Jerome David Salinger
January 1, 1919 - January 27, 2010
chad pollock was on again about my needing to read salinger. he was in a tizzy about it. as usual, we had been hitting the yantai pijui pretty hard, and all things become greatly exaggerated in the chinese lamplight of more pijui. so whether it was chad that was angrily on about it or whether it was me melodramatically filtering chad, we'll never actually know. but i do know that i hauled myself to the foreign teacher's library the next day and checked out a blood red copy of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. and i know that, on the way home from the library, i bought a pack of qing liu cigarettes and a bottle of brandy at a kiosk, and when i sat down to read that evening i was already half drunk by page one.
i read the whole book in one sitting over the course of 19 chinese cigarettes, a bottle of brandy and a large yantai pijui. somehow, it only seems right that my experiment in reading under the influence would be holden caulfield's biography. and it worked. and even when i read the book again later that week, i remembered every detail to a tee - an intoxicated feat i've never quite accomplished since, even though i've tried several times.
but this is what i remember most about that night. i remember coming to the part in the book when holden sees the graffiti on the walls of his sister's school, and this pains him. and i remember holding my cigarette in my right hand, even though the ashtray was to the left of my chair. and i remember a large humming sound seeping into my room, as if from the very floors and not through a crack in the door or windows or walls. the hum rose from the ground up towards me, and as i looked across the room everything simultaneously shrank and jutted away from me, as if my chair had been suddenly sucked backward, my eyeballs torpedoed in reverse.
the entire episode lasted for about 20 seconds, long enough for my entire body to break into a sweat and for my cigarette to burn a hole in the carpet. i also remember thinking, as i recanted all doctrine of time, "is this what it's like to go crazy?" i was also a bit disappointed to that angels did not show themselves, but we can never custom order our episodes ahead of time. they grab us by lottery, and we know we win if we come out remembering our names.
i have told very few people this story. it's not the kind of story that you tell. like maud casey said about writers discussing their rare glimpses into invisible worlds, "it's not something you should talk too much about because it might disappear altogether, and because you start sounding like an asshole." some things you just gotta sit on and let fester between you and those walls that held the structure of secrecy.
but this is the thing i've never been able to let go of, and it's this right here. sometimes, in really dramatic romance stories, they talk of magical kisses containing fireworks or sparks or chemical explosions in the bottom of each lip locker's feet. and i sometimes wonder if such a moment, one of my great romantic surges, happened between me and salinger that night, crested down by a rising hum, sipping a bottle of chinese brandy while my ceiling bulb briskly retreated through the roof. i'll never actually know, but i think of that moment everytime i think of salinger. it would be an understatement to say he's haunted me.
if salinger is a hero to be celebrated, it is not because of the four books he published as much as for the people he created. had salinger been God, the whole world would be one giant manhattan, and every word ever spoken would sizzle on a breath of vermouth and olives. thank God salinger wasn't God, but he was close. the world and the people salinger created were real, and we feared them as much as we silently longed for their honesty and courage. i've spent more than one full night sipping my way through salinger's work, and i've more than once shivered at my revulsion and envy of his characters.
like everything else salinger ever did - his books, his seclusion, his secrets, my slip of momentary dimentia - he has now forced this event upon us as well. ascending the elevator. dripping and salty from the shore. laying down on his pillow. kinder and gentler than even his stories. like all things, he has forced his quiet exit upon us, and he didn't even bother to whisper "excuse me" as he left the room. defiance was always his style.
and despite all our other plans, salinger proclaimed this day a perfect day for remembering, and a perfect day for letting go. i suppose i can oblige him this one thing. God bless you, j.d.