Boy, when you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody. – J. D. Salinger
I was sad to see that Salinger died yesterday. Like everyone else, I read Catcher in the Rye when I was twelve or thirteen at the recommendation of my parents. Like everyone else, I felt that it captured a particular mood of disaffection and disappointment with the world that only I felt. Like everyone else, I put the book down in amazement and said to myself “That’s me! That’s how I feel about things!” That feeling fades, of course, with later readings, and I can’t say that I identified nearly as much with Holden when I re-read the book several years ago. I will say I still enjoyed the book immensely and certain parts became funnier as I had myself begun to remedially circulate in a world where people actually grew up in Manhattan and went to Andover. It’s curious that generations of preteens in middle-class suburbs across the US can so effectively ignore the sociocultural observations that Salinger is making about a very specific niche of people. Wait, kids are still reading Catcher, right? Or are they only reading books about wizards and virgin vampires these days? At any rate, while I probably wouldn’t pick Catcher up again today, I’d still put Franny and Zooey in my top twenty any day of the week.
As I poked around on the internet for information about Salinger’s passing, I discovered a strange new facet of Google, which now has this feature that provides a constant feed of Twitters about popular subjects. So as soon as I googled “J. D. Salinger,” I knew that LustyJoe46 has just Twittered: “Catcher in the Rye was all about me, man, R.I.P. J.D.S.” Fascinated, I watched the Twitter feed for about twenty minutes. I know that this makes me sound geriatric and all of the hip young folks have been on Twitter like for-ever now. An amusing aside: during a particularly ridiculous moment of Orange County paranoia last year, a young man wandered onto campus wearing fatigues and carrying a gun that somebody construed as a rifle and reported to the police, resulting in a full-fledged campus lockdown with helicopters and newscameras and hysteria-mongering text messages. I was mostly annoyed that my terrific lesson on Melanie Klein was being disrupted. As my students and I waited nervously in our classroom, one kid busted out his computer to go on Twitter to check for updates. I went from fearing my own imminent execution to amazement about this technological black magic in four seconds flat. “So, wait, you can see everything about this topic that ANYBODY is posting on Twitter?! Even if you aren’t their friend? In real time? That’s incredible!” Turned out in the end that the “gunman” was a kid on his way home from playing paintball. I left that incident alarmed mostly by the way that text messaging and Twitter had fanned the flames of a collective panic attack. Technology! It makes us increasingly anxious to live in the world!
Seriously though, I don’t have a Twitter and I don’t really think that I’d be hip to the format. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m a touch longwinded over here. Twitter messages have a limit of 140 characters! I can’t even yawn in 140 characters! I’m not going to throw stones at anybody who Twitters (in fact, most of this week has consisted of me going to talk shit about someone and then realizing that nobody with a blog should ever talk shit about anyone and shutting my big fat mouth). Actually I’m envious that anybody can get out whatever it is they need to say in such a succinct format. What did piss me off, however (you knew this was coming), were the dozens upon dozens of jerk-offs who went on their Twitter feeds to talk about how they didn’t really like Catcher and don’t understand what all the fuss is about or who decided to debate it’s literary merit in the wake of Salinger’s death. To those people I want to say this: I’m sorry that you didn’t read Catcher in the Rye when you were 13 like everybody else because you were instead playing video games or beating off or torturing neighborhood animals. I’m sorry that you waited until you were in your twenties to pick the thing up and only did so because you realized that adults occasionally do this little thing called “read” and you asked your better-educated buddy to recommend some of his favorite books. Maybe you didn’t like it when you read it a decade too late, but you are going to have a tough time coming up with a more important coming-of-age novel for generations of American teenagers. So – – – – off. I’m not censoring myself in that last sentence, I just haven’t decided exactly what four letter word I would put there. Obviously, it is best that I don’t have a Twitter, because I would probably use it as a forum for picking fights with complete strangers.
This was an ugly entry, so I’ll leave you with something better, namely the ever-sagacious Louis Menand talking about Salinger’s legacy in the New Yorker archives. We’re well on our way to this blog devolving into a place where I only post links to New Yorker articles I like. Patience, dear reader, we’ll get there. Patience.
P. S. A-topical, but life wisdom none the less: “If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she’s late? Nobody.”