I can’t remember which grade I was initially guided through J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye but I do recall being one of the few students who read through the entire book. Most complaints weren’t that the book was too long or the print was too small or any of the other vapid complaints of very young students. The kids didn’t like the language. That’s right – one of the core components Catcher is praised for was placed under scrutiny. Granted, not many of us were placing “goddamn” and “Hell” in front of every statement we made, but Holden Caulfield spoke with the same “Why am I so misunderstood?” nuance most kids carry right before growing up.
I know you’re thinking I haven’t touched on any revolutionary thought when it comes to J.D. Salinger.
It wasn’t until I recently reread Catcher, read David Shields and Shane Salerno’s Salinger, then watched the documentary that I realized my fascination with Catcher and the entirety of Salinger’s works was in the suppressed undertones of his prose and life. Holden Caulfield spends the majority of Catcher either trying too hard to obtain or avoiding genuine connection with another human being. Similarly, Salinger spends a lifetime welcoming and expelling relationships, characters, and the occasional wisdom-seeking writer. Both the man and character dictate the usefulness of each human encounter, sometimes blaming their own inhibitions for the negative outcomes. Salerno and Shields’ documentary and book are speckled with interviews of people who have found themselves realizing they were sitting behind the elusive J. D. Salinger on a plane, sitting in the dining room chair the author had sat in the night before, and walking straight up to Salinger’s house with no or more result than they were expecting.
This is my almost encounter with J. D. Salinger.
A handful of years ago, I worked in a call center that handled the customer service for magazine subscriptions. It was thankless, often berating, work but it paid well for a college English major who just wanted to buy her next coffee. A couple months after J. D. Salinger’s death in January 2010, my incredibly yellowed phone display popped up with a call for the London Review of Books. The London Review of Books is published roughly bi-monthly so this was about the time calls started pouring in for complaints. The woman on the other end of the call asked me to assist her in a cancellation of a subscription. I went through the usual effort to try and save the customer, but she informed me the subscriber had died.
I asked for the address and last name.
I didn’t write the address down, because call center work develops a penchant for remembering addresses and sequences of numbers for a fair amount of time in case you have to verify later. Today, though, the address escapes me. What I remember most is the woman spelled S-A-L-I-N-G-E-R as authoritatively as it showed up on my computer screen:
I had fallen quiet for what seemed like eternity. Every part of me wanted to demand if the woman I was speaking to was possibly a relative of one of the most famous authors of all time. Maybe a lawyer, friend, publisher? The voice on the other end of the line was young sounding (Salinger’s daughter perhaps?) and was extremely nice. I wasn’t supposed to make too much chitchat unrelated to the call, so I expressed my sympathy for the deceased, thanked her for calling, and let the call end. Looking back, I absolutely should have nearly shouted, “You mean, THE SALINGER?!”
I sat at my desk with wave after wave of curiosity coursing through my brain. Out of all the people in the call center, not even just that, out of all the English majors sitting at call center desks in the world, how had I been the one to handle the posthumous subscription cancellation of a literary legend? Was this a sign from Salinger’s astrophysical presence acknowledging my efforts as a writer? Had I just been touched as the next great American novelist by the Great Beyond?
Let’s not get crazy.
A quick Google search later that day revealed the address as one of the possibilities for Salinger’s home address. Not a P.O. Box or General Post Office addresses like many have tried to contact him through over years.
I felt akin to the people in David Shields and Shane Salerno’s near encounter interviews. Each came away with the feeling of having brushed shoulder to shoulder with greatness. Even if Salinger didn’t speak to me, much less say I was harboring great talent, I can’t help but feel a tap of the universe letting me know I’m headed in the right direction.
The Holden Caulfield inside of me was soothed.
Lauren Mack: Co-founder of The Well Written Woman is an aspiring writer, blogger, and overall enthusiast of brainstorms. She is a graduate of Flagler College with a BA in English Literature and has no intentions to teach. Lauren spends a lot of time reading novels and hoping she can one day finish her own. She often wonders how they made blue cheese so delicious. Really, she is just imposing her elitist attitude on everyone. You can follow her on Twitter.