Friday, January 29, 2010

Shining your shoes for the Fat Lady

This isn't the first time I've had cause to consider the uses of literature in thinking about how to live one's life and manage one's nasty moments. But when I saw this morning that J.D. Salinger had died, I gave a bit of thought to what I might have learned from him, and this bit from near the end of Franny and Zooey is what came to mind. All my adult life I've been spared the tortures of stage fright, and having read this at sixteen is one of the reasons why.

The voice at the other end came through again. 'I remember about the fifth time I ever went on "Wise Child". I subbed for Walt a few times when he was in a cast -- remember when he was in that cast? -- anyway, I started bitching one night before the broadcast. Seymour'd told me to shine my shoes just as I was going out the door with Waker. I was furious. The studio audience were all morons, the announcer was a moron, the sponsors were morons, and I just damn well wasn't going to shine my shoes for them, I told Seymour. I said they couldn't see them anyway, where we sat. He said to shine them anyway. He said to shine them for the Fat Lady. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but he had a very Seymour look on his face, and so I did it. He never did tell me who the Fat Lady was, but I shined my shoes for the Fat Lady every time I ever went on the air again ...

This terribly clear, clear picture of the Fat Lady formed in my mind. I had her sitting on this porch all day, swatting flies, with her radio going full-blast from morning till night. I figured the heat was terrible, and she probably had cancer, and -- I don't know. Anyway, it seemed goddamned clear why Seymour wanted me to shine my shoes when I went on the air. It made sense.'

Franny was standing. She had taken her hand away from her face to hold the phone with two hands. 'He told me, too,' she said into the phone. 'He told me to be funny for the Fat Lady, once ... I didn't ever picture her on the porch, but with very -- you know -- very thick legs, very veiny. I had her in an awful wicker chair. She had cancer too, though, and she had the radio going full-blast all day! Mine did, too!'

'Yes ... But I'll tell you a terrible secret -- Are you listening to me? There isn't anyone out there who isn't Seymour's Fat Lady.'

13 comments:

shawjonathan said...

Thanks very much for that. I've had Franny and Zoey next to my bed for a re-read for about six months now. It just moved to the top of the pile.

Ann ODyne said...

a gift of Franny & Zooey in 1969 was my discovery of JDS and I am now worried that HarveyWeinstein will somehow film what he previously could not, and god help us it will be Robert 'The Fang' Pattinson as Holden or I'm Liz Taylor.
Bwca, Boggart & Brownie Inc. has always had a link to Dead Caulfields and is too overcome to post sensibly, but That's So Pants also has a literate and articulate take on it.

As you have, this dear friend has also taken a learning experience from literature and her resultant mantra is, justifiably
'No more zombies Joe'.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

I get my more succinct life lessons from the movies or the teeve. At least once a day I say to myself either 'Let it go, Indy' or 'Suck it up, Fleischman'. On bad days I say both. Sucking it up and letting it go at the same time requires very steady nerves, I can tell you.

Ampersand Duck said...

Thank you.

My one big reason for any kind of longevity has long been that I'd still like to be able to read when/if Salinger's last books are published. If he has, as is rumoured, a 50-year embargo upon publishing after his death, I may just scrape in, if I'm lucky.

I love Franny & Zoe. I had a very unhappy love affair in the early 90s and the only good thing to come out of it was a complete set of Salinger (including a very early New Yorker short story that introduces Seymour) that the bastard left at my place & I never returned.

Frances said...

I am wondering whether this is how JDS saw his readers: all fat ladies.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Frances, I'm sure you're right and it's unfortunate that when you put it like that it will sound to some contemporary readers like contempt, whereas obviously for Salinger the opposite is true. I'm fairly sure that fat-hate as we now know it in its full toxicity wasn't around back then, so I doubt whether the connotations would have been the same. I've always thought Phillip Adams's Gladdies were invented in much the same benign spirit as Seymour's Fat Lady, and thanks to Salinger it is the Gladdies / Fat Ladies, of all sizes, ages and genders, for whom I do my own best when obliged to put on any kind of public performance.

No one will believe this, but the word verification is 'munchi'.

Ann ODyne said...

History 101 -
in past decades 'fat ladies' might be rich snobby social types, and concurrently 'poor people' were skinny. ref: old movies.

These days the opposite is the case of course.
munchi !

R.H. said...

In The Three Stooges comedies fat ladies are always rich, and haughty.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Whatever else Seymour's Fat Lady may or may not be, I'm pretty sure she's poor.

R.H. said...

That may well be true. Meanwhile Radicals of early last century personified 'Fat' as a bloated, prosperous, well-dressed Capitalist man, wearing a top hat and smoking a cigar.
But he only featured in papers like the Tribune, and the mainstream of course never read them.

Nigel said...

Rather embarrassingly I only read The Catcher in the Rye very recently. Now it seems I need to invest in Franny and Mae. Though I am neither fat nor a lady - is that a problem, do you think?

Nigel said...

I meant 'Franny and Zoey' obviously. Or is it 'Zooey'? It seems interchangeable. Woops alround.

Meredith Jones said...

Thanks for this Kerryn. I know how popular Salinger's works are, and yet I'm surprised at how much they mean to other people... I've always thought they were just mine, somehow. I suppose that's their power... to make everyone feel they were written just for them.