28 January, 2010

Back-B-Log: Me vs. J.D. Salinger

The less than untimely demise of famed literary recluse J.D. Salinger, pointedly having refused to publish, or even to admit to writing for anyone but himself since 1965, is just the sort of flimsy excuse for me to pluck one of my own pieces from its well deserved literary obscurity.

This was originally an 11th grade English assignment to write in the style of this tetchy highlight of Modern American Fiction. The only things you need to know was that I was an annoyingly precocious brat with an inflated idea of my own literary merit, and I squeezed past my school procrastinations often by rolling up a few assignments into one and trying to make the result entertaining for my teachers, who bizarrely let me get away with this. The narrative and in particularly the addendum is directed to Mrs. Lamb. Mrs. Lamb was one of my first mentor/teacher fixations, a sort of platonic intellectual crush with a tinge of mother figure; just one of a pantheon of good teachers I've had that I feel I have greatly let down by not, so far, fulfilling my alleged potential. Still this was in my ambitious headier days when all that disappointment lay ahead.

That said, much of the studied irony in it is intentional. Even while I was embracing my inner Holden Caulfield, I pretty much knew what kind of jerk I was:

by Brian R. Tarnoff

If you really want to hear about the whole award crap, go on and read ahead personally, I find it damn depressing - even though I was pissed at the time. Maybe it's not so much that I didn't get the damn thing, it's just the fact that I was so Goddamned pissed about it that depresses me (in fact that just about drives me crazy). I was going to write this thing right after I heard about it, it being a decent subject and all, and with things still being fresh in my mind. I'm probably better off this way; I won't harm the typewriter or anything, though I do hate the idea of anger warmed over. If I've ever learned anything it's probably that self-pity and sarcasm have done more to fuck-up my life I'll tell you, . . . . and I suppose anger fits in there somewhere. And I was angry when I found out about it.

I remember that right after I found out about it I got home, I kind of stormed silently into the house, I won't tell you if my parents were home or not, if they had been I would have avoided them. I won't talk about them because they'd probably scream bloody murder at their slightest mention. I could never write about any kind of family situation, they would just always cast the wrong light on it and act like I was talking about them for chrissakes. I would have avoided them at that moment because I was hostile and they'd want to do or say something which would only make me react like a bastard, and then they'd cast the wrong light on that. Anyway, I'd just gotten home and though I was hungry, I couldn't think of eating any stuff. I sort of wandered spastically from room to room in a way which reminds me of an old description of bachelorhood. I finally wound up in front of the piano playing Für Elise.

In case you want to know, Für Elise is a thing by Beethoven. I taught it to myself as sort of a challenge; you see, my sister, who is about eleven years older than me, learned it about the time I was born, and when ever she comes over to our house she plays the damn thing over and over, and makes mistakes, even with the music in front of her every time; I can't sight read, but at least once I get the damn thing down that's it. So I memorized it though I don't play the whole thing. After the main part, which is kind of sad, there's this real fast cheery part which doesn't really fit in with the mood which I never memorized, there's another section later on which I know only I don't play it too much because it's even too gloomy for old Ludvig; sometimes I wonder who made him write like that. Anyway, it just seems that I manage to play the main part pretty well, over and over again.

I originally found out about the damn book thing while talking on the telephone. Sometimes I feel as if half my life is being squeezed between various wires. I'm not very comfortable on the phone, and I'm not so comfortable off either.

Anyway I was talking with one of my teachers, Mrs. Lamb, about my decision on whether or not to graduate early, which originally had been a strong intention of mine. Deciding things really drives me fucking nuts, I have trouble about making my mind up about going to the damn bathroom. My original graduation decision got so screwed up and awry, I have a hard time trusting myself. Anyway this is not the first time I've been shafted by a college. Harvard didn't accept me because they took some basketball player from our school instead, and his father knew the Harvard coach, I swear those athletic bastards always stick together. So I was talking about not going to college next year. It came up that there are these two book awards, one from Brown, one from Harvard, that are awarded by the junior English department, in our school the American Studies department. If I stayed on I would probably get the Harvard award, If not, the Brown, this was a sure thing. Regardless, I finally decided to stay on, not because of anything stupid like that award, for the most part, I forgot about it. The damn thing is that I'm beginning to feel I made the right choice, for a change.

I heard about the award again right after I, with the help of Mrs. Lamb, Mark Young and others, had dropped off some of the school's video equipment at the Young's house. The equipment was for a project I am doing, which Is producing a videotaped version of The Mousetrap; the project was another name for a fool's errand one of my decisions had sent me on. In order to accomplish it, I had to beg the volunteered services of some of my classmates; unfortunately there was little I could do to instill a sense of what the hell a commitment means into some of these bastards, not that they were all like that, but all it takes is one or two to really fuck things up, it really makes me depressed.

Anyway we had just delivered the damn cameras and all (it's a cartload of double-inventoried shit) to the Young's house. They were nice enough to let me use it for a set, well it's embarrassing looking back on the stinking mess; it took me the better part of a school year to coax the machinery away from Miss Young (no relation to the above in any respect), who is a person at convenience - entirely her own. Anyway, due partially to her slowness in shuffling the buck around, and under the Store Dick's eyes of Mrs. McConnell, I was producing a play set in the midst of a blizzard, in the midst of May.

Well, enough on that crap, if I talk much more about it I'm liable to rot my gut out from the inside, I swear it's just as bad as not talking about it.

Mrs. Lamb was driving me home from the Young's. I like Mrs. Lamb. I mean, really, she's the closest I've ever come to having an intelligent conversation with a teacher. And that's not her fault, I just don't have intelligent conversations, it really drives me nuts. She's nice though, I usually can't stand smokers; we do have a shared addiction for caffeine, we talk over freshly ground coffee. Even then, I always sense alot of that student/teacher crap, we're on a kind of shifting first name basis. I know it's probably tied up In some kind of respect-for-age-or-even-weak-authority-bullshit, still there always seems to be an uneasy time-lapse when I talk to her.

She had agreed to be the 'supervising faculty member' for my project, this meant that if she felt like showing up she could look in on the futility between puffs of a filter-tipped exhaust pipe. This would not be necessary of course, she had kindly done enough to keep the Mothers Superioresses of the Learning Materials Center happy. She was looking slightly strained, whether from her participation in the damn ordeal or from her allergies wasn't quite apparent to me yet. She had a depressed glaze over her eyes that resembled those of her dog Rosie at the moment she had reasoned that you were not going to give her any food.

Rosie is sort of an accomplishment as far as old beagles go, she is the Bernard Berenson of veterinary illness. She's deaf, frigid, arthritic , weak bladdered, and I would not be surprised to find out that she had halitosis and the colic. In a strange way I believe that Mrs. Lamb and Rosie are sisters under the skin, both seem racked by existential guilt, Rosie with her maladies and internal magnet towards food, Peg with her long suffering compulsions for nicotine, caffeine and her allergies. I'm sure that Mrs. Lamb would be amused to hear me call her a Christian Martyr.

We were riding In her Peugeot, She was looking ill. I didn't know it, but I was probably making matters worse. I was talking about my upcoming appointment with my guidance counselor, Mrs. Way, to talk about the graduation thing.

Mrs. Way is alright, I guess, she's just hard to stand under the wrong circumstances. She's one of our typical guidance counselors, the constant cheerfulness of a nurse in a terminal ward, the busy-ness to appear busy and the posters spouting slogans from Mr. Rodgers. Not that I'm knocking him, Old Fred's a true humanitarian, he's one of those few people who can make kids feel important, really, I remember back then. Mrs. Way tries to come off that way to High-School students, and in the long run she's well meaning and something slightly like smarmy.

Mrs. Lamb got this pained expression on her face as if she was going to say something that neither of us would want to hear; that's one thing about Old Peg, she has the common courtesy to go out of her way to feel guilty. Anyway, It sort of came out, now I don't want to go to far into this but, what happened was this:

Mrs. Lamb was in the Main Office earlier that day and one of the secretaries happened to mention that one of the book awards had come in, the one from Harvard, the one for,..., Jeff Everett. It was at about this time that I lost the circulation in my gums. Now, I don't really have anything against this kid, I mean from the little that I know he doesn't seem a bad sort at all, but he never seemed like much more either. His name certainly would not have risen in the first fifty when it came to writing awards for our class. If not my name, then I would suggest Mark Young; it's kind of ironical that when I happened to mention the awards to him he said he would try to contest my right to the Harvard award over the slightly less prestigious Brown award, which he received.

It seems some kind of screw-up happened somewhere. The American Studies Department gave my name to Mrs. Way and she was supposed to pass it on to Mr. Knorr, our principal, and God only knows what transpired except that Everett's name appeared at Harvard. I'm not going to try to sort it out or anything half-assed like that, I'm not that heavily into recrimination; this too shall pass. But at the time blurry conspiratorial images flooded my brain. I pictured horrendous favoritistic schemes, Machiavellian deposits of large sums of money into Mr. Knorr's Swiss Bank account made by Everett's father in the hope that he too would become a basketball player.

Anyway, it was soon after Mrs. Lamb finished explaining what she knew about it that we arrived gratefully home and I was delivered hence. I had been trying not to burden her with my upsetness, and here was a perfect opportunity to knockabout the house.

I'd really like to get you to understand, I don't know if you write. Aside from my poetry, I'm the best writer I know personally, and I don't mean that cocky or anything. It's just that I'm obsessed with all my creative outlets and possessed by them, and writing is the thing I know I do well; I'll stop short of saying that it's tied to my masculinity or anything shitty like that, but all it took was this sterile, docile, little man sitting behind his desk to, with one sweeping, unseeing, insensitive act, invalidate my life. Now I'll tell you one thing, I did not feel emasculated, I have felt that way at times in my life, but this was definitely not one of them; that's odd. But I was pissed, I did tell you that.

I understand that there's nothing personal in this gross insult. It's kind of empty and impersonal. It's like a graffiti-artist scrawling FUCK YOU across a wall, he doesn't know you or that you'll come along, but he writes it for some reason. Grammatically the closest thing to an inferred object in that is the wall itself, which receives the action from the implied subject, in this case, the author. I guess I shouldn't be so galled by the malfunctioning of the machine I live in and have resigned myself to for another year. I suppose I'll just go back to observing the way the other inmates fail to notice its existence.

That's kind of like a play we read this year, A Death of a Salesman. What Miller should have written about, but only partially covered in his play, was not how people become trapped in illusions, but that if people do live in illusions of their own making and are happy and not bothering anyone else with it, then they should be left to themselves. At the end of the play this happens to Biff, he escapes his father's illusion, unlike Hap who inherits it. The only good reason I've ever seen for sharing an illusion is love, certainly not bloodlines. Anyway that can only take place in a perfect illusion, one that resembles truth.

J.D. Salinger had trouble like that or near to it. This paper is supposed to be written in his style or something, looking back over it, well it's kind of uneven, maybe I'll do something about it. I just can't stand the way he refuses to grow up and all. I had a bit of trouble with maturity, but I've decided to accept it as a new form of madness different from the old. I don't know whether he had any kids, but I hope not, he'd probably drive them nuts. I suppose he was right about kids being smart and all. I always felt that it was a tribute to infantile wisdom that 'as a wee prat' I never trusted Richard Nixon, even before everyone else. I also found out that he got the Harvard Book Award when he was in High-School. I don't even want the fucking thing anymore, not even the book.

Well, anyway, I don't think I'll try to rewrite this thing or anything. I don't think I can help it if my own style tries to break through and overcome the Salingeritis. I guess I'll just turn the typewriter off and go downstairs and play Für Elise for a while.

Posthaste [To Mrs. Lamb]-
I've just reread this thing for the fourth time and I can't get over the fact that I made you a partial Christ figure, I swear it was completely unintentional. I did have a hard time avoiding overkill, I probably have half an hour of stand-up material left over. By the way, it's called "Studies In Sterility".
-BRT 12 June 1981 1:08 A.M.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home