What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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Tender is the Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Field-Tested by Dave Reidy

in Lisbon, Portugal

My friends and I landed in Lisbon on the eve of the city’s biggest festival. After dinner, we stopped in a bar, where we were adopted by a group of Portuguese university students. They took us to packed alleys, plazas throbbing with live traditional music, and a crowded club until we left them, still dancing, at 6:30 in the morning. It was a splendid evening. Cultural divides were bridged. Awkward miscommunications were washed away by clever charm. We were young. We were healthy. Jet lag was nothing.

In all the fun, I’d read only 90 pages of Tender is the Night by the time I boarded my first of three flights on the long journey home to Chicago. As I read the bulk of Fitzgerald’s masterwork during 19 hours of travel, I saw in the story of Dick Diver’s rise and fall an allegory for our trip. Like Dr. Diver, we’d begun with grace and promise. But two days after the festival when we saw our Portuguese friends at the bar where we’d first found them, they did not invite us to join their party. Our pleasantries rang false, and our offers of drinks were rebuffed. We charmed no one. We sat at a separate table, drank our drinks, and left with awkward waves on our way out the door. While I sat stuffed in the window seat of row 29, racked with coughing and trying desperately to equalize the pressure in my clogged head, Dr. Diver cheated on his stunning but mentally ill wife, assaulted carabinieri, and insulted partygoers he’d charmed many times before. The once charismatic, winning ex-pat became an object of scorn as he descended into dissipation.

Though his highs were higher and his lows lower, Dick Diver and I learned the same lesson during our time as Americans in Europe: charm departs when you need it most, and health follows closely behind it.

Dave Reidy lives in Chicago and writes fiction. He is working on a novel. He can be found his website.

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