On monsters (III)

My first essay on monsters was an attempt at describing monsters, but it said nothing about where monsters come from, and I don’t mean from under the bed or from the depths of a pond or from a dark closet. I think that any given society creates its own monsters out of the irrational fears that it harbors. In the fifties there were radioactive blobs trying to kill overly hormonal teenagers that were fleeing creepy scarred old guys. The Cold War was only too kind to share is manias, fears and irrational assassination plots with the rest of the world in the form of giant ants, fire-breathing dinosaurs and scaly green lizard men. Our contemporary society is so messed up with paranoia, conspiracy theories, and crop circles that monsters even got their own movie. They had become so commonplace that they had become comedy and not tragedy. But our obsession for monsters from outer-space, the depths of the ocean or the depths of our minds continues to grow. It’s hard to know if monsters are a sign of mental health or lack thereof. Slasher monsters don’t interest me because they grow out of a fear of random violence and general paranoia, which is just sadistic and uninteresting. Other monsters tend to be the outgrowth of our own hubris and pride, such as Frankenstein’s monster. Werewolves and vampires are just the result of pent up and repressed sexuality–nothing new there. When we start looking for ghosts and spirits, however, things start to get a little out of whack. Guilt seems to be the greenhouse for monsters, where they first take shape, take their first steps before bursting out into the nightmare world of your own dreams. Monsters don’t have to be ugly, but they do have to be menacing. Monsters are monsters because they want to hurt you, take away your stuff, scare you. Monsters hide in dark corners, in black alleys and empty cars. They are in the basement or up in the attic. They lurk well after midnight and make scuffling noises before they go dead silent. Monsters have no pity, are invincible and fast, do not worry about ethics, are unafraid, don’t care if they hurt you. Some of us handle the monsters better than others. I found that as a child, the monsters were everywhere and out to get me, but as an adult I am pretty good at keeping Grendel’s mother at bay. Nor do I harbor ghosts, spirits, sprites or genies. So if you hear a little scuffling in the dark corner of your closet, ask yourself this: what am I really afraid of and why is my conscience bothering me? Well, what’s the worst thing you ever did? Now, check for monsters.

On Gatsby

Originally, I got to know Gatsby because I was invited to his lavish parties out at his “house” in West Egg. I’m not much of a party guy, but my girlfriend (now, ex-girlfriend) said it would be fun. I knew better. I had seen a million of these guys come into the business, get used up, and vanish, die. Yesterday, some two-bit mechanic broke into his house and shot him. I lied just now when I said I didn’t know Jay Gatsby before I went to his party. Years ago, when we were both innocent kids growing up in Minnesota, I knew him as a quiet, Jim Gatz, a normal guy with honest aspirations and dreams. Then the war came, we were sucked into the great war machine, we went to Europe and our paths crossed again, albeit briefly. He was just a kind, humble guy in those days, but I could tell he was also hungry. Yet even in war, he was nothing like the strange, cold monster I encountered on the lawn of his mansion. We didn’t talk. After I came home from the war I found that my girl had married someone else so I moved to New York and got a job on Wall Street. My accounting degree from a small liberal arts school in the Midwest was just the ticket I needed to get into banking. I even look the part–skinny, glasses, bad hair, but I have mad accounting skills. To say that Gatsby was up to his ears in illegal activities is to not really understand the problem at all. He helped move merchandise for his mob, laundered profits into legitimate businesses, and fronted for some pretty nasty cats up in New York City. Let’s not get squeamish or prissy, but part of my firm’s business was to launder money, and some of these bootleggers had tons of it–cash. Now, there is nothing wrong with cash, but if you have lots, the government wants to know where it came from. You know, did you pay your taxes? Gatsby was a great front for his syndicate because he looked the part–handsome, blond, broad shoulders, charm, great smile, he didn’t drink or gamble, didn’t womanize or take drugs. It’s kind of hard to trust a guy with no vices, although I always suspected he had at least one. The difference between the two of us is that I was just an anonymous accountant with a bad scar who worked in a windowless office on Wall Street. I may have skills, but no one wants me to represent the firm in public. So, for a ton of money, Gatsby sold his soul to the Devil so the Devil could launder his money and turn it into legitimate business ventures. Gatsby looked the part of a legitimate businessman, but he was as dirty as they come, and I would know, I’ve seen them all. Gatsby’s cut made him a millionaire, made him a success, but it also made him numb to almost any and all ethical considerations. He didn’t enjoy his parties, and I get the feeling he knew almost no one there. I assume he was killed because of a woman, but that’s rather irrelevant, especially for Gatsby. Too much money too fast will kill you every time.