Nick Introduces Himself

In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice. “Whenever you feel like criticizing someone,” he told me, “just remember that not everyone had the advantages you’ve had. Some people have never even eaten at Culver’s.”

Nick Moves to West Egg

It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a duplex in a complex of identical duplexes in the middle of a cornfield. It was in that aggressively unwalkable community—which extends itself along the interstate exit, just a half a mile from the Hy-Vee—where there were, among other natural curiosities, two unusual formations: a pair of enormous egg-themed brunch restaurants. Identical in menu, and separated only by a Casey’s gas station, two locally owned egg joints opened for four hours a day, five days a week, each named with the most obvious of egg puns in mind.

Nick Meets Daisy and Tom

The house was even more elaborate than I expected, a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom single-family townhouse with lavish dark vinyl plank flooring, exquisite sliding barn doors, and a fridge in the garage just for pop. The lawn started at the sidewalk and ran twenty feet to where the public golf course began, jumping over hostas, mulch, and those folding chairs that you have to put in a bag when you’re done using them. The front was broken by an old wooden pallet painted to look like an American flag, and Tom Buchanan in chinos and a too-tight polo was standing with his legs apart at his lawnmower.

Gatsby’s Party

There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights: Jimmy Buffet, Kid Rock, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. Every Friday, five pallets of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale arrived from the Meijer, and at least once a fortnight, a corps of neighbors came down with hundreds of crockpots and containers of Tupperware. Placed on folding tables glistening with spicy chili, pulled pork, and loose Koegel’s hot dogs, all warmed among foil trays of casserole and hotdish dinners, bewitched with mayonnaise and too much salt. By seven o’clock, the karaoke machine arrived—no cheap Bluetooth speaker from Five Below but a repurposed Fender amp from Gatsby’s cousin’s cover band. Suddenly, one of the party-goers, dressed in flip-flops and a pair of jeans, seized a bean bag out of the air, tossed it up and down in concentration, and in an underhanded throw, sent it directly into the cornhole. The party had begun.

Gatsby’s Car

He saw me looking with admiration at his Ford F-150. “Haven’t you ever seen it before, old sport?” Everybody had seen it. It was a bright yellow color, wrapped to appear as though a raptor had clawed the shiny exterior, which mirrored a dozen suns. The rear window had been entirely obstructed by a vinyl sticker wherein a Honda logo is the target of a young man’s stream of urine. Its monstrous flatbed showed no sign of use and from the tow hitch dangled two triumphant metallic orbs. Sitting down behind the tinted glass of our Oakleys, we headed to the gas station to socialize and play slots.

The Hotel Room Confrontation

“By the way, Mr. Gatsby, I understand you’re Illini.”

“Not exactly.”

“Oh, yes, I understand you went to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.”

“Yes—I went there.”

Then Tom’s voice, incredulous and insulting: “You must have gone there about the time they stopped having a white college kid dress up as Chief Illiniwek and run around the football field doing a culturally insensitive dance.”

“I only stayed five months. I dropped out after I broke my collarbone in a four-wheeler accident. That’s why I don’t really know the lyrics to the Oskee Wow-Wow fight song.”

Gatsby’s Death

At two o’clock, Gatsby put on his swim trunks and headed to the above-ground pool he had recently purchased on sale at Menards. He stopped in the garage for the inflatable sprinkle donut tube he had used all summer long to drag his party guests around the lake with his pontoon. Then he gave instructions that his Ford F-150 Raptor wasn’t to be taken out of the garage under any circumstances, and this was strange because Gatsby had never parked his truck in the garage—that’s where the beer pong table was. Floating in the twenty-foot-by-four-foot pool on his donut tube, he waited for Daisy’s call and looked around at the new world, where ghosts drifted about like the powdered sugar on a bowl of puppy chow.

Closing Line

So we beat on, paddleboats against the wake of a neighbor’s jet ski, born back ceaselessly into the past.