Yesterday, a neighbor of mine passed on. He was a quiet fellow, hadn’t said much or drawn attention to himself. I don’t think I ever actually met him, and certainly didn’t know him, but I knew of him.
J. D. Salinger passed away about 15 miles from where I type this, two towns south. And I’ve visited several of the local landmarks cited in that story. Hell, I work (at The Day Job) about two minutes’ walk from one of them.
Like nearly any American under a certain age, I read “The Catcher In The Rye” in high school. And like a lot of Americans, it had a major effect on me.
I remember thinking “this Holden Caulfield is a major jerk, an utterly unlikeable guy, who does nothing worth remembering. Why do people keep talking about how this book is great literature?”
Truth to tell, Holden Caulfield seemed very real to me because I knew a few guys who were very much like him. And I didn’t like them at all.
My single Salinger-related memory was a hysterical one-liner from an episode of “Mad About You.” Helen Hunt is helping her hapless sister prepare a resume’ while job-hunting, and comes across a single line that leaps out at her.
“‘Personal assistant to J. D. Salinger?’ You can’t put that on your resume!”
“Let ’em try and check it!”
Salinger’s passing gives me a bit of an excuse to brag about my neighborhood. The Greater Lebanon Area (a term I might have just invented) is home to a remarkable collection of people and institutions. P. J. O’Rourke is about 30 miles down the highway. Mark Steyn is two towns north. Dan Collins, of occasional fame at Protein Wisdom, is one or two towns into Vermont.
We’re also home to the twin powerhouses of Dartmouth College and the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, New England’s largest (by far) hospital north of Boston. And a friend of mine attends the Center for Cartoon Studies, one of only two schools dedicated to cartooning in the country.
All of this in the middle of nowhere, essentially. And largely because, I suspect, we’re located at the crossroads of two interstates, on a state border, and about halfway between two of northern New England’s two largest cities (Manchester, NH and Burlington, VT).
It’s to this neck of the woods that a lot of people come to just live and let live, to be ourselves without having to explain much or deal with nosy, interfering ninnies and nanny-staters, to have our space and our rights respected.
That’s what Salinger wanted above all else, and this is where he found it when he moved up here in 1953.
Rest in peace, neighbor. It’s what you wanted.