A Catcher in the Rye

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Контент 18+ Sometimes when I go walking with my dogs in Bliznatsi, Bulgaria, early in the morning, we take a certain route up toward the mountain forest, past fields of still-glistening mud from recent rain and melted snow, and emerge onto a path near one of the many summits; this one seems to diverge in all directions -- and, of course, all roads hint at all possibilities.

For a second or two, I have the same sensation each time. I feel as though I am Alexander the Great (or some such ‘superman’ of the distant past), standing there trying to decide where to go and who to conquer next. Just a momentary self-flattering myth and nothing more, and yet maybe I am not remiss in imagining that such visions were actually what those implacable marauders of bygone ages experienced in their own minds.

The vision is helped by the fact that nobody else is around at such an early hour (6.00), and I have the mountain all to myself -- if you discount the myriad little creatures that string the earth together underfoot and the early adventurer-birds that dance in the trees or make boomeranging formations in the sky. The dawn seems like a vast egg that has been cracked open, spilling out its yolk amid the reddening squawk of many farm-land roosters.

In these brief intervals when there are absolutely no problems to be solved, and no one to quarrel with, be annoyed by, or hate -- I feel ageless. All the frustrated animosity of all the years dissipates, while at the same time the love and light-heartedness, all the passion and enjoyment of life, returns. As those who have newly come to Christ refer to themselves in America, I feel ‘born again.’ Thus the ‘Alexander the Great’ notion of conquest abates, and I am grateful that I feel no need to ‘conquer’ anybody.
One of the things that happens to you when you start to get old is that you begin to relive the past. I guess part of the idea is to try and figure out where you got it right and where you blew it, messed it up, and sent it all to hell. Moreover, given the absolute fact that long-term memory survives the years whereas short-term memory can’t recall the lunch menu, I find myself engaging in these utterly futile conversations that I had with people (usually women) years and years ago. I can remember (or so I imagine) what was said almost word-for-word, the only difference being that now I know what I SHOULD have said. By God!

And I find myself wondering if my whole life would have changed (and thus of course! -- the fate of the world) if I had just said “this” instead of “that”. I wonder. And then I remember that those people (women) told me goodbye fifty years ago. It reminds me of a little dialogue I read once, where a small boy was walking with his grandmother in a cemetery some forty years or so after the end of the American Civil War.

“Why did they have to die?” the little boy asks the grandmother (who remembers those days clearly). She pauses for a minute, then replies “Well, they’d all be dead by now anyway.” I don’t know why, but it struck me that those would be exactly the words many old women, their men long-gone in the meaningless wars, might say to such a question.
I look at my two great dogs, and it occurs to me, as they wag their tails and glance back at me from time to time, that for them the world is a wonderful place. I want them to always think that. Our first dog, Poppendoshka, simply appeared at our door one morning in Moscow seven years ago. She had been abandoned in the dead of winter, and I will never know how she got into the building. Or came all the way upstairs to the top floor, sitting there waiting-- to the complete astonishment of my wife Liuba and me -- when I opened the door to go to work. Maybe there is a God after all.

Casper, the powerful stream-lined Rhodesian Ridgeback Retriever, came later. Poppy is feisty, Casper totally gentle. Cass was born with his testicles locked inside him and needed an operation. Then he was fine. Anyway, both of them share the belief that the world is a good place, and I encourage them in that assessment. So I, who am mostly without faith, nevertheless, try to feed faith in those who still feel it. It seems like the right thing to do.
It puts me in mind of when I came face-to-face with a deer in a forest back in North Carolina. We startled each other, then stood and looked into each other’s eyes. Finally, the deer trotted off, its gorgeous, golden body rippling as it went. It made me wonder how anyone could possibly wish to kill such an animal and call it ‘sport’’. But they do, and at such times I feel like an alien on this planet.

As we walk down the hill toward home and breakfast, here, even in Bliznatsi, one encounters the inevitable monuments and markings of human waste. Beer bottles, plastic water containers, abandoned shoes, rotten tires from who knows what cars or trucks, rags, cigarette butts and wrappers -- the stench of human experience. Undaunted, the simple dogs, beneath the simple flocks of birds, next to the simple saplings that soon will be full-bearded and wild-haired like pagan men and women in the heat of summer, back when the world was younger -- trot by, Casper’s healthy bollocks jostling in all freedom as he bounds along on his beautiful, lithe, mahogany legs...

I want to protect those dogs from evil. I want them to live and die believing that the world is a kind of heaven. And in this way I remember J.D. Salinger’s famous book, in which Holden Caulfield, the rebellious hero, has this vision of himself standing at the edge of a cliff where children are playing in a field of deep rye. The children are innocent and unknowing, and sometimes in their frolics they steer too close to the edge. It is the job of the ‘Catcher’, there to protect them, to grab them and pull them back when they teeter too near the brink.
He is The Catcher in the Rye.

That’s me with my dogs as we pass through the garbage that offends even such a placid, sun-sprinkled, and heaven-blessed place as the one I’m in. I am here to save them from the abyss as best I can, to keep them from getting loose and straying into the roads where uncaring death coils and lurks in wait, its jaws dripping with anticipation.

===Eric Richard Leroy===

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