I’ve made a conscientious effort, in my advancing adulthood, to catch up on all the books I should’ve read, but never did, when I was young. Books like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe – adventures to fire the imagination of a lad. In my ladhood, as my imagination was fired by the novels of Robert Heinlein, and Kurt Vonnegut, and Douglas Adams, and by thousands and thousands of Marvel Comics, I neglected the old standbys. It’s only in my late twenties that I got around to papering over some of the more egregious lapses in my ladhood literacy.
I first read Catcher in the Rye in the middle of this campaign of self-improvement, perhaps a half-decade ago – I can’t precisely recall. And when I picked it up again, on a whim, a couple nights ago, I pretty quickly discovered that I couldn’t recall much about the book, either. All I could’ve told you was that it was a story about Holden Caulfield, a prep school kid who wears a funny hat and thinks everyone is a phony. Of specific incidents – getting beat up in his hotel room by a pimp, trying to find the ducks in the lagoon in Central Park, getting hit on (maybe?) in the middle of the night by the ex-teacher whose sofa he’s crashing on – I remembered nothing.
I was trying to remember where I was in my life when I last read the book. Was I in my current apartment? Was I working or was it during one of my many long stretches of unemployment? Was I writing at the time? Was it before or after the rock opera? Was I seeing a girl at the time or, far more likely, not?
Holden Caulfield, killing time at the Museum of Natural History, is thinking similar thoughts:
The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.
The next time I read Catcher in the Rye – and I’m sure I will again, five or maybe ten years from now – I’ll be able to look back and find out exactly where I was in my life the last time I read Catcher in the Rye. I’m thirty-two years old, living in my bachelor apartment above the beauty salon. I recently gave up shaving and let my beard grow back. I look like this:
I’ve been working for about three months at my job creating promotional cartoons for VendAsta. It’s Friday. It snowed last night and the roads are kind of slushy. I went into the office for a couple hours this afternoon and talked to John about the script for the third cartoon. I spent some time animating a snail-lady, then I came home early and didn’t do any more work. I bought some bran muffins from Nutana Bakery on the way home. I popped into the drugstore downstairs to see if I could find a DVD to rent, something shiny and trivial – briefly considered George Clooney’s Leatherheads or the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer, then decided I wasn’t in the mood for either. Tonight I haven’t done anything except visit a few websites and read the last ten or so chapters of Catcher in the Rye.
Next time I read the book, I’ll be different, but Holden Caulfield will still be killing time at the Museum of Natural History, still gawking at that squaw with the naked bosom.