Mowing With Gatsby

Using a lawnmower does not come naturally and using a line trimmer (or whipper snipper) comes even less naturally. It seems so simple and yet complications always seem to arise when I use it. Despite purchasing a new whipper snipper, meant to start quickly and easily and also meant to have a simple method to feed more line through when the thread is reduced by wear to a length which isn’t useful, I’ve never quite embraced the machine. Two reasons for this are: 1) it doesn’t start quickly and easily, and 2) the line feeding method is only simple if you have at least three hands. I’m also just not very good at using the thing.

The sun was burning on this Saturday though. It was bright and humid, and it was clear that work in the yard would be sweaty, and for some reason, notwithstanding the usual bout of (completely justified) whingeing about the poor design of this gardening tool, I managed to wind on more cord, feed through enough line to make a start in other words, replace the cap which holds the whole spool of cord together inside it, without the whole thing unravelling and spilling out onto the ground, and get the bugger started, all with a relative minimum of fuss. When I was finished, the edges on the pathway to the washing line were neater and the new garden bed borders no longer had encroaching lawn looming and grass terminated at the foot of the wooden fences around the backyard. It wasn’t the best job, but it was a good job, and there have been many worse when I have had charge of the machinery, so I was proud – a little – of the effort if not the excellence of the result.

Before the whipper snipping the lawns were mowed. This is an ageing piece of equipment, which works just fine, although it possesses a slightly strange personality. Recently it was in a chronically bad mood and I injured my back on a few weekends pulling the pull cord, which probably says more about the state of my back than it does about the mower, in fact, but anyway, the mower has been co-operative of late, and I was thankful for that.

There is much lawn to mow. And it grows quickly. So typically it gets at least two goes – a trim, followed by a close crop, and sometimes, like this day, a very close crop after that. The ground is relatively flat, albeit sloping toward the rear fence, but there are areas of complex undulation and convoluted topography where an inexperienced person using a low blade can get into trouble, and find the mower removing soil from the top of a mound or otherwise slicing the grass clean off. These features of the task were all factored into my approach and I was able to think about other things – the best part of lawn mowing is being alone with your thoughts – and my thoughts, inevitably, turned to The Great Gatsby, as it is a very special book to me, and my thoughts turned to challenging myself to name all of the characters in this story, as I have a trite and immature way of thinking when left to my own devices.

Tom and Daisy Buchanan were first. I congratulated myself for this accident, as the book could be said to be their story. The narrator Nick Carraway, who I thought of next, says something about people like them living wherever they can find other people like them and they can be rich together. Jay Gatsby could be thought of as one of many characters in the story who ran up against the Buchanans’ selfishness, and came off second best. The story has his name, though, but he is only in it for something like 10% or 20% of the novel. And this was a conscious decision. Fitzgerald was advised, by Edmund Wilson or was it Maxwell Perkins (one was a publisher and the other an editor), to minimise the Gatsby passages and that was good advice. And I thought of George Wilson, who runs the garage and is the husband of Myrtle Wilson, Tom Buchanan’s lover, and the people at the party with them, the party they drag Nick Carraway to in New York, where he gets drunk for the second and last time and realises it is his birthday. Mr and Mrs. McKee, I thought their names were, although I couldn’t be sure. Violet McKee, was that the woman’s name? And there was Myrtle Wilson’s sister, who was there, and I could not think of her name, and that really bothered me. There was also the man who Nick Carraway shared the house at West Egg with, very briefly, and who leaves the story after a few lines, without saying anything, and Nick’s Finnish housekeeper and cook, and Gatsby’s servants, who are then replaced by a second group of sinister and not particularly well-trained servants later in the story. There was Jordan Baker, who Daisy tried to set Nick up with, and they were a couple briefly, and another woman Nick was said to have been engaged to, but broke it off, back in the Midwest, and of course, as the subject of innuendo, that woman is never named, and hardly counts as a character at all. And the regular guests at Gatsby’s parties sprang to mind: the only ones I could recall were Klipspringer, a name I love, and the man with the owl eyes. There was also the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg, a giant billboard, which almost acts like a character, as George Wilson interacts with it as though it is one, as though, in fact, it is a disappointed god looking down on his unfaithful wife. And there was Dan Cody, an old sailor who Gatsby went to work for as Jimmy Gatz and helped him transform himself into a successful and polished man of business, and Myer Wolfsheim, a business associate of Gatsby, said to have fixed the 1919 World Series, and Wolfsheim’s wife, or was it sister, who Nick had to talk to when he wanted to inform Gatsby’s old colleague of his death. And, of course, there was old Mr. Gatz. I can’t remember his name. I particularly like that conversation when he is telling Nick how his son sought to better himself, and how he had drive, even as a boy, to improve and be a sophisticated adult figure one day. “He told me I et like a hog,” he says, and it always makes me laugh when I read that.

After checking, I realise that I have left out Tom and Daisy’s daughter, and that Myrtle’s sister was called Catherine. The McKees were Chester and Lucille and Mr Gatz was Henry.

But I didn’t do too badly.

And the lawn was shortened without having to think too much about shortening the lawn.

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Published in: on November 27, 2012 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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