Tag Archives: New York City

Tree Graveyard

Where do trees go when they die? Some just stay in place and become their own ghostly markers. Others topple over, sometimes taking along near-neighbor trees or human-made objects or structures with them. They live their lives and end their lives in the same spot, unable to move away from danger.

Two weeks ago, during the surprise of Sandy (now referred to as Superstorm), thousands of trees were lost on the East Coast. Thousands. The kinds of numbers that are all-too-familiarly reported in human casualties during wartime or plagues. Of course, trees have had their plagues, too. But in proportion to the frequent tree damage that occurs in various disease- and storm-related events throughout the seasons, this was huge in scope.

In New York City alone, roughly 10,000 trees succumbed and, also, multiple thousands were felled on Long Island. These shocking numbers were reported by state and city parks administrators. And in New Jersey, utility companies logged more than 113,000 irreparably damaged trees, many of which up until this particular storm had survived a hundred years or more of natural assaults.

I am walking through a trail on the eastern edge of the Catskills, and, let’s remember, it is two weeks after the record-shattering hurricane. It is usually a silent place, entirely wooded by white pines, oaks, birches, hemlock. There is an outdoor cathedral quality about the landscape, with the towering arboreal columns that allow sunlight to ricochet off the trunks, or to glint through the empty spaces as it would through clerestory windows above a cavernous interior space. Filtered light sprinkles through the veil of pine needles above – what is left of them, that is.

In the distance I hear the constant buzz of chain saws. I have been hearing that sound every day since the storm. Sometimes it is loud and close, now it is low and soft. Although it is somewhat like the riling sound that a fly or mosquito makes, an annoying, persistent and alarming noise. The ever-present buzz echoes off the mountains and hovers like fog over the valleys. It could be miles away but its droning is solidly felt. All around, it is the familiar sound of sadness and loss.

In this special place, a heavily wooded parcel of just under 80-acres, this municipally owned land protected by a conservation easement for the town around it, is shocking evidence of the devastation. It feels like wholesale slaughter, a massacre. Trees lying down, feet in the air. Trees splintered off twenty feet above the ground. Trees piled on top of trees, much like Pick-Up Sticks if the game were played with thousand-pound sticks. Trees that now resemble an exploded view of a tree. Many of the victims have now been cut away for the trail by those same persistent chainsaw flies. It is a heart-wrenching sight, both terrifying and mind-boggling.

Everything seems topsy turvy. Trees should not lie horizontally on the ground. Or be split and cut with their innards exposed – their dignity and life removed. Yes, some of the lucky ones still stand, the survivors who look on helplessly at their fallen fellow creatures. Trees are the very thing we need most in this climate-changed world, yet here I am, and you are, standing in a tree graveyard caused by our own selfish interests, unable to comprehend how, in the scheme of things, they are more necessary to the world’s well-being than we are. Look what we have wrought.

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Acts of Submersion

Starting in the 1800s, New York City needed a bigger and more reliable water supply. With so many of the water sources originating in the Catskills, the comparatively empty land was eyed for potential dams and reservoir sites. Towns in the valleys were vulnerable and seemingly dispensable to the state, and many were sacrificed for one city’s needs. The citizens were evicted from their homes and towns by the usual ploy, eminent domain.

Dams were erected, floodgates were opened, New York City was guaranteed a huge, seemingly endless supply of mountain water. Mountain water that drowned towns. Whatever existed in the towns was submerged and diluted by billions of gallons, including moral turpitude. Some might consider it a crime against small town America.

 These disappeared towns, their fate similar in many respects to being outfitted with cement shoes, are referred to as “drowned towns” or ghost towns. Townsfolk’s lives were abruptly ended, they were transplanted to other towns or new artificially established ones. It has happened in many other states in our country, mostly in mountainous regions that have proximity to large metropolises which have no natural resources. Most likely those who are run out of town are rural and poor. Sacrifice of the few for the many.

This, from A Town Called Olive, by Camilla Calhoun: “Imagine the logistics of getting 2,000 people, some who had lived there for generations, to move from their homes in this lush, fertile valley at a time when transience was uncommon. One thousand New York City residents who had second homes there, also lost their homes. Located in the valley, among other things, were 35 stores, 10 churches, 10 schools, 1 gristmill, and 7 saw mills. In order to begin the exodus from the valley, the Commissioner of Appraisal had to post notices warning property owners ‘that in less than two months title to their property would be vested in New York City and they would be subject to a ten-day notice to move.’ The state Water Commission had supported the plan despite the fact there were hearings and residents fought the city’s plans with capable lawyers.”

And from Water for a City, by Charles Weidner: “A woman with 21 acres of land and a boarding house was awarded $6,500 while another with a half acre and a small house was awarded $4,000.” According to Weidner, business claims were also unfairly paid: “Mrs. Emma Cudney received only $8,707.50 for the loss of her 20,000 ginseng plants…. In 1909, Ginseng was being sold for $6-$7 per pound…. While these claims moved extremely slowly, construction of the reservoir progressed at an incredibly fast pace, including the building of a village camp for the immigrant laborers. The 3,900 laborers outnumbered the inhabitants of the valley, which also was a factor in the displacement felt by the local residents.”

There are instances where water levels in the reservoirs decline and some of the towns become visible once more, hence the name ghost towns. (In fact, it’s happening now, in the Midwest, where the terrible drought is causing reservoir-buried towns to reappear in Indiana.) Talk about rising to the surface. Foundations, wells, even railroad tracks are detectable at times when water is in shortage. Ironic that the towns reappear when water levels are low – there are at least eleven reservoirs in New York state that evaporated twenty-five towns in their creation.

Now there are scuba clubs that dive into reservoirs in search of these Atlantises of the east. And there are descendants of the townspeople who gather, gazing longingly into the consuming and soon-to-be-consumed water when the levels are low, hoping to catch a glimpse of their homes, their history, their decades- and generations-long mistrust and dislike of the way they were pushed aside in favor of the thirsty giant downstream.

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Cosmo’s Moon and the Placeness of Love

In just a couple of weeks it will be exactly 25 years since the first day of shooting began on one of the most perfect movies to come out of the post-Viet Nam-era Hollywood: Moonstruck. For its success and enduring, endearing nature credit John Patrick Shanley’s quirkily adorable screenplay full of memorable lines and people and confrontations, exceptional and lucky casting (Cher and Olympia Dukakis are earthily sublime revelations, and no one, any place, any time could be a better Ronny Cammareri than Nicolas Cage), savvy use of Dean Martin crooning “That’s Amore” and Norman Jewison’s steady don’t-get-in-the-way directing.

Mostly, though credit placeness.

Whereas, in his films, Woody Allen loves Manhattan, Shanley’s New York – Brooklyn, specifically – is love. More than just another character in the narrative, the soft-edged and warmly glowing Brooklyn of Shanley/Jewison is a place that must exist first so that its characters can exist after. It is a place, unreal in life but absolutely believable if not necessary in our hearts, where love supreme not only reigns but is operatically intense, where shadowy streets hold no menace, where superstition and religion and mortal foibles and Fate’s delicious hand-mangling irony are as thick in the air as the bakery and cooking smells we imagine are everywhere, where jerks are lovable and moral cheaters are as innocent as children – and it is a spot on Earth (some Earth, in some dream) where the moon is bigger than possible and exerts a pull that is not that of the physical world’s gravity but quite the opposite: anti-gravity, an irresistible force that moves immovable objects, like deadened hearts and desiccated relationships, and grants them life and youth and hope.

There are certain key elements that a film needs to be great – mostly, these have to do with character and motivation, action and satisfaction. A film can be great if it doesn’t have all, but most, of these elements (forming what weak-headed critics would call “flawed” films). But no film can be great without a placeness that gives every person and plot component its raison d’etre. Movies have people and plots, but what the best movies do best is create believable worlds that, empathetically, we already somehow know and recognize and crave. Placeness establishes the rules and referees the match, and only then can the games begin and follow their course. And, with a great sense of placeness – Oz, or the Corleone compound, or Xanadu – one cannot conceive of a film’s events occurring anywhere else. Every life form, movies included, needs certain conditions in which to come into being, thrive and evolve. Another place, another species. A lesser place, no life at all.

Moonstruck is a masterly bit of created placeness in a bubble of benevolence, like a glass-enclosed terrarium, a self-sufficient ecosystem unsullied by an outside world’s contaminating breath – truth grows undisturbed while reality bounces off the protecting globe.

As a P.S. to all this: What Moonstruck wants to express, at its core, is the messy, complex, intertwining, toxic yet life-giving nature of Family and families. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. When you’re together with your own blood-related or handpicked family, there could be no better place to visit, all of you, post-stuffing, than Moonstruck.

Salud – and snap out of it.

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Seeing Spots

We met in the Catskills, and arranged to meet again a few days later, in New York City. I think we both knew that something very interesting was bubbling between us, and so quickly, too. (And now, together 35 years, it’s clear that we were pretty much right on the money about it.) We took a walk, a long one, all over the East Side of midtown (as deserted as Manhattan ever gets in the late-night hours), winding our way up and down the number streets, click-clacking through an eerily unpopulated Grand Central and onto Park Avenue, where we found a low wall to sit on in front of a tall building we didn’t pay much attention to. As water jets burbled and splashed into a wide pool behind us, and as we occasionally broke our gazes at each other to focus aimlessly at another meaningless tall building catercorner from us, we talked and talked, and talked some more, exchanging information and intimacies, sharing secrets to see if the other would be shocked by the revelations, and if they would be deal-breakers. We were testing the waters by throwing boulders into them. By night’s end, we had two things: a very real and certain relationship that’s more than we ever could have imagined … and we had a spot. “Our spot.” In our minds, the place where it all began for real – a low wall along a big street in the middle of New York.

For years afterwards, and periodically more recently, when we’ve been in New York we’ve stopped by “our spot,” for old times’ sake, to try to feel again that wonder of the first time. And we usually do. That’s what “spots” are for: to act as touchstones to our past, to encourage our hearts to re-experience a thrill or a defining time or that moment that changed a lot, or everything. Like a tune that becomes “our song,” a spot brings back a vivid “then,” even complete with the echoes of the sounds and the waftings of the smells, and the perhaps-idealized memory of the words spoken, and of that face. Sometimes your “spot” has become so iconic and totemic in your life, what happened there is, in your mind, a sort of tableau or stage set, and you have an out-of-body experience, seeing yourself, as from a distance, as part of the display, one of the mannequins, a member of the cast – you, but apart from yourself. Our “spots” have a placeness so thick, we continue to “see” what happened there even when the “spot” has been altered, even destroyed. In the art of living, it is a placeness that, once lived, never dies. It is as close to having an encounter with ghosts as one is likely to have. And these “spots” are so strong, so integral to the psychological infrastructure upon which who we are is built, that just to be at a “spot,” even a changed or missing one, can make us cry or laugh, regret, shiver … wonder.

It is an amazing thing about us humans: that we seem to have a need to imbue locations connected with seminal events with a kind of secular holiness to potent that we are moved to see visions, not of a god but of ourselves when we thought that we were gods, or others were devils. So immensely enthralling are these, our “spots,” that it is hard to believe that others walk past them or drive by them or even pause at them, yet do not perceive the power there, the emotion, and do not see the spectral remnants of us there, then, played in a loop for all time. How can they not see that? It’s there.

So – that low wall, on Park Avenue, on a warm night, with nary another soul in sight – “our spot.” But here’s the funny thing, the little kicker to this tale: Those few square feet of wall, and the polished-brass hydrants that stick out from it where our dangling feet rested – that is our shrine, the Mecca of our pilgrimages … and all the time we didn’t know or realize or care that, on that wall, at what would become “our spot,” our backs were turned to that tall building … which happened to be the Mies van der Rohe / Philip Johnson Seagram Building, one of the most significant in all of New York. The water feature and the wide plaza – among the most stunning and influential setbacks in all of New York architecture – should have been the giveaway. And that tall building across the wide, divided Park Avenue, catercorner from us – the one that we would flick a look at from time to time? Gordon Bunshaft’s equally important Lever House. Both buildings great and vital contributors to the Modernist movement, New York’s skyline treasures and the general 20th-century boogie-woogie.

But, you can have them – they can crumble and fall, or get a new skin, or bay windows, or ground-to-roof neon-advertising billboards. So what? In the history of architecture, they have a place. But they are nothing to “our spot.” Mere backdrops to it. When we see them, we see textbooks; when we see “our spot,” we see us. And that’s where true placeness lies.


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From Tiny Acorns

We live in a time of unadornment, and have for many years. New buildings are just boxes, with meager attempts at visual design, such as mirrored windows. For decades, stripped-down, modified Modernist-style has been king, and every industrial park, medical complex and suburban office aggregation is reminiscent – no, identical – to the one you passed just down the road: unfriendly to pedestrians, uncaring of environment, unaware of surroundings, unknowable because there is nothing there to know.

This is no new revelation: the lines of this battle and public assault were drawn long ago; it’s just amazing that the winds of fashion or time or human vagaries and fickleness haven’t blown sand over the old lines and led us to the making of new ones. Like many things now, this, too, is indicative of a slump. Controversial Postmodernism looked, for a while, as if it might enliven the cityscape – and the discussion – even if only in odd ways, but it soon was co-opted and subsumed, and now seems as just an eccentric interlude, a test-run of warped iconography and Chippendale toppings before its predestined use as the architecture of Las Vegas and Disney World.

Beyond the commercial building, the same one-note malaise infects the housing stock. Actually, here in our town, it’s two-note. Here, where the red-brick rowhouse is the lingua franca of house-building, there are, spreading like unimaginative but persistent bacteria, the three-story, bay-windowed, one-car-garaged, part stuccoed, part-bricked, part-stone-face, part-sided, lone dwarf-conifered structure that in the suburbs is called a townhome. In the city, where they are being built in profusion, three or four crammed into lots designed for one or two, the same blueprint used in ex-urban developments is being applied. They don’t fit, they don’t accommodate and they don’t age well. The term “cookie cutter” comes to mind; “boring,” too. Built fast, sold expensive, they are as much extruded as constructed, with lowest-grade materials slapped together by unlicensed, barely-skilled workers hired by fly-by-night, carpet-bagger, self-described “developers.” Exploitation aside, these organisms are – to all those who do not dwell inside them, admiring the granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances – characterless intruders.

The other form of new construction here is the modified Euro-style residential unit – informed by Bauhaus principles, sleek and rectilinear, with worker-housing lines and industrial materials, with a whiff of Scandinavian Utopian-community architecture about them. For a while, they were exciting additions to the neighborhoods: cool and stylish, imported and forward-looking. What wasn’t seen, looking forward, was how soon they would proliferate, and by the hands of fast-buck contractors looking to cash in on a trend, to the point where they have now become, if not ubiquitous, then monotonous, and without their original spark and surprise. What wasn’t seen, either – or what wasn’t cared about, even if seen – was that a mass of them, devised by recipe, would soon look like Soviet-era living spaces, or higher-aesthetic public housing – and which, like new cars rolling off dealers’ lots, look immediately dated, rapidly losing monetary and style-points value.

Odd that we tolerate sameness, save for color or flower-bed choice, with our homes, for it is not as if we are a creature with no interest in external adornment: we sculpt our hair, paint our faces, spend fortunes on clothing and jewelry, all to decorate ourselves, to define a more distinct, beautiful or striking or singular us. (Of course, this is a semi-fallacy, because we cut our hair in popular fashions, cosmeticize and accessorize ourselves to resemble the current hot luminary. We conform in our striving to show our difference, and those who are truly different are shunned or mocked.)

Still, we alter our outsides, even in rote ways – but, when it comes to our houses, all the adornment takes place behind the facades, in the rooms, where only residents can see them – unshared. Are we so estranged from our shelters that we do not see them as extensions of ourselves and, therefore, worthy of extended identity?

We were in New York City recently, and, with some time before our bus home, we strolled up and down the numbered streets, on the Upper East Side, in the 60s and 70s, crisscrossing the easternmost avenues. There are magnificent, real, venerable townhouses lining those streets, and while many are classic brownstones, they come in similar but varied styles and colors. And, every once in a while, we would encounter a house that had been modernized, or had been built new in recent decades where once an older house had been; they stood gleaming and brazen and out of context, attached yet detached – cool, flat statements of an architect. Still, among the houses of these streets, the adornments are primarily inside the homes, not out – you can spy the painting and mouldings, photos and weavings, through gaps in the curtained windows (except in the modernized homes, which have, for the most part, used metal or smoked glass to screen from view any errant peeping).

But what is missing, despite facade variations, despite the modernized materials, is personalization – the truly personal expression: a resonating link between the person inside the house and the house’s public face to the city, to the street, to the passerby, to the human-scale experience  – to the creation of placeness, a statement that is, intentionally or not, art.

So, soon, we nearly ceased to look at the places, each beginning to look like the next or, worse, feeling like the next, or the one across or up the street. And we ceased, too, to be stopped by or drawn to the newish kids on the block, each with a sameness in their often-strained difference.

It was just about then when we saw it. It was a grayish brownstone house, somewhat less regal or commanding or rich-looking than many of its neighbors. But it had a band of something, some design, stretched across its front, just above the first-floor entry door and windows. It seemed like something extra, but nothing special. We almost missed it. But we looked again and saw it: what that perhaps 18-inch-high strip of dark metal had punched out of it was a series of squirrel shapes – a long row of them, as if in a conga line. And, more, we then noticed that atop the newel posts flanking the front stoop were sculptures of, yes, squirrels.

Why? Who knows. But all of it was too expensive, too thought-out, too well-done an act to have been merely a whim. The metal band, the squirrel statues – these meant something to the people inside who designed them or paid for them to be designed and installed. Was it a tribute to the city’s second-most widespread wildlife form in the city? (Perhaps somewhere, maybe in Greenwich Village, there was a similar homage to the pigeon?) Was it a play on someone’s name? Or was it just a work of subtle, friendly, individualistic, idiosyncratic art, symbolic of something or nothing, fashioned to catch the eye of people walking by, and make them stop, and smile, and wonder? We don’t know. And, frankly, we don’t care. It broke up the monotony, it brightened our day, it personalized a city that can drub the spirit of anyone. It was, in its way, a buried acorn, happily discovered when needed.

And we were reminded of the sentiments at the end of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”; that is, if one person does such a thing, they might be considered odd, but if more did it, it could be seen as an organization, and even a movement. Think of it: a movement to break down the divide between dwelling and dweller, and between them and the public at large. A movement to take back design, or alter it, to truly personalize the little shelters we call home. To make the concept of placeness, or arslocii, an operating concept in all our lives. To find our inner squirrel.


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I Walk the Line

For some of us, there is nothing better than looking at the world from a bird’s-eye view, a perspective that hovers above the earth-boundedness that we are born to endure. The preferred height varies with personal taste, but I find that anywhere between ten and thirty feet in the air is a happy place – like being in a tree, only not at the top. There is a feeling of elation, of being removed from the action below but still involved in witnessing it. Maybe it just reflects a desire for distance from societal traditions or norms, staying out of and above it all. Maybe it is the god complex in us.

In terms of height and distance, there is no place that could use such a sense of separation more than New York City. Enter the High Line, a remarkable effort combining infrastructure preservation, green space and landscape architecture to create a public space for strolling, watching and relaxing without encountering a single automobile. The brainchild of two inspired residents of the west Chelsea neighborhood it transects, this abandoned elevated freight-rail structure built in the 1930s became overgrown with reassertive nature, and the instigators and other local residents attached themselves to it as much-needed and -desired park land, weeds and all. After forming a “Friends of” group in 1999, politicking, maneuvering and fundraising, their dream of a magnificent public park was realized about ten years later. The success of its presence has revitalized the neighborhood that the High Line weaves through; a jewel of an elevated greenway that any section of Manhattan would covet, its original length (10th to 20th Streets) is now, in fact, in the process of being extended all the way to 34th Street.

The magnificence of its structure is a given, since even 1930s institutional styling is considered and decorative in a riveted-steel aesthetic – something done well even just for delivering products and goods to the upper floor (2nd and 3rd story) loading docks of factory buildings and warehouses. One of the best things about the High Line is how it zigzags into, through and under buildings, causing a stitching together of the rail line with the local architecture and creating tunnels and interesting spaces in the pierced structures. One, in particular, feels like an old rail station with tinted glass panes all green and yellow and more than a story high on the building’s interior side: a screen between the train and its dock. Another remarkable thing is the number of unique views available to the casual stroller from this perch: the Hudson River, the streets below, the sky so close you might think you are in Montana, up-close building facades, views down onto rooftops exposing all their mechanicals, lovely penthouses above, funky makeshift roof decks, water towers, skylights – it’s all there … well, it’s New York. One of the best sensations, and one not caused by passing traffic, is breezes – breezes off the Hudson, something that is rarely felt in the canyons of the city.

The promenade is a textural place made up of a variety of hard surfaces (terrazzo planks, wood, steel grating, stainless steel, corten steel, glass, gravel, some of the old original rail tracks left in place, metal-wire chain link, perforated metal and sections of railings that resemble train tracks on the vertical) plus a mix of soft but hardy meadow plants and grasses that will grow in with the same wildness that the uninvited ones had done. In its newly finished state, the promenade is a little too perfectly designed, almost like an outdoor mall (but without the shops, thankfully, and they are working on a water feature) but the feeling is that it will grow together in a way that a mall never would, especially with the planks’ fingerlings that merge and intermingle with the planted areas.

The walkways move in and out, funneling and narrowing and then widening to form plazas. There are benches galore, and in some areas there are wide two-person chaises (a few move on rail tracks) that are probably always occupied. At one spot there is stadium seating that faces four large picture windows looking out over 10th Avenue in an inviting theater of the absurd showing you what it is you have left below. This is a boardwalk reconsidered and reconfigured and built with self-sustainability in mind. Its newness and destination-ness (and tourist-ness) is something that will eventually morph into a real part of daily living.

The multiple layers of place taking place here are challenging. There is the place of the structure itself, one that was intentionally built not to overpower the street but rather to cut through the center of the blocks themselves, including buildings – in hindsight, a miraculous and magical solution that works well to this day. And those cuts create places, underbelly places that you would expect to find in a city. In its repurposed design, new physical places are created, as well as the unique viewable places discovered at this happy elevation on a flat island in-filled with mostly monolithic structures. The idea of this project has a placeness, in creating an elevated park in a densely built urban site. It is its own world, new land found and reclaimed within an impossibly already staked-out territory – that in itself has a remarkable placeness. But the real placeness will occur when nature asserts itself, and the hard manmade surfaces aren’t the most significant or overpowering part of the equation – when a balance is reached and some wildness returns. Until then, it would be wonderful if the High Line continued for the entire length of the island. Or even on into other states. And maybe we should see it as a preview of what can be done with all the horrible interstates and their clover leafs when the oil shortage puts an end to the car madness.

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Salinger World

What we’ve written, here, up till now, and probably just about everything we’ll post from this point forward, has to do with places we’ve been in that are real. But, thinking about the death of J.D. Salinger (which we seem to be doing a lot), and of his work’s impact on American literature and readers’ lives, it’s appropriate, we believe, to ponder a special place that we’ve explored frequently over the decades, a place we’ve found ourselves drawn to at times when we need reassurance that there is a good place to be in – a place that is not “real,” but that, in its power of placeness, its emotional completeness, its warm hug and wet foot-kiss of circumstance and its inherent intentional artfulness is as fully real and realized as any place we’ve ever “seen” or been. That is, Salinger’s world, and, more specifically, his New York City.

Salinger’s New York is what made us want to live in the actual one, which we did for a time, until we came to understand that the two weren’t the same. Salinger’s New York was an island full of the grace and elegance to be found in the miraculous commonplace; the actual New York City, although anything can happen there, was not these things. His New York was one where buses full of Comanche Club members could unload into a Central Park that was bright and safe, except for the breaking of a heart; even in its most malevolent, in the darkest Holden Caulfield  moments, it was a benign, odd but seductive oasis. Not just a place, but a place to be and know.

But, whether in New York, or England, or Florida, or on a dinghy by a dock, it wasn’t the place that provided the placeness that was Salinger’s signature and literary bequest: It was the talking people. He created, or distilled from life, people who defined the environment: their presence, and the conjunction of their minds in proximity, and the way they spoke those minds or put up wry, tragic, verbal smokescreens to hide their feelings, built whole worlds that felt like small rooms at land’s end. His is a populace who are grossly insensitive and grossly oversensitive, often at the same time – self-centered people whose centers cannot hold. Except for children – they are precocious, repositories of incisive wisdom, and Paradise lost. And they’ll melt you with their earnestness. Salinger space is the space between: six inches away in the same bed could be an unbridgeable gulf.

We’ve never met anyone named Boo Boo Tannenbaum, but we’ve known some. We’ve never met any family like the Glass crew, but we would like to think that they could and do exist, if only to reinforce the idea that there are, as in Seymour, true saints in the world, and that, as we all slide or are shoved toward a new Dark Age, that there may be those who will not go willingly … or, at least, quietly. And their sarcasm may save us yet.

In the cocoonish place that the art of Salinger constructs around us and his characters, there is the aroma of words in dialogue, spiced with the most perfectly positioned italics in all of post-war writing. Language usually limns character, but Salinger uses it to erect knowable universes. We would recognize Pencey Prep if we came upon it; the Glass family bathroom is as much a place we’ve been in as any we are sitting in right now. Even outdoors, for Salinger, people are in rooms – smoky rooms, usually – where everybody’s wearing an overcoat, too big or too small, of some material no longer acceptable or available. Even blindfolded, we would know we are in Salinger’s world if we could hear the inhabitants speak.

J.D. Salinger’s work is the epitome of arslocii – the rendering of a placeness that, transcending earthbound limitations and expectations, becomes art itself.  We can only hope that, in some New Hampshire safe somewhere, there are a few more novels and stories waiting to be explored, because we could use all the wonderful new places, full of love and squalor, that we can lay our hands on.

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