The Day After: Gatsby, The Outsiders and Reality in Hialeah

The day after The Fair began fitfully, following a sleepless night thick with thought. The sun was not in step with my mood, and its hopeful shine on a bed of blue, promising wellness and good fortune, brought discord to an already complicated morning. I was wide-awake but couldn’t get up. As dawn crept to day, the vital temperament of our smiling star, gradually brought comfort, like a warm pane on a frosty cheek. It coaxed my spirit, and I slowly gave in to its persistence and genuine concern. I thought these lines and wrote the couplet on my Zenyatta Mondatta album cover (It’s still there, faded.)

The sun sits alone, aloft in seclusion

A fiery shrine to life and to fusion

How kind is the assurance that it will light it all up in the morning, our great Parent, providing perfect nourishment with bright waves and particles, promoting human mettle and the need to get up again and make it right, or at least better. She converts hydrogen to helium, the way we tend to make the light, heavy, but encourages us to beat the odds, to propel our lives by releasing energy otherwise wasted, transforming the feckless into something useful and good.

I rolled out of my twin bed and placed Nilsson Schmilsson on the turntable, side two. I couldn’t make it through “Without You”. I felt a mid-level emotional crisis coming on, so I pulled it and threw on The Style Council. That was better. Paul Weller was a musical Nick Carraway: wise and cool, sensible in the throes. Incidentally, some artists should never be covered—The Beatles, Nilsson, The Beach Boys, etc. Better yet, some artists should never be allowed to cover—Mariah Carey.

The phone sat on the night table with great calm, inert but fully aware of its power to connect or sever. I circled it like a dog does his resting spot. Wisdom called for patience, but the worm wriggling through my belly urged me to seek answers. I ached with her absence and smelled my hands and clothes for a trace of her perfume, but it was gone, sucked through my pores and erased by endless tossing and turning against cotton in the stark night. What had passed between us the night before was real, as real as anything tangible and undeniably present, like visible, solid matter. There isn’t much one can know with complete certainty, but there are specific moments and bits of experience that occlude all suspicion as to their meaning and value, as if fate occasionally, and in charitable fits, makes hasty exceptions to the rule of failure and disillusionment.

 I certainly had a right to call, but what would I say? And why did I feel small and vulnerable, even after our magical evening and intimate midnight feast? It was the splinter at parting, that change in her that carried little reason but confirmed the mystery of a girl and her thought process, which, like a restless breeze, is unreliable and fidgety at best, filling her mind with equivocation and indecision rivaled only by the tepid conviction of her heart.

I didn’t call her. I phoned my friend John, who, having been rejected as a player in the previous night’s celebration was surely peeved about the withheld invitation yet salivating with hunger for news. He was wicked on the phone, hammering the others for leaving him out, but I began to tell my story, a tale that was difficult to relate with a knot in my throat and spurts of wet laughter punctuating the narrative. His silence throughout the telling meant flawless attention or bitter jealousy, but when I concluded, he seemed genuinely happy for me, congratulating me over and over, reminding me of my better qualities. I was thankful but urged him for advice, suggestions for a next step to capitalize on the momentum, and he was aggressive as ever. I was not to delay another moment. I was to blend last night with the present, for I was in her today, permeating her thoughts as she swayed to and fro from lack of balance, and it was now that I stared at the bloody bull with a raised sword.

“Come over,” I said.

“See you in ten.”

My mind raced with the good thought, the one that fills you with manic happiness and shines through your pores, making your eyes well up and your mouth talk to yourself. I ran to my brother’s room and sacked his closet, ripping garments off hangers and piling them onto his bed for inspection. After my raid, his Parachute and Girbaud pants, self-designed t-shirts, linen tops and army belts lay in haughty repose on a fashionable heap, like that pitiful, landmark scene in The Great Gatsby, where Jay showers Daisy with a cascade of colorful, extravagant shirts, gaudy symbols of the material beauty he’d acquired and squirreled away, waiting for her return, his heart breaking daily for years with yearning and boundless, if futile, hope.

But I wanted something simple and understated, an outfit that spoke little and allowed my glow to make the impression. I put on a white t-shirt and Levis, a dark blue cotton jacket, and my black British Knights. I was a character from S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and I combed back my hair with wetness. All of it, so real and poignant then. But mostly comical now, the remembering.

I’d read The Outsiders a couple of years before but had recently seen Francis Coppola’s film and loved it.  I admired the Greasers, the kids from the poor side of the tracks, and Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” a bit of verse included in both the novel and film which so economically and elegantly illustrates the greatest sadness in life: the loss of innocence. I thought the narrator’s mixture of toughness and sensitivity was refreshing. He could rumble with the big dogs and still enjoy a sunset with poetic sensibility. I identified with Ponyboy and his crush on the unreachable Cherry Vallance. Diane Lane played the role in the film, and on that chilly night at the drive in, when the Greasers first meet Cherry, Mrs. Lane filled that sweater with such delicious snugness and punctuation.  I often replayed the scene in my head while locked in the bathroom to the shouts of a suspicious mother.

When John arrived, I was nervous but ready for anything. Sometimes we endow certain people with trust that borders on the omniscient. Like the Nick Carraways of fiction, whom we believe without reservation and surrender to with ease, as if they’d been blessed with special knowledge touched by a lofty sort of confidence and integrity, John had a way that made you follow his plan. He was couple of years older, and he knew best, his loyalty was solid, and his decisions were always in your best interest. The fact that he’d known her longer than I, and that he was an integral part of the theater gang was another useful perk.

“So, are we making a surprise visit?” I knew he’d suggest this.

“I’d love to. But I don’t think I can. I’d feel stupid, not to mention desperate.”

“Well, at the moment, you’re both. But for me it would be perfectly natural. They wouldn’t be surprised by my showing up.”

“Yeah, but what the hell would I be doing there?”

“Stop. She’ll know exactly why. And if last night happened like you say, she’ll like it.”

“Yeah, but it got weird at the end.”

“It was probably a good weird, but you’re too far in to realize it. Trust me.”

“I do and I’ll go. F**k it!”

We jumped in his blue Grand Prix and drove without a word through the busy Saturday morning traffic, Berlin’s “The Metro” blasting along West 12th Avenue. Hialeah thrives on the weekends, every corner guarded by an unemployed, ambitious entrepreneur trying to make meager living selling churrosgranizados, or roses in final, dark rimmed collapse.

As we approached her house, a structure I had visited, under the table, on countless occasions, I could hardly breathe. I had mastered reconnaissance, and I could draw detailed blue prints of the property, but the idea of penetration was terrifying. Would I be allowed in? And what would she say? I imagined her on her couch, lightly tapping the empty space beside her, luring me, asking for my warmth to comfort the cold half of her love seat. I saw her smile and I heard her voice and I felt her breath. Then I thought of her opening the door, standing with arms akimbo, asking us brusquely to state our business, so I told John to keep driving.

He drove around the block, onto 12th Avenue, and pulled into Carriage Cleaners, a block from her house. I stepped out of the car and sat on the hood.

“It’s too soon, man. And I wasn’t invited. She has no idea we’re coming!”

“So what? I told you they know how I am. Look, it’s obvious she’s interested in you. And she likes confidence. Play this right or you’ll blow it.”

“We’ll just stop and say hello? Not make a big deal?”

“Fine. Let’s get to the house first. Then we’ll knock on the door and take it from there.”

“Alright. I’m scared, Johnny.”

“I know. Let me handle it.”

We drove down the street and pulled into her driveway. I felt heavy and numb but weightless, a big dummy in zero gravity. I moved without thinking about the present. We knocked on her door and waited. After what seemed like a long while, we heard the familiar metal clicks of hands on lock and knob. She opened the door, and I was pummeled by her presence. I’ll never forget that blow and how tender my heart felt afterward. I really loved her then—in a way and with a capacity that has since gone missing.

Her face was a bit sad with a dash of concern, a glow of perspiration on her glorious countenance. She seemed a bit surprised but not upset or insulted, as I had feared. She tried to be pleasant through the trouble on her mind, but I could read her with expert skill. All at once I knew her, I could see there was a problem, but it had nothing to do with John and me. She slipped through the narrow space between door and frame, stepped onto the porch, and softly closed the door behind her.

“Hey! It’s good to see you. What are you doing here?”

John never hesitated, “We were about to get lunch on Main Street and decided to stop by, say “hi”, and see if you and Doris were interested.”

I couldn’t speak.

Her face tightened with a worried smile, “We’d really like that, but it’s not a good time. We’ve got house stuff to do. You know how it is.”

“Come on, are you sure?” John didn’t understand.

“Maybe another time,” I offered, and she thanked me with her smile and her eyes. It was a connection that blew doors on mutual agreement and drove straight to the heart.

“I would love that. I’ll see you guys later,” she said, and a few beats later, looking into my eyes, she whispered, “Bye.”

She disappeared behind the door and I could hear quick shuffling and vicious murmuring. An angry shout cut through the moment with a katana. John and I froze, our feet unable to carry us toward the car. From inside the house we heard a raspy, booming voice: “Sandra, la comida!”

Sandra was her mother, and the violent demand for food came from her father, a broken but dangerous man already soused at noon. Pots and pans clanked, glass broke, a stifled cry gave way to a mild sob, and then, silence.

I looked around and noticed John sitting in the driver’s seat, waving at me frantically, imploring me with his flailing arms and fearful facial mime to get my ass back in the car. I wanted to rescue her, but I knew it was impossible. I stood there for a few minutes and then walked away. I felt sorry for her. Not only did she live in what appeared to be a place of turmoil and pain, but she had to suffer the indignity of witnesses. She had problems like the rest of us, and I knew that scene well. I’d played a minor role in countless personal performances on my home-stage. In that moment, I remembered Cherry’s words for Ponyboy: “Things are rough all over.”

Now, closer to earth, she seemed a bit fragile, so real, and I desired her more than ever. I wanted to know more for the right reasons. If I became part of it, I could commit to her salvation, if only in the smallest way: teenage grandiosity. Obsession makes us yearn for a heavy burden, a perilous calling, an unconquerable task, something that invites martyrdom, and I was more than happy to take the fall.

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Izo Besares

Izo Besares is a singer / songwriter, drummer, and founding member of the local alternative / power-pop band Humbert, which formed in 1999 from the ashes of I Don’t Know. He’s an educator and a single father living in South Miami.