Friday, June 12, 2009

Book 46: Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

I once stayed a house away from Salinger's reclusive New Hampshire home. To get there I drove a big white van filled with goofy costumes, collapsible sets, and a makeshift PA system.

At the time I was living in Providence, RI, and I was coming off a roller-coaster ride of a year. I got back from France in June. My college theater director Judith Swift (god love her) offered me a part in a professional production of 'South Pacific' at Theater-By-The-Sea. Performing at that theater was a dream come true of sorts as I have vivid memories of drinking Shirley Temples and watching wide-eyed as 'The King And I' or 'Oklahoma' unfolded.

During 'South Pacific' I started dating the girl who played the island goddess. This turned out to be a disaster of almost Biblical proportions and the whole summer was like a Rock-em Sock-em game in lingerie.

Near the end of the summer I was offered the part of the Anvil Salesman in a touring production of 'The Music Man' which I turned down to replace my friend Mitchell as a member of The Looking Glass Theater up in Providence. Looking Glass was also a vivid childhood memory as they toured the elementary schools of the state putting up quick rough and tumble productions.

I was going to be making a living as an actor.

I got an apartment right near Roger Williams Hospital which would come in handy 9 months later when my appendix burst in the middle of the night. A three bedroom apartment for (gulp) $450 a month. I had two room mates. We all paid $150 a month.

Long story long, my schedule was grueling but fun. Two shows a day, usually at the same school, sometimes across the state. We would roll up in the morning, teach the kids their parts, do the show for the school and then skedaddle.

Now we get to J.D. Salinger.

Occasionally we would book a show that was far enough away so that we had to spend the night. A show in New Hampshire came up. We were being hosted by the Principal of the school. She and her husband lived in a very nice very large house way out in the woods outside of a small New Hampshire hamlet.

Being actors and outsiders and freaks, we spent the whole drive up dreading having to stay with some stinky principal. We would have to eat dinner with them, eat breakfast, make small talk all night long, UGH.

We got there and found that all of our worst fears were confirmed. And worse. The Principal wasn't so bad but her husband was a psychiatrist who was also a painter. The house was immaculate, New Hampshire rustic on the outside, modern chic on the inside. And almost every inch of the wall space was covered with paintings by the master of the house.

They made us a perfect dinner and charmed us to the point that we wanted to throw up. She was beautiful, he was handsome, he was an artist, she an educator, hip! You'd think you were in some well-appointed New York flat, not an ultra removed exo-suburban farmhouse.

As we sat and drank wine, conversation naturally turned to all the art on the wall. The paintings were quite good and we said so. We didn't know they were HIS paintings. He then put his hands behind his head as he sat on the couch and began to talk about his art.

His hands stayed behind his head for the better part of 2 hours. It was one of the more awkward things I've ever seen. He was feigning nonchalance in one of the most grueling physical ways possible. Try it. Put your hands on the back of your neck and leave them there for a few minutes. They get sore right quick.

He had some image of himself as the relaxed unknown painter that he needed to relay to us. The three of us at some point became linked via ESP and couldn't get over the hands-behind-the-head thing. It was one of the more obnoxious displays of ego I have ever seen. You'd have thought we were interrogating Picasso.

Then, right before bed, hours after he'd bored us to tears, he casually mentioned that their nearest neighbor was J.D. Salinger himself.

And I thought, "The nerve!" We could have been talking about J.D. Salinger for hours and instead we talked about the 47 paintings you did which hang over the couch you sit on.

And therein lies the lesson. J.D. Salinger won't talk to ANYONE about what he does. He just did it and then left it at that. Total integrity.

This jackass farts and frames his underwear.

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