Thursday, January 28, 2010


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.


Sean said...

The Cardinal just now struck me as a sports moniker...I liked it better when I just thought of Father Sergius...anyway, the good Cardinal sent me a text today with the news. I immediately thought of my text to him concerning Hunter. And how the evening before he had watched Where the Buffaloes Roam, in a sort of divinely inspired tribute to the soul that would soon be passing from this world to the other. And like Thompson, I always thought Salinger was probably a real ass, a guy I wouldn't like much. As I was thinking of clever zings to text back it occurred to me that he had died. It also occurred to me that I am not enlightened enough to separate the artist from the art. What I knew was that Salinger must have had some trouble with people because he had become a recluse. I always imagined there was some hushed up sexual abuse thing. It didn't come from anywhere, I just always figured there was something, and I guessed. I have no idea what the truth is. I, today, realized that the guy had a great gift and I quietly paid my respects to his memory, as his soul was somewhere joining Thompsons, down in the deep bowels of eternity, and I sent my zinger back. Compared to the literary gray matter of Salinger, my text looked like the incoherent poop writings on a wall that Karl Pilkington made famous.

tito said...

i heard the news this morning and couldn't tell anyone because anyone who i knew would care, i mean, really really care, are now all teachers and have their own kids they are leading into adolescent revolution by nudging them into a little salinger. what is more awesome than all those teachers i hang with was the brevity of the report. "salinger died this morning. minor details, minor details. salinger who refused the fame his writing brought hadn't given an interview in three years." its like the reporter didn't know what to do with it. genius.

thank you for the story and the honesty within the story. an appropriate occasion to speak this aloud.

myleswerntz said...

I still have those beat-up copies you gave me, Sean. I read part of Zooey in memory.

Janna Barber said...

Perhaps you should not talk about them too much; but how much is too much? The way you experience the world sometimes makes me feel I must be missing a few senses. Thanks for whispering this one in our ears.

Latonya said...

Well done my love. You have turned my heart toward Salinger's writings once again. My last encounter with the artist at hand was 1997. This summer promises to be full of high school required readings that once left a bad taste in my mouth; lets see if my tastes have changed.

Chaddie P. said...

You know I love you, Hamster. I only get in a tizzy when it's for your own good. I cannot recommend Salinger and Yantai beer more highly.

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