For J.D. Salinger, with thanks and squalor

J.D. Salinger was something of a loon, but he's the kind of loon I'd be, given the chance.  Since Salinger died, all of the tributes and obituaries ramble on ad nauseam about "Catcher in the Rye," much the same as every rock band who puts out a masterpiece is said to have produced their "Sergeant Pepper's." 

This is an apt comparison, inasmuch as I think both Catcher and Sgt Pepper's are overrated compared to their creators' other works.  

I was going to write about how Salinger's greatest literary triumph was the Glass family, most specifically in "Franny and Zooey." Sadly, Jesse Kornbluth already did so quite eloquently here, in the Huffington Post

Like every zit-spotted, inexplicably world-weary teen with an IQ above 80, I read "Catcher in the Rye" when I was in school.  I bought it after Mark David Chapman murdered John Lennon in 1980, since it must have been horribly controversial and powerful to elicit such a reaction.

I didn't get it.  I mean, sure: I understood the book, and I identified to some extent with Holden Caulfield, but no mountains moved, and I certainly wasn't compelled to bludgeon Ringo Starr with an andiron.  Holden seemed kinda whiny to me. 

Franny and Zooey struck a chord with me, though. Maybe it was the spiritual quest Franny was on, trying to find her way to God through the Jesus Prayer and the Pilgrim books.  Perhaps it was Zooey, who was outwardly arrogant, but secretly scared and insecure.  Maybe it was being a member of a family that was once close, but had suffered an unfortunate parting of the ways.

Many years ago, I was lost.  My soul and spirit were essentially dead; I was outwardly arrogant, but inwardly cowering, and I felt wholly alone.  I was drinking myself into oblivion, too, but even that stopped working.  I tried everything to find that one magic spiritual bullet, a golden ticket, as it were, to get some sort of peace.  One thing I did was read Franny and Zooey over and over.  I even ordered the Pilgrim book and read it. 

I didn't do well with the unceasing prayer thing, and if the Jesus Prayer writers were depending on royalties from me, their kids would never get braces.  I tried rosaries, reading the Catechism and other books about spirituality and religion, and Lord only knows what else.  Nothing worked.  

I couldn't find any Golden Ticket, any surefire way to access God's Peace and find meaning in my life.  During one week off from work, I devoted myself to distilling (ironic verb choice) everything I'd read and learned into one theology that worked.  I spent each night drinking Smirnoff CItrus Twist vodka and Crystal Light pineapple-orange Slurpees from my neighborhood 7-Eleven.  I found an idea that worked for me.

That image is this. God/The Universe/Whatever is like a radio tower atop a lonely mountain.  Different religions are camped around the mountain's base.  They can't see each other, but they are all looking at the same tower. Each theology has different paths up the mountain–some with saints, others with multiple gods, some with talking lizards, for all I know–and yet the goal of each person is to achieve the clearest signal from the tower.  Some people head away from the mountain, or turn their radios off.  The signal goes out anyway, whether or not we choose to listen.  Those who work at it, adjusting their radios, will hear the signal more clearly than those who don't. 

Anyway, that was my great, unifying vodkalogical concept.

The next summer, I went to rehab, and found that once I dumped the liter per night liquor consumption and treated my depression, I didn't worry so much about that Golden Ticket.  God is God, and I'm not.  No matter what we believe, we're probably wrong. 

But when I needed it, Franny and Zooey was there.  The idea that bright, educated people like these–like me–could be complete messes reassured me.  Holden Caulfield was kind of a nit.  I didn't hate him or anything, but I felt like I belonged in the Glass family.  I'd be right there, between Buddy and Seymour, protecting Franny from Zooey's taunts and teasings, and shining my shoes for the fat lady.

R.I.P., J.D.S. 

With thanks (and love and squalor).


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4 Responses to “For J.D. Salinger, with thanks and squalor”

  1. Franny and Zooey in it's plain white cover and simple title treatment…. loved that book. It was a damn fine book. One of my faves from yesteryear….

  2. you are right on the mark. if Catcher is JDS Sargent, then Franny and Zooey is his White Album

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