Thursday, January 28, 2010

Farewell J. D. Salinger

"What really knocks me out is a book, when you're all done reading it, you wished the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it." - Holden Caulfield

Today is a sad day: we learned of the loss of one of the most important figures in our adolescent intellectual upbringings, J. D. Salinger. An author we always wished we could call up on the phone whenever we felt like it. (This all in spite of weirdness of his adult life... more to come below.)

Lately we’ve been doing a lot of reading about Southern funeral traditions. Julia Reed’s Queen of the Turtle Derby devotes a chapter to the spirited tradition down South, whereupon hearing the ultimate news, neighbors head straight for their kitchens to prepare a pot-luck comfort dish for the mourners – casseroles, biscuits, a ham, a tenderloin, sliced tomato sandwiches with homemade mayo on Wonder bread, a jello-whipped cream frozen fruit salad, a pie or two, a handle of Jack, fresh sweet tea, and bourbon milk punch. A celebration indeed.

Sadly, Salinger lived alone as a recluse for over 50 years on a 90-acre compound on a wooded hillside in Cornish, NH. And he wasn’t what one would call a gastronomist or a celebrator. He died yesterday at the age of 91, a controversial figure, described in the New York Times as “a health nut obsessed with homeopathic medicine and with his diet (frozen peas for breakfast, undercooked lamb burger for dinner).” His daughter said that her father was “pathologically self-centered and abusive toward her mother, and to the homeopathy and food fads she added a long list of other exotic enthusiasms: Zen Buddhism, Vedanta Hinduism, Christian Science, Scientology, and acupuncture. Mr. Salinger drank his own urine, she wrote, and sat for hours in an orgone box.”

In spite of his real-life oddities, Salinger’s influence on our way of seeing the world is undeniable. I read Catcher in the Rye for my first time on a pre-collegiate trip up to Harvard – my ultimate aspirational obsession – huddling myself up on a dorm room floor with my knees to my chest and a black coffee in hand. This was college, I thought! This was how every day will be! I will be smarter, and funnier, and more interesting, and life will be just like this and Will Hunting will be my blue collar genius boyfriend!

And then came my obsession with Franny and Zooey

Franny was so self-obsessed and such a downer, but her little world at the Harvard/Yale games, filled with cigarette smoking, martini lunches, and boys and trains sounded exactly as it was to be. At least I wouldn’t be the one eating only chicken and milk. I’d be partying down with Lane with the exotic stuff:

“All I want is a chicken sandwich. And maybe a glass of milk…. You order what you want and all, though. I mean, take snails and octopuses an things. Octopi. I’m really not at all hungry.”

Lane looked at Franny, then exhaled a thin, overly expressive stream of smoke down at his plate. “This is going to be a real little doll of a weekend,” he said. “A chicken sandwich, for God’s sake.”

Franny was annoyed. “I’m not hungry, Lane – I’m sorry. My gosh. Now, please. You order what you want, why don’t you and I’ll eat while you’re eating. But I can’t just work up an appetite because you want me to.”

“All right, all right.” Lane craned his neck and caught the waiter’s attention. A moment later, he order the chicken sandwich and the glass of milk for Franny, and snails, frogs’ legs, and a salad for himself.”

Way to go, Lane! Franny goes off the deep end in a few short pages! Leave her in the dust, find me, and take me to the game!

So, with that, we say a sad goodbye to J. D. Salinger. We hope that there’s someone to bring your loved ones a casserole and some bourbon punch.

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