“Whattya reading?” “Goddamn book”

I know I’m coming in right behind Selleck Waterfall Sandwich and Unhappy Hipsters to be the last person on the internet to write something about Jerry Salinger, but I couldn’t let it pass without making some sort of nod, especially since just three weeks before I was passing through Central Park with Sister Donnelly and took these pictures of the duck pond, specifically with Holden in mind:

In relation, of course, to this part of the book:

I live in New York, and I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park, down near Central Park South. I was wondering if it would be frozen over when I got home, and if it was, where did the ducks go? I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over. I wondered if some guy came in a truck and took them away to a zoo or something. Or if they just flew away.

As you can see by the picture, the ducks stay in the unfrozen part of the lake, for the time being at least. This part of the book always fascinated me, as Holden goes on to pester adults he meets for the answer to this question, one they react to dismissively or disinterestedly. Yet the delicate cycle still confuses him.

Well-worn as the title is now, Catcher was the first book in high school that ever swallowed me, the first I ever attacked with a yellow highlighter and then re-assaulted years later when I opened it again to find all the yellow had faded, the first time I realized the harmonious way a book of just the right size fits into the back pocket of a pair of jeans. Mostly I found solace in its pages because I was stuck in the tepid, droning current of the public education system and was surprised to see this huge acknowledgement of just how goddamned boring everything in the real world seemed. This was on the cusp of maturity, when you stand in front of the world’s bullhorn screaming at you that you HAVE to grow up, but you’re standing there, hands in your pockets, saying in a stage mumble “but why?” It was around this time I started labeling people eager to erupt into adulthood as sell-outs, started realizing that the concept of “adult” as we had come to know it was flawed, that my parents gave wrong answers but acted like they were law, that people who forced themselves into offices and business suits were acting the part as much as a 17-year-old kid was with the added danger of assumed wisdom, that political bickering was just as petty and hurtful as shoving someone against a locker in a middle school hallway. And shortly after people I was in high school with started popping out babies at an alarming rate, and I made the resolution — determined, fierce and personal — that I would never let my life be dictated by the unconscious cabal of Things That Are Bound to Happen, because That’s Just the Way It Is. Somehow this is all part of why I skipped my 10 year high school reunion last month, because the thought of it all was just so damn sad I couldn’t stand it.

Fittingly, while I bonded with the book, the paper I later wrote about it for AP English landed a degrading C, for what, I can’t remember. Meanwhile, the paper I wrote on Red Badge of Courage, a book I loathed for its delusionary depictions of willpower, earned an A+ and a semi-ironic “Good Job” sticker from our bulldog of a teacher. I think I referenced “beer goggles” in my description of Crane’s hero.

I hope Jerry would appreciate that level of bullshit.

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