Sunday, January 31, 2010

* Holden Caulfield 1951-2010+ : Coined Date-Rape Formula

J.D. Salinger: Shell Shock or Sell Shock?

Holden Caulfield the teen-age hero of The Catcher in the Rye, was 16 in 1949 when he was in the “crumby place” he couldn’t get out of near Hollywood, sent there to recuperate from something (“nearly got t.b. and had to come out here and take it easy”) probably an emotional breakdown (“all this crazy stuff that happened to me around Christmas time last year”).

Today his symptoms (“felt like I was disappearing”; “felt like committing suicide” passing out in the bathroom; flunking out of three schools) sound remarkably like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), not surprising since Holden’s creator, J.D. Salinger, had been hospitalized for “battle fatigue” after WW II, also known as “shell shock.”

Part of Salinger’s cure may have been turning shell shock into sell shock; 60 million copies of Catcher sold to date (2010) and still counting.

Today, Holden Caulfield would be 77-years old, January 27, 2010, the day his creator died at age 91. (Although the book was published in 1951, the action takes place when Holden was 16: 1949 --- three years after his brother Allie died in 1946, when Holden was 13 and Allie was 11.)

Patrick Welsh who teaches English at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia writes in an article in The New York Times today, January 30th, that “One of the funniest parts of the book is Holden’s description of why he has not yet lost his virginity.”

Only an adult could say that the “virginity” piece in Catcher was “funny”.

Holden’s “If you want to know the truth I’m still a virgin, I really am.” is not funny at all to a teenager of either gender today.

It is deadly serious: Even now that women no longer bear the sexist cross of having to be virgins at marriage, virginity for a teenage girl carries the same curse it does for a teenage boy: “You’re still a virgin?!” is an accusation (“You’re still a child?!”).

This confession of virginity by Holden fairly early in the novel establishes him as a completely honest narrator---and makes his bellyaching about “phoneys” endurable.

In fact, Holden is the first instance of a new creature in American literature: the liberated male.

Holden cares about girls as people and is furious when Stradlater appears to be using his friend Jane as an opportunity to carve yet another notch in his sexual holster.

Even when Holden gets manipulated into hiring a prostitute at the Hotel Edmont, he finds a way not to exploit her sexually even though he fantasizes about a character in a novel named Monsieur Blanchard, who says a woman’s body is a violin which a man has to learn to play like a virtuoso (“Caulfield and his magic violin”).

The truth of the matter is that Holden has articulated the date rape protection formula forty years before the term “date rape” was even coined: he laments it (the trouble with me is”) but he adheres to it (“when a girl says stop, I stop").

Feminists, meet Holden Caulfield: American literature’s first liberated male, a creature you claimed for decades after 1949 didn’t exist.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

* J.D.Salinger is Dead at 91 (All Rights Reserved)

Just Being Jerry.

Because I have lived within 20 miles of J.D. Salinger's Plainfield/Cornish, New Hampshire orbit for the last 23 years, and have come in contact with many folks who have known him --- or at least, intersected with him (no one could "know" Salinger) --- I am able to share several anecdotes about him, previously untold. Anyone repeating them in print or plastic media be admonished: I reserve the right to be quoted by name and blog title. (Nod to J.D.'s tenacious publication battles.)

My stories come from friends and neighbors in New Hampshire and Vermont, extending back twenty years up to two or three years ago. They are short glimpses into the sacred Yankee privacy of his private public life (redundancy intended) which was honored by us up here. I do not arrange them chronologically but randomly here according to my whim.

Whether or not they are true is not the issue. They were told to me by people who had no reason to try impress me: just local chitchat. I have purposely been vague about gender and location of some of my sources.

A colleague of mine and his wife who first came to Vermont 30 years ago found themselves tobogganing on Salinger's property around that time in Cornish, without knowing the property belonged to Salinger. Salinger came out of his house and unceremoniously threw them off his land. My colleague says that when he first read The Catcher in the Rye as a teenager many years ago "the book changed [his]life" with its honesty about how a teenager really feels. Getting thrown off the property by J.D. Salinger himself way back then, was almost an "honor" for my friend, he admits long after the fact.

Perhaps the most charming anecdote about this man whose reputation is rather "rough around the edges", is from the neighborhood kid who would go over to Salinger's house weekdays and watch Jeopardy with him, a favorite program for both of them. They'd try to beat each other to the answers. (That kid later attended Brown University.) When Halloween would come around, the youngster told me, Salinger would hand out NOT candy but pencils instead!

(I know literary critics and budding authors who would die for a presentation pencil from J.D. Salinger: like receiving a sword from King Arthur himself.)

Another acquaintance of mine is the nephew of a woman who bought J.D. Salinger's former New Hampshire house with detached garage. The nephew told me there's a tunnel between the garage and house which his aunt says "Salinger had built" so he wouldn't be photographed by snoopy journalists and publicity seekers. (Another Cornish resident says the house belonged to Salinger's former wife. Tunnel, same reason?)

Friends of mine in their 60's frequent church suppers around the Vermont and New Hampshire area. They would often encounter Salinger in recent years who "loves church suppers" and was always "first in line with his wife, especially at the Hartland supper." He wasn't aloof or snobby. "He'd talk to you" and wanted to be called "Jerry" my friend tells me, and talk about regular things. "If you mention his book or his name, he'd get up an leave."

In recent years he'd suffered a stroke, and would appear at these suppers in line with his wife "using a ski-pole" as a support, disdaining the old man's cane.

That's style.

(I stole this a year ago Christmas, when I had half a kidney removed and returned from the hospital in a 20" blizzard. That day,and every day thereafter, I used ski poles to walk a mile up my mountain road in the snow, thinking of Salinger's panache every slippery step of the way.)

Perhaps the most dramatic anecdote comes from a member of a local volunteer fire department.

Years ago, Salinger's house caught fire and the the department was summoned. The fire was located in Salinger's basement where he had his study and which contains a large safe. The day after the fire was extinguished, the person tells me, Salinger appeared at the fire department with a ten thousand dollar reward as thanks to the department. The size and unexpectedness of that reward, the persons says, lends credence to local folklore that his house contained manuscripts of unpublished works which he has been hoarding for years, as has long been suspected by literary critics.

A friend of mine's mate worked at the local post office where Salinger received his mail. Salinger had an arrangement that any mail addressed to him by the name "Salinger" should not be delivered but instead returned. He would receive mail only by an alias which he and the worker at the local post office agreed on. Apparently the alias would change over time to further discourage intrusion.

Finally, an anecdote about Salinger's legendary privacy-in-public, is the story of a teenager ringing her cash register at Price Chopper a few years ago. An old man and a younger woman came through with groceries (Salinger's wife is half his age). When the cashier asked for their credit card, she recognized the name on it as that of the author whose book, The Catcher in the Rye, she was reading in school. When her eyes bulged she looked up at the wife who "nodded as if she knew what I was thinking" in a way that said, "Yes, that's him, but don't let on you know." When I asked the young cashier what she did, she said," I played along."

For years, friends told me that if I went to a specific general store in Plainfield at 10 o'clock on Sunday morning I would be guaranteed to run into J.D. Salinger picking up his papers. I have purposely avoided that store and tried to forget its name.

A friend of mine's brother was Salinger's auto mechanic for several years. He says what we country folk up here all knew from instinct: Salinger "just wanted to be Jerry".

And so he was.

And so he will remain --- in the world's most private public place, old fashioned Yankee New England:

Just Jerry.

Monday, January 25, 2010

* Our Cemetery

Our Town by Thornton Wilder is the most performed play in the history of the American theatre. It is also the most sentimentalized play in the history of the American theatre.

The play is actually a macabre little treatise on life.

Almost everyone on stage at the beginning of the play is dead by the end of it when they appear in the cemetery scene, having popped up from their undergound caverns like little jack-in-the boxes: Emily is dead of childbirth; her younger brother from appendicitis; the paper-boy Joe Crowell, is senselessly slaughtered in "the war"; Emily's mother-in-law dies of pneumonia on a trip; the Church organist, Simon Stimson, an alcoholic,commits suicide; Mrs. Soames, who chattered about the "lovely" wedding is as dead as Scrooge's talking-doornail; and, on and on and on. (One biographer says that for Wilder himself, "death is just another heartbeat".)

Nonetheless there are more dead on stage at the end of Our Town than at the end of Hamlet.

How is it then that half a million high school productions and hundreds of professional productions can ignore all this death and focus on Emily's little homily about "life being too wonderful" for anyone to appreciate while they are alive?

That fact, the amnesiac approach to the death in Our Town, is usually presented as Wilder's triumph: He makes something so sad (death) so beautiful.


It is exactly the opposite.

By forcing us to face our amazing propensity to ignore death (and he has certainly rubbed death in our face here) Wilder simultaneously forces us to confront in ourselves (by our decision as an audience to saccharinize the lugubrious events transpiring on stage in front of our very noses, a lugubriousness which Wilder admonishes actors not to indulge in his stage directions);Wilder forces us to confront in our very audience seats what life actually is: the ongoing history of the human being's greatest faculty----Denial.

Deny that!

(Heartbeat or no heartbeat.)

* Walter Lee Loman? Willy Younger?

The most famous play of the early 1950's was Death of a Salesman, made even more famous by the playwright's defiant appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee and his marriage to the most beautiful woman in the world, Marilyn Monroe.

The play ends with the Salesman, Willy Loman, committing suicide after realizing "You end up worth more dead than alive" in a capitalist society that holds the false carrot of the American Dream in front of the donkey of the American worker.

The final scene in a Brooklyn cemetery leaves the audience to wonder whether Willy's wife, Linda will actually receive the $20,000 insurance check, or whether the insurance company will try to prove his car crash was a "suicide" and walk out on the payment.

The play first appeared in 1949 and became world famous overnight, making Arthur Miller an international celebrity.

Nine years later Lorraine Hansberry published
A Raisin in the Sun, the story
of an African American family living on the fifth floor of a tenement in Southside Chicago, waiting for an insurance check to arrive after the death of their patriarch, Big Walter Younger, who "worked hisself to death" after he lost a "baby to poverty".

It is almost unimaginable that the highly literate Lorraine Hansberry was not intimately familiar with Death of a Salesman in 1958, the year of publication of A Raisin in the Sun.

She must certainly have known she was beginning her own play where Death of a Saleaman left off: the family is waiting for the insurance check ($10,000, half the amount of Willy Loman's 1949 insurance policy, a barometer of poverty and racism).

She might even have taken it as a challenge: I wonder what would happen if I transplanted the Loman family from working class Brooklyn, to the poverty stricken ghetto of Southside Chicago, (where 50,000 citizens had recently attended the funeral of 14-year old Emmett Till who was murdered for whistling at a white woman while on a trip to Money, Mississippi) and picked up the story from there?
The check arrives and greed and racism unfold.

And the "what would happen" turns out to be the victory of love over materialism.

Walter Lee Younger (the junior) learns he is wrong in declaring (echoing Willy Loman)
that "money is life". He learns what his Mama has taught his sister, Beneatha, that the time to love somebody isn't "when they done good and made it easy for everybody" . . . it's when he is at his lowest. . .when the world done whipped him so."

That is the time to love.

And the meek --not the materialists-- shall inherit the earth.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

* Crying over Cryonics

Warning: Disturbing Photographs and Subject Matter

"A neuro is a severed head; the theory is that scientists in the future, like the Zoromes, will give you a new body, so why bother saving the old one if your brain is all they need? In 2002, when Red Sox baseball great Ted Williams died, his head was sawed off and frozen. It is now stored at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, in Scottsdale, Arizona." (Lepore, 27)
The Iceman
Jill Lepore
The New Yorker (American Chronicles, 24-30)
January 25, 2010

I have just been watching a distraught Salome kissing the severed head of John the Baptist on a Classic Arts Network excerpt from that Strauss opera of the same name, Salome.

This follows reading Jill Lepore's New Yorker article about the octagenarian promoter of cryonics, Robert C.W. Ettinger, who has frozen two of his wives and his mother, for future resuscitation.

With all due respect to the dead, let's take the Ted Williams' situation outlined in the quote above from Lepore's article.

Ted is no John the Baptist. He wasn't murdered.

But his severed head is as startling in the Lepore article as it is on a Straussian stage.

The logic of this baffles me, and it seems a direct descendant of Descarte's cogito ergo sum: My self is my mind (my thinking) not my body or the inter-relation between the two. (Christian Science takes this to the extreme, saying the body is an illusion; only Divine Mind is real.)

It is going to be a strange day indeed when Ted Williams's brain is implanted in a new body, if that body is one inch taller or shorter than Ted's original was, and the brain is telling his fine-tuned million-times-rehearsed musculature to start swinging a bat and catching and throwing balls.

Especially if the brain gets mixed up with another one and is inserted into the head of a female body.

(Don't think this isn't possible: After all, the brain of President John F. Kennedy WAS LOST : the only physical evidence which could have proved two bullet trajectory holes and therefore two separate assassins, WAS LOST either by the hospital authorities or by brother Edward Kennedy, representing the family, which is said to have had the brain in its posession for a time and may have destroyed it intentionally.)

Cogito ergo sum has led to solipsism as a way of life; What I THINK is real, even if the world is going to hell all around me (Climate Change).

Solipsism has become a kind of Buddhism without serenity. Instead of the obliteration of the Ego, solipsism is the beatification of the Ego. I am all!

And cryonics is the grotesque outgrowth of that beatification: Reviving MY personality, MY memories, MY brain, 200 years from now in another body is ALL THAT MATTERS.

Ted William's head may become the first Shrine to Solipsism.

And around us every second of our lives Nature has been rehearsing us for our final role, from the first experiences of the loss of a pet as a child, to the disappearance of loved ones as we grow older. It is a rehearsal which solipsism makes it easy for us to ignore.

Even Ralph Waldo Emerson, the nascent Transcendentalist at 22, had to adjust to Nature's rehearsal.

After the loss of his first wife who died of tuberculosis at age 19 after only three years of marriage, Emerson did the unthinkable: On the first anniversary of her death, he dug up the corpse to see if immortality had preserved the features of his saint-like wife or if Nature had taken its course.

We know the answer, despite the cases of mystics whose bodies have been "miraculously" preserved after death (like leather) due to a kind of petrification which results from extreme fasting, tainted water, and gradually disabled liver and kidney function.

A similar but artificial taxidermy occurs in the case of Lenin's body which costs $70,000 a year to maintain in a hermetically sealed glass sarcaphagus and requires periodic taxidermicalogical restorations. Stalin's body, once similarly preserved, has been allowed to go the fickle way of politics.

Yes, we know the answer, despite all the medieval paintings which have arms and limbs amputated in wars and their aftermath flying through the air to re-unite with their orignal bodies at the moment of the Last Trump: Resurrection of the Body.

We know.

How much easier it would be to accept our place in the Grand Design of alpha and omega, birth and death, than to defy Nature with the desperate measures of macabre science (or medieval art) or the wishful thinking of a Disney kiss on the cheek of a snow white ---or a Salome kiss on the severed head of John the Baptist.

Thornton Wilder said it best:

"Is it possible that in aging we all receive just such intimations, such 'animal' reconciliations with the fact of dying? I ---who have never had any revulsion against the thought of dying --then hoped that that was so; Not from weariness of life, not from tragic protest against life's difficulty, not from dread of the declining years, but from some deep purely natural acceptance of the given assignment of youth, maturity, age and death."

* Throwing Baby Out with the Bathwater

My personal waste of water is an abomination worthy of a Scarlet A, especially at the kitchen sink. Some times it is self-contradictory: Imagine the water wasted to wash out plastic bottles and containers, for example, so they will be accepted by the recycling center. The conservation of one is annulled by the waste of the other.

When I went on a tour of Nathaniel Hawthorne's house in Salem, Massachessetts a few years back one of the things they showed visitors (in addition to the secret staircase behind the fireplace where fugitive slaves were hidden) was the garden where the recycled bathwater wound up.

This was the early 1800's after all and there was no running water. If a family took a bath once a week or month, they all shared the same water, hauled in from the well. They shared in sequence of course (it was Puritan times after all): from father (first) to baby (last).

By the time the water got to baby it was so dirty from a family of four or five or seven members, that there was a real danger baby would disappear in the dirty water and get thrown out on the garden at the end of the cycle, hence the expression "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!"

We need to go back to that kind of recycling. Not shared bathwater, but recycled sink water.

Unfortunately, grey-water recycling systems are more expensive than just dumping baby and bathwater on the garden. They also have warnings not to spray the water since inhalation can be dangerous. And no one has determined the long-term effects on the quality of soil so saturated--to say nothing of the health of birds and other living creatures.

The gardens at the House of Seven Gables looked pretty good to me. But greywater probably hasn't been used there for a hundred years.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


For overflow posts, go to my profile "About Me" (this page) and click on it. Then click on separate blog entitled Sparring With Yale Daily News.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

*Schizophrenic Yale

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

* The Contrarian: Senator Brown

Don't tell us Yankees what to do. And I ain't talkin' about a baseball team. I'm talkin' about a region of the country, the region of the country I was born and raised in. New England.

Get the prefix?

NEW England. The England without monarchs. Without aristocracy. Without elitism. The England called America.

Scott Brown's election is not so much a vote against health care, or deficit spending, as it is against a know-it-all administration that has decided to ram stuff through the Congress without paying attention to the citizenry.

It's jobs STUPID!!!!!!

Big spending projects like health care and education MIGHT be swallowed by the public if their mouths were full of food. But their mouths are as empty as their wallets.

Obama and his smart-aleck advisors made the same mistake King George Herbert Walker Bush made when he didn't know the price of a gallon of milk.


Well, the working stiff just stiffed the Adminsitration by their vote in Massachussetts.

Wake up White House. Put a chicken in every pot BEFORE you buy General Motors.

Monday, January 18, 2010

* "La Baker" sings with a bruised heart for Haiti on MLK Day

Josephine Baker's 1934 film film Zou Zou features La Baker shockingly (for that era) unrobed in gaint a bird cage swinging on a perch, singing a song entitled My Haiti.

Tragically poignant and ironic after last week's Haitian 7.4 earthquake is Zou Zou's refrain, "I sing with a bruised heart for my Haiti."

Today the whole world sings for Haiti with a bruised heart for the staggering numbers of suffering victims and orphans of all ages in that devastated island.

It is telling that three U.S. Presidents (Obama, Clinton, and Bush) have come together to respond to this pain.

La Baker herself became a kind of orphanage in her own right fifty years ago, adopting twelve children from twelve countries, and raising them in a castle in France where she had become the most famous chanteuse of her era, captivating Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Dior, and Langston Hughes.

Her humanitarian gesture may provide a premonitory example for the orphans of Haiti this moment. Indeed, actor George Clooney and other entertainers have been organizing a Haiti Benefit Concert which is to occur this Friday.

Later as a singer in America, La Baker refused to sing before segregated audiences, breaking the race barrier for the first time in American entertainment.

After the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, widow Coretta Scott King asked La Baker to assume the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement. She declined.

She died in 1975 at 68 in the third night of the 50th anniversary performance of her famous cabaret act, buoyed by rave reviews and admirers.

With a bruised heart for Haiti, the humanitarian generosity of La Baker sings through us all today as we seek ways to alleviate the suffering of the sricken island nation.