Saturday, January 16, 2010

Shirt cardboards

1) From "Franny and Zooey," by J.D. Salinger, (1961)

"With his face in his hands and his handkerchief headgear drooping low over his brow, Zooey sat at Seymour's old desk, inert, but not asleep, for a good twenty minutes. Then, almost in one movement, he removed the support for his face, picked up his cigar, stowed it in his mouth, opened the left-hand bottom drawer of the desk, and took out, using both hands, a seven- or eight-inch-stack of what appeared to be — and were — shirt cardboards. He placed the stack before him on the desk and began to turn the cards over, two or three at a time. His hand stayed only once, really, and then quite briefly.

"The cardboard that he stopped at had been written on in February, 1938. The handwriting, in blue-lead pencil, was his brother Seymour's:

"My twenty-first birthday. Presents, presents, presents. Zooey and the baby, as usual, shopped lower Broadway. They gave me a fine supply of itching powder and a box of three stink bombs. I'm to drop the bombs in the elevator at Columbia or 'someplace very crowded' whenever I get a good chance.

"Several acts of vaudeville tonight for my entertainment. Les and Bessie did a lovely soft-shoe on sand swiped by Boo-Boo from the urn in the lobby. When they were finished, B. and Boo-Boo did a pretty funny imitation of them. Les nearly in tears. The baby sang 'Abdul Abulbul Amir.' Z. did the Will Mahoney exit Les taught him, ran smack into the bookcase and was furious. The twins did B.'s and my old Buck & Bubbles imitation. But to perfection. Marvellous. In the middle of it, the doorman called up on the housephone and asked if anybody was dancing up there. A Mr. Seligman on the fourth—

"There Zooey quit reading. He gave the stack of cardboards a solid-sounding double tap on the desk surface, as one taps a deck of cards, then dropped the stack back into the bottom drawer and closed the drawer."

2) From "The Puttermesser Papers," by Cynthia Ozick, (1997)

"Puttermesser went on studying. In law school they called her a grind, a competitive-compulsive, an egomaniac out for aggrandizement. But ego was no part of it; she was looking solve something, she did not know what. At the back of the linen closet she found a stack of her father's old shirt cardboards (her mother was provident, stingy: in kitchen drawers Puttermesser still discovered folded squares of used ancient waxed paper, million-creased into whiteness, cheese-smelling, nesting small unidentifiable wormlets); so behind the riser pipe in the bathroom Puttermesser kept weeks' worth of Sunday Times crossword puzzles stapled to these laundry boards and worked them indiscriminately. She played chess against herself, and was always victor over the color she had decided to identify with. She organized tort cases on index cards. It was not that she intended to remember everything: situation—it was her tendency to call intellectual problems 'situation' —slipped into her mind like butter into a bottle."

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