STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me. But I don't feel like going into it if you want to know the truth.
ARI SHAPIRO, Host:
Those are some of the opening words of "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger. Of course, the reluctant young narrator does go into his story after all. The author of that classic has died at age 91.
And this morning we'll hear one more story about Salinger himself and the time he became a reluctant host.
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INSKEEP: It was first broadcast in 2007 as part of our series StoryCorps, which we hear each Friday. Jim Krawczyk grew up as a Salinger fan, and in the late 1960s he traveled to Salinger's home in New Hampshire, hoping to meet the famously reclusive writer.
JIM KRAWCZYK: I don't really recall a town or anything. It was like a building that was like the post office, the gas station and the general store, all wrapped into one. So, I went inside and I told them, I says, you know, my name's Jim Krawczyk. I'm from Wisconsin. I was wondering if you could tell me where J.D. Salinger lives. He says, oh, you're never going to see him. Even the delivery boy doesn't see him. He leaves the groceries in the garage and picks up the money in an envelope.
I goes, whoa, you know, I come a long way to meet this guy. So, I talk to a retired schoolteacher. She gave me direction further. Now, this is so far back into the mountains that it was a dirt road. Amazingly, I didn't get lost. So, I'm driving along and coming up on this house and I looked and it's his house.
I had a biography of him that described where he lived and everything. I goes, wow, I can't believe it. It's just like the book said. You know, it's really neat. I wasn't afraid, you know, like bashful or anything like that. I thought I'm going to be cool about it.
So, I parked the car and went up, knocked on the door. And this woman came out and it was his wife. And I says, hello, my name's Jim Krawczyk and I said I'm wondering if I could meet your husband. And she goes, anything he says, he says in his books. She slammed the door. I goes, whoa, I come a long way. Wow, this is something.
So, I turned around and started to go down the steps and she opened the door again. And she come out to the porch and she says, him and I are divorced and he lives across the road. So, I went down the road. I pulled in his driveway and I knocked on the door. He had a screen that was like a copper mesh, and I really couldn't see in and I'm straining to see him and everything.
And just then a crack of thunder came so loud it felt like it was just above my head. And it started to rain. He came to the door. He says you better come inside. You know, I goes, whoa. He didn't sit down or anything. He didn't offer me, you know, you want a cup of coffee or something or nothing. You know, I'm just, what do you want. And so I told him who I was.
And I asked him if he'd ever been in Wisconsin. And he said, yeah. He says he was there some time during the war. I asked, did you think "The Catcher in the Rye" would be such a popular book. And I don't remember exactly what he said, but I think it was it's been a nightmare. And why a nightmare, I don't know. Maybe because he gets so much fan mail or I don't know what.
And I really wanted to ask him, can I see where you work? But I didn't want to be one of his phonies that he writes about. You know, so I kind of held back, you know. And I says, well, okay. Thank you very much. I shook his hand and that was it.
This is somebody that nobody meets, nobody gets to see him, and I was in his kitchen. And I thought, man, this is the best vacation I ever had.
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INSKEEP: Nothing phony about Jim Krawczyk speaking at StoryCorps in Milwaukee.
This story from 2007, like all the others in the StoryCorps project, is archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. And you can subscribe to the StoryCorps Podcast at NPR.org.
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INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.