Be more like J.D. Salinger, an exemplary role model, who never wore pyjamas in public

The death of reclusive author J.D. Salinger, which coincided last week with the ban placed on shoppers who want to visit a Tesco supermarket while wearing pyjamas, raises an important philosophical issue, namely, “Should I bother to get dressed and go out, or just hang around the house? Or, wait, maybe there’s a third way.”

Sal: The greatest interview Larry King never didSalinger’s allegedly hermetic existence in the New Hampshire backwoods was considered inexplicable in our modern age. How could the man call himself a writer if he didn’t appear on the Oprah program, where everyone could see him looking all writerly-like? He Twittered not, neither did he maintain a Facebook page. While other estimable authors, such as the one-time radio traffic-reporter Dini Petty, might be out charming consumers at the Chapters store on Howe Street in Vancouver, Salinger kept well out of the limelight, leading to longstanding rumors that he might be some kind of crank, or dead, or some kind of dead crank.

Other contemporary novelists appropriated the legendary Salinger reticence for their own material. W.P. Kinsella, in his book “Shoeless Joe” did a pretty good job of explaining J.D., or at least an invented version of J.D., to readers, which was something Salinger himself would never dream of doing. Between the time Kinsella’s book was filmed as “Field of Dreams” in 1989, and the time Salinger died, the fictional movie Salinger (played by James Earl Jones, in an out-of-character role) was the only one an entire generation might have been expected to know.

The characters and themes in the Salinger literary canon won’t make much sense to today’s yout’, although that’s not at all what the obituaries are saying. One clueless scribbler, assigned by his editor at Canada’s National Post to find references to Sal in contemporary culture, came back with some truly gut-busting examples (see here). But the baby boomers who suffered, like me, the ancient indignity of having to pretend to read actual books in their high school English classes still seem to have a soft spot for Sal’s “Catcher in the Rye.” That could only be because Holden Caulfield, the novel’s protagonist, was more accessible than the trash-talkers in the rest of the assigned reading — especially Chaucer, that douche-bag.

Nothing is going to mark you as over-the-hill faster than raising the matter of reading, unless you’re talking about reading on the forthcoming Apple iPad, which, we’re told, is something everyone will want to do. Seriously? I’m looking over at the corner of my desk that contains all the expensive technological dust-magnets I never seem to use anymore — my Dell Axim X50v personal digital assistant with wi-fi and Bluetooth, my flyblown old Hewlett Packard 660LX palmtop computer with quaint dial-up modem, other gadgets now worth less than the effort it would take to dispose of them on E-bay – and I’m thinking that I don’t need to scuttle out in my pyjamas to buy an Apple iPad, even if Steve Jobs says it’s a great idea.

I’m certainly not going to be shopping pyjama-clad at the Tesco’s in Cardiff, Wales, where the manager last week explained to the press: “We request that customers do not shop in their PJs or nightgowns… We have listened to customer feedback that it makes them uncomfortable and embarrassed.” Can’t imagine why they’d feel that way. I’ve witnessed increasing incidents involving groups of women – and it always seems to be women – hanging around the public areas of business-class hotels in the US, nonchalantly chatting while eating breakfast in their PJs. I can’t say it makes me uncomfortable or embarrassed, but it does make me remember the name of the hotel, so that I can stay anywhere else next time.

The peculiar practice of wearing sleepwear in public during daylight hours was noted in a 2005 soft-news article picked up by a US wire service. Five years later, it’s a full-blown trend. In Shanghai, the authorities consider it more than a fashion faux-pas, and are keen on curtailing all outdoor activities of the pyjama-clad. A report says the Chinese government regards it as a “loss of face.”

They concur over at Illinois State University, where undergraduates in the marketing and education streams are advised against showing up for lectures in their PJs. And so, all the great educational, social and mercantile institutions of our age seem to be of one mind on the matter of inappropriate dress: They consider it inappropriate. I fully expect other organizations, such as the funeral home operators association, and the United Nations, to weigh in on the subject, issuing edicts advising you not to dress like a babe-in-swathing if you have expectations of being regarded as an emotionally hygienic adult.

Take a tip: Be like J.D. Salinger. Don’t be seen in public wearing your pyjamas. And if you find that instruction overly restricting in any way, why not try being even more like J.D. Salinger, and never be seen at all?

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