"Hunger is good discipline." -Ernest Hemingway
Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.
I could say a lot of things about J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, but as one of the most noteworthy American books of the 20th century, anything I could add would wash away in the tides of the Sea of Analysis and Ocean of Commentary, evaporating in the ebb and flow only to be re-condensed the next time a storm of attention showers down upon the novel. If, like me, The Catcher in the Rye was left off of every English class syllabus you ever encountered and you’ve made it to this point in your life without reading the book that played a role in John Lennon’s death, you can choose one of the two videos below to get yourself up to speed. (I’m giving you options in case you think one of the guys is too big of a phony or something.)
While I found myself smiling at the angst Holden feels as he finds himself on the cusp of adulthood, I didn’t read The Catcher in the Rye at the right time in my life (nor probably the right moment in history) to feel like Holden “got” me. Luckily though, in his poem “Marginalia,” former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins has already poignantly captured the impact that Holden had on his young readers during what I imagine to be the novel’s prime.
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.
Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.
Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.
Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.
And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.
We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.
Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page–
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.
And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.
Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page
a few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil–
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet–
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”
(Listen to Collins read his poem here.)
I’m a very light eater. I really am. That’s why I’m so damn skinny. I was supposed to be on this diet where you eat a lot of starches and crap, to gain weight and all, but I didn’t ever do it. When I’m out somewhere, I generally just eat a Swiss cheese sandwich and a malted milk. It isn’t much, but you get quite a lot of vitamins in the malted milk. H.V. Caulfield. Holden Vitamin Caulfield.
Since Holden Caulfield’s favorite meal has already been captured in photographic form in Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried, I wanted to change things up a bit. I decided to play a little Culinary Cupid, if you will, and merge H.V.’s go-to meal with that eaten by the girl in “Marginalia.” Given that this recipe is for a girl, I really don’t think Holden would mind.
I was half in love with her by the time we sat down. That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.
This is a straightforward, no frills egg salad sandwich – on rye bread, of course – with mayonnaise, mustard, pickle, salt and pepper. I didn’t see a reason to make it fancy, given that Holden probably would’ve thought it too phony, and I don’t imagine a girl eating egg salad while reading The Catcher in the Rye would have eaten anything fancier than her mother’s recipe.
Sparks fly here when you add cubes of Swiss cheese straight to the egg salad mixture. The flavor is subtle and the difference is mostly textural, but you’re left saying “There’s something special about this egg salad.” I also added a little nutmeg for good measure. It pairs with Swiss cheese like nobody’s business.
I could keep going, telling you how grand this egg salad is and why you should make it, but Holden’s got me thinking twice before I act too phony. Really, while it is some of the best egg salad I’ve ever tasted, it’s still just egg salad and I don’t see any reason to try to convince you otherwise. People who do that stuff kill me.
Grand. There’s a word I really hate. It’s a phony. I could puke every time I hear it.
One of my favorite things about this recipe is that it’s so customizable. The measurements below are suggestions, and you can adjust them to your liking. Make sure you remove the yolks from the whites, and add the chopped whites at the end of the mixing process. It makes a noticeably positive difference in texture, I promise.
Pair this sandwich with “The Last Day of the Last Furlough” and “This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise,” two short stories published in 1944 and 1945, respectively, in both of which Vincent Caulfield reveals that his 20 year old brother Holden has gone Missing in Action.
2 slices Rye bread, toasted
2 eggs, hard-boiled
2-3 oz. Swiss cheese, cubed
1 – 2 T mayonnaise
1-2 tsp. yellow mustard
1-2 tsp. sweet pickle relish
1/8 – 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil eggs. While cooling, cut Swiss cheese into cubes and set aside.
Peel eggs. Place yolks in a medium bowl and set egg whites aside. Mash yolks with a fork.
Add mayonnaise, mustard, and relish to mashed egg yolks. Mix well.
Chop egg whites into cubes and add to yolks. Stir in Swiss cheese cubes.
Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste.
Toast your bread, spread on some extra mayonnaise if desired, and fill bread with egg salad.
Garnish with crisp lettuce, cut in half, and enjoy.