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

 

Untitled (Washington, DC … 2017)

December 30, 2017, Washington, DC

It might be more appropriate to call this “multi-titled,” rather than “untitled.”  In my mind, it’s a toss up between “On Thin Ice” and “The Beginning of the Thaw.”  Either title could describe both the photo and the general tenor of D.C. at the moment, but I’m not sure which is most appropriate this week.

Today the government is back up and moving and the weather has finally warmed, so things are looking up.  On the other hand, it’s still the dead of winter and, you know, mercurial D.C. politics are exhausting.  For now, I choose the non-committal and non-partisan “Untitled.”

Still, it’s a great photo.  If you’ve spent any time in D.C., you’ll recognize the spot.  I was standing at the foot of the stairs to the Lincoln Memorial (which is to my back) and looking onto the reflecting pool, with the Washington Monument and the Capitol in the distance.

I don’t recommend venturing out onto the reflecting pool, even after a deep freeze.  Even worse to do it in large numbers. Immediately after I snapped this photo, one knucklehead fell through the ice.  (Not to worry: the pool is shallow.  Still, the cold and humiliation must have stung badly.)  So there you go, the curse of thin ice.

 

 

Washington, DC . . . 1974

DSC_0108

Kodachrome memory of a first trip to Washington, DC.  August, 1974.  (That’s me on the left, and that’s the adoring entourage who used to follow me everywhere.)

We’re standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which looks out to the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument in the hazy background.  Pandas were still a new fixture at the zoo, buses weren’t air conditioned, skirts were short, hair was long, and Nixon resigned as we packed our own bags to leave for home.  By then, our feet were tired, we were hot to melting point, and we thought we’d really seen some history.

We weren’t wrong.

But history keeps marching along, in a sometimes dramatic form, and here I am back in DC again.

Watch this space for more photos, more sore feet, and certainly some history.