The sound of the 6 train always scared those who weren’t paying attention. It would startle anyone not looking for it to arrive, or those slowly dozing off after a long night. All suffered that same cycle except for Fin, who was too busy humming music in his head or hitting on women during his 6 train adventures. He was a living juxtaposition to his fellow high schoolers: others went to protest at Columbia; he made fun of kids who read books on the train.
On a day after LBJ went on live television to speak about the war, his history teacher gave the class the task of finding a classic book that shares a theme with Vietnam. Some went straight for the horrific classics: The Turn of The Screw, Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Others went for more of a direct approach: For Whom The Bell Tolls, Catch-22, even Henry VI. Fin approached his teacher with a bit of annoyance, “How are we supposed to do this damn project if we hadn’t read any classics?” She responded rather quickly, “Go to the library, catch up.”
Fin’s first problem was not finding a book, it was finding the library. On his way home, he came across a small store at the corner of Clinton and Delaney. After stepping over the homeless man on the side of the entrance, he entered what seemed like a small closet that smelled like cigarettes. He picked the first book off the shelf and was ready to buy it. The clerk told him it would be $4.50. “The hell is this? For a book? Get the hell out of here!”, exclaimed Fin. His ID happened to show in his wallet, and the clerk read his full name.
“James Finch. You know you got a famous last name boy?”
“Oh yea? Who’s got it, your wife?”
“Atticus Finch. To Kill A Mockingbird.”
“To Kill a Hummingbird too, here’s your money”. Fin shoved the old book into his bag and stormed out. As he did, he bumped into a girl who seemed to look at him with familiarity, and as a result curiosity.
“You come here often?”
Fin turned and chuckled. “I wish.”
When Fin arrived home, he couldn’t tell if he felt intimidated, or attracted to her. I should have at least gotten her name. His father arrived shortly after, and immediately began complaining about his day at work. “You know how often those damn trains get unhinged? With all those hippies rioting all over the place, who knows what goes on in those stations.” Fin felt like telling him humans cannot unhinge a train, but he was reluctant to do so. “What you got there?”, his father questioned, as he lit a Camel. Fin took out the book. “Great Gatsby, huh? Looks like he lived here.” His dad pointed to the New York skyline on the cover. “You feel smarter with this? You know what they say, two types of people read books, Harvard students and college dropouts.”
Fin took his book after a fruitful conversation with his father, sat in his room, and stared at the cover. He saw the main city attractions, much more vibrant than in his day. He wanted to feel that same city nightlife the cover showed. It’s only 10:30, the night’s young.
And like that, Fin was once again awaiting the 6, only this time with a friend.
As he entered the train, he sat in the only seat open next to another homeless man, who had taken the liberty of getting a restful nap in on multiple seats. “So that’s the book you got?” As Fin imagined watching fireworks over the Empire State Building, the girl from the bookstore had stood right in front of him.
“You wanna read it?” Fin bolted back.
“I have already. For school. My name’s Dee. Where ya going?”
“To watch the skyline.” That’s her name.
Dee looked at him in confusion. “Haven’t you seen the skyline before? Why cause the cover has it? Maybe you should read the story before you romanticize the city.” Fin stood up now. “I don’t need to read it to know how it goes.” “It doesn’t go, it’s not a fucking song. A book teaches you. Gatsby should help you quite a lot. You know who the author is?” “Someone rich.”, Fin said as he pulled out his dad’s Camels. “F. Scott Fitzgerald. And don’t smoke it’s not good for you. You know he lived here too.” Fin was getting tired. “I think I missed my stop. I’ll smoke when I want too. If I think the book’s good, I’ll go to the bookstore and let you know. I don’t need the author’s New York expertise to help me, I bet he went to Harvard anyways.” Dee got off the train as it stopped. “It was Yale.”
Fin once again, arrived home, this time at the same time as his mother. “James Finch, what the hell are you doing home so late? All I do is work for you and your father, and you have the nerve to be home at midnight? It’s that damn school, telling y’all to be free and seize the night like a damn hippie.” “Ma, do you know To Kill A Mockingbird?” His mother dialed down. “Why, I may have a long time ago. Bunch of hoopla.” Fin nodded his head in almost disappointment. “Night ma.”, Fin said as he walked into his room. As he lay on his bed, the book seemed to bounce off and hit the floor. He sat up, ready to pick it up. But just as he was ready to stay up even later, he murmured a “screw that”, and fell asleep.
The next day after school, with attitude and poise, Fin trotted to the bookstore. He couldn’t see the homeless man, and that extended to being unable to see the store either. CLOSED FOR GOOD.
Fin bolted to the only other place he knew plenty of books would be, the Public Library. Upon his entrance, he walked up to a librarian’s desk, and asked if he could get a biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Why, I don’t see why not, it’s right down that aisle.” “Thank you, and do you have any copies of To Kill A Mockingbird?” Fin almost seemed out of breath. He finally got both books, opened to Fitzegerald’s mansion in Long Island, and looked for an address. I’ll find it, just look out for it.
Fin raced home, stole the keys to his father’s old Chevrolet, and headed for the Triboro Bridge.
About a half-hour later, he reached a sign that read: THE VILLAGE OF GREAT NECK, LONG ISLAND, NY. With a picture in the book in one hand, he searched for the house. When he finally stopped on the side of the road, he felt like he had shut his ears off, and went fully deaf. All he could hear was peace and quiet, and the view of Fitzgerald’s grand mansion in front of the water struck his young eyes. He could see what had once been of the thriving household in the early 1900s, and closed his eyes to envision. He no longer saw the skyline. Maybe he wanted me to read it too, he thought as Dee’s voice entered his head. He took a photo of the house, with its front yard of fresh green grass, and the slowly aging paint on the house pillars. He took the picture back to his dad’s Chevy, wrote DEE on the back of it, and taped it over the skyline of The Great Gatsby.