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Has this ever happened to you?

You’re listening to the television or a radio program and an announcer starts talking about a famous person and you say, “I thought s/he was dead!” And then you’re confused and a little bit embarrassed because how could you have possibly come to that conclusion? I mean, obviously, if the announcer is talking about this celebrity in regards to a current event (and the current event is not an obituary), the celebrity you thought was dead is actually very much alive.

This scenario happened to me last week. Stephen Colbert discussed author J.D. Salinger’s recent lawsuit against an author who had written a book using one of Salinger’s characters. Upon this announcement, I said, “I thought Salinger was dead.” Stephen Colbert being Stephen Colbert, I thought perhaps he was joking, especially when he issued Salinger a challenge. Salinger is known for being a recluse, so Colbert challenged the author to appear on his show. Right. He’s going to get a dead guy to show up.

Well, dead people can’t sue other people (although their estates can), so that should have been my clue, but I didn’t do any research on Salinger’s possible demise right away. A couple more things occurred first.

For one, a friend of mine sent me the Twitter quiz, “Which Crazy Writer Are You?” My result? J.D. Salinger. How appropriate. (Can I really be all that reclusive if I have a blog?)

Second, I relayed Colbert’s story about Salinger’s lawsuit to the same friend and she said, “Isn’t he dead?” (That’s what you get when you become a total recluse. No one thinks you’re still alive.)

It was definitely time for some online research. According to Wikipedia, J.D. Salinger, who is best known for “The Catcher in the Rye,” published in 1951, was born January 1, 1919, and, significantly, there is no death date given. Further down on the page, Salinger’s current lawsuit (June 2009) is discussed, so Colbert wasn’t joking about this. According to Salinger.org, the ruling in Salinger’s current lawsuit appears to have been made in his favor on July 1, 2009.

Given Salinger’s date of birth, this year he turned ninety years old – two years younger than my grandmother.

Now, then, allow me to wipe the egg off my face.

(I’m really hoping Colbert can wrangle an interview out of Mr. Salinger. I’m not holding my breath, though.)