ArchivesSite MapSubmitOur GangContact UsHot Sites
1983-2015
tearing the rag off the bush again
Special to the Corpse: Big News from Dave Breithaupt PDF E-mail
Dave Breithaupt Breaks the Literary News of the Year! Special to the Corpse!

JD And Me

 

The ringing of the phone shoved me into consciousness. I opened my eyes and saw a blurry 2:10 am on the digital clock. Or maybe it was 3:10 – I didn’t have my glasses on of course. I was dreaming that I was driving Drew Barrymore to the library because she was researching the alleged aphrodisiac qualities of rhino horns. I told her the horns were simply made out of compacted hair but she didn’t believe me. We started to argue but the ringing broke it up.

   “Breithaupt? Am I waking you up? I had a question for you.”

   I knew the voice, that husky meter with a hint of New England accent. I knew it but had to wait several moments for my memory to dredge it up from the depths of blissful slumber, with Barrymore no less.

   “JD?”

   “Thought you might be up. Sorry, should I call back?”

   I blinked and re-blinked, rubbing my eyes. The clock did say 2:12. I had focus. My brain and voice were in sync.

   “I can call back…”

   “No JD, I’m awake now, what do you need?”

   “I just had one question…when you were growing up, did your parents ever lock you in a closet while they were away?”

   I thought for a moment even though I knew my answer. Where in the hell did this come from? Is this what old people think about in the middle of the night?

   “JD? No…my parents never locked me in a closet or basement while they were gone. Sorry. We lived like Norman Rockwell.”

   There was a brief silence.

   “That’s all I need to know, sorry if I woke you up.”

   “No problem JD, good night.”

   I hung up. I was wide awake now. What had set JD’s mind rolling in that direction? I’m sure there are many things we forget about our own lives, who can be totally certain of one’s past? You might think you remember it all but you don’t. There are lifetimes within lifetimes you may have forgotten. Days you thought that would live forever, only to be outshined by another then ushered unto the back burner of oblivion.

   It was the last time I would ever talk to JD. Of course I didn’t know it at the time. Two days later he would be dead and the whole world would know.

JD Salinger was dead.

 

You remember the clamor. It lasted at least a week. There were the usual tributes and accolades. Catcher in the Rye changed my life…I was Holden Caufield…I loved banana fish…I caught that ball, way out there, in the rye…

   There was no service. They put him in the ground. They put him somewhere. The man was not of our ilk and too big to worship properly. We were kept at arm’s length. JD entered heaven alone.

   The days passed and Salinger attained the proper laurels we knew he would. His place was secure. As long as there was a planet earth, Catcher in the Rye would always be in print.

   In the meanwhile, we committed JD to the land of great dead authors and went on with our own lives. His passing eventually subsided beneath the tide of incoming news; earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, health care bills and celebrities dying. Time stops for no writer.

 

   I’d moved on myself. Though I missed JD’s friendship and his quirky calls, I had to ruminate on my own ongoing distractions. My dog had chronic diarrhea, I had no feeling in my little toes. You know the list. It was a parade of problems that followed us to our dying day.

   Then came a call from an editor at Bantam. His name was Clyde and he told me he had important news for me. It was the kind of line that always made me nervous. I can live without important news, I’ve done it most of my life. I was all ears anyway.

   “You’ll be interested to know,” Clyde informed in a focused and serious tone, “that we found a unique manuscript in Mr. Salinger’s papers.”

   He paused. Perhaps for effect.

   “It seems JD Salinger had just completed a biography of you before he passed away.”

   This was news to me. Not what I was expecting. Clyde went on to inform me that amidst JD’s pile of homeopathic magazines and books on gardening was a 450 page biography titled David Breithaupt: A Life Unseen.

   This explains a lot,” I told Clyde. The late night phone calls, the strange questions. I had no idea.

   “I thought he’d quit writing,” I said. “He never told me about any…biography.

   “We are having a proof printed up. Soon as it’s done we’ll ship it to you via courier. Let us know what you think.”

   A biography of me? I couldn’t even entertain the idea. Not even a master like Salinger could make my life interesting. It would have to be a work of fiction. I’d rather not know about this.

   “Send it on,” I said anyway. “I’ll give it a peek.”

   Then there was a pause.

   “You’d better be prepared,” said Clyde. “When this book gets out, the world is going to be extremely curious about you. In fact you’d better brace yourself. Hard. We will give you plenty of advance warning about publishing schedules and publicity junkets. There’ll be time to get yourself squared away.”

   Squared away. Now that was a Midwestern term. JD would have picked up on that. “NY is just a gaggle of Midwestern transplants,” he’d tell me over and over, “makes one wonder where the real New Yorkers went.” I wondered too. I was from Ohio but I never saw any New Yorkers there. Must have gone someplace else.

   I should have asked more questions but I didn’t. I said uh huh, thanks, yeah, see ya and hung up. A biography, I said to myself. How strange.

   My next few days were nervous. It’s difficult to resume your proper life when you are waiting for a copy of your own biography. One that was written by the great JD Salinger no less. When things like this happen to you, it’s the next big thing in your life. A big thing. Like when your parents died. Or when you won three thousand dollars on an instant lotto. Things like that.

   So I waited. Waited and pretended like it wasn’t the last days of the world as I knew it. I looked at life around me as if I were noticing it for the first time. Soon it would be all gone.

 

   The package finally arrived, in a somewhat anonymous brown wrapper as if I’d ordered some personal marital aid. It did have a fancy NYC return address on it though in case the contents were in question. This was a legitimate and verified piece of mail.

   The book inside was simply a paperback. No frills. An un-corrected proof with title and author on the front. Advance reading copy, it said. Not for re-sale. I put it on the stand by my bed. I’d give it a look that night.

   I was vaguely upset that I wasn’t the first to read it. The book already had comments on the back. Some guy named Pynchon really liked the book. Called it a literary Holy Grail. Used words like “mythical,” and “beyond expectations.” We’ll see.

   Another guy, some Jonathan Lethem said it was a “final roar of a great giant, leaving us with a life as simple and beautiful as a still life by Chardin.” The word was out it seems. Everyone was pretty excited. I suppose my quiet life was about to end. That guy in NY had warned me.

 

OK, I suppose by now you are wondering why me, why did Salinger write a book about me and not you? Good question. Chances are, a book about anyone else would have been more exciting. I just happened to be JD’s Fed Ex man, he was usually the last stop on my route in Cornish. The man loved his mail order. He seemed to binge on certain subjects, homeopathy, hydroponics and for awhile, chess set accessories. It took a couple of years before he finally asked my name and another year before he invited me in for a cup of tea one day when the weather was particularly nasty.

   I knew he’d written some books that were a big deal. I never asked. We talked about baseball and the weather at first. It was another year before we broached anything you might call intimate, say like, exchanging vegetarian recipes. JD liked that I was a vegetarian. He said meat was death but I never knew how strict he was about his diet.

   I suppose he drew me out over time. A few questions about my life, basic stuff. Looking back I can see he asked a lot of questions, it seemed casual at the time. Slow and gradual. Who knew he was writing it all down?

   Writers. I suppose they can’t help it. It’s like a compulsion, maybe like drinking or gambling. JD didn’t get out much in those last years, maybe I was the still life on his table. He used to tell me about that painter, Henri Matisse, said when he was too old to paint he cut up paper. I suppose a guy has to do what he has to do. Maybe I was JD’s paper. He was too old to write about Manhattan youngsters. So he cut me into pieces.

   I drank a cup of coffee with dinner, something I don’t normally do. Caffeine keeps me awake at night if I drink any past three in the afternoon. I was gearing up for my life story. I’d have some chow and give the book a look. I’d lived through my life once already, now it seems I’d have to do it again. I drank my coffee black and micro-waved a pasta entre. I took the phone off the hook.

   I’d forgotten all the things I’d shared with JD. It’s funny how he yanked them out of me, like a dentist pulling wisdom teeth while dosing you with gas. The stories piled up, like pennies in a change jar. Before you knew it, you had $50 once you rolled them up. My stories, I thought, were not so valuable. They seemed closer to pennies than actual dollars. Maybe JD thought they had a cumulative effect. It was his book after all. I was just the paper.

 

   I guess I told him about my brother who was run over by a train. It was a hazing accident in college. The fraternity brothers tied him up and left him on the rails, not knowing a train was scheduled to run on the tracks that night. This was at a small private college in the middle of the wilds of Ohio. No one could hear him yelling I suppose. A day doesn’t pass when I don’t imagine what his last moments must have been like, the terror he felt when he heard the train coming. We watched a lot of cartoons together when we were kids. Maybe he thought Dudley Do Right would save him at the last minute. Or maybe Super-Man. Maybe he thought he was trapped in a cartoon but he wasn’t. No one saved him. It was a closed casket funeral.

   There were hi-lites of my seasons both on and off. Some were tawdry, others inconsequential. These were dispatches from a normal life with the usual acne eruptions. Was that his point? Was he writing the literary version of Warhol’s soup can? Or had he just lost his mind and his powers?

   I stayed up through the night reading the book. He wrote about the outdoor cat I had as a child, Miz Gray, that I tried to house train. It was a failed experiment in reclamation. Miz Gray decided to take a crap right in the middle of the living room once while we were all watching TV. And it wasn’t just any crap but a liquid one so that when I picked her up in a crazed panic to rush her outside, she trailed a brown modern art-like design along the floor. Perhaps this is what intrigued JD about the story, the art illusion. Cat shit as design. He probably saw something deeper in it, you know, the way artists are supposed to.

   Then there was the time I had my tonsils out when I was nine. I had a kid about the same age as me for my room mate in the hospital. Tonsil removal was de rigeur back then, as JD would say. He taught me lots of French words. That guy knew everything. But anyway, my room mate, I think his name was Tommy. We became fast friends as we shared the deep bond of fear over tissue removal. Tommy became hysterical when they tried to give him pills. I took mine and that’s the last thing I remember. When I awoke I couldn’t talk but when I could, I asked about Tommy. No one met my gaze or answered me. I wanted to invite him over for an overnight but I finally gave up asking. It wasn’t until 2 or 3 years later that I learned Tommy had died in the hospital. I still don’t know why. It’s always a risk when you cut something out of someone. I wondered why him and not me? As I grew older, I learned that life is a lot like Russian Roulette. You might get out of bed in the morning but you might not get back in at night. JD would back me up on this. He never took anything for granted. But anyway, after Tommy, I never had a good feeling about hospitals ever.

   I finished the book near dawn. I wouldn’t call it mythical or Holy Grail-like, that’s for sure. It certainly took me back down memory lane. I was moved that JD had collected these images for me, as if he wanted to say, look at your life, this is your panorama, revel in its’ miracles no matter how large or small, here is my gift to you. He certainly gave me a new perspective and I was saddened that he wasn’t around to thank. Maybe he wanted it that way. This was his parting shot.

   I guess all hell was about to break loose now. I suppose I was ready for it. I was just glad I didn’t tell him about the times my parents would lock me in the basement when they went to the race track at Scioto Downs.

   Sorry JD. Some things you just need to keep to yourself.

 

 
< Prev   Next >