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29.1.10

À mon chevet: The Catcher in the Rye

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À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.
I had quite a bit of time to kill till ten o'clock, so what I did, I went to the movies at Radio City. It was probably the worst thing I could've done, but it was near, and I couldn't think of anything else.

I came in when the goddam stage show was on. The Rockettes were kicking their heads off, the way they do when they're all in line with their arms around each other's waist. The audience applauded like mad, and some guy behind me kept saying to his wife, "You know what that is? That's precision." He killed me. Then, after the Rockettes, a guy came out in a tuxedo and roller skates on, and started skating under a bunch of little tables, and telling jokes while he did it. He was a very good skater and all, but I couldn't enjoy it much because I kept picturing him practicing to be a guy that roller-skates on the stage. It seemed so stupid. I guess I just wasn't in the right mood. Then, after him, they had this Christmas thing they have at Radio City every year. All these angels start coming out of the boxes and everywhere, guys carrying crucifixes and stuff all over the place, and the whole bunch of them -- thousands of them -- singing "Come All Ye Faithful!" like mad. Big deal. It's supposed to be religious as hell, I know, and very pretty and all, but I can't see anything religious or pretty, for God's sake, about a bunch of actors carrying crucifixes all over the stage. When they were all finished and started going out the boxes again, you could tell they could hardly wait to get a cigarette or something. I saw it with old Sally Hayes the year before, and she kept saying how beautiful it was, the costumes and all. I said old Jesus probably would've puked if He could see it -- all those fancy costumes and all. Sally said I was a sacrilegious atheist. I probably am. The thing Jesus really would've liked would be the guy that plays the kettle drums in the orchestra. I've watched that guy since I was about eight years old. My brother Allie and I, if we were with our parents and all, we used to move our seats and go way down so we could watch him. He's the best drummer I ever saw. He only gets a chance to bang them a couple of times during the whole piece, but he never looks bored when he isn't doing it. Then when he does bang them, he does it so nice and sweet, with this nervous expression on his face. One time we went to Washington with my father, Allie sent him a postcard, but I'll bet he never got it. We weren't too sure how to address it.

-- J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, pp. 137-38
As everyone surely has heard by now, J. D. Salinger died on Wednesday at the age of 91. (The New Yorker, which published some of the last stories he allowed to go public, has put all of them online as a tribute -- for subscribers only, but you should subscribe to the magazine if you do not already.) Just about anyone who has gone to high school in the United States in the last forty years or so has likely been assigned to read his most famous book, The Catcher in the Rye. Most of us ended up loving that book, especially us disaffected, bookish teenagers identifying with its protagonist, the archetypal disaffected, bookish teenager. Salinger lived an unusual life, shunning the fame that he abhorred and refusing to publish anything else at some point in the 60s, a reversal of our current age's abominable, slavish worship of celebrity. As Prof. Robert Thompson, of Syracuse University, so aptly put it in the feature on Salinger for PBS News Hour (video embedded below), "This makes him an unbelievably interesting character, especially in contemporary America. He was going completely against the American grain. Most people would do anything for the attention, the slobbering attention that fame brings. Here's a guy who has fame falling into his lap, and he builds a wall around it. He is the antithesis of American Idol, the antithesis of reality TV." Amen, and may he now have the quiet he seemed to want.

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