Monday, September 25, 2006

Banned in Poth Texas

My first and favorite banned book was Catcher in the Rye. I was a Freshman at Madison West High School struggling to deal with acne, terminal shyness and a budding awareness of something not quite right with my parent's marriage. For my 14th birthday my Mother, who was no doubt worried about me, wrote that she hoped "love, honesty and considerations for others" would be my guides in life. Yeah right.

Back then I felt I had quite a bit in common with Catcher's flawed antihero Holden Caulfield. I saw most other people as phoneys, an attitude that went hand in hand with getting in trouble with authority. Here was a paradox. Was I in trouble because of my attitude or was my attitude a rational response to my situation viz people who had me over a barrel?

It took me awhile to get my head on straight. There were the predictable bouts with depression, self defeating behavior and morbid romanticism. It was much like the adolescent narrative of Holden's life. No wonder I loved Catcher. Holden was like a voice in my head when he said
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.
Trouble is, it's hard to pay your bills while standing on the edge of some crazy cliff.

Unlike Holden I didn't get kicked out of school though I surely deserved it at times. I went to a nice liberal arts college in Northfield Minnesota where the only major industry was the Malt O Meal factory and the air downtown always smelled a bit like a bowl of cereal. I even got into law school and graduated, just barely. Though by that time I was decidedly over educated I felt no more ready for the adult world than I was at 14.

I sort of fell into things passively, eventually finding myself representing poor people in South Texas. I plied my trade in places like Poth Texas, a dying little railroad town in the Scrub Brush Country Southeast of San Antonio. Poth's long decline started when the new highway bypassed it and the trains stopped coming.

In Poth I once represented a single Mom who was being evicted from public housing because her little boy was such a hellion. The Justice of the Peace who heard the case was a prim woman with lots of bible verses framed and hanging on the walls of her office which also served as a makeshift courtroom. I went through my usual spiel about the strict rules governing public housing evictions and how the apartment manager had it in for my client and couldn't be believed. The little boy sat quietly next to his mom the whole time. I got the feeling I wasn't making much progress with my canned arguments. But at least the kid was being well behaved. It must have been excrutiatingly boring to have to sit still through all this serious talk. I was starting to bore myself. Then for some reason it occurred to me to ask the Judge "Has Your Honor ever read Catcher in the Rye?"

She shook her head no. The look on her face told me she had no idea what I was talking about. It was the same look she gave me as I went on and on about public housing regulations.

"Well Your Honor, it's about a young man who's only real desire in life is to wait and watch over children as they play, making sure they are safe and catching them when they fall. Because some children do fall and they need someone to help them up. And we're not just talking about a fall off a swingset here. Sometimes a child is in danger of falling from grace. Your Honor has the opportunity today to be a Catcher in the Rye for this little boy."

It was probably a good thing the Judge had never heard of Catcher. I doubt she would have been swayed in my client's favor had she had known I was invoking ideas from a banned book in her courtroom.


Winston said...

Great stuff. I just read Catcher in the Rye myself. My only story about it when I first read it. I went backpacking to the Guadalupe Mtns in West Texas with a friend of mine. We both planned the trip carefully, and we told each other we would each bring a book, and when we finished it, we could exchange them.
We hiked, camped, explored the Guadalupes, including an overnight camp on Guadalupe Peak, tallest in the New Philippines.
And throughout the entire trip, we marveled that each of us had brought only one book, and that the name of both of them was "Catcher in the Rye."

pineapple said...

The Pineapple Dad gave me his copy Catcher in the Rye to read when I was in junior high (to be returned without any damage to the pristine spine). He told me, "This is a good book, besides it has the word "fuck" in it."

paul bain martin said...

Enjoyed "Banned in Poth ..." and comments!! Thanks for letting me be in your company! pablo