J. D. Salinger and Me

So there I am half asleep, sprawled out in my bed with the covers pulled over me. I duck my head under the covers because I am not sure I am seeing what I am seeing. After all it is early morning and I am still in a fog. I am always this way before I’ve had my first five cups of coffee in the morning.

I stick my head back out from under my covers, and yep, he’s there. It’s none other than Jerome David. I am talking the world-famous J. D., author of “Catcher in the Rye”. I recognize him from the jacket pictures. He’s as young as he once was. Somehow he’s dropped all those years since he died and he’s back to his youthful genius of a self. He’s standing at the end of my bed and he’s puffing on a cigar. I’m thinking it’s a Cuban cause they’re not banned from importing them in the hereafter. He’s halfway through the stogie and he is frowning at me.

“So you didn’t care for Catcher in the Rye?” he asks, his foot propped up on the end of my bed.

“What? Who?” I ask from my prone position.

He sits his foot back down on the floor. “I asked you if you didn’t like my book. You responded with a what and a who. Who the hell do you think it is? It sure isn’t that son-of-a-bitch Hemingway. What an asshole. Papa indeed. I never much cared for him. Now Scott Fitzgerald, there was a writer who could write.”

“Go away.” I rub my eyes and turn over on my side, hoping that this is a nightmare and I will wake up soon.

“I will not go away. You’ve got a lot of gall not liking my book. I did some damned good writing with that book. Not as good as later but still it’s a great book, even if I say so myself, and you don’t like it. Who the hell are you?”

I turn over and face Salinger. “I am the fellow who is telling you to get out of here. That’s who.”

“It’s all about alienation, you know?”

“I. Know. That.”

“Oh, you do. Well, I guess you were never a teenager, suffering from all that teenage angst, were you?”

Now I am mad. How dare this s.o.b. come into my bedroom and tell me I was never a teenager suffering from teenage angst. I had more teenage angst in my little toe than his spoiled prep school kid had in his whole body. Holden Caulfield’s biggest problem was that he had one hell of a chip on his shoulder.

“That book is all bullshit. Pure All American bullshit.”

“Bullshit. What do you mean bullshit? I worked my butt off on that book for over ten years. Put my whole life into it and you say it is bullshit.”

“That’s what I say. I read it in high school and I just didn’t get it. I understand Hemingway’s Old Man. He was fighting for survival. I understand the Joads. They were fighting for survival. I understand Gatsby. He was fighting for romance. And, as far as angst, existential angst, goes, I understand Camus’ Stranger. He didn’t mourn his mother the way he was expected to. And he was condemned for it. But Holden Caulfield, all he was fighting for was to be an asshole. I kept wanting to say, ‘Get a life.'”

I can see Salinger clearly now. I’m awake and I can see the fake Buddhist with his hands in a fist. He crushes that cigar against the bottom of my foot.

“Oh. That hurt. Thought you were a Buddhist. You’re going to screw up your karma, you know.”

He ignores my Buddhist comment. Somehow I knew he would. “Critics. That’s why I gave up on a public life. Became a hermit. You’re all full of shit. A big bag of shit. Here I am, the world-famous J. D. Salinger, standing at the foot of your bed, trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. Trying to give you some insight into my brilliance. And all you can do is insult me. Why do I even care? But that’s my problem. I care too damned much. If you only knew how much blood I sweated into that book. Trying to make every word perfect.”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” I say. “I didn’t say the writing wasn’t good. It was. Damned good. Some of your best. But it was so wasted over that Holden Caulfield. Thing is that I’ve known people who complained about their good fortune their whole lives. In my book that’s Holden Caulfield. I just don’t care one iota about those kind of people. Never did. Never will.”

“But that’s not the point,” Salinger goes on. “He brought out the best in me. I guess you just don’t get it. But a lot of other teenagers did. And still do. That’s why it’s so popular. Not that I wrote it to be popular. I didn’t. I wanted to call attention to what it felt like to be a teenager in fifties America. I hit the nail on the head. That’s why I went into seclusion. I got tired of all that hero worship. Like I had the answers to all of life’s questions. I was good, but I wasn’t that good. I had more questions than answers. Anyway I tired of it.”

Suddenly he had a martini in his hand. Where the martini came from I did not know.

He noticing me noticing his martini. “Shaken, not stirred. The way I like it. You know, Ian Fleming got that from me. We were at a party once. I had been invited down to Jamaica by some friends. I was thinking that the Glasses would be Jamaican. Who do you think shows up at this party? Ian Fleming. We were talking when I asked for a martini. When I said shaken not stirred, he said, ‘Oh, I can use that.'” He took a sip from his martini. “Mmmm. That’s good.”

“So you think,” I say, “Holden Caulfield was like every teenager in America at that time?”

“I don’t know about every teenager but it sure was the way I felt. I must say that all those people coming to me and telling me that I had saved them, that was a little too much. Like I am a Messiah or something. If you want stories about messiahs, read ‘Stranger in a Strange Land.'”

I am wide awake now. “Well, I am sorry I offended you with my comment. It’s just my opinion. You can take it for what it’s worth. Every writer has the write to create whatever character he wants. And every reader has the right to not like that character. Personally I liked your stories much more. Thought you had great insight into how children saw the adult world and how they communicated that. ”

Then I realize I am talking to myself. The mirage, or was it a mirage, a hallucination, well, it’s gone. Since I am awake already, I throw off the covers and jump out of bed. Oh, I cry out. My right foot hurts. I sit on the side of the bed and take a look at the bottom of my foot. There’s a burn mark there all right. It can’t be. It just can’t be.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: Final Portrait

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “Final Portrait” (2017):

With some artists, I need an In to appreciate their work. “Final Portrait” was the In I needed to access the amazing work of the Swiss Alberto Giacometti, one of the great artists of the twentieth century. He was as important to the art world as many of his contemporaries including Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Dali and Henry Moore. He was a sculptor, a painter, a printmaker.

At the end of his career, he had abandoned all art movements and focused on creating something original. Influenced by existentialism, he stripped down his sculptures and portraits to what would seem to be the essence of the subject.

“Final Portrait” is based on A Giacometti Portrait by James Lord, a writer who made the art world his subject. Director Stanley Tucci gives us a few weeks in the artist’s life in 1964, close to the end of his life. During those weeks, James Lord (Armie Hammer) sits for the artist for a portrait. Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush)i tells Lord that it will only take two or three days. The process turns into weeks and what seems to be an eternity for Lord. A painful eternity.

It is a gray world, the studio of Giacometti. Only Caroline, the prostitute and Giacometti’s muse, brings color into his world. As the project continues, James Lord gets to see Giacometti create. Geoffrey Rush is always good. No matter the part. Whether it be David Helfgott in “Shine,” Sir Francis Walsingham in “Elizabeth,” Javert in “Les Miserables,” Harry in “Tailor of Panama,” The Maquis de Sade in “Quills,” or Lionel Logue in “The King’s Speech,” his work as an actor is superb. As Alberto Giacometti, he gives one of the best performances of the films I have seen him in.

Lord also gets to know Giacometti’s brother and closest friend, Diego, played by Tony Shalhoub. I have enjoyed Shalhoub’s work since I first saw him as the Italian cabdriver, Antonio Scarpacci, in the series “Wings”. Later he was the hypochondriatic detective Adrian Monk in “Monk”. At first, I didn’t recognize Shalhoub. His quietness seems to make him fade into the scenery. Shalhoub makes us realize how essential Diego was to his brother.

Giacometti’s long suffering wife, Annette, is played by Sylvie Testud and Clemance Poesy is Caroline, Giacometti’s prostitute muse. Both actresses are French and new to American audiences. And both are wonderful as the two closest women in Giacometti’s life.

Usually biopics are a chronological narrative of the subject. What he did when he was a kid. What got her started on her road to greatness. But the movies seem to leave something out. Something that is the essence of the subject. Something that reveals the inner light that makes the subject worthy of so much attention.

By concentrating on a short time, Stanley Tucci has given us the Giacometti’s life. He has brought insights into the artist’s creative process: the struggle, the perfectionism, the desire never to settle, the focus, the concentration. By choosing those few weeks in 1964, Tucci has given us what may be easily called a great biopic.

Near 500 Words: Critical analysis

Ellis poured himself a glass of wine and sat down with his wife. She was crocheting.

“I finished it,” Ellis said.

“You did?” There was excitement in Carol’s voice.

“I did,” he affirmed. “A year I’ve been working on it, and it’s finally finished.” He breathed a sigh of achievement.

Carol studied where her hook needed to go. “Why did it take so long?”

“I just couldn’t get those final touches in. Wasn’t sure if I should or if I shouldn’t.”

“So when do I get to see the painting?”

“You can see it now if you’d like.”

“I’d like. But I just have to finish this little piece.” Carol returned her attention to her work. She felt a tug on the yarn. She looked down and saw the cat. “Whiskers. No.”

Whiskers paid her no-nevermind. He’d started his job, He wasn’t going to quit.

Carol threw a ball at the cat. “Chase that.”

The cat ignored her. He was ready to play, and he needed a playmate. He’d chosen Carol.

Carol turned to her husband, joyfully sipping his wine, satisfaction on his face. “Can you do something about that cat?” Carol’s voice was filled with frustration. “If you want me to look at your painting, you’d better.”

Ellis sighed. “Oh, all right. But hurry. I want you to see the painting.”

Ellis reached down and unraveled Whiskers from the yarn. He lifted the cat and carried him into the kitchen. “Want a snack, big fellow?”

“Don’t you feed that cat?” Carol called from the other room. ‘He’s getting fat.”

“Well, what do I do with him?”

“Play with him. He wants some attention.”

Carol was getting frustrated with the cat, with her husband, with the blanket. The blanket was not going well. And it was for her dad’s birthday three days hence. She laid it out on the couch and took a good look at it. “Darn. That’s not the color.” She headed into the bedroom to look through her yarn. There, she found it. Just the right color. Then she was back in the living room, comparing the yarn with the blanket.

Ellis stuck his head through the kitchen door. “You about ready to go see the painting?”

“Okay,” she said, looking up at her husband.

She lifted the blanket up for Ellis to see. “What do you think?”

Ellis studied the blanket with his painter’s eyes. Finally, he gave Carol his verdict. “It looks finished to me.”

“What do you know?” Carol said and folded the blanket and skulked off to the closet with it. Under her breath, she whispered, “It’s never going to be finished in time.”

Off the two went to Ellis’ studio. Ellis turned on the light. In the middle of the room was the canvas. A woman sat, crocheting. A man sat beside her with a glass of wine. In front of them was a table with a flowery table cloth. There was an empty chair in the foreground.

“What do you think?” he asked his wife as she stared at the painting.

“It’s beautiful. What’s it called?”

“Marriage.”

Carol leaned over and kissed her husband. Then she said, “It’s wonderful. I love it.”

Ellis wrapped his arms around his wife and embraced her. Looking over her shoulder, he saw something. Something was missing. On the canvas. He let go of his wife.

“No,” he screamed.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, panic in her voice.

“I should have waited.”

“Waited?’

“Yes.”

“But you’ve done it. It’s your masterpiece. I am so glad you showed me.”

“But it’s not finished.”

Near 500 words: Strawberries

Gilberte had always wanted to be a painter since childhood. She had given up her dream for love. After two husbands, she said, “To hell with love. I’m going to paint.” So she began.

At first, she wasn’t any good. Her canvases looked like a child’s smattering. Then she moved patiently from watercolor to acrylics to oil, each canvas a little better than the last. Six, then seven, then eight years passed. One of her exes came by and looked at her canvases. After he left, Gilberte said, “To hell with husbands. I’m going to paint.” So she continued.

In the ninth year, she had a burst of creativity. It was the strawberries that did it. She loved the taste of strawberries. She loved the smell of strawberries. She loved the texture of strawberries. She brought home some fresh strawberries from the market and put them in a bowl and out on the table. She went to the kitchen for some fresh milk.

When she came back, the strawberries sat overflowing from the bowl. They were a beautiful sight, the way the sun lit them, their reds such a contrast to the white table cloth.

She drank her milk. Then she went to her studio and brought back a blank canvas and her paints. She sat the canvas on its easel and began the process. First some white on the canvas and then some orange and green at the top, then came the bowl and finally the strawberries. She worked frantically so as not to loose the vision before her.

Again and again she touched her brush to the canvas. Over the next several days, the bowl of strawberries came to life on the canvas. Until finally, “Enough.” Then she signed the canvas, stacked it against the wall and waited.

Saturday her daughter arrived at the front door with her large daughterly smile and her large daughterly kiss. As usual she brought gifts which always made Gilberte think, “Beware Greeks bearing gifts.” The daughter took the fresh vegetables into the kitchen and washed them and put them away as she always did.

“So what have you been working on?” she asked her mother.

Her mother gave her the same answer as always, only this time she had a smile on her face. Her mother was up to something. “Have you been painting?” she asked.

“Maybe.”

Her daughter looked over in the corner and saw the canvas. She went up to it and picked it up and examined it, then she sat it back against the wall. She turned to her mother and said, “Strawberries? You know how I hate strawberries. They always give me a rash.”

When she left, Gilberte said, “Just like her father. Well, to hell with daughters too.”

Near 500 words: The Birth of a Storyteller

Sikha sat on the roof of her father’s house. From here, she saw the whole neighborhood. She saw the roof of the house of her friend, Aditi. She saw her brother’s house and the houses of people she had known since she was a baby.

It was here she told herself stories. Stories she was beginning to write down. She had even sold one of the stories to a city magazine. It was a story about a Westerner with a hat. When she first wrote it down, it made her laugh. The more she wrote the more she laughed.

She told the story to her family and Aditi. They laughed too. They told her she should submit it to a magazine. At first, she said no. She knew they would hate the story but her family and friends kept insisting.

“It’s your way out,” her father reassured her. Her father was the one she trusted the most.

So she typed it up on her grandfather’s old Remington typewriter, put it in an envelope and sent it out into the world. Then she forgot it.

Two months later, she received an answer from the magazine. They were going to publish it. And there was two rupees’ payment with a letter written in neat English script that said, “Send more please.”

That evening, like usual, she went up to the roof. She began to think she was going to create another story. She thought and she thought and nothing. For the first time, she did not find a new story in her.

The only story that came to her was the story of the man with the hat. Only a new episode with him came to her. Night after night she threw it away like trash. Instead of flying off, the story kept returning. This was not good. Finally, she became curious and gave in to the story.

The man with the hat went to the bank. His name was Marvin. He went to the bank building and inside. The sign said, “No hats allowed. Please take your hat off your head.”

Marvin critiqued the sign. Didn’t the bank management know they had too many words?

The guard walked up to Marvin. “Take your hat off.”

“Say please,” Marvin said.

The bank guard blew his whistle. It was a loud whistle. Three other guards appeared. Now there were four men in uniform standing before him, demanding he remove his hat.

Marvin was a reasonable man. Since it didn’t seem reasonable to him, he did not remove it. It kept his bald head warm.

One of the guards knocked Marvin’s hat off his head. He should not have done that. A bright light shined from Marvin’s head. The guard backed away, holding his eyes.

“Put that thing back on,” a second guard shouted. “Put that thing back on.”

Marvin reached down for his hat. As he did, the light hit another guard’s eyes.

A third guard grabbed the hat. Keeping his eyes closed, he placed the hat on Marvin’s head. The light was gone.

The two guards, who could see, turned Marvin around and sent him back into the street.

“Now what?” Sikha on the roof asked herself. She laughed and said, “Isn’t that always the way of stories.” She looked up at the stars and whispered, “Okay, Marvin, I will return tomorrow night. Then you can finish this story.” She went to the stairs and looked one last time. “Or not.”