Walking home from work
she held four yellow bananas
up to her ear
like some kind of old-fashioned telephone.
To wait this long to read a book is both sad and the luxury of living a longer life. In my case, The Catcher in the Rye I refer to, J.D. Salinger's 1951 novel that has sat on every American high schooler's reading list probably since the day it was published. It certainly sat there in the early 1980s, when I was in high school. Never read it. Until just now.
What a beautiful book. Well worth the wait, well worth the read. I can't help but feel that Holden Caulfield and Tom Sawyer are in essence the same character, the quintessential American cut-up, half mongrel rabbit, half avian shaman. That they are both white boys is hard to avoid in this day and age. I wonder if that archetype has disappeared in our multi-racial, multicultural world. In Holden's case too, there's a post WWII American depression about it all. A boy who's lost. Gets himself kicked out of Pencey, his private boarding school in Pennsylvania. Because of this, he returns to New York City a few days early for his Christmas break and wants to hide out before he shows up at his parents' apartment to break them the bad news.
He's a boy of 16 or 17, wandering the streets of New York by himself sometime in 1945 or '46, staying in cheap hotels, drinking his face off in bars as he desperately hits on women, thinking of his dead brother Allie often, smoking storms of cigarettes, procuring a whore via the hotel's elevator man which only ends up costing him too much and getting him beat up by the elevator man pimp, no sex. Then getting hit on by a gay teacher whom he confides in. And eventually sneaking back into his parents' apartment to find his baby sister Phoebe before he skips town. The two of them head to the Central Park Zoo where Phoebe convinces him not to go, through her wiles and guile.
They find the carrousel instead. It was a favorite of hers.
This is how he describes the end of that scene:
Boy, it began to rain like a bastard. In buckets, I swear to God. All the parents and mothers and everybody went over and stood right under the roof of the carrousel, so they wouldn't get soaked to the skin or anything, but I stuck around on the bench for quite a while. I got pretty soaking wet especially my neck and pants. My hunting hat really gave me quite a lot of protection, in a way, but I got soaked anyway. I didn't care, though. I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling, I don't know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could've been there.
I was going to say I wish I could've been there too, but actually I felt as though I was there. In the rain, in Central Park, in 1946 or whenever.
I also can't help but remember this 2011 article in The Paris Review by Blair Fuller regarding Salinger:
Coming Through the Rye by Robert Burns
Seen in a recent text exchange about the best stance for an individual to take when confronting the pressing environmental imperatives staring us in the face ...
Well, neither hope nor cynicism will get us to a better place. Mostly it takes hard work, an open mind and a willingness and ability to try to understand how another person sees the world that allows actual change to happen. The system is designed to prevent any one group from overpowering another group by sheer strength alone. That said, the rich and powerful always start with a huge advantage in any discussion. Protest alone is unlikely to sway them IMHO.
Right out of the pages of that novel, predating it by five years only ...
Carolyn Bryant Donham, the White woman whose accusation led to the 1955 lynching of Black teen Emmett Till in Mississippi – and whose role in the brutal death was reconsidered by a grand jury as recently as last year – has died in Louisiana, the Calcasieu Parish coroner’s office confirmed to CNN.
In August 1955, 14-year-old Emmett was beaten and shot to death after he allegedly whistled at Bryant – now Donham – in Money.
Later, her husband, Roy Bryant, and J.W. Milam, took Emmett from his bed and ordered him into the back of a pickup truck and beat him before shooting him in the head and tossing his body into the Tallahatchie River. They were both acquitted of murder by an all-White jury following a trial in which Carolyn Bryant testified that Emmett grabbed and verbally threatened her.
Milam, who died in 1980, and Bryant, who died in 1994, admitted to the killing in a 1956 interview with Look magazine.
In 2007, a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict Donham on any charges.
Donham testified in 1955 that Emmett grabbed her hand and waist and propositioned her, saying he had been with “White women before.” But years later, when professor Timothy Tyson raised that trial testimony in a 2008 interview with Donham, he claimed she told him, “That part’s not true.”
Thank you for these wise words. After a certain age, life takes on a slightly different color. The future is more limited, the past heavier. Certain joys in life decrease, and if they are not replaced by others, this leads to a feeling of sadness. At least it has in my case.
One of the truly consequential people in my life will depart the living earth today or perhaps tomorrow or maybe even the next day. But there is no reason to expect it will be longer than that.
Blair Fairchild Fox, son of Jill and Joe Fox, brother of Logan, Jeff (himself too deceased) and Michael Fox
Child of Guard Hill Road, Bedford NY, he grew up in a house down the hill from his grandmother's larger Georgian mansion. He came into his teenage years in the early 1970s.
Speaking of his teenage years, he lived in a tenement on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with a buddy when he was probably 16. Those were different times.
He joined the Navy, was sent to Australia, broke his neck in an auto accident while on base and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The year was 1976. He was 18.
Our lives intersected many times over the decades to follow.
I remember visiting him with my dad and Jill at the VA hospital in Roxbury, Mass. when he returned stateside shortly thereafter.
He lived for a while in an apartment building on West End Avenue that also housed folk singer Judy Collins.
He spent much time in Vermont, and lived for many years on Benvenue Avenue in Berkeley, California. I had many a good glass of wine over there in the late 1980s.
He then moved himself to Austin, Texas. It was warmer in Texas. Too cold in the Bay Area, that chilly kind of cold that gets into your bones.
Blair's body has finally given out on him. He dodged many a bullet over the years. By some measures, he lived decades longer than anyone predicted he might, but none of us lives forever and Blair did not find a way to be exempted from that rule.
You won't find much about him on paper. He wasn't that kind of person. But for anyone lucky enough to interact with him, he was nothing short of amazing. An amazing life lived by an amazing human being.
This past weekend, I walked boots-deep into a streamlet in central Massachusetts and poured out some Prosecco and scattered some sheep poop. It was the only way I could think to honor the man. Sheep poop is a wonderful fertilizer. Ashes to ashes kind of thing. Then yesterday, I asked a guitarist to play the Grateful Dead song Ripple to remember him by. The final line of the song is thus
If I knew the way, I would take you home.