Life is Tough for Catcher in the Rye Fans.

Late sophomore year at my Podunk high school, the English teacher handed out the next of what seemed like an endless stream of novels.   The novel was titled Catcher in the Rye,  and it looked and sounded worse than every other book the teacher had previously handed out, with the exception of Beowulf.  Probably because rye bread is disgusting. 
Catcher in the Rye, Great Gatsby posters, Chris Plumb
The book must mean something to me, as I have a poster of
it in my man cave.  

Admittedly, the book didn’t instantly capture me, but somewhere, around page 60, I jumped ahead of the class, and devoured the book like it was some newfangled religion that had no qualm with profusely throwing around the “F” word.  Author J.D. Salinger’s theology resonated with me--the protagonist Holden Caulfield’s hatred of all things phony.  Phoniness was public enemy number one, as Holden ran away from institutions, family, relationships, schools, and anything that didn’t resemble authenticity. 

Coca Cola   It's the real thing
Holden would never
drink Pepsi.  

For years, partly because of this book, I vowed to be genuine.  I wanted to be the real deal.  I was secretly afraid that Salinger would come out of his reclusiveness, follow me around, and if I failed to live up to his fictitious character’s standard he’d yell, “How dare, you, you treasonous fraud.  I thought my words meant something to you!” 

Eddie Vedder Pearl Jam Time Cover
Oh Eddie, you were so passionately angsty
I reread the book when I was 28, and it didn’t have the same effect (similar to grunge music).  It wasn’t the gospel of angsty adolescent truth that spoke so wholly to me in my youth.  In fact, the hypocrisy of Holden's character is kind of despicable.  Maybe it’s because I became a high school teacher, and had Caulfield-like kids repeatedly say things like, “Why do we have to learn this?; Why do we have to read?; I’d rather be doing meth; etc.”  Actually, that’s not true.  Holden was smart, and smart kids will actually read books, and rarely take meth.  Though it seems that even stupid kids want their life’s work to have viable realistic ramifications.  Hopefully, those kids will honestly mean, “Welcome,”  when they say, “Welcome to Wal-mart.”  

Walmart employee with button flair
But you can rise up faster in the
company with just 37 pieces of flair.  
As Americans, it’s hard to find the real McCoy in anything.  Lance Armstrong is just the latest of a long list of American heroes who have been dethroned from their position of influential power because of performance enhancers.  Cheating is common, and phonies and are everywhere.  We have two running for President. 

So, to anyone who found validity in Caulfield’s values, life has been very hard.  We are constantly judging and critiquing the world through lenses of “truth, ” and we rarely see it, find it, hear it, or experience it.  It makes working for people difficult, as those boss people seem to waft and drift with whatever current the ocean is experiencing that day. We want the truth regardless of the changing tide.  Some of us just want to be anchored safely near the shoreline. But the seas are raging thanks to El Niño, or La Niña; what used to be a dry dock is now wet lands, and what used to be an oasis is now a desert.  Shifts in our social, moral and economic climates have decimated old seaways and our favorite trade routes are now unsafe because of thieving pirates.  It's rough waters out there.  

We’re lucky if we haven’t had to file an insurance claim on all the wreckage of the economy, politics, spirituality, and the physical cost of maintaining our physical bodies.  Perhaps you were a victim of one of the following: a mental breakdown, an emotional meltdown, a spiritual doldrum, a physical malfunction, an economic depression, or an intellectual impedance.  You’re not alone.  And perhaps that’s why many, recently called out our worst “phonies:” the 1%ers, for their ability to maintain their positions of power even as they’ve been discovered for the frauds that they really are.  Lance Armstrong, despite the amazing things he’s done for humanity, was just forced to give back his 7 Tour de Frances (even though the five next best players have actually failed a drug test), and yet these 1%ers in power have been cheating America for years, and we can’t do a thing about it, other than call, “bull-sh!t,” while they pocket our retirement and/or investment plans. Which initially, sounds depressing.  Okay, to some, it's very depressing, no matter what way I spin it.    

Lance Armstrong 7 tour de france titles
Now you'll just have to raise 250 million fingers, Lance, as that is the amount of money your Livestrong Foundation
has raised for cancer patients.  The number 7 means nothing to you anymore.  

Pied Piper leading children
I love conga lines.  Where are we headed?  
But instead of becoming a depressing Salinger character (and I love Salinger’s works, even his obscure short stories), what can one do? --Other than run from phony institutions and people, constantly trying to find something real, authentic, and sadly rare?  Well, maybe we should do what Holden Caulfield actually wanted to do.  He wanted to save little kids before they accidentally ran off a cliff while playing in the rye fields.  He wanted to be the Catcher in the Rye.  He wanted to help people maintain their innocence in a corrupting world.  And maybe that heroic trait was what captured my adolescent mind, instead of the whiny, complaining, hypocritical, underachiever that Holden actually is. 

Which means, those of us who related to Caulfield’s ideals, have a lot of work ahead of us.  The Pied Piper has been playing his seductive tune of false promises, and his army of lemming children are blindly following to a cliffside of destruction.  Hopefully, there are enough of us who care to catch them (despite their ignorance and stupidity) and re-navigate them on a course towards something real, authentic, valuable, and hopefully,  a less turbulent life.    


  1. I think I will need to read Catcher in the Rye after reading this blog.

    1. Well, it's much better as a coming-of-age story, but there's enough there to keep an adult thinking (if not entertained). I doubt it will have an impact, though, at our age.

      Course, my book is a coming-of-age book, and I hope it has value to adults. So...

  2. Beowulf shines a light in the darkness of our worst fears*. Looking for truth is everyone's real desire, and Truth is Good, no matter what our circumstances. Your hit on hypocrisy is similar to Jesus' at the church leaders leading people into dark places. Nice job. I like your search.

    * (Angelina Jolie)

  3. Oh, the Angelina comment was from Janet W.

  4. I think Beowulf could've been better, but we had to listen to it on audiotape, and the reader had false teeth, and kept smacking them back onto his gums. It was disgusting and hilarious at the same time. We stopped paying attention to the words, and waited for the next gum smack. Needless to say, we all bombed the test.

  5. Charlie Brown...
    I couldn't even get behind Beowulf when my college grades depended on it. But like you blog master I was a big Rye fan and a Separate Peace addict. Might say they did their work in my adolescent mind. Thankfully I came to see they were 'pied'-pipers for the boomer generation and beyond. Now as far as Lance the man goes, he has a giant conspiracy of french poor losers that say they will spend 20 million Frogsworts to dethrone the poor guy. How long can he fight the bigger cheaters with power who love squishing smaller game.Just like the big banks get all our tax money then take our homes after three later payments. Think about it, they are staying afloat on US tax dollars...maker their profit from my payment which the government already paid off my mortgage...then will try to get my house if they can. The big cheese government helping the big cheese banks to put the squeeze on the Lance Armstrong's of the world.

  6. Charlie Brown
    What if someone went after Hank Aaron for drug enhancement? Or Mohammad Ali or Willie Mays?

  7. "Say it ain't so, Joe." Like that sad boy said when he realized his idol "Shoeless" Joe Jackson had just tossed his integrity in favor of some quick dirty dollars, so too, have we had to watch our heroes get stripped of their legitimacy. Most think those guys (and others from 60s-80s) were probably doing some sort of amphetamine, which would give them burst of energy. It's probably not the same as steroids, but it does fit into the box known as "performance enhancers).

  8. "ain't nothin' like the real thang babay, ain't nothin' like the real thang baby"

  9. Wonderful website. Very interesting. Hard to believe you're just a high school teacher. You ought to be teaching literature at Harvard or Yale. Bravo! Check out my new book, LIFE AIN'T KIND. It's a title most everybody can relate to.