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With Apologies to J. D. Salinger

20 Dec 2016Personal Essays

Once upon a time, great novels – literature – would reach down and capture the very souls of generations of young readers, novels such as Catcher in the Rye (Salinger), Catch-22 (Heller), Slaughterhouse-Five (Vonnegut). For those who came of age in the fifties, Catcher in the Rye (Catcher), the topic of this paper, the humor, despair, and contempt for the values of Holden Caulfield’s time were immediate from the first sentence. But the magic may take a little longer to get started, but it’s there waiting for those of us who reach inside ourselves and find Holden’s blood running in our own veins, his heart beating in ours, and his truths buried in our brains. In terse strokes that make you roar with laughter and then want to cry, a great lesson Salinger taught is that writing in depth, like great dancing, should appear easy. How Have You Been, Holden?

“Remember that strange old girl I told you about, Jenni Someoneorother. The one whose parents were hippies who turned into yuppies and named her Jennifer because ‘what can you say about a girl who died when she was 25’ (Segal) and all that crap. But this Jenny became Jenni and we met at some goddam (I like this spelling) protest against the war in Iraq and we had sex and she was 34 and the next day she wanted me to meet her goddam mother who must have decided she wanted a son-in-law, someone like Dr. Caulder von Hotshot. Like anyone else except goddam morons and those phonies getting rich off of the war, I was against it but I knew nothing would change until a couple of total psychos decided to show off their toys and put the world out of its misery (I think I stole that from Casablanca).

“Anyway, I didn’t do anything really dumb like become a hotshot doctor, but girls with first names that end in “i” seem to hop in the sack with Dr. Anyone. Remember how I told you how I met her again yesterday at one of those goddam malls all over the place now, how she asked me all teary-eyed about my ‘practice.’ I think I had told her I was a hotshot cardiologist who made billions and then opened a free clinic in Harlem or some sort of crap, so this time, I told her I had to retire when I found out I had terminal prostate cancer, but even though I didn’t die, unfortunately, I lost my ‘manhood’ (well, what word would you have used?).

“Then, later, I started thinking about her and all the others named Jenni, or Lili, or Emmi, or whatever, and how it still happens – whenever you start to think about someone, even a phony piece of fluff, you start missing them. When I get that way, all depressed and acting like a madman, I wind up doing something that gets me even more depressed. So I called old Sally, ‘queen of the phonies’ (152), but now Baroness Salli Montagu von Guttenheiser. She had married some phony rich jerk about a hundred years old, but he lasted long enough so she has a son and a goddam grandson, the Barons, Drs. Morgan Montagu von Guttenheisers, III and IV.

She had heard about a revival of some goddam play we had seen with the Lunts years ago that she thought I’d want to see. Yeah, about as much as I wanted to see a revival of that musical Hitler’s Theme Parks. I only was at the goddam mall watching my granddaughter, Phoebe, never with an “i,” who skates at this ice rink they have there. (Okay, okay, after the jerk croaked, I was married to old Salli for a couple of years.) Her aunt of the same name plays the violin at the goddam Philharmonic and likes to ride the carousel with her granddaughter, Maria Louise, and they both blow me away.

“I guess you want to know what I really did, which means did I ever ‘apply myself’ and get some phony crap title, like Executive Vice President in Charge of World Peace? After I got out of the hospital, I went back to New York and moved into some crappy hotel – far from old Maurice - and pretended I was a deaf mute, and also blind. Then, one day, blind old me saw Jane and that sexy moron Stradlater walking out of Saks, wheeling a goddam baby stroller with a baby in it that had Stradlater’s moron face. I felt like shooting the crap out of someone (supposedly, I made the morons who shot John Lennon and Ronald Reagan feel the same way, Samuels 129), so I enlisted and they actually accepted me into the good old United States Marines (I think they would have accepted a real blind, deaf mute, as long a he wasn’t a flit). My first day on Parris Island I was so scared that I fainted and split my head open on some made in the U.S.A. concrete when the drill sergeant called my name.

“So there I was, back in New York, no more of a madman than I had been before I split my goddamned head open. . .” And you, Mr. Salinger?

Mr. Salinger? Mr. Salinger? “Okay, I guess you had to pick someone to write about ‘writing in depth.’ I’ve suffered worse – Mr. Bidney (note to this deluded child’s teacher: there’s very deep meaning, of course, in my disrespectful neglect of MLA style) studying my ‘distinctive epiphany patterns’ (117), Mr. or Miss Takeuch (note again, blame not the child for my ‘ms-take’) worrying that though careful consideration has been given to ‘the influence of Zen Buddhism [on my work], the perspective of Western mysticism has been largely neglected’ (331), the diagnosis Miss Anna Freud shared with Mr. Coles that Holden suffered from a ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ (222). Even when I plain shut-up, according to Mr. Pattanaik, my silence is ‘holy’ (requiring, I shudder to say, ‘A Verdantic Interpretation,’ 113) – I’m really ‘retreat[ing] in order to recover the silence of the repressed ‘other’ of our modern civilisation’ (126). These are the wretched vanities that warrant disdain – this child’s exuberant (and presumptuous) excesses warrant kindness (even ‘ms-take’ and ‘piece of fluff’).’

Mr. Salinger’s Conclusion

“Okay, kid, now please leave me alone. But as long as you got me here, I did read your crap. First, re-read Catcher, yes, again. Did I say anything about World War II? Would I even know anything about whatever it is you’re talking about in Iraq? On the other hand, you did try for the right tone on Vietnam and it took some courage for someone like you to choke out the word ‘flit.’ But that didn’t give you any more of a pass than Samuels had to show off with that useless Lennon/Reagan crap (129). The best thing about you is what you couldn’t do – ‘share any of your thoughts,’ as people now seem to phrase it, about what really became of Holden.”

Works Cited

  • Bidney, Martin. “The Aestheticist Epiphanies of J. D. Salinger: Bright-Hued Circles, Spheres, and Patches; ‘Elemental’ Joy and Pain.” Style 34.1 (2000): 117-31.
  • Coles, Robert. “Anna Freud and J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield.” The Virginia Quarterly Review 76.2 (2000): 214-24.
  • Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. New York: Scribners (1996/1961).
  • Pattanaik, Dipti R. “’The Holy Refusal’: A Verdantic Interpretation of J. D.
  • Salinger’s Silence.” Melus 23.2 (1998): 113-27. Salinger, J. D. Catcher in the Rye. New York: Little, Brown (2001/1951).
  • Samuels, David. “Marginal Notes on Franny and Zooey.” The American Scholar 68.3 (1999): 128-33.
  • Segal, Erich. Love Story. New York: Avon (1977/1970).
  • Takeuchi, Yasuhiro. “The Burning Carousel and the Carnivaleque: Subversion and Transcendence at the Close of The Catcher in the Rye. Studies in the Novel 34.3 (2002).
  • Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five. New York: Delacorte (1969).

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