My adventures answering J.D. Salinger’s mail

Joanna Smith Rakoff in Slate:

100201_CB_CatcherTN On my first day of work at Harold Ober Associates—one of New York's oldest and most storied literary agencies—I was shown the enormous, outmoded IBM Selectric on which I would type letters for my boss, the clunky Dictaphone that would provide me with the content of those letters, and the vast metal cabinets in which I would file all correspondence with authors. I was then escorted into the dimly lit corner office occupied by Phyllis Westberg, the company's president, whom I would be assisting.

“Sit down, sit down,” said Phyllis. “We need,” she said, as I arranged myself in the chair across from her large wooden desk, “to talk about Jerry.” I nodded in an attempt to mask the fact that I had no idea what she was talking about. This was 1996, and the first “Jerry” to come to mind was Seinfeld. It was only later, when I noticed a wall of books opposite my new desk—all with plain spines, in maroon, yellow, and white—that I realized the Jerry in question was Jerome David Salinger.

“Now, his address and his phone number are in the Rolodex on your desk,” Phyllis explained. “People are going to call and ask for his number. You think it won't happen, but it will.” She paused to light another cigarette. “Grad students. Reporters. Just … people. They may try to trick you or manipulate you. They may give you some song-and-dance routine.” She laughed a throaty laugh, then fixed me sharply in her pale blue eyes. “But you can never, ever give out that address. Or that phone number. NEVER. OK?”

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