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Jewish World Review
Feb. 8, 2010
/ 24 Shevat 5770
Holden Caulfield Is Heard From
I know you're not interested in me, only in who I knew. You probably don't even know my last name, you think of me as just Holden, don't you? Everybody does. Funny how hard a simple name like Caulfield is for people to remember. Or get right. I can't tell you how many letters I used to get addressed to Holden Caufield without the L. I got a real bang out of that. It's only one letter off but it says a lot about people when they want you to do them a favor "Would you do me a big favor?" and they don't even bother to get your name right. You could almost hear them yawn when they were writing. I didn't care about the spelling, it was the attitude. I hate that. It happens to me all the time. Phonies are always looking me up. Like they were just passing through the neighborhood and decided to ring the bell. They sound so sincere. Like they didn't take a plane and rent a car and weasel my address out of somebody. Boy, I can sure understand why old J. D. wanted to be left alone. We had that much in common, though he did have some funny ways. But he was all right. A lot better than some of my teachers at Pencey Prep. Was I ever glad to get kicked out of that place, not that Mr. Thurmer had much of a choice. Not after I was flunking four courses and wasn't applying myself.
Applying myself. I hate that goddarn phrase. Why do all the headmasters you ever had want you to apply yourself? So you can be just like them, worrying about every little thing? So you can have a little family you can boss around and tell your kids to apply theirselves? Funny how people always ask if you're concerned about your future when they don't seem to like the present very much, maybe because they're so goddarn busy applying themselves. Like it's a full-time job. Like it's a career. It wasn't like I was lazy. I just didn't want to do anything. Except maybe read. And chuck a football around with a couple of the guys I liked. Not everybody at Pencey was a phoney.
What else could old Thurmer do but give me the ax? Especially after I'd left all the fencing team's foils and equipment and stuff on the subway. That was when we went down to New York to play McBurney School. I had to keep getting up to look at the map to make sure we'd get off at the right stop. I was the goddam manager of the team. And we did get there on time. It's just that I forgot the stuff. They all ostracized me on the way back. I never want to be a manager again. Of anything. I don't even want to be on the hall council here at Elkton Haven.
Sure, I knew J.D. Which some people would envy, but, to tell you the truth, I didn't get that big a bang out of it. You could even say we were close. Sometimes he seemed to be thinking my thoughts before they occurred to me. Or he'd been to places where I was about to go. Like he was in my head, like my parents or somebody. It can get crowded in there. Maybe that's why I still like to horse around now and then. Just to get away from them all. Fictional characters can have a sense of privacy, too. Also he could be possessive as hell. That's the way authors are, you know; they think they own their characters. So they stick any stupid thought they want to in our heads. Like we don't lead lives of our own. And just let them catch you reading some other writer. Boy, he hated it when I would read Updike. They're all pretty jealous gods, authors. They think they invented you or something.
I don't blame old J.D. for just wanting to be left alone. I know how it is. Phonies were always trying to track him down, sometimes just to steal stuff from him not money, not directly, but other stuff like plots and characters and, worst of all, time. Bores are the worst. They never stop talking, and what's awful is they never say anything you want to hear in the first place. Boy, nothing is easier to steal than somebody else's time. Pencey was full of crooks. Quite a few of the guys came from these very wealthy families, but it was full of crooks anyway. You'd be surprised at how many rich kids at Pencey were crooks. Somebody took my camel's hair coat right out of my room with my fur-lined gloves right in the pocket. I still miss it on cold days.
Phonies have no sense of other people's property. Or their privacy. What's funny is, even when they stole J.D.'s stuff, they didn't know how to use it. It sounded all wrong. I bet the guy who took my camel's hair coat looked awful in it. I'm starting to understand J.D. better, and why he was what all the phonies who write for the papers call a "recluse." I think that means anybody who can stand his own company.
You know what knocks me out? Just the way I used to love the idea of being a catcher in the rye? That's somebody who is always there on the edge of this big crazy cliff while all the little kids are horsing around in the field of rye. And all he does is wait till one of them comes too close to the edge and is about to fall off, and he catches them. I could apply myself to a job like that.
You know what I really get a bang out of now? All the people in that little town where old J.D. lived up in New Hampshire somewhere the car mechanics and plumbers and hardware salesmen and waitresses and postmen and none of them would tell visitors where he lived when they came looking for him. And when the phonies arrived with their questions and cameras and psychological theories I know a lot about psychological theories after being in this place since November they'd be sent off on some wild goose chase down the road. Those people knock me out. People are all right if you never have to see them. J.D. must have felt the same way. I always wanted to call him up myself, but I was afraid I'd be disappointed if I did. Or be acting like a phoney myself.
Boy, when I heard old J. D. was going to write a book about me, and I was going to get to be the narrator, boy, I nearly dropped dead when I heard that. J.D. Salinger. I got really excited. I've got to say he wasn't a bad writer, either. I'm illiterate but I read a lot. And I really liked any book of his I wasn't in. I'd say he would have been a great writer if he hadn't influenced so many people.
Paul Greenberg Archives
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