1/28/10

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.

1/25/10

Spotted Tail's Death Song

"Nephew, do you know what it means when we say today is good day to die? Here is something we have over the wasicu. Their minds are clever, they can make guns and knives and little round things that tell the time of day or the four directions. Their minds are very clever.

"But they are afraid to die.

"They understand how to make a far-seeing glass and how to make the powder that explodes, but life and death they do not understand.

"Dying is natural.

"To the rooted people, the grazers, the fliers, the crawlers, the swimmers, to us and mitakuye oyasin - all our relations - dying is natural. We like to live, and dying is a part of living. We enjoy Mother Earth - birthing and dying are part of her way. As we love her, we love them. A Lakota likes living and is not afraid of death. He accepts it.

"That is what a death song says. I love the earth and am ready for death.

"On an evening like this you feel it strongly. I love the earth and am ready for death. They are a part of the same feeling. Wasicu are afraid to die. It makes their sweat bead out, their guts clench, their bowels go loose. I would hate to be a wasicu. Remember always, you can fight for life, but you cannot fight against death."

1/20/10

First (Flight Out) Questions For California

What dreams do you dare dream now
with so many left behind unfinished
in that green land where you
first learned to close
your eyes?

What faces can you trust
as all the ones you once knew
are now falling away
like dust?

What fog do you wander through
when you are so
afraid to lose
for the very first time?

What eyes do you see with
as the land turns
from green to brown to red
beneath these borrowed wings?

What ending

(scratch that
13 years later
from youthful
sorrow
to middle aged wisdom...)

What beginning!

have you chosen
for yourself?

-Philadelphia to Los Angeles - 5/96 - 1/20/2010

Bohemia

bodies painful pleasures
souls somewhat obliged

the big nets
are already dragging in the
shellfish
to be sold at dawn

i float willingly,
for as long as
they will let me;

then we lie
side by side
on the sands
forgotten
in the middle
of the
hourglass

-4/9/01

1/14/10

1/4/10

'Zona

1/1/10

The NIght Book - 2000-20009

a moment now
for the beautiful ones gained,
and the tragic, fading shadows
i never believed could ever be lost...

this decade,
with all its technology and tragedy,
its ever timeless time passing so cruely,
yet giving to me so unconditionally,
has finally traced the faintest shape
in what seemed for my entire life
a meaningless, bleeding past
full of desires, rages and longings,
but little else.

and now it propels me
onward
into the rest of my unknown,
for however long i am given,
and no matter what direction
the path takes me.

a secret strength,
a fearless tenderness,

perhaps a truth gained,

and more love and hate
left behind
than i could ever name.

Lived. Living.

it can't ever be as neat as this:
my vicious, mercenary gift for words,

but i am grateful
for all of it.