Above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground. - The Great Gatsby
I'd argue at some length, that there isn't any point to the hopes of aspiring writers to pen the great American novel. Because it's already been written. And The Great Gatsby is it.
It is certainly dated in prose and content. But in just as many ways, it is absolutely timeless. Gatsby and Daisy's glee in all those beautiful shirts as an icon of vapid, conspicuous, ostentatious consumption. Nick having a complete nervous breakdown because the people he thinks of as his betters prove to be mortal after all. Our shared delusion that money maketh the man. And on and on and on. The story in those pages IS America. Complete with a shooting.
And Jesus, if that last sentence isn't the most astonishingly perfect thing ever written on not just America, but of the entire human condition, then there's no hope for any writer to write anything good ever.
Fitzgerald was, truly, a goddamn genius.
But there were those fucking eyes. Heavy-lidded with symbolism and meaning. Haunting. Ever-watching. Ever-warning. Ever judging.
They always terrified me a bit. In a book with plenty to frighten, it was like those eyes were watching your reactions from the pages. Staring out from a time long past... but still there, surveying the wasteland.
And, I admit, I always wondered if there was such a billboard somewhere out on Long Island with a pair of giant eyes blinded... papered over by generations and generations of advertisements for cigarettes and cars and for crap that is no longer even made.
Turns out there isn't.
I learned that just recently.
The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg were, in fact, inspired by an optician not far from a speakeasy that Fitzgerald frequented in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In a building that now houses the Tenement Museum.
Moscot's. Their home office is now right across the street from the original location. But it is still owned and operated by the same family of the Belarusian immigrant that started the place over 100 years ago.
They (along with Maui Jim) make far and away my favourite sunglasses. And they sent me a sticker with the last pair of sunnies I got from them.
So now I can keep the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg on the truck to watch over everything.