On Saturday night at KGB bar, there was a séance for F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“Have you ever conducted a séance before?” asked Goodman Carter, web editor for the literary magazine The Fiction Circus, to an onlooker intent on butting in on the preparations. Carter was fiddling with an EEG machine that his group needed for the ceremony.
“Yes, I have,” the man boasted. “My grandfather taught me. You just need a crystal radio.”
But like the Transom, most of the other attendees were not too familiar with this kind of occult communication. One key step involved every participant writing down his or her greatest aspiration on a tiny slip of paper, explained Justin Humphries, the co-founder of the Brooklyn-based online fiction journal, who posts under the name Miracle Jones. This would later prove essential: the writer and artist known as Xerxes Verdammt—who had the particular honor of being the vessel F. Scott was to inhabit—would drink these dreams in a glass of gin, thus summoning of the bard of The Jazz Age.
“Don’t write down your nightmares,” Humphries said. “That’ll definitely fuck up the ritual.”
Though Fiction Circus holds regular events at this East Village socialist hangout, it’s the first time Humphries and his collective have attempted to communicate with a writer from the beyond the grave.
The olive-skinned Verdammt, né Anton Solomonik, walked around the tin-roofed room—perhaps nervously, given his duty for the night—with a tuxedo t-shirt tucked into black slacks.
“I’ve volunteered to let Scott Fitzgerald come into my body,” he said, nursing a drink. “I’ve prepared my mind accordingly—I’ve spent the week thinking Fitzgerald thoughts.”
Behind him was a table bearing what might be called a séance starter kit: a bongo drum, an assortment of Fitzgerald novels, a book entitled “Spiritual Surroundings” and the EEG device, an “Emotiv EPOC.”
“We don’t even know if the fucking thing works,” said John Thornton, motioning toward the apparatus. Thornton started Fiction Circus with Humphries in Austin eight years ago. He writes under the name Dr. Stephen Future.
With the dream cards collected, Humphries called the witnesses to take to their seats. Dr. Future smacked the bongo a few times to call attention to the podium. He then began to read, with all the proper arm-flailing dramatics, Edmund Wilson’s poem to Scott, used as the dedication to “The Crack-Up,” that was written shortly after the writer’s premature death.
Humphries made some opening remarks—“Fitzgerald,” he said, “was the foremost avatar of fiction in this dead city of New York”—and declared the bar a consecrated sacred place.
“So be careful,” he warned. “This could turn into a maelstrom of fucking psychic torment.”
Before Fitzgerald’s ghost could visit us, though, writer Christopher Herz was there to read from his novel The Last Block in Harlem. (After the summoning, Herz told the Transom that “opening for F. Scott Fitzgerald was the thrill of my literary life.”)
Fiction Circus members kept busy while Herz spoke at the podium. Xerxes sketched an interpretive impression of the reading on a white board as Carter created some sort of jazzy electronic soundscape by jabbing at a U-shaped machine. Next, Humphries read a short story off his Blackberry about a man who spends his time creating elaborate lifelike sex dolls.
When the séance was finally about to begin, Humphries came and placed a few pieces of silverware on each table. “The old tried-and-tested cutlery bending technique,” Humphries explained.
He asked the crowd to center themselves inward, close their eyes and focus on the spoons and forks in front of them.
“Fucking bend that shit with your mind,” he said. “Think about the supple neck of the fork.”
A number of the participants opened their eyes, confused.
“You can hold your hands out in front if it helps,” Humphries offered.
The energy levels in the room reached an appropriate level, and those conducting the séance took their places at the front. Goodman Carter attached the many nodes of the machine to his skull as Dr. Future wedged himself behind the podium, The Great Gatsby open to its final page. Xerxes Verdammt clutched the glass of gin, and Miracle Jones was beside him anointing the forehead of the soon-to-be-vessel. The men and women closed their eyes and joined hands as sucking sounds started to come from the speakers.
“Past the into ceaselessly back borne, current the against
boats on beat we so!” Dr. Future bellowed from the podium. He continued to read Gatsby’s final passage backward. “Morning fine one and, farther arms our out stretch faster run will we tomorrow! Matter no that’s but then us eluded it! Us before recedes year by year that future orgastic, the light green the in believed…—Gatsby!”
With that, the spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald entered the KGB bar.
“Where am I?” F. Scott Fitzgerald said.
The audience played along, asking Verdammt about the afterlife, about his relationship with Ernest Hemingway, about Zelda, about the fiction he’s read since passing on.
“I don’t have a lot of time to read,” F. Scott Fitzgerald said. “But I enjoyed Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. I wish I had written The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
The questions continued. What do you think of e-books, Mr. Fitzgerald?
“Seems kind of boring, kind of drab,” he said. He took a moment to complement the outfits of the people in the room, if “this is how people dress now.”
Then F. Scott Fitzgerald asked for a cigarette.
“Um, you can’t smoke in bars anymore,” Thornton informed F. Scott Fitzgerald.
After getting over his confusion, Fitzgerald accepted this odd rule. “Fine,” he said. “I don’t have to smoke—in fact I’ve been trying to quit.”
It was getting late, and soon it was time for Fitzgerald to leave. To reverse the ritual, Thornton asked the crowd to repeat one of F. Scott’s most famous lines, to chant it until the spirit would be driven back to where it came from.
“There are no second acts in American lives!” everyone yelled. “There are no second acts in American lives! There are no second acts in American lives! There are no second acts in American lives!”