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; PRADA lace dress, $1,590 on; Atelier Mayer velvet and fur dusky blush coat, $735 on; men’s 18kt gold watch at; tea cup, $18 on; Arteriors Sherwood Brass Glass Accent Table, $440 at; Ambrose Tufted Leather Chair, $400 at; Nicholas Kirkwood Rodarte corroded brass pumps, $1,880 on; Lanvin large wood and pearl necklace, $1,415 on; Burberry “Supernova” plaid belt, $260 on

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

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

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

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?”