Two For J.D. - R.I.P. Mr. Caulfield
Here, for your enjoyment, are my two J.D. Salinger stories:
1. I think I saw him. I know, I know, everybody thinks they saw J.D., but I really think I saw him on a frigid winter day in 1994 on the train between New York and Amherst, MA, which always made me feel like Holden Caulfield anyway. Like every young literati I was obsessed with the guy for all the reasons that you were. I hunted down every picture there was of him, at the time I think there were about five including his author picture, and the last was a blurry one from a Zen retreat in 1973 that I still have. So I'm on the train in the dining car and I see this older man go to the bathroom. He's very tall, like 6'1-6'2, wearing a tweed coat, shock of gray hair, and pretty much the coolest sunglasses I've ever seen. It's the sunglasses that stick out, they're not normal. Besides me, there's nobody on this train who would wear sunglasses this funky. They were like Thelonious Monk or Steve McQueen-worthy sunglasses, and against his tweed jacket and conservative clothes they stuck out to me, like he just couldn't help it, no matter what he tried, no matter how he tried to be nobody, a ghost in the crowd, he had to express himself in some way, and those sunglasses were it. So he came out, and I kept looking at him, and I just said to myself, "That's, Salinger, I know it." And so for the rest of the ride I sat as close as I could, not having the nerve to say anything to him. He was reading the New York Times Sports page and Arts and Leisure, couldn't have been more normal. When we got off for Amherst he quickly scurried away, probably because he knew this kid was following him like a lunatic.
So, anyway, a couple days later I was talking to my lit professor and I told him I know I'm crazy, but I think I saw Salinger. He said, "No, you probably did. He has lots of friends here." I was like, really? And he said, yeah, lots of people know him, he's not a recluse like people make him out to be. He has lots of friends, including the actor Alan Arkin, he keeps in touch with what's going on, watches TV, etc. I even think he keeps an apartment in New York. He's a regular guy who doesn't need or want to publish anymore, it goes against his Zen beliefs, and he simply doesn't want to talk about the past or his work, at least not with strangers. That's it. That's all.
So whether I saw him or not doesn't really make a difference now, but to find out he was completely normal, at least on the outside, was somehow refreshing and wonderful to me. Afterwards. every time I saw something about the freak recluse, like Salinger was a monk living in some cave without electiricty, in particular one fucking article that appeared in Esquire about ten years ago, I just kind of laughed.
2. I'm on the train again, (ha ha,) and I'm in the dining car, only now it's the Spring, I'm 21, and I can drink! So I drink. I drink a lot. Coors Light out of clear plastic cups as the budding landscape flies by. And what I find out is most of the cool people drink in the dining car. So, of couse, there's this beautiful "Train Girl," and she's all blonde hair and milky skin, hippyish, couldn't be more opposite of me in every way, and I'm like: I've got to talk to her, because if I want to sleep with her I have to talk to her first. So, I sit down with my Coors Light and my plastic cup, and coming up with the most original line I got I ask, "So where do you go to school?" And she says "UMASS," etc. etc. Ladies and gentleman we are off to the races! She's an English major and we talk for a bit, and within two minutes, having nothing else to say, I tell her I think I saw Salinger on this train. And she says something to the effect of, "I'd like to see that son of a bitch." And I ask her why? And she says, "Because he ruined my grandfather's life." And I ask, how? I mean, who doesn't like Salinger? She says, my name is "X" Ackley. My grandfather is Robert Ackley." And I'm like, you mean, the complete loser roommate with the zits and dirty finger nails from "Catcher? " And she tells me that her grandfather and Salinger were in the same unit in Worl War II together, and they were pretty close friends. But she says that it wasn't her grandfather that had the problem with acne, was obsessive over his finger nails. and completely neurotic, it was actually Salinger. And I start laughing, and I look at her, and she's so beautiful, definitely not Ackley "old boy" genes, which is the reason I'm talking to her to begin with. Suddenly, it occurs to me: I say to her, "Stradlater." (Stradlater is the stud who sleeps with the hottest girls on campus, including the girl Holden Caulfield is in love with, well, he suspects Stradlater of sleeping with her.) And "X" Ackley nods, and says, "Yeah, but you try telling people that you're not the loser roommate, but actually the guy who slept with all the prettiest girls, and this Salinger guy was just jealous of you so he took revenge in his novel that became one of the most famous books in the entire world...EVER! My grandfather's whole life he was answering questions about being Ackley, and whenever he'd try to contact Salinger about it, Salinger would never return his calls (surprise surprise.)
So I get her phone number, email and promptly never speak to her ever again.
Those are my two J.D. Salinger stories. By the way, if any of you know "X" Ackley, tell her I'm looking for her 'cause I'd sure like some of those Stradlater genes.