I knew J. D. Salinger. Well, not exactly, but I followed him around.
Those memories came flooding back to me when I heard a short time ago that the iconic (for once that word is applicable) author of The Catcher in the Rye had died. My encounters with Salinger happened when I was a Dartmouth student (1964). The already reclusive Salinger would appear on the campus occasionally, usually to make a stop at the Dartmouth Bookstore to stock up on books. (He lived some twenty miles off in the town of Cornish, N. H.)
When he was around, word would go out to the artier types at the college and we would slip over to the bookstore and, well, stalk the famous writer, I guess you could say. By then he had published Franny and Zooey, among other works, which we greatly admired. But many of us were puzzled that the majority of his purchases were mere mystery paperbacks – Dorothy Sayers was one of his favorites. Undergraduate snobs, we had expected Dostoevsky or Camus. (This was long before I was writing mysteries myself – or even considered it.)
Nevertheless, Salinger Fever increased among the bohos on the Dartmouth campus. This was before the college went co-ed and there wasn’t a lot of excitement up in Hanover N. H. A friend of mine even learned Salinger’s address from spotting it on a check at the bookstore cash register. He shared this find with the rest of our crowd. So one night another friend of mine named Ron Smith and I, after a few too many trips to the beer keg, drove up to Cornish on a snowy night in search of the great man. Though tipsy, we were pretty nervous because Salinger’s misanthropy was legendary. But we soldiered on, found the author’s house and knocked on the door. It was opened by a 21-year old “Cliffie,” who we had heard was Salinger’s wife or girlfriend. She stared at us as if we were a couple of kids, although we couldn’t have been more than a year or two younger than she was, and asked us what we were doing there. We told her we wanted to talk to Mr. Salinger. At that point we caught a glimpse of the author walking about in his boxer shorts. He looked terrified and signaled something to the young woman who, without another word, slammed the door in our faces and bolted it shut. I can remember feeling humiliated.
I can’t remember ever seeing J. D. Salinger again and that certainly was the last time I ever stalked anybody. Or even close.