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.
-- Holden Caulfield
If you could survive meal after meal at Nap's, you would be hermetically preserved from anything any alien germ could unleash ...
By FRANZ DOUSKEY
The Cool Justice Report
Feb. 2, 2010
EDITOR'S NOTE: This essay is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
Outside of Cornish, New Hampshire, Jerry Salinger was a ghost, a recluse, someone impossible to find. For years I lived a half mile from J.D. In Cornish distance terms, he was my next door neighbor. My wife and I saw him several times a week walking on St. Gauden's Road. We're talking dirt roads.
Five days a week, you could bump into Jerry at the Windsor, Vermont post office. He'd get there around 11:30,pick up his mail, throw out what he didn't want and head over to Nap's Lunch. Windsor is just across the Connecticut River from Cornish, New Hampshire. Six miles from J.D.'s house to to the center of town. Windsor has one traffic light, one hardware store, a lot of empty storefronts. To get to and from Windsor, J.D. drove his goddamn green jeep. Aimed is a better description. He drove like a maniac. Out of his way. Didn't the rest of the world know it was the great, wild Toad of Toad Hallat the wheel.
J. D. would sort through his mail at Naps, eating an impossible Nap's Meatloaf Special drowning in a greasy liquid that sort of oozed iridescently. If you could survive meal after meal at Nap's, you would be hermetically preserved from anything any alien germ could unleash.
After lunch, J. D. got back in his green jeep and headed back to Cornish.
For years he made this trip alone. Then we saw him less often. This would be around the early 1970's. When we did see Jerry, he was often with a very pretty, very young woman. The Cornish rumor mill had it that this young woman was studying writing with J. D. That would be Joyce Maynard. Forty years younger that Salinger. They were studying something.
Years later, Ms. Maynard wrote a book about her years with J. D. Salinger was outraged, tried to have the book iced. Someone had invaded the Magic Kingdom, and slayed the Salinger mythology.
A lot of anger and pain, but outwardly Jerry was the same, a little more wrinkled, losing his hair and going deaf. He stuck to his daily Windsor routine, driving his green jeep until it wore out, spewing so much blue smoke you could tell where J.D. had been and surmised were he was going before he got there.
People would make their pilgrimage to Cornish, as though the town was a shrine, and J.D. was a literary God. He hated these aimless followers inspired by his writing. J. D. was practicing Zen, trying to become dispossessed of everything the outsiders thought he was.
Then we didn't see much of J. D. There was the occasional sighting, but he seemed to fade into the woods surrounding his house like a hunter wearing camouflage.
We knew he was sick and getting sicker. Couldn't walk, then couldn't get out of bed. Then yesterday the phone started ringing. Calls from Cornish, then calls from friends, then calls from newspapers, and then weekly magazines. They wanted the news. The inside story. Problem is, there is no inside story. Jerry lived humble like most of the good people of Cornish. They don't like outsiders either. You've got to live in Cornish through blizzards, drought, show up at town meetings and support the Cornish Fair for maybe 30 years, before you're trusted, one of them.
Jerry's gone. Up in Cornish, it was earth-shaking news. J. D. had always been there. Outlived most of the people he knew. So, we thought he just might live forever. Now the rummaging will begin. Like the last scene in Citizen Kane. But there will be no snow globe with Franny & Zooey snowbound inside. No carpenter's tools to raise anything high. Just an old guy, gone from the Cornish Hills, like Orville, James, Arthur, Conrad, and everyone else before him and those to come.
Franz Douskey -- a founding board member of the Connecticut Young Writers Trust -- has published in The New Yorker, The Nation, Rolling Stone, Down East and Yankee Magazine, among several hundred others publications. He has read from his writing at Harvard, University of Arizona, the New School for Social Research, Donnell Library, and Yale University, where he taught creative writing for five years. He is President Emeritus of IMPAC University, Punta Gorda, Florida. He produces and co-hosts Once Upon A Bandstand on WQUN, Quinnipiac University.