Glimpses of Salinger Tucked Inside ‘Catcher in the Rye’

To the list of things that J.D. Salinger found hard to bear, we can now add these: pompous graduation ceremonies and shlepping overseas to see tulips.

“I’ve been going to graduations, and there isn’t much that I find more pretentious or irksome than the sight of ‘faculty’ and graduates in their academic get-ups,’’ he wrote a friend in June 1982, mentioning that it took self-control at one point “not to gag.”

He had an equally visceral and unprintable response to the barrage of tulips that greeted him on a three-week spin through Europe in 1994. Writing to the same friend, he expressed relief that Kafka was not alive to see what “a tourist trap” town fathers had made of his house in Prague. Salinger also complained about the time he spent in Europe prowling for restaurants that offered “a decent, huge green salad.”

Notoriously cranky about a host of things from autograph seekers to Park Avenue phonies, the New York-born Jerome David Salinger moved to New Hampshire and began his retreat from public life two years after his iconic novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” was published in 1951. Intensely private, he acceded to only a handful of interviews before he died in 2010 at the age of 91.

His views on many topics and his sensitivities to modern urban life, which were reflected, in part, in Holden Caulfield, the hero of the novel, peeked through in occasional letters to his friends.

The latest batch of snippets, cited above, come from the correspondence he shared over several decades with E. Michael Mitchell. Now deceased, he was the illustrator whose runaway carousel horse graced the first cover of “Catcher.”

After Salinger declined to sign a copy of “Catcher” for Mr. Mitchell in 1993, the illustrator sold 11 letters he had received from the author as far back as 1951 to a book dealer. They eventually ended up at the Morgan Library and Museum in 1998, where they sat in a vault and went on display last year, after Salinger’s death.

Mr. Mitchell’s longtime girlfriend, Ruth E. Linke, has since unearthed three additional letters, which have found their way to the Morgan, too. She spotted one inside Mr. Mitchell’s passport, along with photographs Salinger had forwarded of his two young children, and some creased math homework that Salinger’s son, Matthew, completed in 1966, when he was 6 and needed two lines to sign his name. (The photos and the homework appear to be enclosures that got detached from two letters the museum already had in its collection.)

This spring, while cleaning out the last of Mr. Mitchell’s boxes, she found two more letters in Mr. Mitchell’s unsigned copy of “Catcher.”

“She e-mailed me out of the blue a month ago,” and offered them for sale, recalled a delighted Declan Kiely. As the Morgan’s top curator for literary and historical manuscripts, he was all too happy to add them to the museum’s collection.

One of the new acquisitions — the one where the author disparages tulips — is now on display in the McKim building, which housed J.P. Morgan’s personal library. It will be there until Sept. 25, nuzzling a composition Mozart wrote at 5 and poems Sylvia Plath wrote at 14.

Salinger’s other two letters will be shown next year.

All three of the new acquisitions are vintage Salinger, sprinkled with regular-guy interjections and segues like “Buddyroo” and “Moron that I am.”

There is also that familiar mix of high and low that peppers Salinger’s fiction. The same 1994 letter that dropped Kafka’s name also made passing reference to Betty Lou, the Sesame Street muppet. Salinger claimed her little-girl voice was easier for him to make out than his soft-spoken spouse’s.

Hard of hearing, he found himself constantly asking “What?” at home and needed close-captioning to watch television, he wrote, unless the movie they were watching was Hitchcock’s “Thirty-Nine Steps.” That, he wrote, “I probably know by heart.’’

“Would that captions went with people’s foreheads,’’ he added, rather fancifully.

Salinger fans may be cheered to know that the new letters contain further hints that they may yet behold additional Salinger manuscripts. Salinger made passing reference in the 1982 letter to “my manuscripts.” The 1994 letter was more open ended but contained a section that could mean time spent at the typewriter: “I work on,” he wrote. “Same old hours, pretty much.”

The most recent letter, written two days after Christmas 1995, is one of his funnier efforts, even though he insisted that he had not “a shred of interesting news” to report.

Half of the postcard can be described as an ode to cats, which began: “Sometimes I can’t remember what I saw in Dogs for so many years.”

With two kittens and a larger Russian Blue making themselves at home each night atop the family bed, Salinger wrote that once the kittens finished growing, he might have to ask his wife to leave to make room for the menagerie.

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Complaint Box | How E-Readers Destroyed My Love Life

Complaint Box
What Annoys You?

Send your rant — no more than 500 words, please — to: [email protected], with a subject line of your last name, followed by “Complaint Box” and the topic. Detailed instructions are below.

I noticed his wavy hair, his feline eyes and his lips, which moved slightly as he read. But the first thing I noticed was his book: Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint,” one of my favorites, was cradled in his palm. Between Delancey Street and Bryant Park on the uptown F train, I fell for him hard. It wasn’t the first time I’d flirted my way into a Saturday night date with a simple phrase: “I love that book.”

I had one good pickup line, and e-readers ruined it. I can no longer hit on a handsome man on a long commute by asking about his book — because I can’t see it. Gone are the days when, sitting on a train delayed in the station, I could imagine exactly where in the New York Public Library we would first kiss — in the stacks between Mailer and Malamud or Foer and Franzen? E-books may be saving literature, but my dating life has suffered.

We all know you can’t tell a book by its Nook, but for for me, this problem is particularly acute. As a 29-year-old geek chic, a man’s literary taste can score as many points as being good with my parents or an ace in the kitchen. I promise there is nothing flattering about me awkwardly straining my un-swanlike neck toward a cute guy’s Kindle to guess what he’s eyeing. Instead, I am limited to those who peruse The New Yorker in print. And I fear those days are numbered.

Ladies and gentlemen, take out your books! In New York they are more important than your Facebook photo. As our cyber personalities grow more detailed, we see less of one another in person. A literary flirtation is less risky than a bar pickup — at least you know you have one thing in common. And there’s more chance for chemistry riding the L train than scrolling through Match.com, where you’ll see what novels a guy claims to read but his profile pic may be of his hotter brother.

I‘ve had wonderful encounters over books — in cafes, in parks, on subway platforms. Not just with potential dates, but kindred spirits — a septuagenarian reading Nicholas Sparks, a tourist from Abu Dhabi who introduced me to Italo Calvino. A woman new to the city reading E. B. White’s “Here Is New York,” another favorite, is now my good friend.

During the Murakami craze a few summers ago, when everyone was carrying around his Vintage-issued paperbacks with their distinct covers, I found myself in a subway car full of passengers bonding over their “Wind-Up Birds” and “Hard-Boiled Wonderlands.” That is what I love about New York. I don’t need 10 best sellers on an iPad; it only takes one dog-eared title to recognize a soul mate.

Since I can’t scope out a guy for his good books, I’ll have to find my love stories elsewhere. Perhaps I’ll start reading romance novels — hello, Nora Roberts. At least if I get an e-reader, no one will know.

Lisa Lewis, a freelance writer and playwright, lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and can be found online at LisaLewisWriting.com.


If you wish to submit a Complaint Box essay, please send it as an attachment and in the body of the e-mail to [email protected], along with your name, address, phone number and e-mail. In the subject line of the e-mail, type your last name, followed by “Complaint Box” and the subject of your complaint. Essays can be 100 to 500 words. Because we receive so many submissions, we can get back only to those whose complaints are being considered for publication. If you do not hear from us, thank you anyway, and feel free to submit it elsewhere.

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Man Charged in Death of His Mother on Upper East Side

A man stabbed and killed his mother on Saturday afternoon on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the police said.

The murder occurred just before 5 p.m. in the home that the man, Jonathan Schwartz, shared with his mother at 45 East 85th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues, the police said. Officers said they responded to a call of a woman stabbed in her seventh-floor apartment and found the mother, Barbara Schwartz, 67, badly injured. She had been stabbed in the neck after a dispute with her son, the police said. It was not immediately clear what caused the fight.

Ms. Schwartz was pronounced dead at the scene. Her son, who the police said had a history of psychiatric problems, was taken into custody and later charged with murder and criminal possession of a weapon. A lawyer for Mr. Schwartz could not be immediately reached late Saturday night.

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Chasing a Name Lost to Time

Benjamin P. Feldman, a retired real estate investor with the time and the money to chase his enthusiasms, was rummaging through a bin at a flea market in Chelsea last winter when he came across a weathered leather change purse with words engraved in gilt: “Compliments of Sol Goldberg’s Cafe, 71 Canal Street, Tel. 2111 Orchard.”

There was something about the antique purse and its desperate gambit to lure customers that spoke to him.

“I needed to know this guy,” Mr. Feldman said. “I sensed a very sad story and wanted to know what happened to this poor guy.”

Many people would pay the $15 and perhaps store the purse in a curio cabinet. Not Mr. Feldman, a deceptively unassuming man of 59 who became an amateur historian of New York after retiring as a founding partner of SL Green Realty in 2000. He spent some 300 hours over six months tracking down Sol Goldberg, his bars, his string of tenement homes, his immigrant ancestors and his descendants. He searched through old directories and telephone books, marriage, land and surrogate’s archives, census and criminal records, and Internet ancestry files, and he photographed buildings that were landmarks in Mr. Goldberg’s life.

His sleuthing about someone who was neither a friend nor a relative had absolutely no practical purpose. Solving the tantalizing mystery simply became a compulsion for Mr. Feldman, who once researched another obscure person based on a 19th-century expense ledger.

“It’s valuable to raise a person’s story from the dead, that people shouldn’t be forgotten,” he said. “In every grave lies a wonderful story.”

Asked why certain names lost to history obsess him, he compared it with falling in love, where “there’s no rhyme or reason to it, but you know it when it happens.”

The one serendipitous upshot of his dogged search was that the man whose name was on the purse turned out to be the grandfather of the late playwright Herb Gardner, whose works, including “A Thousand Clowns,” often revolved around the kind of eccentric New Yorkers that Mr. Feldman would appreciate. He pointed out that the 1992 Gardner play “Conversations With My Father” was about a bar owner on Canal Street who changed his name from Goldberg and whose father’s name was Solomon.

Mr. Feldman, an Upper East Sider whose other enthusiasm is sustaining Yiddish, said the search cost him little besides subway fares.

The first gumshoe step he took after discovering the purse was to head downtown to 71 Canal Street, near Allen Street. The building was still there, though a Chinese restaurant operated where the cafe had probably been.

The unusual telephone number dated from before the two letters of the telephone exchange began to precede the number, and Mr. Feldman deduced that the cafe had opened before the 1920s.

After checking Trow’s directories at the New-York Historical Society, he found a listing not only for the cafe but also for the Eagle Non-Intoxicating Wine Company, which was run, he learned, by a Sol Goldberg and his son Herbert. On a Blogspot page, Mr. Feldman tells how, using ancestry Web sites and census records, he learned that Sol Goldberg had emigrated as a teenager from Russia in 1892, living first in Virginia before settling with his parents at 149 Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side. He married a woman named Rosa Friedlander.

By 1902, he was operating a saloon at 17 Ludlow Street, and living above the store in four rooms in a building that today is populated by Chinese immigrants. The rent for the saloon and the rooms was $75. In owning a tavern, Mr. Feldman said, Sol followed “a well-trod path” because Jews, barred from many occupations in Eastern Europe, were allowed to undertake work that might be seen as sinful for Christians.

By 1908, Sol was selling liquor at 71 Canal Street, the address on the purse, and moved to a series of progressively nicer tenements along East Broadway. He and Rosa had three children, Herbert, George Milton and Helen. Soon the family members left the teeming Lower East Side for the wide-open spaces of Brooklyn, first in Brownsville, then Flatbush, where they bought an attached house on Martense Court.

Sol’s luck ran out with the dawn of Prohibition, eventually forcing him to close the cafe. On Oct. 17, 1920, he was arrested for selling a drink to one Isidor Einstein. Federal archives of the Volstead Act’s enforcement show he paid a $250 fine.

The decade afterward is veiled in mist, but Mr. Feldman confirmed with descendants that — no surprise — Sol got involved in bootlegging. He learned that from R. Allen Gardner of Reno, Nev., a grandson, who, even with the name change, he tracked down in April with a day’s assistance from a genealogist. Mr. Gardner, 81, is a retired professor of comparative psychology who gained fame for teaching American Sign Language to a chimpanzee.

He told Mr. Feldman by telephone that as a baby, his parents, George Milton and May Goldberg, would take him cruising by car around Brooklyn. The trunk was filled with cases of liquor, but the police would never suspect a young couple with a baby. It was Sol who dealt with the wholesalers.

During the call with Mr. Feldman, Mr. Gardner asked: “Perhaps you heard of my late brother, Herb? He was a playwright, kind of well known.” Mr. Feldman said his spine tingled because he had seen “Conversations With My Father,” with Judd Hirsch as Eddie, the keeper of the seedy bar on Canal Street.

In fact, he soon learned, Sol and the father of the Gardner brothers owned the Silver Gate Bar and Grill — at 258 Canal — after Prohibition was repealed. It endured until 1945, two years after Sol died of cardiac failure. Sol’s will suggested he died relatively poor, leaving his family less than $5,000.

As a coda to his quest, Mr. Feldman visited the Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, N.Y., in May to photograph the spare grave site of the man whose name was on that weathered purse.

“I felt I had come to the end of the line in this whole business of raising the dead,” Mr. Feldman said. “I felt like I finished my job.”

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#trendingnyc: The Week on Twitter

Strauss-Kahn dominated the Twitter feeds of New Yorkers on Friday, a day after the news broke that the rape case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn appeared to be on the brink of falling apart. Every development in the case was tweeted and retweeted — Mr. Strauss-Kahn (known as #DSK on Twitter) was in the courtroom, he had been released on his own recognizance, the district attorney was about to speak.

#trendingNYC

Tracking New York’s Twittersphere.

As the week began, the legalization of same-sex marriage bill, which passed two days before the city’s Gay Pride Parade was held last Sunday, continued to dominate local Twitter feeds — with #equalityforall, #nycpride and Governor Andrew Cuomo. After all, what’s a major legislative victory without a little gloating?

For his part, State Senator Rubén Diaz Sr., a Bronx Democrat a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, inspired wedding invitations, gleeful profanity and a bit of early fund-raising for his opponents in the next election. @JoeGarden, features editor at the Onion, posted:

Other Bronx institutions were treated more kindly. The Yankees’ annual Old-Timers’ Day provided fodder last Sunday afternoon, as Tino Martinez, 43, the retired first baseman, shocked users with a seldom-seen homer in the exhibition game. Joe Torre, the former manager, drew praise after donning pinstripes for the first time since his acrimonious departure from the team in 2007. And Gene Monahan, the longtime trainer who is retiring after this season, raked in Twitter tributes to go along with a bevy of gifts from Yankees brass: a Thomas Kinkade painting, a riding lawn mower, a 15-day tour of the Alps, a pickup truck and a Labrador retriever.

As one fan noted:

Observers were also abuzz over the plight of Raymond Velasquez, the Brooklyn rap artist who halted traffic in Times Square when he scaled a 25-foot light pole on 44th Street and Seventh Avenue on Tuesday morning. The Twitter topic was Times Square. Watching from the network’s studio across the street, @mtvnews enjoyed a free, if inaudible, show for nearly two hours, as Mr. Velasquez performed atop the metal beam for an unmoved — and unmoving — Midtown audience.

The station’s Twitter automaton summarized:

The week’s most persistent trend among the trending topics, though, may have been the many hoaxes cluttering area Twitter feeds. Rocsi, host of BET’s “106 & Park,” arrested for shoplifting? False. Nicki Minaj, Queens-raised rapstress, deceased? No. Nor is Tom Kenny, the Syracuse-born voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, whose family received a cascade of condolences Thursday. A few truth-seekers tried to set the record straight.

@MileyCyrus wrote that whoever made RIP Tom Kenny a trending topic was an idiot:

Trending topics are drawn from a periodic sampling by times The New York Times of locally trending popular terms reported by Twitter in the past week, with posts of specific New York interest highlighted.

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Former Brearley Leader Returns as Interim Head

The Brearley School’s trustees moved quickly on Friday to contain any damage from the abrupt resignation of its head of school, naming a former Brearley leader as interim head of school.

She is Priscilla Winn Barlow, a zoologist who led the prestigious girls’ school on the Upper East Side from 1997 to 2003, when she retired. In a letter e-mailed to “members of the Brearley community,” the president of the board, Alan K. Jones, praised Dr. Winn Barlow as a “wise, warm and witty educator who so ably guided Brearley through a period of sustained development and improvement.”

She replaces Stephanie J. Hull, whose departure on Thursday, with no notice, shocked parents and alumni.

Calls to Dr. Hull, who is taking a yearlong sabbatical that she was eligible for during her tenure but skipped, were not returned Thursday night, and a spokesman for Brearley could not be reached for comment.

Dr. Winn Barlow, who is British, was Brearley’s 13th head of school, according to the letter from Mr. Jones, and had previously served as an administrator at Milton Academy in Boston and Havergal College, a girls’ school in Toronto.

“During her original tenure as head of school,” Mr. Jones wrote, “Priscilla thoughtfully and successfully led the school through a series of important initiatives that bolstered Brearley’s educational leadership in science, expanded the use of technology throughout the school, provided students with substantially more curricular flexibility and choice, and sharpened the school’s focus on important issues of diversity and community.”

He attached a chapter about her from a Brearley history book, which described her as “a natural” who “focused her delightfully low-key attention on the quality of a student’s life at a high-powered school.” It notes that students loved to imitate her high-pitched voice and mentions her “zany persona.”

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Pronouncing the Unpronounceable

A few weeks back, we wrote about the myriad ways to pronounce, and mispronounce, the Van Wyck Expressway and offered to track down correct pronunciations for New York place names that reduce readers to guesswork or mumbling.

While Van Siclen Avenue in Brooklyn, Zerega Avenue in the Bronx and Dieterle Crescent in Queens all made the list, the most requested tongue-trippers included Spuyten Duyvil, along with Kosciuszko and Goethals (as in bridge).

For those three, we went to the experts — native speakers of the mother tongue in question — for a quick language lesson.

Ewa Zadworna understands why non-Polish speakers may have trouble correctly pronouncing the name for the 1939 truss bridge that links Greenpoint in Brooklyn to Maspeth, Queens.

Spanning Newton Creek, the Kosciuszko Bridge is named for Tadeusz Kosciuszko, an American Revolution military hero. While trapped in traffic on the section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that bears his moniker, you have time to imagine every possible way to mangle saying this name out loud should you ever be asked for directions.

“The trick is there are many consonants that do not exist in the English language,” said Ms. Zadworna, who hails from Krakow and works in public affairs for Polish consulate.

She then blurted out something that sounded to us like “kash-CHOOV-ska,” said very quickly.

Of course, this isn’t an exact science — different article in The New York Times even list slightly different pronunciation guides, and different native speakers pronounce words differently.

In the Bronx, the streets are lined with tricky titles, including Lyvere Street, Lowerre Place, Fteley Avenue and Schieffelin Avenue.

But the one that a reader went as far as to call a “nemesis” is the Spuyten Duyvil area in Riverdale.

The name comes from the Dutch “Spuit den Duyvil,” which translates to, among other things, “the devil’s spout.”

The name was bestowed by 17th-century Dutch settlers on a now-extinct waterway separating the northern tip of Manhattan from the Bronx mainland, according to the Web site of the Spuyten Duyvil branch of the New York Public Library.

The correct pronunciation is “SPY-ten DYE-vil,” said Arthur Kibbelaar, consul for press and cultural affairs at the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, who went on to thumb through the book “Exploring Dutch New York” looking for other names.

Brooklyn, for example, is a Dutch name that when Mr. Kibbelaar pronounced it the old-school way, sounded like “brrrrrooklyn,” with rolling “Rs”.

Brooklyn also happens to be the birthplace of the civil engineer George Washington Goethals, the son of Flemish immigrants whose name graces the Goethals Bridge, which since 1928 has linked Staten Island to Elizabeth, N.J.

Flemings are particularly proud of Goethals, best known for supervising the construction of the Panama Canal, said Kris Dierckx, director of Flanders House, a Flemish cultural outpost in New York.

Mr. Dierckx pronounced Goethals with a soft “g.” It sounded almost like “HOOT-huls.”

He also noted that there was an effort under way to name a Manhattan street after another famous Fleming: St. Damien of Molokai, who worked with lepers in 19th-century Hawaii.

Not that Damien Street will be a cinch to say: it’s actually pronounced “Daum-e-aun.”

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By the Bay, a Berth to Rest and to Mingle

Neighborhood Joint

A series of articles profiling favorite local haunts.
What’s your neighborhood joint?

Everyone savors those “only in New York” moments: watching the Nathan’s hot-dog-eating contest in Coney Island or spotting a movie star in a restaurant in Manhattan. But another, equal pleasure is often overlooked: the “I can’t believe I’m still in New York” moment.

Kayaking on the tranquil waters of Jamaica Bay on a summer afternoon feels like a faraway vacation. It’s easy to forget your proximity to Wall Street, or even to Cross Bay Boulevard, which slices through the water to the island community of Broad Channel, Queens. Along the canals that run like side streets through this tiny neighborhood, people are quick with a smile and a wave. As the disco classic “Funkytown” blasted from a party on one porch, a duck, a goose and a great egret calmly observed from a nearby railing.

While Broad Channel has long had a reputation as a place wary of outsiders, you’re treated like a lifelong neighbor when you return your rented kayak to the Sunset Marina.

Read the full article »

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Ad for Subway (Sandwiches) Went a Step Too Far

Concerned, perhaps, that the contrails of atmospheric exhaust were not reaching prospective patrons as far away as the Avenue of the Americas intersection, the operators of the Subway restaurant at 31 West 43rd Street planted their flag firmly on the avenue itself.

An impromptu signpost advertising $5 “footlong” sandwiches was standing until Thursday on the northeast corner of the intersection. (If the sign were a sandwich, it would have been about $20 long — or tall.)

There are a number of problems with this marketing campaign, not the least of which is that the city’s Administrative Code states: “It shall be unlawful for any person to erect any post or pole in any street unless under a permit or revocable consent of the commissioner” of transportation.

We asked the Department of Transportation whether the Subway sign had been granted a permit or a revocable consent. A spokesman answered that an inspector had in fact determined that the sign violated the law and so informed the store manager, after which the sign was immediately removed. So now we’ll have to depend on our nostrils again to find its sandwiches.

Subway’s press office has so far declined to respond to an e-mailed inquiry about the sign.

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