Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On The Death JD Salinger

Because I have this stupid habit of writing where I was when I finished a book, I know that the most recent time I finished re-reading The Catcher in the Rye was March 29, 2002, at the Peppercorn CafĂ© where I was waitressing in Poughkeepsie, but it’s closed now because the owner had a gambling problem. Or so I heard.

I hadn’t read it since my original reading in the eighth grade, which I guess is when you’re supposed to read it. And like othersI was a little embarrassed by it and its voice, and by who I was when I first read it, when a teacher told me that I needed to for my own peace of mind.

Mr. Q had handed me his own original copy and told me that everything Mr. Antolini says to Holden, was what he had to say to me.

“I have the feeling that you’re riding for some kind of terrible, terrible fall. But I don’t honestly know what kind […] It may be the kind where, at the age of thirty, you sit in some bar hating everybody who comes in looking as if he might have played football in college. Then again, you may pick up just enough education to hate people who say, ‘It’s a secret between he and I.’ […]

Among other things you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them – if you want to. Just as some day, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful, reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”

It scared me that someone I respected so much believed that I was headed for a “terrible, terrible fall” and it scared me even more that all the annoyance (and hate?) and I had for the other kids – the few that I was able to bully myself as well as the others who shoved me into lockers – was so obvious.

I asked Mr. Q what I could do to stop myself from falling, and he answered me in one word: “Write.”

And that's sort of how I got here.

So as embarrassed as I am by the person I was in the eighth grade (very!) and as much as we take Salinger and his tone for granted (since it’s now the tone of the entire internet), I’d like to add my glass to the many that will be raised in honor of his passing.