For Emily – with Love and Squalor

As I’m sure you know, J.D. Salinger, that incomparable recluse, favored among many, America’s forever reluctant genius, died on January 27, 2010 at the age of 91. Enough already has been written, clearly, and I do not think that I could say what I would want to say, nor as well as he deserves, without time, to reflect and reread.

I will say this, however: After the immediate grief I felt upon hearing the news, I had a wave of extreme excitement, because I hoped/knew that we’d finally get more stories to read, and then I worried whether extreme excitement isn’t perhaps an inappropriate emotion in the wake of someone’s death.

Cover, 1960

But maybe that reaction is matched to the kind of writer he was and to the kind of stories he wrote: those of grief and meaningful losses, shot through with uncomfortable, anticipatory thrills.

One of my favorite Salinger stories has always been “For Esmé — with Love and Squalor” and Esmé always seemed like such a smart, free-thinking, free-wheeling, stand-up dame. The narrator calls her forehead “exquisite,” her eyes “blasé,” and her voice “the sweetest-sounding, the surest, and it automatically led the way.” He fancies her a “truth-lover” and “small-talk detester.”

"I thought Americans despised tea."

Anyone can tell the first time reading that she grew up to be Katherine Hepburn in every movie ever with Spencer Tracy; that woman with the witty, intelligent, intriguing things to say and the “enviable poise”; one of those mad femmes who wear their awkward or odd features, wet hair or quick-bit nails, as well as their well-tailored wardrobe. She is privileged but tragic, like the female Batman.

And anyway, she’s just one of my favorite literary heroines of all time, a definite contender guest for that hypothetical, ideal dinner party. You just know she’d bring a fabulous bottle.

"I'm going to sing jazz on the radio and make heaps of money. Then, when I'm thirty, I shall retire and live on a ranch in Ohio... Do you know Ohio?"

And only the day before that old man’s passing, my old friend Emily1 had left this message on Quick, said the bird’s facebook wall: “I love the unabashed love of sumptuous fur!”

So I was thinking about Emily and then I was thinking fondly of Esmé, and thinking then that maybe the two were similar in certain ways. They aren’t quite perfect matches but they’re both strong of mind and of will, and both say what they think to charming but slightly shocking effect.

"My first name is Esme. I don't think I shall tell you my full name, for the moment. I have a title and you may just be impressed by titles. Americans are, you know."

Emily is a talented writer and thanks to her I’ve got some good stories in my own arsenal. For example: When we were still in high school, Emily (and our friend Nadia) came along with my family and me to LA and Palm Springs for spring break. At an open mic at some coffee house dive in the desert, Emily sang the Cars’ “Just What I Needed,” told everyone there that she was the love child of Gene Simmons, and shot out her tongue like a banner to prove it.

That same trip, she charmed the big black bouncer at the Viper Room in LA, over 6 feet tall and 300 lbs. if he was an inch and an ounce, and swathed in head-to-toe purple. He ended up writing us a note2 to give to the bouncer at the Whiskey-a-go-go and bouncer #2 let us in to the sold-out show for free.

Another story is that in college I visited her parents’ home in Oxford, Miss and we snuck onto Faulker’s property, even though it was closed for renovations, and smoked cigarettes on his porch.3 I imagined that literary hero doing the same in the same spot and almost died.

"My mother was quite a passionate woman. She was an extrovert. Father was an introvert. They were quite well mated, though, in a superficial way. To be quite candid, Father really needed more of an intellectual companion than Mother was. He was an extremely gifted genius."

Anyway, this post is for Emily, and Esmé, and Salinger: It is Esme’s grown-up wardrobe. Full of fur and better than you. With love.4

"I'd be extremely flattered if you'd write a story exclusively for me sometime. I'm an avid reader. It doesn't have to be terribly prolific! Just so that it isn't childish and silly. I prefer stories about squalor."

Outfit #1: Betsey Johnson Dot Dot Dot drop earrings, $41 on zappos.com; PRADA lace dress, $1,590 on yoox.com; Atelier Mayer velvet and fur dusky blush coat, $735 on atelier-mayer.com; men’s 18kt gold watch at j2trading.com; tea cup, $18 on amazon.com; Arteriors Sherwood Brass Glass Accent Table, $440 at laylagrayce.com; Ambrose Tufted Leather Chair, $400 at homedecorators.com; Nicholas Kirkwood Rodarte corroded brass pumps, $1,880 on luisaviaroma.com; Lanvin large wood and pearl necklace, $1,415 on luisaviaroma.com; Burberry “Supernova” plaid belt, $260 on overstock.com.

Outfit #2: Birds of a Feather Clip, $35 on modcloth.com; Christopher Kane Midnight print tank dress, $265 on net-a-porter.com; Pantelleria snake earrings, $315 on mytheresa.com; Just Cavalli Amuletto Cornetto Nero Necklace, $260 on zappos.com; Burberry Tartan check cotton scarf, $350 on net-a-porter.com; Alice in Wonderland White Rabbit Pocket Watch, $27 at loveheartsandcrosses.co.uk; Missoni knit hat, $97 $59 on matchesfashion.com; Silver Dragon Pewter Goblet at tudorshoppe.com; Sondra Roberts satin flower clutch, $99 on sondraroberts.com; Alkemie + Owl Mask Cuff, $190 at econsciousmarket.com; Jeffrey Campbell combat boots, $185 on lorisshoes.com; Burberry Prorsum Fox fur jacket, $7,795 on brownsfashion.com.
Outfit #3: Coyote fur vest, $1,060 on mytheresa.com; Emporio Armani men’s watch, $295 on emporioarmani.com; Rhinestone & Lace Bib Necklace, $495 at saksfifthavenue.com; Firetrap tartan dress, $125 on oli.co.uk; Valentino lace heels,  $6,045 on colette.fr; Willow Spray Silk Flowers, $375 on insideavenue.com; Rebecca Minkoff ‘Nikki’ Handbag; Upholstered Dining Beaumont Parsons Chair, on homedecorators.com; moleskine sketch book.

Outfit #4: Bottega Veneta fur jacket, $5,760 $2,870 on matchesfashion.com; Marmèn spider pin, $340 on luisaviaroma.com; Avanessi One Love bracelet, $225 on shoprumor.com;  Roberto Cavalli printed silk-chiffon blouse, $1,095 on net-a-porter.com; ASOS two-tone metal boyfriend style watch, $31 at asos.com; hexagonal stone drop, narra wood earrings, $510 on lindestore.com; Steve Madden Tayla purple suede heels, $100 $80 at heels.com; Alexander McQueen spike ring, $180 on zappos.com; Curved Ori Skirt, $455 at lagarconne.com; Series 5 designer spiral notebooks, $8 at urbanoutfitters.com; Rocio shell and wood clutch, $780 at luisaviaroma.com.

Outfit #5: Love Is All You Need Interplanet Wings tank, $87 at maruione.jp; Opening Ceremony Faux Fur Coat, $755 at brownsfashion.com; daisy umbrella, $28 on amazon.com; Jeffrey Campbell All Stud Combat Boot in black, $275 on singer22.com; 1887 steel/ivory watch, $545 on coggles.com; Diane von Furstenberg “Paulita” ruffled mini skirt, $475 on net-a-porter.com; black tea cup from badgerandblade.com; Rainy day in Paris large tote bag, $30 at artistgifts.com.

1. Let me be clear that Emily is NOT old. She’s young. Like us. I’ve just known her a really long time.
2. The note read, simply, “Gino, Let my friends in. -Ed.” I think Emily still has the note. I have physical possession of the poem that was written for Emily, Nadia, and myself at the party we were invited to after the Gene Simmons Incident. True stories, all of these.
3. Sorry Mom.
4. “Are you at all acquainted with squalor?”

9 thoughts on “For Emily – with Love and Squalor

  1. I love this, and I love YOU! You’re totally making my day — probably my week. AND, by totally awesome (possibly cosmic?) coincidence, I’ve been trying to write a short story based on that week in Palm Desert. (I started writing it Feb. 1 — are we psychically in tune, or what?) (Also, I forgot that Ed wore purple!) Part of the frame of the story is that rule we decided to follow whenever we got lost in the car — when we would say to each other, “You were right, you were right, I was wrong.” Remember that? Also that beautiful house where we stayed & how we fixed margaritas under your parents’ noses without them noticing, by acting like deer in the headlights. (sorry to your Mom is she is reading this!) So many amazing memories! That story is going to be for YOU. (And I’m not laying claim to it — we should both write one!) Miss you, my dearest.

  2. Okay, this is going to be my last comment, but I have to say something about the clothes. The first scene is probs my favorite — I’ve been wanting a dress like that for years, and I once had a coat from a thrift store vaguely resembling that one. And the Caillebotte print tote down a little further? Perfect for Esme.

  3. Wow I think I’m in love with all three of you, Nicole, Emily and Esme, and I most certainly wish I’d known you in those awkward days where in Maine all you could do was climb out the bathroom window and sneak away to the mall and walk around like a zombie wondering if anyone else could feel the blood sucking of a town square built around blatant consumerism.

    Incidentally I had the exact same response to Salinger’s death. I felt shame after the excitement, and decided that if this is all he left us, then it is a lifetime’s worth to learn from.

    Today I’m going to start reading Esme again, it’s been too many years.

  4. Just to make you feel better Emily, I thought I’d add a second comment:

    Hey Nicole, will you be the costume designer for the Folk Opera when/if we ever get it on a proper stage? I love how well you adapt characters into their proper attire.

  5. I feel compelled to confess that I have never read “For Esmé,” but this article was beautiful and beautifully written! Esmé seems like the kind of woman I’ve always secretly wanted to be…

    Nicole, I would love it if you’d be willing to go thrift/vintage store shopping with me sometime. You have such a good eye for colors and textures! Everything on this page is simply STUNNING!

    xo

  6. Thanks for the great feedback friends! Annie, that would have been so epic if we knew you in high school. If it makes you feel any better though, she and i weren’t in the same city for most of high school cuz I know Emily from WAY back in my Portland (NOT Maine) days.
    Oh, and Emily? I’m pretty sure my parents knew.

  7. That was a good trip. I haven’t thought about the shockingly diminutive Gino and purple swathed Ed in quite a while. To date that is the only Rolls Royce I’ve ridden in. And I still think of Emily’s tongue every time I hear “Just what I needed.” I’ll have to read For Esme now.

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