Friday, May 18, 2007

298. The Other Side of Paradise

"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand." F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

The rich are different from you and me,
Said sad-eyed Fitzgerald, sozzled in Paris,
To which burly Hemingway, the boxer, replied,
Yes, they have more money.
That was the famous put-down,
Quoted over and over again, found
In all the literary gossip sheets,
But self-doubting Fitz had it right.

Daisy Buchanan had a voice full of money,
Tinkling, silvery, cold and careless;
With her shining hair and pouting lips,
She had been born to accept convenience.
Coolly, she witnessed the wreckage of lives,
Other people’s lives, little people’s lives,
And then blithely, gently, drifted away,
Leaving others to clean up behind.

Fitzgerald understood this.
Hemingway never did. He thought
It was all bluster and breaking through,
Being better than you, a two-fisted man
From Big Two-Hearted River.

Fight your first war from an ambulance,
Marry a woman, write short sentences,
Go to bullfights, drink, marry another woman;
Shoot innocent animals in Africa,
Write some more short sentences,
Get drunk, go fishing, get in a couple of
Airplane crashes, go to Cuba, get drunk,
Become a warzone tourist, show your teeth,
Burnish your he-man reputation,
Get married some more.
It wasn’t a bad old life. Macho man,
Successful writer, bit of an asshole.
But then it all came down
To that cold bleak day in Idaho
And the final metallic taste
Of that shotgun on your lips.
Tell me, how did that feel?

Fitzgerald understood.
In the Great Gatsby you can
See his secret life on display:
Just as Robert Louis Stevenson,
His brother writer before him,
He shows, by design not by accident,
His mild Dr Jekyll, Nick Carroway,
And then he carefully uncovers
His half-horrified fascination
With all the things that money can do:
I live in this mansion, Old Sport,
Haven’t quite counted the rooms,
All my suits come from Savile Row,
My shirts come from Jermyn Street,
My shoes, of course, are handmade;
I have servants, wine, food in abundance,
The whole place is lit up like Coney Island,
Mr. Nowhere Man from Nowhere.

Everything began to fall in place,
In Gatsby’s dreams, in Fitzgerald’s,
And all for the sake of brittle romance,
Shattered, splintered, they both broke apart.
A brilliant novel, “This Side of Paradise”
Had sealed his fate. His early success
Condemned him: assured, at last, of money,
His Southern belle had married him,
Ooops, let’s go to Paris! cried Zelda,
Where all the advanced people go.
One can imagine how well that went down
Among the embittered postwar French.
Champagne, champagne, toujours champagne!
The dollar then went a long long way
And all the locals (read the books)
Were landladies, waiters and taxi drivers.
Life was grand for Yankee layabouts,
Life was a fuckin jamboree.

It was 1928, says Fitzgerald,
Intermittently, inescapably observant,
That I noticed how soft we'd become.
Some of us were veterans of the War
But all the local boys on this Italian beach
Could have beaten the crap out of us.
Hemingway, of course, would have none of it.
He was still boxing in short sentences.
Hem, I want you to look at my prick.
Scott, tight, but not quite drunk, dragged
his uneasy friend into gurgling toilets.
Zelda says I'm too small, says I'm no good.
You're only small, says Hemingway,
because you are not aroused. Hey tiger!
I'm telling you, Scotty, pay no attention,
She's an emasculating bitch.
You can't say that. She's my wife, godammit!
Ah fuck it, Scott, pull up your trousers.

Seventeen drafts for a novel,
Written again and again and again
Just to get the tone exactly right.
I would say that was serious.
The Saturday Evening Post paid excellent money
For the popular Fitzgerald stories.
He worked hard at his craft, when sober,
Rewriting again and again and again.

Then suddenly he was no longer popular.
He went to Hollywood on a contract
To write screenplays from nine to five
In a breezeblock California building
With other sad less famous scribblers.
He wrote heartfelt letters to his daughter,
Until, finally, the drink did him in,
Or else those bruises in his heart.

He could see them so clearly through the window.
You are warm inside, I am cold outside.
Knock, knock, knock.
The rich are different from you and me.