across the street

p. 74:

This is a nice restaurant here … But I like across the street better!

Nick and Gatsby meet Meyer Wolfshiem for lunch in an elegant restaurant in midtown Manhattan. It’s the kind of place where the headwaiter knows to install a highball in your hand before delivering a succulent meal to your table. But Mr. Wolfshiem prefers the place across the street, an under-ventilated, cramped little joint where he’d spent many nights drinking and eating with his old friends, right up until the night that one of them was called away from the table only to be shot to death in front of the restaurant.

Why does nostalgia so often attach itself to horrible moments? All things pass, all things must end, and this includes the best and the worst that life has to offer. We never want the good times to end, and the better they are in the moment, the more we might build them and cherish them and protect them – but these times will end anyway, for time and fate are relentless and heartless. So the end is necessarily abrupt and painful, no matter how long it was in coming or inevitable it may have been. And yet, the end is part and parcel of the intensity of the joyful moments, inextricably linked to the electric vitality of the good times. To remember the end is to pay tribute to the entire journey.

And that’s how it’s possible for Mr. Wolfshiem to look fondly back on the night his friend Rosy Rosenthal was executed after dinner at his favorite restaurant.

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