“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Coloured Empires’ by this man Goddard?”
“Why, no,” I answered, rather surprised by his tone.
“Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be–will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”
“Tom’s getting very profound,” said Daisy with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. “He reads deep books with long words in them. What was that word we–”
“Well, these books are all scientific,” insisted Tom, glancing at her impatiently. “This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us who are the dominant race to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”
“We’ve got to beat them down,” whispered Daisy, winking ferociously toward the fervent sun.
“You ought to live in California–” began Miss Baker but Tom interrupted her by shifting heavily in his chair.
“This idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are and you are and–” After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod and she winked at me again. “–and we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization–oh, science and art and all that. Do you see?”
There was the boom of a bass drum, and the voice of the orchestra leader rang out suddenly above the echolalia of the garden.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he cried. “At the request of Mr. Gatsby we are going to play for you Mr. Vladimir Tostoff’s latest work which attracted so much attention at Carnegie Hall last May. If you read the papers you know there was a big sensation.” He smiled with jovial condescension and added “Some sensation!” whereupon everybody laughed.
“The piece is known,” he concluded lustily, “as ‘Vladimir Tostoff’s Jazz History of the World.’ ”
[…] When the “Jazz History of the World” was over girls were putting their heads on men’s shoulders in a puppyish, convivial way, girls were swooning backward playfully into men’s arms, even into groups knowing that some one would arrest their falls.
Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.
A dead man passed us in a hearse heaped with blooms, followed by two carriages with drawn blinds and by more cheerful carriages for friends. The friends looked out at us with the tragic eyes and short upper lips of south-eastern Europe, and I was glad that the sight of Gatsby’s splendid car was included in their somber holiday.
As we crossed Blackwell’s Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish Negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.
“Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,” I thought; “anything at all. . . .”
“He isn’t causing a row.” Daisy looked desperately from one to the other. “You’re causing a row. Please have a little self control.”
“Self control!” repeated Tom incredulously. “I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that’s the idea you can count me out. . . . Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white.”
Flushed with his impassioned gibberish he saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization.
“We’re all white here,” murmured Jordan.
That’s my middle west–not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns but the thrilling, returning trains of my youth and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family’s name. I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all–Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.
Categories: cultura di massa