Jerome David Salinger, who introduced the voice of ironic detachment through Holden Caulfield back in 1951, long before David Letterman brought it into our homes on a late-nightly basis, died today in the same seclusion he’d lived in for the past fifty years. I didn’t know him and still haven’t read any of his short list of other writings aside from The Catcher in the Rye. Still, this news feels sad and personal. And it reminds me of a story from the Fall of 1983, when I was a Senior at Notre Dame…
In that last year, I lived off campus with three roommates. Brian was our hilarious and arch class president, Mike the rough-edged country boy brainiac and George was just known as “The God.” Seriously, that’s how people referred to him; he was one of those genetically-gifted guys who looked like an Abercrombie and Fitch model (though that reference was still decades away), earned ridiculous grades, and played every sport with effortless ease. Other than that, he was totally ordinary in a ‘one of the guys’ manner. By contrast, I was a cartoonist for the school newspaper, so the two of us were on slightly different social footing.
But that changed when George had to write an application essay for the University of Cincinnati Medical School. Like Aesop’s mouse, I suddenly had something to offer George the lion; I liked writing and was happy to help him out. My big idea for the piece was simple and brilliant and to his credit, George embraced it at once. We dashed off that essay and it was in the mail the next day.
Unfortunately, the admissions office at Cincinnati took a different view of my idea. Now maybe he didn’t get turned down just because of that essay, but he didn’t recycle it for his Ohio State application, where he was later accepted.
So when the admissions officers opened George’s application and got to the part where he was asked to outline his personal history and describe why that made him consider a career in medicine, they probably were not expecting to see the opening sentence from Salinger’s masterpiece:“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
I still believe it was a brilliant essay opener. So thanks. And godspeed Mr. Salinger…
By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79