3 a.m. and a Jazz Joint Jive

The Fitzgeralds attend a formal event, circa 1935.

Good morning all you bright eyed people.  I can’t match your pep today.  Not close.  I’ve been awake since 2:30 -in -the -morning.  Ugh.  I had a lot on my mind. There was the  good– an upcoming trip to Scotland.  There was the bad–  some worries over people I love, some anxiety  about the 101 things I need to check off my to do list by . . .well, yesterday. And there was the odd– namely, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.  They came calling around 3 a.m., in just the way you might expect them to, as if they were still staying in The Plaza in New York, waking the other guests with drinking and dancing at all hours, not to mention frolicking in the fountain fully clothed. (I’ve never understood why their contemporaries took offense at the fully clothed part– seems to me that this part of the equation was their best nod to courtesy and decorum. Am I wrong?)

Obviously, they didn’t actually burst into my room and party the night away.  They were, however, very loud inside my head.  They kicked about and chatted away and both charmed me and bothered me in the unsettling way that senselessly tragic stories bother me.

If you’re asking yourself why the Fitzgeralds would descend upon my sleep-adled brain and refuse to budge for hours on end,  you’d have to ask them.  I will cop to having more  than a passing fascination with them, but less than an obsession.  They’re a puzzle to me–a tangled mess of talent and tragedy, of what might have been and what was.

They’ve always been stowed in my pocket– fellow travelers,  entertaining raconteurs, rather rude house guests (as they proved last night). Every now and again I take them out and have a gnaw at them.  Lately, they’ve been emboldened though.  I suspect this is because I pass by their gravestones frequently*, and when I pass I often think of them.   I never stop to visit.  I always think that I should.  I plan to do it some day.  Maybe next week, I tell myself.  Or when the weather is nicer.  But I never do.  So, guess what?  They’ve come to me.  That’s one way to do it, I suppose.

I’m a little worried that they’ll start showing up frequently.  I think an excorcism is in order, by way of a visit to their graves– flowers in hand and apologies for having been a stranger so long.  I do have a couple of hours free tomorrow morning, and if the sun shines bright and the chill breaks . . . maybe I’ll pay that visit and report back to you.

*Where are they buried?  In Rockville, MD, as unlikely as that may seem.  Scott grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota and came East; Zelda was from Montgomery, Alabama.    Scott had a long family history in Maryland, though, and when he passed away at the age of 44, from a heart attack and years of alcoholism, he was brought to Maryland to be buried next to his father.  Unfortunately, the priest at St. Mary’s Church refused to allow Scott a burial there, as he was not a practicing Catholic.  He was buried in a nearby protestant churchyard, by a minister who had never heard of him, in a service attended by only 20 or 25 people.  “Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy,” he once wrote.  He knew the story arc well.  But years later, and after her mother had also passed in a tragic and early death by fire, their daughter petitioned St. Mary’s to allow her parents to be moved to the family plot there.  This time, it was allowed.

It’s a happier resting place than what went before, but still an odd fit.  St. Mary’s is an old church, but the church grounds now sit on the edge of a monstrous intersection that is a main thoroughfare for morning commuter traffic into Washington, DC.   It’s tucked between apartments, shopping strips, and a large Metro station.

I say it’s an odd fit, but, you know, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to look up one day, as I motor by, and see the eyes of Doctor T J Eckleburg looking down on me from a billboard above that very spot.  Nobody escapes the judgement of those eyes.  Not fleeing from a jazz joint, not laid to rest by the roadside in Rockville, and certainly not on a daily commute to and from our nation’s capital.

gatsby poster eyes


12 thoughts on “3 a.m. and a Jazz Joint Jive

    1. Actually, I had a great Gatsby moment– a Great Gatsby moment (?)– a couple of years ago. Sitting on the back deck of a bar in Florida– looking out over a bayou and riding the surf of a tall, cold mug of beer– I looked across the water just as the sun starting dipping in the sky and saw a green light on the end of the dock straight across from my perch. I think F. Scott was winking at me. Perfection.
      And so we beat on, my friend. Cheers!

    1. I saw it decades ago. I’d have to re-watch to comment. At the time, I thought Redford was too clean and heroic to really capture Gatsby . . . but maybe that was me unable to get past the pretty face. Honestly, I liked Baz Luhrmann’s version (except that the sets were too over-the-top-McMansion like– but the music and general rush and edge of the story seemed spot on to me).

  1. They certainly set a style. The between-wars devil-may care attitude. I keep forgetting Zelda was from Montgomery. She must have had that oh-so typicall Alabama drawl. 🙂 By now you must know Alabamians can tell whether one is from Huntsville, Mo-biiile, Birmin’ham, or Montgomery. Of course “strangers” from Lew-zeeana, Miss-ssipi or the Carolinas are immediately recognized.
    Be good.

    1. I was a stranger from the Carolinas and immediately recognized– although less readily than when I moved to Connecticut or Chicago. All these years of traveling around, and the accent remains entrenched, if ever so slightly soft around the edges, and that’s okay with me.

      Zelda set a style for sure, and I’d guess some of it hinged on an eccentric Southern-belle brand. They were complex people, or at least caught in a complex and crowded relationship: Zelda, Scott, and their many demons.

      1. Yeah, the accent softens around the edges. Which is always pleasant to the ears. Mine is actually a broken “posh British”/American. I even have spelling problems now because I learnt British english spelling then wrote in American English for so long, I’m not sure which is the “right” spelling. 🙂
        I must confess I’ve never read Fitzgerald, at least not in English. I will look for a copy. To get a feel of the language.
        Are you in Germany now, or did I misunderstand?

  2. If you pick up Fitzgerald, start with The Great Gatsby. I know it’s tempting to steer clear, because it’s so over-read, over-filmed, etc; however, I picked it back up about 5 years ago and was blown away by the beauty of his language and his ability to tell such a rich, complex story in such a tiny book. It really is a gem. (Although I’ll admit a certain frustration with people who want to see Gatsby as a hero– he’s so deeply flawed… which, I think, is precisely the point.)
    I recently moved back Stateside from Germany. I’m now in DC– an interesting, if infuriating, city. But oh how I miss my European ramblings! My travels are now just the odd occasion.

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