Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Original Dust Jacket Cover

I love New York on summer afternoons when everyone’s away. There’s something very sensuous about it—overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands(Jordan - The Great Gatsby)

That's a great sentence, and I love New York on summer afternoons, but that was a long while ago because nowadays on summer afternoons, New York is full of tourists. Ironically, the place where you might feel that lethargy would be where the Fitzgerald's were living - at Great Neck on the North Shore of Long Island - when Scott Fitzgerald started writing The Great Gatsby. To economize, the Fitzgerald's rented a house at 6 Gateway Drive for $300 a month (they had been paying $200 a week to live at the Plaza).

Fitzgerald Home 1922-1924

Fitzgerald wrote the first 3 chapters of Gatsby at Great Neck (the house is still there) and finished the manuscript when they moved to the French Riviera - which was a cheaper place to live than Great Neck. At that time.

Unlike Hemingway and Wolfe, Fitzgerald didn't swear. The worst he might call someone was a "colossal egg." So, his attitude about the neighborhood was evident in calling it West Egg. When he and Zelda lived there, 1922-1924, the neighbors were a mixture of old and new money - Groucho Marx and Samuel Goldwyn had houses in that part of Long Island along with Jock Whitney, William K. Vanderbilt (now Eagle's Nest Museum) and Otto Kahn (now Oheka Castle Hotel. Kahn's Manhattan house/castle is now a private school right across the street from the Carnegie Museum).

There's a Great Gatsby boat tour: so you can see the houses along the Gold Coast. Some of the houses from the book have been torn down - most notably Lands End which could have been the Buchanan's or Gatsby's house.  And although many people guess which houses on the Gold Coast were used in the movie, there weren't any, because the movie was filmed in Australia.
Lands End Estate
For me, the most memorable scenes in The Great Gatsby are not at the houses, but are the ones involving the creepy sign with the eyes.

The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. (The Great Gatsby)

I imagined a pair of eyes and round spectacles swinging from a pole extended from a building. And I thought the sign was in Red Hook, believing that the drive Gatsby and the Buchanans took from Long Island to the City was through Brooklyn because I thought East Egg was East Hampton.

But the book was really so clear about them driving through Queens.

The city seen from Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world…. ‘Anything can happen now that we’ve slid across this bridge,’ I thought. ‘Anything at all. (Nick - The Great Gatsby)

The place where the creepy sign was supposedly located is now the site of Shea Stadium.


[NOTE: The Great Gatsby is not my favorite Fitzgerald book. My favorite is a book of short stories set on a studio lot in Los Angeles - The Pat Hobby Stories. They are hilarious.]

Thursday, June 8, 2017

RED HOOK - From Shipping Center to Shopping Center

In my opinion, Red Hook, is the best name of any of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn and had a romantic and daring history. Red Hook was known for being the center of the shipping industry in New York and for crime, violent crime, murderous crime. The Gallo family lived here. Lately, it was where you could visit to buy drugs easily on a street corner. So, to distract from that legacy, there's a new name. The realtors have taken to calling parts of Red Hook the "Columbia Street Waterfront District." Doesn't have quite the same ring to it and takes much longer to say. But Red Hook is so up-and-coming that Tesla, the motor car company, has a showroom there.

Red Hook was a working class and low-income area at a Southwest point of Brooklyn. The mouth of the Gowanus Canal is at the edge of Red Hook. It's surrounded by water on three sides, and when I first visited Red Hook, it felt like more like the sea than anywhere in Brooklyn - like sailors and people who understood how to build and repair ships and sails and net. It used to be a site of shipping commerce, but the people of commerce lived in Brooklyn Heights. The people who moved commerce lived in Red Hook.

Near the waterfront, there were two-story wooden houses paint fading from blues and greens, some had portholes in the front doors, some had life preservers hanging the front walls. They are being torn down for the sake of development. Farther into the neighborhood were 2-story red brick houses and some made of limestone.

Red Hook still has the oldest warehouse in Brooklyn (called "stores" when they were built) now turned into an arts complex, Brooklyn Waterfront Artists. Nearby, there's another warehouse turned into Fairway Market - a very nice supermarket right at water's edge with a place where you can eat the sandwiches you buy inside. And next to that is the Waterfront Barge Museum - not much to see, but fun to be inside an old barge.

Just down the street, there was for a while an old abandoned Revere Sugar Refinery. I saw it was decaying, but historic and worth restoring. The refinery was last owned by a Philippine investor and once there was a drug bust netting 307 pounds of cocaine - which I guess they were exporting or importing as powdered sugar. Anyway, the sugar mill is gone and currently, there are plans to build a hi-tech complex on that site that will "bring jobs" into the area (and will also bring the people to work those jobs who will drive out the current residents).

Home Depot and Ikea are already in Red Hook, and right in between those two megastore lies a large public housing unit - Red Hook East and Red Hook West. In getting permission from the City to build the Ikea and Home Depot, the claim was that they would create jobs for people living in the nearby public housing. So I ask, how many people have you ever found to help you at Ikea? Or at Home Depot? Can you imagine the musical chairs that went on in applying for those 15 or 20 jobs?

Not sure if it is still there, but one of the Red Hook schools used an old playground to build planters for a raised garden and taught children how to grow vegetables and learn about nutrition.

There's also a 3-acre community garden near the public housing project in Red Hook where local residents grow and sell produce.  How long before realtors discover this "waste" of land?

Since Brooklyn is now an uber-expensive place to live, I suggest you visit Red Hook before everything historic and local is wiped away.