Friday, September 20, 2013

Top 10 revelations about J.D. Salinger from that new documentary about him

"Got more stories than JD's got Salinger": The reclusive author is the subject of a new documentary.

The last-surviving cartoon from the
back of one of my Top 10 lists.
One of this weekend's new movie releases is Salinger, a documentary about Jerome David "J.D." Salinger (1919-2010), the late, famously reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye (1951). I thought this was a good excuse to do something I haven't done in about twenty years: write a Top 10 list in the style of Late Show with David Letterman.

My more-recent Internet pals (hello out there!) won't know this about me, but as an adolescent, I was a fiercely devoted fan of David Letterman's talk show, which at that time was running on NBC as Late Night with David Letterman and was much more anarchic and eccentric than his current, more conventional CBS program. Among my most-cherished items of clothing in the early '90s were an official Late Night ballcap and sweatshirt, and I paid tribute to Letterman's show by writing my own Top 10 lists throughout junior high and high school -- never stealing jokes from the show, but writing my own in the style of the ones I'd seen on TV. I'd write them in pencil -- never pen -- on notebook paper the night before school and pass them around class the next day, often in Band and Algebra. (Sorry, Mr. Ayotte and Mr. Maki.)

Over time, they got more and more elaborate. I used the bottom of the paper and the back of the page for cartoons, comic strips, movie parodies, fake ads, etc. In retrospect, that was my first attempt at writing for entertainment rather than for school. Eventually, I started doing them every school day and even began numbering the "issues." There were several recurring characters: Iffy the Troll (an ill-mannered mascot whose only interest was in merchandising), Margin Man (a superhero whose adventures were drawn at the edge of the notebook page), and Flatt & Gumption (two redneck cops). I circulated those lists in many of my classes, and I got into trouble for them more times than I care to count. Some teachers would even confiscate them, which I always felt was social injustice. But the other kids seemed to like them, so I kept doing them.

The whole Top 10 list phenomenon petered out towards the end of my high school years. By then, I was writing for the school paper and didn't need to pass notes in class anymore to disseminate my views to the masses. I once kept a whole stash of the lists in a cardboard box in the basement of my childhood home, but they were destroyed long ago in a flood.

Recently, a classmate of mine named Geoff Scott was kind enough to send me a Top 10 list he had saved from that era. It is very likely the only-surviving specimen of its kind. Thanks, Geoff! Anyway, I'd like to tap into my adolescent mindset and do a Top 10 list in the style of those bygone days. I hope you enjoy it. I'm going to do my level best to write this from my 14-year-old mindset.

10.  The "J.D." stands for "Juvenile Delinquent." He thought it made him sound tough. 
9.  Killed a few hobos in the 1970s but got away with it because the cops couldn't find him. 
8.  Authored the entire Babysitters Club series and most of Goosebumps. 
7.  Had an intense, decades-long affair with Oscar the Grouch, but they could never legally marry. 
6.  Is writing this list now. 
5.  Put out a series of punk albums under the name "Psychobilly Sex Police" and had a brief hip-hop career as "Jay-Z Salinger." 
4.  Thought he held the world's record for eating the most marshmallows in a minute (37), but it didn't count because they were mini-marshmallows. 
3.  Wrote The Catcher in the Rye hoping it would someday be name-checked in Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." In 1989, his dreams came true. 
2.  Iconic character Holden Caulfield was almost named "Holden McGroin."

And the number one revelation about J.D. Salinger from the new documentary Salinger...

1. Isn't dead, just hiding where no one will ever find him -- the Oprah Winfrey Network!

Good night, everybody! Drive safely!