What Grips Us From Behind | Teen Ink

What Grips Us From Behind

August 1, 2022
By MaximSucks SILVER, Portland, Oregon
MaximSucks SILVER, Portland, Oregon
5 articles 0 photos 3 comments

The train doors erupted with a cold gush of dewy spring air. I covered my eyes from the early morning rays and, as I stepped outside, I felt the world expand. Crowds gathered at street entertainers, excited screams sounded from distant roller coasters, and friendly laughter echoed throughout the entirety of Coney Island.

“Beautiful isn’t it? Old sport,” I felt a convivial pat on my back and turned to Gatsby’s gentle smile.

“It sure is.” I said, gazing around the horizon and taking in the fresh smell of hotdogs. Suddenly Gatsby pulled me away towards the side. 

“There’s still better things to see. Come, old sport.” When I regained my bearings, I faced a giant sneering face with ‘Welcome to Steeplechase Park’ written just below. Gatsby lowered his head and burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. The sheer goofiness of the display spread a strange smirk on my face. I puffed out my chest to speak, but feeling the looming gaze of the sign’s devilish face, I held the excited words in my throat.

“Don’t be a baby, Gatsby, let's hurry along,” I said, the words spilling out suddenly. I felt myself sway in slight surprise and my feet barely managed to plant, leaving my body to an awkward and rigid posture. Gatsby gazed at me for a moment, but recovered his frivolous mood.

“All right, that’s fine,” and then in hesitation, he added “old sport.” 

The later events of the day passed in a blur of stress, under the oppressive scrutiny of the sign’s grinning eyes. I felt a growing excitement tugging at me, but I disapproved of everything so terribly much. It was all so vulgar and infantile, yet Gatsby relentlessly entreated my involvement, and with every request came an opportunity to be corrupted. The ground undulated like a beast and my feet slipped and turned between its threatening lips. I felt as if I could be swallowed into the revelry at any moment, and I became forced to spurn Gatsby’s desires for connection. Soon, by the time the sun rose directly overhead, I was exhausted. Exhausted of keeping alert, and exhausted by Gatsby’s growing distance. 

“Well, how’d you enjoy it? Was it fun?” said Gatsby. 

I nodded silently. 

“Would you like to come again?” 

I nodded once more. 

“Would you like to try another ride?” 

I looked up, and Gatsby’s face was a ghostly white. His tie seemed to constrict around his neck and his arms stuck at his sides, as if glued. My lips quivered to search for an escape, and I looked away, but the self-conscious image of Gatsby pervaded my mind. I grasped the side of my pants and traced my eyes back up to Gatsby’s and tried to emulate his reassuring smile of understanding. 

“W-Why, sure. Uh, good sport!” I said. I stupidly raised a fist and let out a short, subdued cheer and an awful silence ensued. 

Gatsby looked back at me oddly, and the back of my throat tingled with a desire to vomit. The air against my skin sweltered and beads of sweat gathered at my spine. I pinned my vision to his shoes, etherized by the sense of scrutiny, and did nothing more. Then, strange noises of movement and voices pierced through the stillness. Our combined gaze shifted and watched as foreign dancers and singers wormed around in the most peculiar ways, and suddenly, we broke out into the most childish laughter and breathed once more. The tension of the moment seeped away with the sheer ridiculousness of Steeplechase Park. I wiped excited tears from my eyes, and the magnificence of Coney Island struck me once more, not as a public space of decadence, but as a place to seek relief through the most absurd buffoonery.

“Let’s join in, what do you say, old sport!” 

Suddenly, I was within the crowd and dancing. Gatsby wobbled around in the most uncoordinated way and I snickered, knowing I was no better. The scathing beam of those watchful eyes remained, but I felt shielded by the crowd and suddenly I did not care anymore. I loosened my tie and began to throw my body around, hitting elbows with strangers, both factory workers and company heads. My feet slipped freely around on the obtuse and curving floor and I snaked towards Gatsby. 

“This is great!” I screamed. The propriety of the urban world receded away, revealing the curious instincts of childhood. I was both the observer and the actor, within this comedy of collective stupidity, but I felt that something important was being lost.  

“I-I have something to attend to,” said Gatsby, suddenly prevaricating. He turned and began to walk off, struggling to stay up straight. 

“What? No, Gatsby! What’s the matter?” I chased after him, ducking past a current of swaying bodies. 

“We’ve been here far too long!” yelled Gatsby, still pushing forward through the crowd. 

“What do you mean?” Suddenly, a stray arm struck my face and I fell. I quickly rose, but I had already lost Gatsby among the sea of Americans. I lifted my gaze to the ugly grimace of the sign and its rotten teeth taunted me. I clenched my fists bitterly, but as I looked closer, I realized its eyes pointed elsewhere. I followed its gaze outside of the crowd and to the front gate, where  employees struggled to restrain a thrashing elephant. By the corner of my vision, I discerned Gatsby’s figure, hunched forward on a bench to the right, and it surprised me how out of place he seemed. 

“Gatsby.” I said, reaching him. He raised his head, looked at me, and suddenly I was embarrassed. “What was it you meant?” I asked timidly. Gatsby averted his eyes and his lips hesitated, searching for the words. 

“I was thinking to myself one day. What’s the point of working if you can’t have a little fun? At every event, you appeared to distance yourself, trying to stay proper. So, I wanted to give you a jolly time. That’s why I brought you here… That’s why it’s my fault.” He trailed off. 

“Your fault?” Unable to piece together his words, I searched his complexion, and finally traveled down his strange gaze. I arrived back at the crowd, but instead of the animated community, what manifested was an disordered and tangled mob of carnal desire. The senses that had dimmed before came flooding back and I could see it all.

“They’re children,” I said suddenly. What I newly perceived were adults fatigued by the industrial world of work and deceived by nostalgia to pursue an unattainable dream of childhood innocence. 

“That’s right, old sport,” said Gatsby, more solemn than ever. “It’s a shame really. All of those poor folks, trapped in the past.”

But at that moment, I could not pity anyone more than Gatsby. I looked back towards the sign and its eyes were on Gatsby.

The author's comments:

Based off of The Great Gatsby. 


Gatsby brings Nick to Coney Island, a type of super amusement park, hoping to relieve the urban worries and expectations that have defined Nick's stubborn decision to stay as an outside observer. Gatsby believes that they will connect better. He thinks he will learn more about Nick, but it may very well be the other way around. As these two overcome awkward and strange happenings, what will they discover? About each other and the state of their industrializing society?


Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 1925.

Kasson, John. Amusing the Million. New York: Hill & Wang, 1978.

Long, Tony. “Jan. 4, 1903: Edison Fries an Elephant to Prove His Point.” Wired, WIRED, 4 Jan.

2008, www.wired.com/2008/01/dayintech-0104/#:~:text=Topsy%20the%20 elephant%20was%20electrocuted,on%20Coney%20Island%20 in%201903. Accessed 9 Mar. 2022.

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This article has 2 comments.

on Sep. 24 2022 at 4:39 pm
Bella_Queen DIAMOND, Plymouth, Ohio
81 articles 25 photos 79 comments

Favorite Quote:
Keep your face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.
-Walt Whitman

Wow. This seemed so a part of the book that I was surprised it wasn't. The language you use is so similar to Scott's... Honestly, I'm at a loss for words at how you managed to do this. I feel as though I'm back in The Great Gatsby! Well done!

on Sep. 24 2022 at 1:33 pm
MaximSucks SILVER, Portland, Oregon
5 articles 0 photos 3 comments
This is just an added note for possible misunderstandings. To increase revenue, Coney Island investors began creating types of "cultural zoos" where foreigners would gather and show the exotics of their culture. However, rather than bringing immigrants closer to Americans like the participants wished, it enforced stereotypes. The foreign dancers in the story are meant to reveal this deleterious detail of Coney Island, not to ridicule the dancers themself.