Stayed in Princeton my last night in the NY area. An old friend of mine, Tyler Lyke, lives there. Got his masters in painting at the Penn Academy, his undergrad at KU. Does wonderfully intricate paintings that are abstracted yet precise; a combination of a scalloped ceramic surfaces on canvas that are treated with a complex process of in-painting. Oh hell, I could never describe it. Let’s just say it’s inspired and unique. He has one show a year in Philly.
We had sushi at some joint in a hotel, then went for a walk. I’ve always liked walking past the old dorm where Fitzgerald stayed, when he tried to make his mark in the Triangle Club, the Cottage Club, and in football. He had no trouble making his mark in the drinking clubs. Don’t doubt he felt intimidated; middle-class Midwesterner among the great wealth of the East Coast families. Poor Fitz, always convinced he had to impress everyone and it cost him greatly. But then most of us feel that way when we’re young. I know I did.
He entered Princeton in 1913, then had to drop out in 1915 owing to a bout of malaria, brought on by the mosquitoes in the nearby swamps. He returned in his junior year but, really not an academician, flunked out. America jumped into WWI about then, he joined up, and never returned to Princeton. He didn’t go to the war either, as it ended before he could get overseas. But he did write This Side of Paradise while still in uniform, which was later followed by Gatsby, Tender, and Tycoon–along with all those dozens of flawless stories. Then he died at 44 from overdrink and heartbreak: the struggles with Zelda, with his own demons, and the knowledge that he was underappreciated. Must have been some character.
The Princeton swamps? They’ve largely been filled now, occupied by housing tracts. But walking past Fitzgerald’s dorm made me think of all these things. I told Tyler the story. It made him a little sad, especially the part about Zelda dying in the asylum fire. Oh well, the arts are riddled with sad stories. That’s where some of the greatness comes from. The rest comes from stories of ecstasy. The uninspired stuff comes from the middle.