The Things That Happen When You Grow Up Down The Street From Jay Gatsby’s House
You probably haven’t heard of Great Neck, New York. That’s the name of the town where I grew up on Long Island and went to high school and stuff. You know, suburbia.
You probably have heard of West Egg, the town where Jay Gatsby built his ginormous estate and threw DOWN. Dude had a bunch of epic ragers in the hopes that his lady from the way-backs would pop by to “hang out”.
Those two places are the same. Great Neck is West Egg, West Egg is Great Neck. We know this for a few reasons, primarily the geographical description my homie F. Scott provides in the first chapter of the book. Also he lived in Great Neck for a bit. Also the fact that there is actually a road called “Gatsby Way” in my town because we’re subtle.
I lived down the street from what even we called the Gatsby House. This would be the point in the article where I would demonstrate for you on a screenshot of a Google Maps just how close my house was, but I think my father would actually murder me (“Why does everybody on the internet need to know where my house is?” Point taken, and not for nothing but I appreciate you thinking everybody on the internet is going to be reading this, version of my dad’s voice I’m hearing in my head right now). Just take my word for it that it was quite close.
This proximity to one of the most iconic settings in American literature fucks with a town’s psychology in ways that most definitely trickle down into the psyche of a teenage boy who just has a lot of feelings, guys. This complex manifests itself in a number of ways.
-You use the fact that you’re from “West Egg” in Icebreaker games. I did this a lot when I was, you guessed it, 16 years old. After allowing me to do it an awful lot, my friends then started to mock me mercilessly for it and I deserved it. This is how we learn folks, by humiliating ourselves and enduring years of embarrassment because you wanted to be that asshole that let the whole world know that he reads. Good for you.
Yeah, I still do it sometimes, but only when I really have nothing else to talk about.
–The town really hasn’t changed all that much. There is still a lot of money in that town. A lot of relatively new money, too. I went to high school with a lot of first generation Americans, the children of immigrants, many of whom came to the United States fleeing a revolution in their home country that made it quite difficult to be a Jewish person in said country (I’ll give you a hint, it rhymes with ShmIran). These people managed to do something amazing, to build a thing once they got here, affording themselves the ability to live rather comfortably. Growing up, I don’t think my friends and I had a sufficient grasp on what an incredible achievement that actually is. We would have been a more understanding lot if we did.
The kids I grew up with, however, did not build shit. They were born into shit. Not just the kids of those specific immigrants, there were a lot of people I knew from a whole slew of cultural backgrounds whose parents grew up with very little who had managed to attain a whole lot. So the story in the parents’ mind is, “I had nothing when I was your age and it was fucking hard, so I’m gonna provide whatever I can to make your life not hard”.
What is the logical conclusion of “Let me give you everything you want because I have money now and can and it’s always better than not?”
So. Many. Entitled. Douchebags (none of the people I went to high school with who are reading this, though. Y’all are chill).
So. Many. Lavish. Parties. Thrown. By. Said. Douchebags. Where. I. Had. A. Great. Time. And. Then. My. Friends. And. I. Would. Make. Fun. Of. The. Douchebags. Who. Threw. It. Behind. Their. Backs. Because. We. Didn’t. Yet. Know. The. Meaning. Of. Hypocrisy.
As is typically the case with young fun, but especially young fun fueled by your parents’ considerable bank account, there was a sense that the party was going to last forever and that nothing bad was ever going to happen, which leads me to…
–Everybody misunderstands the ending of the fucking book. (Spoiler alert, but I mean, come on, you read the book when you were 16 just like the rest of America). I don’t know what it is about Jay losing the love of his life to some asshat whose main passion is horses, getting murdered, his house being ransacked, nobody showing up to the funeral, and having his name defamed by pretty much everybody that makes people think, “Oh yeah, no, that totally turns out alright”, but by the time we got to “So we beat on, boats against the current”, a surprisingly large number of people were like “So what you’re saying is there’s hope”. The common reading was “Oh, Jay died because he done goofed, but everybody else is gonna be alright”. The sense of foreboding, doom, and death that permeates the last chapter of the book because you know, the Great Depression, gets lost on a classroom full of horny 16-year-olds encountering great literature for the first and maybe last time ever (You don’t need to read Tolstoy in Daddy’s real estate office).
Part of this is that any teenager in any town doesn’t really ever think that anything bad is going happen. That’s part of the game of being a teenager. It’s why we did stupid shit, because the thought that we may actually perish didn’t occur to any of us.
Part of this is because when you and your townsfolk are literally the leading players in a book written 90 years ago, and that book is riddled with symbols portending your imminent destruction, couched in the spaces of a melodramatic tragic romance, you tend to overlook the destruction pages and beeline straight for the tragic part. It fits in so well with your heightened romantic teenage aesthetic anyway.
Speaking of heightened romantic teenage aesthetic…
–You throw a big party so that some girl you like will come to your house. I will not be going into too many specifics, because a number-of-people-that-is higher-than-a-number-I-would-be-comfortable-with that are reading this probably were at it, and the innocent must always be protected, but suffice to say I once took a very active role in planning a party because I wanted a girl I liked to come and think that I was cool. Other people who helped to throw the party had nobler, more magnanimous reasons for throwing the party. I did not.
You know that scene in Spring Breakers where James Franco jumps on his bed exhorting the females he is hosting in his domicile to gaze upon his belongings? And said females are, as the youths say these days, feeling it? I think that’s what I thought was going to happen, except instead of guns and money, I had alcohol and friends.
Turns out we threw the party the week she got her wisdom teeth out. I am bad at party planning.
–Your sense of romance is skewed for life. “You know what sounds super romantic to me? Dating a guy when I’m like, 16, and then he goes away because he’s poor, and I marry some other dude because he’s rich. Then, years later, I want the first guy to find out where I live in the newspaper, and move across the bay, but not tell me, just throw absurd parties in the hopes that one day I’ll show. And then, when I do show, I’ll start a torrid affair with him, but when he asks me to run away with him I’ll say ‘No’ and then accidentally run over my husband’s mistress with my lover’s car, and then my lover dies. Doesn’t that just sound, like, so beautiful? It’s like a Lana Del Ray song. Oh wait, it is a Lana Del Ray song! Thanks Baz Luhrmann!”
–You’ve been to Gatsby Point and looked for the “Green Light” because you’re a garbage person. A lot of us actually knew the family that lived on the estate. Yes, real human beings still live there. And you know what it’s called when you drive onto somebody else’s property in the middle of the night just because you wanna look at some pretty lights? Trespassing. It’s called trespassing. We were assholes. I am so sorry, we should’ve just asked.