“The Boy in the People Shooting Hat”

December 8: On this day in 1980 Mark David Chapman murdered John Lennon outside his New York City apartment building. After shooting Lennon, Chapman sat down on the sidewalk to wait for the police, and to read The Catcher in the Rye, the inside cover of his copy inscribed, “This is my statement. Holden Caulfield.” Chapman’s previous few days were made to parallel Holden’s – a lonely wandering through the streets of New York, an unconsummated encounter with a prostitute (who arrived as Holden’s did in a green dress), and talks with strangers about where the ducks go in winter. As his pre-sentencing statement, Chapman read in court that passage from the text which begins, “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all….”

The cleavage of men into actor and spectators is the central fact of our time. We are obsessed with heroes who live for us and whom we punish…

-from Lords and New Creatures, a posthumously published book of poems and musings by Jim Morrison, born on this day in 1943

James Thurber was born on this day – or rather, as his preface to The Thurber Carnival reminds us, this “night of wild portent and high wind in the year 1894, at 147 Parsons Avenue, Columbus, Ohio”:

The house, which is still standing, bears no tablet or plaque of any description, and is never pointed out to visitors. Once Thurber’s mother, walking past the place with an old lady from Fostoria, Ohio, said to her, “My son James was born in that house,” to which the old lady, who was extremely deaf, replied, “Why, on the Tuesday morning train, unless my sister is worse.” Mrs. Thurber let it go at that.

Although they did not have much to do with each other at The New Yorker, both Thurber and Salinger figure prominently in the memoirs of the magazine’s mid-century heyday. Ben Yagoda’s About Town notes that, for all his success at the magazine, Salinger often had his work rejected there. One 1948 story which editor Gus Lombrano returned as “pretty shocking for a magazine like ours” was titled, “The Boy in the People Shooting Hat.” It concerned events that Salinger eventually included in the early chapters of The Catcher in the Rye, such as this moment in the simmering violence between Stradlater and Holden:

“Up home we wear a hat like that to shoot deer in, for Chrissake,” he said. “That’s a deer shooting hat.”

“Like hell it is.” I took it off and looked at it. I sort of closed one eye, like I was taking aim at it. “This is a people shooting hat,” I said. “I shoot people in this hat.”

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.