Friday, January 29, 2010

A Brimming Bowl of Genuis

My friend Lauren and I are here at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse for a writing session and while I was sitting here waiting for inspiration to hit I suddenly thought about JD Salinger and his frozen peas.

I saw a documentary on him a few years ago, you know, about that reclusive writer who had spent the last 40 years or so in a small town not talking to many people. Since he hasn't done an interview practically since The Catcher in the Rye was published, they had to interview people in the town and women who'd lived with him over the years. One of them described his morning routine. He would get up early in the morning, stretch, meditate and then eat fruit or a bowl of frozen peas that he would defrost in the sink.

The peas, more than any other detail, has stuck in my mind about JD Salinger. JD Salinger, one of the best writers of the 20th century. He ate a bowl of thawed peas? For breakfast? From his sink? Were they still cold? Were some cold and watery and thus extra mushy when he bit into them? It's healthy, yes, and not necessarily the creamcheese-laden toasted bagel that one would expect from an old bachelor, but he ate them PLAIN? No pinch of salt? Did he ever fill the bowl with milk and eat it like cereal? You might think I'm gross for suggesting that, but Jesus, the man ate sink peas. How did his lover react when she saw him eating this for the first time?

"Want an omelet?" she would ask, strutting across the kitchen floor in her underwear and a tanktop, because I imagine that young lovers of reclusive, famous writers are always at the ready to be taken to bed. Shit, I would. It's one of the perks.
"Hm. No," he would say, leaning against the sink, holding a bowl up to his chin, and shoveling a spoonful of peas into his mouth.
"How about waffles? I could make waffles."
"Can you put peas in them?" he'd say.
"Excuse me?"
"Frozen peas."
He would open his freezer, which would be stacked from top to bottom with boxes of frozen peas.
"...That would be horrid," she would say, putting her pants back on.
"If you want we could roll them around in the sink first."

And I imagine that the relationship would deteriorate from there. You may think it's in poor taste to assume things about his love life when I didn't know the man, when NO ONE really knew the man, but since he gave us nothing to go on, one must speculate these kinds of things with the information that we have. And all I've got is a sink full of defrosted peas.

I wonder if they've found more of his writing since his death. I can't imagine that he stopped writing just because he stopped publishing. By the same token, I bet they'll find tons of material by Harper Lee, stashed under her bed or something, after her death. On the one hand it seems a shame that people with such distinct voices, whose art influenced countless writers (myself included), would keep their writing from the world. But then, as one of my friends says, you got to do what you can live with at the end of the day. And they couldn't live with the attention.

What will they say about my breakfast habits when I'm gone, assuming I'm ever famous?
"Toast," my former lover will say. "And the blood of her critics."
"That's interesting," the interviewer will comment. "Now, if you don't mind, can you please put on some pants?"
"Genevieve stipulated in her will that I am to never wear them again."
"I see."

Yes. I will be THAT kind of famous person. The kind who makes outlandish requests in her will. "My children may have their inheritance, if and only if they do the following: they must all spend the night in my haunted mansion, which I plan to haunt. And then they must plant a mustard seed garden and then throw a very loud, raucus, costume dinner party and then call the police on themselves." Then I will only leave them 15 bucks a piece. Lord, I'm strange and cruel when I'm dead.

And now, I'm tempted to read Cather in the Rye again. Or his short stories, which I've never read. He was the kind of writer that you could open his book and pick a line out of context and nine times out of ten it would be beautiful. Like this one, "It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road." I wonder what he thought about that line. Did he feel good after he wrote it, like he was having a poetic moment and it was cathardic to write it down? Do you know what I'm talking about?

Or maybe this line will stick with you more, "All morons hate it when you call them a moron." Damn, that could be a T-shirt.

Sleep well, JD. Ole' Breakfast of Champions. Thanks for the voice.


melissa bastian. said...


Alright, you must must MUST read Nine Stories, like asap. And, as this is the instruction that I give to everyone intelligent and worthy: when you're reading the last one, "Teddy", you must be eating an apple.

Genevieve said...

Nine Stories, you say? An apple you say? If I must, I must.