Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Newly-discovered correspondence reveals that reclusive author J.D. Salinger thought Burger Kingâ€™s hamburgers were superior to those of other fast-food chains.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Associated Press
Fineâ€“have it your way.
Iâ€™m sitting in the Burger King on Route 30 in Framingham, Mass., nursing a cup of bad coffee.Â Apparently the #2 hamburger franchise in America isnâ€™t following McDonaldsâ€™ lead in trying to pry customers away from Starbucks with inept attempts at espresso-based drinks.
Doodle version of the reclusive author on Burger King napkin.
Iâ€™m supposed to meet J.D. Salinger, whoâ€™s been given a weekend pass from the underworld to check out his posthumous reputation.Â Itâ€™s a privilege granted to 1950â€²s authors on a limited basis; Jack Kerouac last week, William Styron next week.Â I look at my watchâ€“heâ€™s already fifteen minutes late.Â Câ€™mon, I mutter half-aloud; I want to get home in time to catch the Red Sox game, even though their pitching staff prefers Popeyeâ€™s fried chicken.
Kerouac:Â â€œWhy wonâ€™t these stupid kids leave me alone?â€
I begin to doodle on a paper napkin, and produce what I think is a reasonable impression of the author who captured the imagination of a generation, then retreated into the woods of New Hampshire, like a best-selling sasquatch.Â Something similar happened to Kerouac.Â â€œOn the Roadâ€ made him famous as an exponent of youthful flight from responsibilityâ€“when he was forty and a father!Â You can see him in grainy footage pushing a baby carriage around the streets of San Francisco, just before he escaped to Lawrence Ferlinghettiâ€™s cabin at Big Sur, looking bitter, as if heâ€™s thinking:Â Why couldnâ€™t I have all these young babes fighting over me before I was on the verge of middle-aged domesticity?
IÂ glance up at the glass doors and see Salinger, not looking so hot to be completely honest about it,Â as Holden Caulfield might say.Â On the other hand, the guyâ€™s been dead for two years, so I suppose he has an excuse.
I rise and begin to say â€œMr. Salinâ€“â€ when he puts a finger to his lips to shush me.
â€œAre you out of your freaking mind?â€ he snaps at me, visibly angry.Â â€œEverybodyâ€™s forgotten who I am.Â Donâ€™t remind them!â€
â€œSure, sure,â€ I say to him apologetically.Â Ex-cuuuse me! I say to myself.Â â€œYou want to get something to eat?â€
â€œDoes a bear shit in the woods?â€ he asks crudely and rhetorically, then bolts for the counter.
â€œThis is on him,â€ Salinger saysÂ to the kid behind the counter.Â The boy is straight from fast food central castingâ€“pudgy from too many greasy free burgers, acneâ€“but his smile and friendly attitude seem strangely . . . sincere.Â I hope his life isnâ€™t ruined by Salinger, who has more than a little practice at disenchanting adolescents.
â€œIâ€™ll have a Whopper . . .Â hold the sorry excuse for dill pickle slices . . . no mustardâ€“got that?â€
â€œYes, sir,â€ the kid says as he punches the little pictures on his cash register.Â â€œAnything else?â€
â€œLarge Diet CokeÂ and a Kidâ€™s Meal,â€ Salinger replies.Â Iâ€™m a little surprisedâ€“why would a recently-deceased 91-year-old orderÂ something designed for a childâ€“but the boy maintains his veneer of commercial equanimity.Â I figure he works the late shift sometimes, heâ€™s seen and heard it all before.
â€œAnd for you sir?â€ the boy says to me.Â I respond with my usual order:Â BK Veggie Burger and a medium diet Dr. Pepper.Â The kid totals it up, I pay, andÂ the boyÂ starts to assemble our order.
â€œYouâ€™re a god damn phony,â€ Salinger says as we stand there waiting.
Iâ€™m beginning to question whetherÂ our little tete-a-tete was such a good idea.Â â€œWhyâ€™s that?â€
BK Veggie Burger:Â Yum!Â Sort of.
â€œBecause you think youâ€™re healthy or something, you think youâ€™re slim and in shapeâ€“just because you eat a god damn vegetable burger.â€
â€œItâ€™s better for you than a Whopper,â€ I say in my defense.
â€œBy a measly 260 calories,â€ he snaps.Â â€œIn for a penny, in for a pound.â€
â€œTo each his own,â€ I say as I pick up my tray.
â€œHold it,â€ Salinger says to the boy.Â â€œYou gave me a Kidâ€™s Meal with a boyâ€™s toyâ€“I want the girlâ€™s.â€
The kid reaches under the counter andÂ grabs a girlâ€™s toyâ€“a mini-tote bag bearing the logo forÂ â€Eclipse,â€ the third installment of â€œThe Twilight Saga,â€ the vampire-themed tweener movies.Â Â He wisely keeps his hand on it until Salinger relinquishes the boyâ€™s toy he has so rudely rejected.
We takeÂ our seats and Salinger dives into his food like a dog whose owners have been away on vacation.Â Between his gulping and slurping, I fire up my laptop to get some sales figures for him.
â€œI donâ€™t know why you even bother,â€ I say as I turn the computer screen to show him that â€œCatcher in the Ryeâ€ is still ranked #1 in Books, Literature and Fiction, on amazon.com.Â â€œIt will never go out of print between addle-brained English teachers who assign it and self-absorbed teens who buy it.â€
â€œI just like to check every now and then.â€
â€œDonâ€™t they have computers in . . . wherever you are?â€
â€œJust dial-up modems,â€ he says between bites.Â â€œItâ€™s pretty primitive.â€
â€œThe Vatican runs the place.Â Theyâ€™re not about to put in Wi-Fi.â€
â€œI know what youâ€™re talking about,â€ I say, commiserating.Â â€œWhen I coached CYO basketball, you could never get the scores on the website, much less the standings.â€
â€œI donâ€™t give a ratâ€™s ass,â€ Salinger says as he slurps from his soft drink.Â I notice heâ€™s opted for the Star Wars souvenir cup with Darth Vader on itâ€“figures.
â€œSo why is it you like Burger King so much?â€ I ask.
Salinger gives me a withering look.Â â€œBecause their burgers are flame-broiled, you dingleberry, not cooked on a griddle like McDonalds!Â If you werenâ€™t so self-deluded as to buy a freaking â€˜burgerâ€™ made out of mushrooms, water chestnuts, black olives and textured vegetable protein, you might be able to appreciate their contribution to American cuisine.â€
â€œDonâ€™t yuck on my yum,â€ I say as I take a bite of my favorite fast-food meal.
â€œSo how am I holding up . . . among the critics?â€ Salinger asks gingerly.
â€œNot so well,â€ I say with a look of discomfited sympathy.
â€œWhoâ€™s ranked higher?â€ he demands, raising his voice sufficiently that heads turn on a few necks who donâ€™tÂ realize theyâ€™re eating with one of the best-selling authors of the twentieth century.
â€œWell, in terms of novels published right around the same time, I think the consensus is that Norman Mailerâ€™s The Naked and the Dead is a stronger work.â€
Salingerâ€™s face clouds over.Â â€œMailerâ€“that little shit.â€
I can tell heâ€™s still smarting from his rivalâ€™s quip that J.D. Salinger was the greatest mind ever to stay inÂ prep school.
â€œOf course, heâ€“like youâ€“seemed toÂ go downhillÂ after that first, ground-breaking work,â€ I add to soften the blow.
â€œGround-breaking?Â Mailer?Â Sez who?â€
â€œWell, it was noteworthy for its extensive use of profanity,â€ I say, rising only half-reluctantly to Mailerâ€™s defense.Â â€œEven if his publishers made him spell a certain four-letter word as â€˜fug.â€™â€
â€œThat was lame.â€
â€œDid you ever hear Tallulah Bankheadâ€™s quip about it?â€
â€œShe met Mailer at a party andÂ said â€˜So youâ€™re the young man who doesnâ€™t know how to spell â€˜fuck.â€™â€
Salinger spews a mouthful of french fries on the table and nearly chokes.Â Thatâ€™s the way it is with these dour New England wannabes; the only laughs they get are from our dry regional humor, so when somebody hits them with something thatâ€™s even the slightest bit off-color, they lose it.
I indicate by my finger that he should take a drink, and he downs a gulp.Â For the first time, heâ€™s got a big smile on his face.Â â€œThat made my day,â€ he says, and he seems more open.Â â€œWhat else?â€ he asks, apparently ready to face the music about his somewhat tenous place in the American canon.
â€œWell, there are suggestions that youâ€™re . . .â€
â€œWhat?â€ he asks with concern.
â€œWell, that youâ€™re representative of a certain sexual immaturity in the American male psyche.Â Sort of . . .â€
Nabokov:Â â€œCâ€™mon Mailerâ€“put â€˜em up!â€
â€œLike youâ€™reÂ the AmericanÂ Lewis Carroll, who wrote â€˜Alice in Wonderlandâ€™ about the daughter of a friend whom he took out for boating excursions.â€
Salinger is silent again, and not just because he wears the mask of an old curmudgeon.
â€œOf course, you werenâ€™t the only one,â€ I say.Â â€œThere was â€˜Lolita,â€™ by Vladimir Nabokov.Â Another book about an attachment between an older man and a young girl.Â Although his is generally considered to be superior to . . .â€
â€œListen, pal,â€ Salinger says, back in full-snarl mode.Â â€œI donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking about.â€
â€œHolden Caulfield and his little sister?Â The soldier and the little girl in â€˜For Esme, With Love and Squalorâ€™?Â Claire Douglas, your second wife, who you started dating when she was 16, and you were 31?Â Â Joyce Maynard?â€
Touche.Â That shuts him up.Â Maynard, the waifish 18-year-old writer Salinger befriended when he was 53, who went on to auction off their love letters for $156,500 toâ€“a software developer!Â That had to hurt a guy who wrote on a manual typewriter until he died.
â€œIâ€™ve had enough,â€ Salinger says as he stands up and puts on his coat.
â€œWell, it was nice to meet you finally,â€ I say and extend my hand, which he brushes aside as he heads for the door.
â€œWait,â€ I call after him.Â â€œYou forgot your girlâ€™s Kidâ€™s Meal toy!â€
He returns, looking a little sheepish.Â I canâ€™t help myself from getting in one lastÂ dig atÂ the great man who canâ€™t sit down for a stupid hamburger without getting all bent out of shape.Â â€œWhoâ€™s that for?â€ I ask, all disingenuous innocence.
He hesitates before saying â€œA little girl named Esme.â€
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection â€œDead Writers Make More Money.â€