THE GREAT GATSKEY
Ever hear the one about the time Pony met Wolf at the stream?
Upon running into Wolf down at the stream, Pony goes:
“Oh my goodness, Wolf! Wolf, I am a big fan.”
“Well, thank you,” Wolf says rather sheepishly.
“No! I mean it. You are wonderful. I love your howl,” Pony gushes.
“Thanks, I appreciate it,” Wolf says.
“How do you howl like that? I wish I could howl like you,” goes Pony.
“Well, I am sure you could —”
To which Pony interrupts:
“No. I am just a little horse.”
My Old Man lives next to a Shetland pony name Gatsby. He likes to feed Gatsby carrots every day, buys them by the bushelful from Walmart. Shetland ponies love carrots. They became fast friends.
Problem is the old guy couldn’t remember Gatsby’s name for the life of ’em. Took to calling the little horse “Gatskey” or “Gatsdy” or some such slaughtering of the name. One night I called my Dad for a chat and after going to voicemail I got this text:
Pops: “out sidefeedingGatsdy”
Apparently this message looked like this because while he was in fact feeding the pony some carrots, My Old Man didn’t take two steps back from the fence to text and the Great Gatsdy knocked his phone out of his hands before he could edit the message. Hilarious.
Anyways, I suggested that maybe he should read the book for which the pony is named, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great Gatsby.” I figured the reason the old guy was having a problem with the little guy’s name was because he wasn’t familiar with Fitzgerald’s novel or the characteristics of the story’s anti-hero. So I says to my Dad I says,
“Hey! You should go to the library and read “The Great Gatsby” so you can learn about the name.”
“What? How come.”
“It doesn’t interest me.”
“What doesn’t interest you? Stories about celebrities and parties?”
“But you read books by guys like Keith Richards and Theoren Fleury. They are celebrities to a degree.”
“How about this. You go to the library. Get the book. Read the first two chapters. And if you are not interested anymore you can–”
“I can throw the book against the wall?”
“Yes. You can throw the book against the wall.”
“And I will read it too and we can talk about it. Sound good.”
“Do you ever watch Ice Road Truckers?”
“No Dad, I don’t watch Ice Road Truckers.”
“Do we have a deal?”
“The Great Gatsby, Dad?”
I wanted Dad to read the first two chapters of “Gatsby” because I thought it would be enough to hook him; but also, it is in the first two chapters where we meet Tom Buchanan, the narrator’s cousin-in-law and the one eventually cuckolded by Jay Gatsby. Buchanan is an interesting character because he used to be some football player, one of those All-American types. He can’t really ever get over the fact that he isn’t as important as he was on the football grounds. Nick Carraway–our faithful narrator–describes Tom at one point thusly:
“I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game” (9).
If that isn’t my Old Man and his long dead baseball career then I don’t know what it is. I thought he might connect with this and want to see what happens to Tom, Nick, Daisy, Myrtle, Jordan, Jay, and all the rest. Plus, I mean, Fitzgerald captures the sexiness of Long Island Sound in New York in the ’20s pretty seductively, and I thought that might carry Dad through too. Also, the book is a pretty important one to have checked off the list. Not the most important book to read but it is short, lush, tight, and consumable. I figured this would be a slam dunk.
So he goes to the library in West Edmonton some weeks later to get the book. He doesn’t get a library card and the librarian tells him they don’t have a copy of “The Great Gatsby” available at the location. I get a call some minutes later:
“They didn’t have a copy. So that’s over and I am never going back.”
“For such a popular book, you would think they would have one.”
“Hang on, let me check this.”
While I go on to the EPL website to check the availability of the book, Dad goes:
“I told the girl there that my son is doing his PhD in English and says this is a classic book, and you don’t have a copy. Must not be that important”
“Dad. EPL has 34 copies of “The Great Gatsby.” 33 of them are out. But there is one at the branch in Strathcona. Why didn’t you ask her to bring it in for you?”
“Oh. Well, I don’t have a library card.”
“What? Why didn’t you get one?”
“Don’t want one.”
“You know they are free and you can rent movies with them.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“But, I’m not going to get that book.”
“I thought we had a deal.”
“Well, you wouldn’t shut-up about it so now I know Gatsby’s name.”
I re-read “The Great Gatsby” despite my stubborn Old Man. A delicious novel. Everyone should read it. While I was reading the novel, on the side of all the coursework I was doing to wrap up my semester, I was shocked by how often I would reference Fitzgerald’s novel and how many people were game to talk about it. Over a couple bowls of fish stew one rainy evening in Kingston, I had a neat little discussion about the book with a friend of a friend.
I had recounted to her the story of my Dad and the pony. I had thought, from memory, that “The Great Gatsby” was a digestible story about the infamous Jay Gatsby and the foils and follies of celebrity. I said something about how the title “The GREAT Gatsby” kindles in my memory a sort-of idolatry of the character. That is to say the story is important because Jay Gatsby is important. But, after reading it again–and much closer than I had in years past–I noticed that the story is really a heavy-handed eulogy to Jay Gatsby by Nick Carraway. That Carraway is writing against the rather sundry reputation of Gatsby because he believes the real story ought to be told. Thus, “The Great Gatsby” is really Nick Carraway’s impetus to tell the truth about Jay Gatsby, who he believes is a great man.
All discussion of Carraway’s sexuality aside, his love for Gatsby always gets in the way of his telling of a truthful story. So our view of Gatsby comes to us a bit askew. Especially when we find out that Jay Gatsby’s real name is “Gatz.”
So he might as well have been “The Great Gatz” or “Great Gatskey” for all we care.
I guess the Old Man wasn’t that far off after all.