'Red Line, Downtown L.A.,'
Alan Stewart Carl

The Truth About Salinger

At the exit to the Dupont Circle Metro, escalators strain up and up and up a mountainous ascent until finally piercing into the sun. It takes a full two-and-a-half minutes to ride. Laura was at the minute-and-fifteen-seconds mark when she saw him.

There’s no better vantage to people watch than from the up side of an escalator, gazing at those going down, revealing in their faces, their postures the truths so carefully hidden during the rest of their lives. Here, from boredom or from relief that, for these two-and-a-half-minutes, nothing is expected of them but to stand—here they are themselves.
That’s how she knew it was him. She was no scholar, no author—her life measured out in the paper shuffle of education law, stale words, sour days no artist could sweeten, not even the man she saw now.

J.D. Salinger. It was him she knew not just because his face glowed daily from her monitor—that 1998 photo, grayed, bespectacled, distinguished and weathered in all the ways he once looked pinched and slick—it was him she knew because, on the down escalator, even this great secret of a man could not resist relaxing and revealing himself.

Laura reached for her satchel, the tattered copy of The Catcher in the Rye tucked into the side, a charm, a burden. She’d first read it during a fit of literary gorging, sucking down classics one after another while secluded in a studio apartment thirty stories over First Avenue. Law school, New York, the fiancé she’d told to fuck off, all of it fell away as the Great Works tumbled into bone piles, consumed, stripped of their truth, the marrow of revelation sucked into her soul. What glory then. The world full of themes and meanings and plots and (oh, how great it was) conclusions.

When she emerged from the feast, body thinner but mind heavy, one book refused to digest, the words gurgling up, spilling out upon each new moment, seeping into each new step. Graduating law school, landing the D.C. job, the hip condo surrounded by everyone else’s hip life—all this Catcher colored, darkened, made phony.

And there, slipping down out of sight, was the Author, the man become muse, tormentor, whom she had researched and read and dreamed of in a fantasy hope of knowing. Of peeling away and pulling out the Truth of his thoughts—the reason for her thoughts.

She spun around, running down the up escalator, pushing past others as if it were they who were crazed. Jumping the turnstile, barreling down another flight and then, in a moment that would flash through her mind for years to come, she watched as the train pulled from the station, leaving her breathless and shaking. Her chance, her release, her salvation lost in a blur of white hair speeding away.