My parents separated for the last time in 1968. My father refused to move out of our family home so; my mother, my two brothers and I were forced to find refuge outside of the safety of Grixdale Park. We lived in the war zone at Woodrow Wilson and Delaware for a time. After that lesson in humility, we moved to Highland street in Highland Park. About three blocks away from our building was one of the finest libraries in metropolitan Detroit. I started going there to escape the one bedroom apartment the four of us survived in.
I met J.D. Salinger, during my first visit to McGregor Library. I was intrigued by the title of his book. I envisioned a white kid with a mitt in his left hand, standing silently in a shoulder high field of rye grass. What kid from the city would not long for such solitude? I took The Catcher In The Rye home. At age fourteen, I could relate to Holden Caulfield’s frustrations as a manchild in the big city. I read the book from cover to cover in three days. For a few days, I became engrossed in the life of Holden Caulfield. I also found a new form of escape. Reading took me away from our cramp little apartment, from television, and from my glamorized ideas of street life I had formed from reading Robert Beck.
In the late nineties, Salinger was in the news. I knew little about the author. I discovered from the CBS news that he was reclusive and guarded about his life and his work. I had been writing for some years when I became aware of his idiosyncrasies. The information from the media about Salinger only served to strengthen the bond I had developed with him through Holden Caulfield. I also realized at that point that my juvenile mind had been unaware of Holden’s sexual frustration. I re-read the book.
One thing I took from The Catcher In The Rye is that there is a very different world out there, a world that is far more complex than I’ve ever wanted my world to be. Caulfield’s story revealed that privilege has its pitfalls and a middleclass lifestyle is not all it is portrayed to be.
I grew up in an environment that required that I be as resourceful as possible if I were to thrive. The only privilege that I was granted was my upbringing and my street smarts that helped me avoid the pitfalls that lurked on the corners of Hamilton at Highland or Delaware at 12th Street. Thanks to Detroit Public Schools and McGregory library, I got to see the world through other people’s eyes.
Salinger’s recent death has created twenty first century interest in his life and his literary works. I expect that we will finally see the movie that everyone has craved for over half a century and I hope that his other works will surface. I plan to read Catcher again. I also plan to buy the Cliff Notes to provide a third party view of the white boy standing silently in the field of rye with the catcher’s mitt. And I will continue to prepare the groundwork for my great American novel. In the meantime I won’t hide from the world or turn down a book deal or shoot at people that come on my property.