The Green Light


Lighted green warehouse windows attract and repel

You know how your brain brings up the same stuff, over and over? Maybe you don’t, but mine does, and there’s no way to control it.

My mother calls these little memory flashes “my old routines,” and many of them are. For example, I can’t drive down certain streets without hearing in my head the song that was on the radio the first time I drove it. It’s irritating. Or, the tiniest jokes that get repeated forever and ever when the situation arises:

(Driving past Madison Square Garden) “Hey, I lost my glasses in there once. You know how I found them? I Felt Forum.”

See, these things are little demons in my head, and I hope to exorcise them by writing about them, but I’m not hopeful. Nothing helps.

But to finally get to the point, a more significant, recurring thought dates back to 11th grade English class with Dr. Dewsnap. A slight woman, she was famous for being a tough grader, and for unconsciously fondling a small purple statue of a panther when she was lecturing us on American Literature. Most boys could forgive her grading policy, just to watch her work that panther over. Whew!

Anyhow, she was the one who taught me Fitzgerald, including “The Great Gatsby.” This was not a book to be enjoyed, God forbid, this was a book to be examined, worshipped, even envied if you had the idiotic desire to become a writer. And on the last day of Gatsby, as we slouched our ache-free teenage bodies into the classroom, she stood writing on the blackboard.

Since the blackboard was so far from the purple panther, the guys couldn’t care less what she was writing, and the usual harrumph of a murmur went around the room. Then, quietly and intensely, she spoke.

“The Green Light. What does it mean?”

The room murmured on. She turned on us, furious. We shouldn’t be talking about our own little lives, we should be talking about how our lives were changed sometime last night, when we read that last chapter, in which Gatsby stands on his lawn and looks across the water at the green light in the distance.

“The Green Light! THE GREEN LIGHT! IT’S EVERYTHING!” she exploded, clawing upward with pipecleaner fingers, circling the room in long strides like a Barrymore laying down some Bard.

This got our attention. Frantically, I scanned back to the night before, sometime after swim practice, “Wonder Woman” and a couple of Who album sides, but it wasn’t coming to me.

“It’s the central image! It’s the future! It’s Daisy and hope and… everything!”

We sat there, ashamed that we had missed it. All except for Joel Myers, who knew everything and therefore was a pain in the balls. He just nodded smugly, and looked like he might join her up there at the board any minute.

So now whenever I see a green light, it all comes back. Usually I can banish it by whispering a quick “green light,” as if I’m playing a private game of “red light, green light.” But last week in New York, as we returned to the hotel on our last night of eating and drinking and walking and visiting old friends, I looked up at a renovated warehouse and saw the wall of green lights, shown in the photo above.

My mental GPS froze me to the spot for a second, putting that view/memory/location permanently into the archives. And it made me think about the green light, and New York, and everything that has happened since then, and my own Daisy, and Dash, and life out west. Maybe this is the future, back in a New York that’s changed so much. Could we really go back?

And looking at those green windows, formerly a squatter’s warehouse and now the worldwide headquarters of some absurd designer or something, I found myself drawing a profound conclusion to the entire trip:

Maybe L.A. doesn’t suck so much after all! Yippee!

Leave a Reply