would blossom in front of those who would not take the time to read but would surely love to hear a Writer tell them His Story, with pictures to help them Imagine.

betamax3000 said...

No one would pay a nickel for that, Elevator Boy would admonish.

Pay a nickel to hear someone read "As my train emerged from the tunnel into sunlight, only the hot whistles of the National Biscuit Company broke the simmering hush at noon?"

They want to not just see the train, they want to HEAR the whistles themselves."

"And just what is a 'hot whistle' anyway? You need to edit Black Out Drunk better than that."

a SWVA liz said...

Having rewritten the Great Gatsby, is betamax3000 planning to publish?

You definitely must not neglect the Gatsby sentences, who knows where we will go from here. Without the sentences we just fade into the walls.

betamax3000 said...

Black Out Drunk hated these arguments. It took a lot more drinks to drown out Elevator Boy than to quiet Fitzgerald, but it was the only way anything would get written at all.

betamax3000 said...

Re: "You definitely must not neglect the Gatsby sentences, who knows where we will go from here. Without the sentences we just fade into the walls."

I (obviously) love the Gatsby sentences -- I trust that Ann has a Plan that will keep us from fading into the walls. (I prefer bouncing off them, myself).

betamax3000 said...

Black Out Drunk just wanted to be left in peace, with the Words alone. He would read Fitzgerald's editing of him and forlornly shake his head: Black Out Drunk's words may have spilled out of the sides of the glass at times, but they were of The Moment, spontaneous, free.

Fitzgerald would then arrange those words like a obsessive stamp collector, until it was as if they were frozen in a snow globe.

betamax3000 said...

"A butterfly in a Snow Globe," Elevator Boy replied: "Hemingway would put a Marlin over the Mantle."

betamax3000 said...

"The only building in sight was a small block of yellow brick sitting on the edge of the waste land, a sort of compact Main Street ministering to it, and contiguous to absolutely nothing."

Elevator Boy knew that he was Fitzgerald's Yellow Brick: without him Fitzgerald would indeed be contiguous to absolutely nothing, drifting off to the Wasteland.

Of course, without Fitzgerald he would float off into nothingness, too.

Sometimes it was almost too much for Elevator Boy to hold together.

betamax3000 said...

""There was a ripe mystery about it" Black Out Drunk wrote over and over:

"There was a ripe mystery about it"

"There was a ripe mystery about it"

but he could not figure out where the ripe mystery led. Bedrooms? Lavender? Shining Motor-Cars?

Black Out Drunk could feel himself losing the thread.

Edit all of THAT into something, Fitzgerald.

Ohh -- by the way, the black eye is from Elevator Boy: I was wobbling in the chair when he pushed me over the desk and I hit our face on the Radiator. In the morning you will no doubt weep isolated and unpunctual tears."

betamax3000 said...

Sometimes Fitzgerald, on the brink of inebriation, would desperately leave notes for Black Out Drunk: thoughts on character development, plot turns, mood.

Black Out Drunk would ignore the notes, pretend they didn't exist.

Elevator Boy would mock them. "Banjo and Traps," for instance: Fitzgerald awoke to a scrawled obscene message implying certain inadequacies of, and uses for, his 'wood wind instrument.'

Dante said...

Let's see. Corners on hidden streets? Doesn't sound like your upscale kind of woman. It's a woman you see, and feel the connection, and she does too. Is the smile an invitation to come in and have a one night stand? Somehow, I doubt it, unless he is talking about prostitutes and some hidden desire to pay for it. Is that too banal for Gatsby? perhaps not. Maybe that's all there is to it.

It seems more to me about the connection to a woman. The smile, an invitation to continue, but there is a closed door. To open the door means more commitment. Something one can do, but it is not cheap. It is the potential connection with a woman, that he can't have, because of the delta between his social status and her social status.

betamax3000 said...

Elevator Boy is looking forward to today's sentence. Maybe it will be one of his.

betamax3000 said...

"I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife."

Elevator Boy was proud: that was one of his sentences.

He told Fitzgerald that if he messed with it at all he would take him out that evening for a black eye and an empty wallet.

betamax3000 said...

Elevator Boy thought that if the novel was to be called "The Great Gatsby" that the main character should have then been a boxer or a wrestler.

Black Out Drunk said that sounded "too Hemingway".

Black eyes for everybody, Elevator Boy decided.

betamax3000 said...

"Every Friday five crates of bourbon and vodka arrived from a liquor store in New York and every Monday these same crates of bourbon and vodka left his back door in a pyramid of empty bottles."

Elevator Boy wrote that one, too, but Fitzgerald lost his nerve. Oranges and lemons. Wimp.

betamax3000 said...

Elevator Boy sometimes wondered if Hemingway had an 'Elevator Boy' of his own. He would like to meet him. Perhaps the two of them could shake some sense into Fitzgerald.

betamax3000 said...

Fitzgerald had grown accustomed to waking up after an evening with Black Out Drunk and Elevator Boy: the blinding headaches and the occasional black eyes were expected, as were the urine-soaked pants and broken fingernails.

He had accepted being abruptly slapped by women he could swear he had never met before.

But waking with three trout pushed down the front of his trousers, this indeed caused surprise: no doubt there was now another restaurant in town that would not accept him through their door.

betamax3000 said...

Elevator Boy had actually directed the trout at Black Out Drunk: "every character you write is a cold fish," he had said.

Still, the look on Fitzgerald's face was pretty funny, too. Two birds, one stone, three trout.