Sunday, February 07, 2010

J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger died last week. I always wondered about these people who read Catcher in the Rye and then figured that Salinger owed them an explanation.

Why did anybody pester him? I took him at face value. He wanted to be left alone. Then you don't get to ask why, you just leave him alone.

Or he was supposed to write more books. Didn't Salinger know, better than anyone else, if he had another book to write? Again, take Salinger at face value. He wrote one American classic, Catcher in the Rye, and another very good book, Franny and Zooey, and a few short stories.

That's all he wrote. He gave us something wonderful, so who are these people saying they didn't get enough? Geez!

Catcher in the Rye was wonderful, but the book I really loved was Franny and Zooey. I loved their warm, over-stuffed apartment in Manhattan in the 1950s. It was such a nice family.

The oldest brother had committed suicide, which was a tragedy that can strike anyone's family. And the story in the book, is about how Franny Glass, the youngest child, was having a nervous breakdown.

But she had a home to come to, that large, wonderful, boisterous apartment, and she collapsed on the living room couch and slept all day. Her mother kept bringing her food and tried to get her to talk, but Franny would just turn her face to the wall and cry.

Her older brother Zooey, who still lived at home, was able to help Franny deal with her crisis, and that's the story of the book.

I've heard critics say that the Glass family was dysfunctional. No, they weren't. They were about average. They were more like everybody's else's family. They had crisis and tragedy, but it felt like such a good home when you read the book.

This is my favorite scene. It has one very long sentence, which is triumph of writing in the English language.

Zooey Glass, age 25 or so, is taking a bath in his parents' large, over-furnished old apartment in Manhattan. The Glass family is Jewish-Irish. His mother walks into the bathroom. The year is 1955. The passage begins:



Zooey's voice suddenly and suspiciously spoke up: "MOTHER? What in Christ's name are you doing out there?"

Mrs. Glass undressed the package and now stood reading the fine print on the back of a carton of toothpaste. "Just kindly button that lip of yours," she said, rather absently. She went over to the medicine cabinet. It was stationed above the washbowl, against the wall. She opened it's mirror-faced drawer and surveyed the congested shelves with an eye—or rather the masterly squint—of a dedicated medicine-cabinet gardener. Before her, in overly luxuriant rows, was a host, so to speak, of golden pharmaceuticals, plus a few technically less indigenous whatnots. The shelves bore iodine, Mercurochrome, vitamin capsules, dental floss, aspirin, Anacin, Bufferin, Argyrol, Musterole, Ex-Lax, Milk of Magnesia, Sal Hepatica, Aspergum, two Gilette razors, one Shick injector razor, two tubes of shaving cream, a bent and somewhat torn snapshot of a fat black-and-white cat asleep on a porch railing, three combs, two hairbrushes, a bottle of Wildroot hair ointment, a bottle of Fitch Dandruff Remover, a small, unlabelled box of glycerine suppositories, Vicks Nose Drops, Vicks VapoRub, six bars of Castile soap, the stubs of three tickets to a 1946 musical comedy ("Call Me Mister"), a tube of depilatory cream, a box of Kleenex, two seashells, an assortment of used-looking emery boards, two jars of cleansing cream, three pairs of scissors, a nail file, an unclouded blue marble (known to marble shooters, at least in the twenties, as a "purey"), a cream for contracting enlarged pores, a pair of tweezers, the strapless chassis of a girl's or woman's gold wristwatch, a box of bicarbonate of soda, a girl's boarding-school class ring with a chipped onyx stone, a bottle of Stopette—and inconceivably or no, quite a good deal more.

J.D. Salinger. May he rest in peace.

Man dies in torch fire accident on farm

ELTOPIA, Wash. (AP) -- A man was killed in an accident on a farm near Eltopia.

The Franklin County sheriff's office says 75-year-old Everett D. Monk was cutting scrap metal in a field with a torch Saturday when his clothes caught fire. The Tri-City Herald reports he apparently died of burns.

A friend found the body.

I read this story in a farming newspaper. Eltopia is only a stop on the highway, way out in Eastern Washington in the sagebrush country.
The accident happened last November. Something about this very short news story struck a chord with me, and I began to imagine this man's life. Everett Monk, 75, cutting scrap metal with a torch, working out in a field. Then his clothes caught on fire and the fire killed him.

Age 75, working out in the field his whole life. He was always careful, but you know you can catch it anytime, and he did. I wondered, his family must have wondered, how much he suffered, how long the flames tormented him, how long he laid on the ground before they found him.

Maybe a younger man could have rolled quickly on the ground and put out the flames. But Everett Monk was 75 and he kept working because that's what he knew how to do. He was not being careless, but these things can happen.

He lived his whole life until it ended. That's the feeling I got when I read this very short story, and I admired Everett Monk for the kind of man he was.

Two Deaths. Two deaths in this issue of Frog Hospital. Two men, one famous and one not. It's February now and the light is coming back to the Skagit Valley. People are coming out of their caves and starting to smile again. The weather has been very mild. The daffodils are coming up early.

I like living in 2010 so far. I like that number -- how it sounds and how it looks on the page, so I'm hoping we all have a very good year.


--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

70 comments:

Alexander Kramer said...

From what I've heard about Salinger, is that he wrote almost everyday, and kept his writing private. He didn't write for fame, money, or any sort of recognition. He wrote for himself, which I'm inspired by.

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