A Perfect Day for Hermit Crabs

Two days ago I drove past a store which has been an anchor of the neighborhood I live in for the last two decades. A sign on the door said that the proprietor, Greg Klaus, had died and the future of his store was unknown. It was a shocking revelation; I had bought a birthday present for my son there last month, and Greg was there puttering around his nice collection of eccentricities: Totoro stuffed animals, locally made cards and bags, peculiar tchotckes that embraced cuteness and darkness in the same package. And, upon doing the requisite Google search, I discovered that Greg had commit suicide. That he died as a man in his prime was shock enough, but suicide is always so jarring. And then Salinger died, and I re-read "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." In it, Seymour Glass's wife is assuring her mother on the phone that Seymour is not dangerous, that his nervous breakdown isn't making him erratic. Meanwhile, Seymour is on the beach, talking with his most ardent admirer, Sybil Carpenter, a child with whom he clearly has an excellent rapport. He spins enchantingly surreal images for the girl, just the sort of tales that make a child love someone, about the elusive Bananafish, whose own insatiable appetite for bananas not only gives it its name, but brings on its demise.

And in a tender moment, Seymour kisses the arch on the girls foot, saying they're done for the day.

"Goodbye," said Sybil, and ran without regret in the direction of the hotel.

Seymour walks back to his hotel room, has a terse, bizarre conversation with a hotel guest, and then blows his brains out on the bed next to his sleeping wife.

It is shocking. It is jarring. The complete ease with which Seymour converses with the child but the unease with which he communicates with the hotel guest expose the fractures that have surfaced in Seymour, presumably brought on by his unmentioned experiences in World War II. Seymour is capable of kindness and frivolity, but even within that is the seed of his tragic inner being: the Bananafish must, by its very nature, bring on its own end.

I read that Greg Klaus was similarly tortured. No one but those closest to him knew what lived within, but his family was not surprised when he took his life. And Greg, filling his store with appealing hand-picked objects which embraced both his approachability and edginess, like ashtrays imprinted with cute children smoking cigarettes, hinted at a dark sensibility that would end badly.

Salinger's ability to capture the dichotomy of Seymour's appealing sensitivity and the unease with which Seymour lives within the world couldn't be a better synthesis of the future that lurks beneath those trapped in the snare of their own anguish. Salinger didn't die as Seymour or Greg did, by his own hand, but I imagine that to go to where Seymour went, he must have embraced the dark as well. Perhaps now Salinger can finally rest.