January 29th, 2010
My Dear America:
I realize that I should probably be talking today about the President's State of the Union Speech that he gave on Wednesday night this week. Certainly that speech is important and I must say that the President in my opinion hit it out of the park with that speech.
Yet, there was something else that occurred on Wednesday that I believe is one of the most Significant Literary Events since the Death's of Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and John Updike.
On Wednesday, 1/27/10 the world lost one of the most Significant Writers of any generation. That Writer was Jerome David Salinger, JD for short.
I read "The Catcher in the Rye" at a very lonely and very difficult time in my life in the early 60's. I had just flunked out of King's College in Wilkes Barre. I had worked hard my first year of College and had maintained an acceptable GPA. Not Great but acceptable. I had heard many people talk about the fact that most people flunk out of College in their first year and that it was by far the hardest year. I guess I took that to mean that I could take it easy during my second year of College. Big Mistake. Although I thought I was still working hard during my Second Year, I was also having a good time. Another big mistake. When I flunked out I was told that I could return after taking a semester off.
It was one of the hardest lessons that I ever learned. I was devastated and felt like a complete failure. To tell the truth I had never been that keen on going to College but I really couldn't figure out something else that I would rather do. My parents, being the great and encouraging people that they were, insisted on my going to College. I really didn't have a choice and wasn't that dedicated to working hard in College. Unlike some of my friends at school, good marks didn't come easy to me. I had to work hard and I resented those friends who barely did any work and were still A Students.
Next thing I knew I was sitting on the outside looking in and wishing that I had worked harder in school when I had the chance. But it was too late. Suddenly, I realized just how right my parents were about College. There weren't many jobs open to someone like me, without a college education. I worked part time for my father who was running a Diner but he didn't make enough money to pay me and I didn't ask for it. I found a full timejob working for Uniform Printing Company in my home town of Allentown, PA. It wasn't high paying but it was a job that I thought I could do. I worked in a gigantic rectangular building on the second floor of a factory with one other person. That person and I walked around all day picking out forms, placing them in boxes and sealing the boxes up. That other person was an older guy who never spoke even when spoken to. The job was probably not the worst job that I could have gotten in my predicament. It wasn't hard physically but it was boring beyond belief. I was never so lonely or disturbed in my life as when I was looking at those tattered walls and thinking that
"Good God, Is this where I am going to be for the rest of my life."
It was into this God Forsaken Frightening Life of mine that "The Catcher in the Rye" came.
I don't remember why I read it the first time. Perhaps someone recommended it to me or maybe it was one of the assignments that I didn't finish in my last lost semester. Whatever the reason was that I read it I could not put it down once I started it. It was a fascinating story to me about Holden Caulfield, a young man with whom I could identify completely, the way he talked and felt about things and most of all the sense of failure he felt when he flunked out of school. At a period of time when I felt a sense of purpose had gone out of my life I seemed to find that purpose in Holden's story.
Holden's story helped me at a time when I probably should have been in therapy but wasn't. My therapy was reading the "Catcher in the Rye" many times over the course of my life. I felt as though Holden Caulfield was teaching me some very serious life lessons. I saw hope in the book and still resent the fact that Mark David Chapman tarnished the image of this magnificent chronicle in identifying it as the key to why he killed John Lennon.
I eventually was lucky enough to get a chance to return to King's College largely through the generousity of my Philosophy Professor, George McLean. When Mr. McLean, who found out that because of my father's Diner going under that I would not be able to return to school, he essentially worked out a scholarship for me to finish College. He did this without any expectations of any kind and essentially by giving me another chance at school he gave me my life back and although I still had a pretty good time at school, I never took it or life for granted ever again.
I Thank both George McLean and JD Salinger for giving me my life back and helping me to appreciate the lessons of life at a time when I needed their help.
I can't even remember how many times I have read "The Catcher in the Rye" over my lifetime. I would think that it is between 10 and 20 times. I am not a rereading kind of person, especially when it comes to novels, but I have found "Catcher" to be a different book every time I read it. I think that it is probably because of the history of "Catcher" in my life that first time that makes it so special to me. I have read other books by JD including "Nine Stories", which I think is great. "Franny and Zooey" and "Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenter and Seymour, an Introduction" I have read only once and, quite frankly, do not have any plans of rereading them.
I am excited, however that the word is that there are more books that JD has written and stashed in a safe in his house in Cornish, New Hampshire, where he isolated himself since the early 50's.
Hopefully, that safe can now be opened and those books can see the light of day. I will be anxious to read them but I really don't think that any of his or anyone elses books will ever measure up, in my opinion, to "The Catcher in the Rye".
I am going to go now and find one of my many copies of the book that I have collected over my lifetime and begin to read it again. I know that I will enjoy it just as much this time around as I ever have. Maybe even more now that JD Salinger is no longer around to point out the Phoneys of this world.