I can’t stop thinking about J.D. Salinger. It may be trite to say, but I love J.D. Salinger. Trite, because really everybody loves J.D. Salinger. Except maybe my redheaded stepmother, who I think never read a book in her life. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m sure my other stepmother never read him either, because her reading choices never ventured beyond Sidney Sheldon.
Yes, definitely the making of an actress. Two horrid stepmothers, a stepfather, and two, or three estranged parents, depending on whose story you believe.
I discovered J.D. Salinger when I stole Catcher In The Rye from my big sister and read it. I tried to hand in a book report on it in seventh grade and it was rejected because it was on a list of unsuitable books or something. It was Westchester after all. They told my mother I was reading unsuitable books, but really she could care less.
So one Sunday, when I was making the usual stop after church with father no. 2 to pick up the Sunday paper at Lippy’s, the candy/toy/comic book/book store, I checked under S and found more books by this Salinger guy. I saved my allowance and eventually got to buy all three. For the longest time I kept looking for more of them, until somebody tipped me off that no more were ever gonna come. Ever.
I took them with me when I had to go to Massachusetts to visit the first father and his second wife, the redheaded stepmother. It was horrible there. The only saving grace was that they had a dog, who I spent all my time with. Laddy. Laddy, the bright light in the long summer with the evil stepmother.
The stepmother who hated me.
And the first father, who tried to make up for everything by buying me things, which we had to hide in the trunk of his car until I left, because evil stepmother would be furious if she knew. The first father, who was tragically handsome, but could never get the family thing right. He really wanted a wife and kids and a dog, he really did. He just didn’t know how to do it. His mother was a divorced chorus girl who went back on the road with some follies or other and left her boys with various uncaring, unkind relatives. I heard he kept running away. So he didn’t know how the family thing was supposed to work or something, I guess.
I will never forget the long boring summer in the town of one-story houses. The baking heat with not a tree in sight. Flat. Hot.
The stepmother who couldn’t clean or cook. She specialized in flirting with other people’s husbands. They actually moved a lot because of her affairs with neighborhood married men. Even though I was a kid, I kind of thought “Fuck you Daddy,” in the back of my mind, “You cheated on Mommy with the redhead and now you got what you deserved.”
The other thing she was good at, was watching T.V. The minute the father put the key in the ignition to head off for work, the kids were thrown in the backyard, the shades went down and the television was switched on. She sat there all day smoking cigarettes with her short nails with the red nail polish. I always admired her hands. They were the opposite of my hands. She had long fingers and wore a big fat wedding ring. Her short nails were big enough for polish. My hands were small little things with tiny nail beds. They were no match for hers. Next to her ashtray was a bottle of beer that she spent the afternoon with. Shlitz or some awful thing. Merv Griffin was the high point of her day. “Merv is on, “ she would say. I would come in from the glaring sunlight and watch it with her. How she kept her figure with all that beer was a mystery. Except thinking about it now, I never saw her eat. I know Irish people like that. They exist on drink. No food.
That summer she played Robert Goulet records on the stereo a lot. I know if Robert Goulet had lived in the neighborhood she would have had an affair with him. She was probably having fantasies that Robert Goulet would come and rescue her from that barren suburban landscape.
She couldn’t cook. If she tried pancakes, there was raw batter in the middle. Her vegetables were canned, which I found really frightening. I couldn’t eat her food and she would get really mad a t me. My mother was a great cook, and I had never seen such a thing. She once made these pink ham steaks with curdled milk on top. She made me sit there for hours staring at it because I wouldn’t eat it. The house smelled weird, which really depressed me.
So it was into this landscape that I brought J.D. Salinger. I remember sitting outside reading one of his books and feeling the deepest resonating joy. He picked out the stuff of life that was funny and sad-making at the same time. I had escaped the land of the stepmother in my mind. I could think different, be different, and rise above the finks. I was learning, like Lydgate in Middlemarch by George Eliot, “… that books were stuff, and that life was stupid.”
My whole persona at the time was influenced by Salinger. When a beau told me that when I talked I sounded like New Yorker magazine I was thrilled.
I hope there is a closet full of manuscripts in his house and they all get published. Because I MEAN REALLY it has been AGES since I stopped hunting for more of his books under S at Lippy’s. Which was sad-making and all. So I salute you my literary Big Daddy. And hope everything gets published, because the phony reviewers can’t bother you now.