Friday, March 28, 2014

Salinger Math

“If a body catch a body coming through the rye…”  -Robbie Burns 1782, as seen through the eyes of J.D. Salinger

Every couple years or so I go back to old J.D.  I’m not obsessed or anything for crying out loud.  It’s more like…a matter of mathematics.
Catcher in the Rye is about a kid who sputters and spins and keeps repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  He gets kicked out of school, he picks fights with bullies, he runs away from human contact.  He travels in circles of numbness so afraid to break out else he might fall through some crack in the world or off a cliff of no return.  It paralyzes him.
The irony is his desire to stand still, to hold himself in the field, to feel the poetry around him like Allie’s baseball mitt or Jane Gallagher who won’t move her kings off the back row or Phoebe with her red elephant pajamas fast asleep, but he can’t because he worries he’ll miss something if he does.  
His brother is dead and his kid sister is inching closer and closer to creepy adulthood and he longs to protect her from the horrible world but knows he can’t stop her from falling.  We must fall.  All of us walk a tight-wire without a net.
After introducing the world to the beautiful old soul of Holden Caulfield, J.D. Salinger disappeared and broke our hearts.  I don’t think it was a lousy thing to do.  I don’t blame him at all.
People should miss things.  If someone is always there for you, a resentment builds.  People take you for granted and start to despise you.  At least, that’s what I’ve been told happens.  I don’t know if it’s true or not.
As a teacher, I’m always available to students.  I mean, my door is forever open.  I used to write kids notes so they could skip class and just hang out and read poetry books I left for them or I’d say, "If you’re ever having a bad day just slip in the back of my classroom, you’re safe, no questions asked.  Oh and by the way here’s a book you might like."  I used to catch hell for that.
I don’t do it anymore though, all my last straws were yanked away.  Besides, kids never return the favor.  No kid ever says, “Hey Mr. So-in-So, how're they hanging?” or “Hey Mr. What’syamacallit, how’s it feel to be such a ripe old bastard?”  You know, just something to make me grin like an idiot.  I guess that’s why I write this blog too, so any old friend or acquaintance or whomever can look me up and say, at least he’s still out there, at least he’s still punching at stars, maybe he’s got a funny poem for me, maybe he can make me feel like somebody cares. 
It’s a funny math, I know, but all my life I’ve had this way of counting no one understands but me.  I’d leave my science lab homework in the backpack and read Mark Twain instead, valuing him over the other.  I know that sounds stupid, to take an "F" grade over a story in my head, or at least, people have always told me that’s stupid, but I never listened because I thought I was better for doing what mattered to me.
Or other times it would be my day off and I’d be wandering around the city taking pictures thinking, if I spread my base salary over a full month, I made two-hundred dollars today for doing nothing but snapping photos of oil rainbows in mud puddles or I’d read some insane book like Plato’s Republic or an even weirder ones like Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones or The American by Henry James and no one told me to do it, I just wanted to think about justice or being an expatriate or having a romp in the grass with a buxom lass and I felt richer because it was now mine.  I mean, it was in my head forever and no one could take it away
I don’t care if Salinger went away, locked himself in a cabin and shut out the world.  I don’t even care if he writes a sequel to Catcher and it’s published posthumously and it becomes the biggest book of the century.  I don’t care about that at all.  And I’m not going to say that all I care about is you, my dear reader, because that sounds sappy and that’s how I got all used up in the first place.  I just want to keep counting my own way, counting it backwards and coming out ahead.

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