Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Meetings with Remarkable Men

During the summer when I first read The Catcher in the Rye I used to write daily letters to my friend Sarah Wank. I was thirteen or fourteen at the time, and I spent much of my summer hanging around with the composition students who were at Tanglewood. I lived around there in the summer, and I used to particularly enjoy the new music concerts that were part of the Fromm Festival. The composers were creative, energetic, social, and interesting, and they were the kind of people I wanted to be when I grew up. That summer Peter Maxwell Davies was the composer in residence, and a lot of the composition fellows were British. They used to hang out by the "cafeteria" area where there were large tables on which they could work on their large scores. The composers seemed to like me because I was always interested in what they were working on.

Well, one day I was holding a letter for my friend Sarah, and Oliver Knussen, who was a student at the time, caught a glimpse of it and started laughing. I asked him what he was laughing about, and he mentioned that my friend's name was Wank. I had known Sarah since I was six years old, and her name never caused anyone to laugh before. When I asked him what "Wank" meant, his answer was that it meant "autoerotic." I was rather innocent, and I still didn't get it. Just to let Sarah, who was equally innocent, know, I did write the "definition" of the word on the outside of the envelope before putting it into the mailbox.

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