How I (Sort of) Met J.D. Salinger in 1974

I'd never thought to brag about it before. Bragging was for phonies, and The Catcher in the Rye was embarrassing enough for an Andover guy like me, since the Andover snob in the book was maybe the phoniest guy in the whole thing. But it's a true story so I guess I'd better tell it. I actually met the hyperreclusive J. D. Salinger, sort of. At Andover in the fall of 1974.

But first you need the context, so here's what J. D. Salinger wrote in The Catcher in the Rye about my old alma mater:

I didn't think I had a "tired, snobby voice," though truth to tell, my hair was so long I was mistaken sometimes for a girl. The New York bar part is familiar. In those days, the early 1970s, the drinking age was 18. I was 16, a month away from turning 17, on the morning I want to tell you about. We didn't tell our parents, of course, but that meant we could sneak into bars, no problem, even if my fake ID made me look like I was 14. In the spring, the seniors got to drink at The Andover Inn.

I wasn't a bastard. I sure wished someone would have called me one once in a while. But I wasn't. I wasn't a douchebag either (we had that word by then), at least I didn't think I was. And I sure as hell didn't talk about the Lunts, who would have been my grandparents' age. My friends and I knew plenty of preppies with their topsiders and no socks—even they wouldn't wear checkered vests—and like every teenager we were with Holden all the way. Just because he trashed Andover didn't mean we didn't love Holden.

Andover wasn't Pencey Prep, as Holden knew. It may have been a stuck-up school in Holden's day, but it was a good school now and a fun coed school and we had figured out a way to make it even more fun. Our secret was The Phillipian, the student newspaper, which came out weekly. You could say that working on the school paper was for nerds, but we loved it for a lot of reasons. One of them was that on Wednesday nights when we were putting out the paper, we could stay in the newspaper offices in the basement of Evans Hall all night if we needed to. With girls. Special privilege. Deadlines, you know.

So on the first day of school, 1974, three or four of us set up a table to sell subscriptions to all of the parents dropping off their kids for the semester. We told the "rents," as we called them, that they needed to stay abreast of what was going on at Andover. Your son's name is what? Hunter? New kid, right? Some of these little preps were 14. Never been away from home. Parents usually divorced. The least they could do was buy a subscription to the Phillipian to keep track of the little pothead. At the end of the day we had a stack of maybe 50 subscription cards with the names and addresses of the parents.

One of them said: "J. D. Salinger," with an address in Cornish, N.H. This was some kind of joke, right? But then one of our intrepid reporters learned that Salinger's son, Matt, was a new kid at Andover. After what Salinger wrote in the novel he still sent his kid here. Cool.

That meant Salinger had been at the Phillipian table! Someone went to the library to try to get a picture of him but this was years before that old-man shot you sometimes see. All they had at the library was that same book jacket photo he used from when he was a young guy, not an Andover parent.

We wracked our brains. Was it that man around 11 a.m.? Nah. How about the dad in the sweater? S--t no! We'd met the great J. D. Salinger and didn't even know it.