فصل 14 - 17کتاب: ناطور دشت / فصل 4
فصل 14 - 17
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After Old Sunny was gone, I sat in the chair for a while and smoked a couple of cigarettes. It was getting daylight outside. Boy, I felt miserable. I felt so depressed, you can’t imagine. What I did, I started talking, sort of out loud, to Allie. I do that sometimes when I get very depressed. I keep telling him to go home and get his bike and meet me in front of Bobby Fallon’s house. Bobby Fallon used to live quite near us in Maine–this is, years ago. Anyway, what happened was, one day Bobby and I were going over to Lake Sedebego on our bikes. We were going to take our lunches and all, and our BB guns–we were kids and all, and we thought we could shoot something with our BB guns. Anyway, Allie heard us talking about it, and he wanted to go, and I wouldn’t let him. I told him he was a child. So once in a while, now, when I get very depressed, I keep saying to him, “Okay. Go home and get your bike and meet me in front of Bobby’s house. Hurry up.” Itwasn’t that I didn’t use to take him with me when I went somewhere. I did. But that one day, I didn’t. He didn’t get sore about it–he never got sore about anything– but I keep thinking about it anyway, when I get very depressed.
Finally, though, I got undressed and got in bed. I felt like praying or something, when I was in bed, but I couldn’t do it. I can’t always pray when I feel like it. In the first place, I’m sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don’t care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible. Take the Disciples, for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth. They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while He was alive, they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head. All they did was keep letting Him down. I like almost anybody in the Bible better than the Disciples. If you want to know the truth, the guy I like best in the Bible, next to Jesus, was that lunatic and all, that lived in the tombs and kept cutting himself with stones. I like him ten times as much as the Disciples, that poor bastard. I used to get in quite a few arguments about it, when I was at Whooton School, with this boy that lived down the corridor, Arthur Childs. Old Childs was a Quaker and all, and he read the Bible all the time. He was a very nice kid, and I liked him, but I could never see eye to eye with him on a lot of stuff in the Bible, especially the Disciples. He kept telling me if I didn’t like the Disciples, then I didn’t like Jesus and all. He said that because Jesus picked the Disciples, you were supposed to like them. I said I knew He picked them, but that He picked them at random.
I said He didn’t have time to go around analyzing everybody. I said I wasn’t blaming Jesus or anything. It wasn’t His fault that He didn’t have any time. I remember I asked old Childs if he thought Judas, the one that betrayed Jesus and all, went to Hell after he committed suicide. Childs said certainly. That’s exactly where I disagreed with him. I said I’d bet a thousand bucks that Jesus never sent old Judas to Hell. I still would, too, if I had a thousand bucks. I think any one of the Disciples would’ve sent him to Hell and alland fast, too–but I’ll bet anything Jesus didn’t do it. Old Childs said the trouble with me was that I didn’t go to church or anything. He was right about that, in a way. I don’t. In the first place, my parents are different religions, and all the children in our family are atheists. If you want to know the truth, I can’t even stand ministers. The ones they’ve had at every school I’ve gone to, they all have these Holy Joe voices when they start giving their sermons. God, I hate that. I don’t see why the hell they can’t talk in their natural voice. They sound so phony when they talk.
Anyway, when I was in bed, I couldn’t pray worth a damn. Every time I got started, I kept picturing old Sunny calling me a crumb-bum. Finally, I sat up in bed and smoked another cigarette. It tasted lousy. I must’ve smoked around two packs since I left Pencey.
All of a sudden, while I was laying there smoking, somebody knocked on the door. I kept hoping it wasn’t my door they were knocking on, but I knew damn well it was. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew. I knew who it was, too. I’m psychic.
“Who’s there?” I said. I was pretty scared. I’m very yellow about those things.
They just knocked again, though. Louder.
Finally I got out of bed, with just my pajamas on, and opened the door. I didn’t even have to turn the light on in the room, because it was already daylight. Old Sunny and Maurice, the pimpy elevator guy, were standing there.
“What’s the matter? Wuddaya want?” I said. Boy, my voice was shaking like hell.”Nothin’ much,” old Maurice said. “Just five bucks.” He did all the talking for the two of them. Old Sunny just stood there next to him, with her mouth open and all.
“I paid her already. I gave her five bucks. Ask her,” I said. Boy, was my voice shaking.
“It’s ten bucks, chief. I tole ya that. Ten bucks for a throw, fifteen bucks till noon.
I tole ya that.”
“You did not tell me that. You said five bucks a throw. You said fifteen bucks till noon, all right, but I distinctly heard you–”
“Open up, chief.”
“What for?” I said. God, my old heart was damn near beating me out of the room.
I wished I was dressed at least. It’s terrible to be just in your pajamas when something like that happens.
“Let’s go, chief,” old Maurice said. Then he gave me a big shove with his crumby hand. I damn near fell over on my can–he was a huge sonuvabit@h. The next thing I knew, he and old Sunny were both in the room. They acted like they owned the damn place. Old Sunny sat down on the window sill. Old Maurice sat down in the big chair and loosened his collar and all–he was wearing this elevator operator’s uniform. Boy, was I nervous.
“All right, chief, let’s have it. I gotta get back to work.”
“I told you about ten times, I don’t owe you a cent. I already gave her the five–”
“Cut the crap, now. Let’s have it.”
“Why should I give her another five bucks?” I said. My voice was cracking all over the place. “You’re trying to chisel me.”
Old Maurice unbuttoned his whole uniform coat. All he had on underneath was a phony shirt collar, but no shirt or anything. He had a big fat hairy stomach. “Nobody’s tryna chisel nobody,” he said. “Let’s have it, chief.”
When I said that, he got up from his chair and started walking towards me and all.
He looked like he was very, very tired or very, very bored. God, was I scared. I sort of had my arms folded, I remember. It wouldn’t have been so bad, I don’t think, if I hadn’t had just my goddam pajamas on.
“Let’s have it, chief.” He came right up to where I was standing. That’s all he could say. “Let’s have it, chief.” He was a real moron.
“Chief, you’re gonna force me inna roughin’ ya up a little bit. I don’t wanna do it, but that’s the way it looks,” he said. “You owe us five bucks.”
“I don’t owe you five bucks,” I said. “If you rough me up, I’ll yell like hell. I’ll wake up everybody in the hotel. The police and all.” My voice was shaking like a bastard.
“Go ahead. Yell your goddam head off. Fine,” old Maurice said. “Want your parents to know you spent the night with a whore? High-class kid like you?” He was pretty sharp, in his crumby way. He really was.
“Leave me alone. If you’d said ten, it’d be different. But you distinctly–”
“Are ya gonna let us have it?” He had me right up against the damn door. He was almost standing on top of me, his crumby old hairy stomach and all.
“Leave me alone. Get the hell out of my room,” I said. I still had my arms folded and all. God, what a jerk I was.Then Sunny said something for the first time. “Hey, Maurice. Want me to get his wallet?” she said. “It’s right on the wutchamacallit.”
“Yeah, get it.”
“Leave my wallet alone!”
“I awreddy got it,” Sunny said. She waved five bucks at me. “See? All I’m takin’ is the five you owe me. I’m no crook.”
All of a sudden I started to cry. I’d give anything if I hadn’t, but I did. “No, you’re no crooks,” I said. “You’re just stealing five–”
“Shut up,” old Maurice said, and gave me a shove.
“Leave him alone, hey,” Sunny said. “C’mon, hey. We got the dough he owes us.
Let’s go. C’mon, hey.”
“I’m comin’,” old Maurice said. But he didn’t.
“I mean it, Maurice, hey. Leave him alone.”
“Who’s hurtin’ anybody?” he said, innocent as hell. Then what he did, he snapped his finger very hard on my pajamas. I won’t tell you where he snapped it, but it hurt like hell. I told him he was a goddam dirty moron. “What’s that?” he said. He put his hand behind his ear, like a deaf guy. “What’s that? What am I?”
I was still sort of crying. I was so damn mad and nervous and all. “You’re a dirty moron,” I said. “You’re a stupid chiseling moron, and in about two years you’ll be one of those scraggy guys that come up to you on the street and ask for a dime for coffee. You’ll have snot all over your dirty filthy overcoat, and you’ll be–”
Then he smacked me. I didn’t even try to get out of the way or duck or anything.
All I felt was this terrific punch in my stomach.
I wasn’t knocked out or anything, though, because I remember looking up from the floor and seeing them both go out the door and shut it. Then I stayed on the floor a fairly long time, sort of the way I did with Stradlater. Only, this time I thought I was dying. I really did. I thought I was drowning or something. The trouble was, I could hardly breathe. When I did finally get up, I had to walk to the bathroom all doubled up and holding onto my stomach and all.
But I’m crazy. I swear to God I am. About halfway to the bathroom, I sort of started pretending I had a bullet in my guts. Old ‘Maurice had plugged me. Now I was on the way to the bathroom to get a good shot of bourbon or something to steady my nerves and help me really go into action. I pictured myself coming out of the goddam bathroom, dressed and all, with my automatic in my pocket, and staggering around a little bit. Then I’d walk downstairs, instead of using the elevator. I’d hold onto the banister and all, with this blood trickling out of the side of my mouth a little at a time. What I’d do, I’d walk down a few floors–holding onto my guts, blood leaking all over the place– and then I’d ring the elevator bell. As soon as old Maurice opened the doors, he’d see me with the automatic in my hand and he’d start screaming at me, in this very high-pitched, yellowbelly voice, to leave him alone. But I’d plug him anyway. Six shots right through his fat hairy belly. Then I’d throw my automatic down the elevator shaft–after I’d wiped off all the finger prints and all. Then I’d crawl back to my room and call up Jane and have her come over and bandage up my guts. I pictured her holding a cigarette for me to smoke while I was bleeding and all.
The goddam movies. They can ruin you. I’m not kidding.I stayed in the bathroom for about an hour, taking a bath and all. Then I got back in bed. It took me quite a while to get to sleep–I wasn’t even tired–but finally I did. What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window. I probably would’ve done it, too, if I’d been sure somebody’d cover me up as soon as I landed. I didn’t want a bunch of stupid rubbernecks looking at me when I was all gory.
I didn’t sleep too long, because I think it was only around ten o’clock when I woke up. I felt pretty hungry as soon as I had a cigarette. The last time I’d eaten was those two hamburgers I had with Brossard and Ackley when we went in to Agerstown to the movies. That was a long time ago. It seemed like fifty years ago. The phone was right next to me, and I started to call down and have them send up some breakfast, but I was sort of afraid they might send it up with old Maurice. If you think I was dying to see him again, you’re crazy. So I just laid around in bed for a while and smoked another cigarette.
I thought of giving old Jane a buzz, to see if she was home yet and all, but I wasn’t in the mood.
What I did do, I gave old Sally Hayes a buzz. She went to Mary A. Woodruff, and I knew she was home because I’d had this letter from her a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t too crazy about her, but I’d known her for years. I used to think she was quite intelligent, in my stupidity. The reason I did was because she knew quite a lot about the theater and plays and literature and all that stuff. If somebody knows quite a lot about those things, it takes you quite a while to find out whether they’re really stupid or not. It took me years to find it out, in old Sally’s case. I think I’d have found it out a lot sooner if we hadn’t necked so damn much. My big trouble is, I always sort of think whoever I’m necking is a pretty intelligent person. It hasn’t got a goddam thing to do with it, but I keep thinking it anyway.
Anyway, I gave her a buzz. First the maid answered. Then her father. Then she got on. “Sally?” I said.
“Yes–who is this?” she said. She was quite a little phony. I’d already told her father who it was.
“Holden Caulfield. How are ya?”
“Holden! I’m fine! How are you?”
“Swell. Listen. How are ya, anyway? I mean how’s school?”
“Fine,” she said. “I mean–you know.”
“Swell. Well, listen. I was wondering if you were busy today. It’s Sunday, but there’s always one or two matinees going on Sunday. Benefits and that stuff. Would you care to go?”
“I’d love to. Grand.”
Grand. If there’s one word I hate, it’s grand. It’s so phony. For a second, I was tempted to tell her to forget about the matinee. But we chewed the fat for a while. That is, she chewed it. You couldn’t get a word in edgewise. First she told me about some Harvard guy– it probably was a freshman, but she didn’t say, naturally–that was rushing hell out of her. Calling her up night and day. Night and day–that killed me. Then she told me about some other guy, some West Point cadet, that was cutting his throat over her too.Big deal. I told her to meet me under the clock at the Biltmore at two o’clock, and not to be late, because the show probably started at two-thirty. She was always late. Then I hung up. She gave me a pain in the ass, but she was very good-looking.
After I made the date with old Sally, I got out of bed and got dressed and packed my bag. I took a look out the window before I left the room, though, to see how all the perverts were doing, but they all had their shades down. They were the heighth of modesty in the morning. Then I went down in the elevator and checked out. I didn’t see old Maurice around anywhere. I didn’t break my neck looking for him, naturally, the bastard.
I got a cab outside the hotel, but I didn’t have the faintest damn idea where I was going. I had no place to go. It was only Sunday, and I couldn’t go home till Wednesdayor Tuesday the soonest. And I certainly didn’t feel like going to another hotel and getting my brains beat out. So what I did, I told the driver to take me to Grand Central Station. It was right near the Biltmore, where I was meeting Sally later, and I figured what I’d do, I’d check my bags in one of those strong boxes that they give you a key to, then get some breakfast. I was sort of hungry. While I was in the cab, I took out my wallet and sort of counted my money. I don’t remember exactly what I had left, but it was no fortune or anything. I’d spent a king’s ransom in about two lousy weeks. I really had. I’m a goddam spendthrift at heart. What I don’t spend, I lose. Half the time I sort of even forget to pick up my change, at restaurants and night clubs and all. It drives my parents crazy. You can’t blame them. My father’s quite wealthy, though. I don’t know how much he makes–he’s never discussed that stuff with me–but I imagine quite a lot. He’s a corporation lawyer.
Those boys really haul it in. Another reason I know he’s quite well off, he’s always investing money in shows on Broadway. They always flop, though, and it drives my mother crazy when he does it. She hasn’t felt too healthy since my brother Allie died.
She’s very nervous. That’s another reason why I hated like hell for her to know I got the ax again.
After I put my bags in one of those strong boxes at the station, I went into this little sandwich bar and bad breakfast. I had quite a large breakfast, for me–orange juice, bacon and eggs, toast and coffee. Usually I just drink some orange juice. I’m a very light eater. I really am. That’s why I’m so damn skinny. I was supposed to be on this diet where you eat a lot of starches and crap, to gain weight and all, but I didn’t ever do it. When I’m out somewhere, I generally just eat a Swiss cheese sandwich and a malted milk. It isn’t much, but you get quite a lot of vitamins in the malted milk. H. V. Caulfield. Holden Vitamin Caulfield.
While I was eating my eggs, these two nuns with suitcases and all–I guessed they were moving to another convent or something and were waiting for a train–came in and sat down next to me at the counter. They didn’t seem to know what the hell to do with their suitcases, so I gave them a hand. They were these very inexpensive-looking suitcases–the ones that aren’t genuine leather or anything. It isn’t important, I know, but I hate it when somebody has cheap suitcases. It sounds terrible to say it, but I can even get to hate somebody, just looking at them, if they have cheap suitcases with them.
Something happened once. For a while when I was at Elkton Hills, I roomed with this boy, di@k Slagle, that had these very inexpensive suitcases. He used to keep them under the bed, instead of on the rack, so that nobody’d see them standing next to mine. It depressed holy hell out of me, and I kept wanting to throw mine out or something, oreven trade with him. Mine came from Mark Cross, and they were genuine cowhide and all that crap, and I guess they cost quite a pretty penny. But it was a funny thing. Here’s what happened. What I did, I finally put my suitcases under my bed, instead of on the rack, so that old Slagle wouldn’t get a goddam inferiority complex about it. But here’s what he did. The day after I put mine under my bed, he took them out and put them back on the rack. The reason he did it, it took me a while to find out, was because he wanted people to think my bags were his. He really did. He was a very funny guy, that way. He was always saying snotty things about them, my suitcases, for instance. He kept saying they were too new and bourgeois. That was his favorite goddam word. He read it somewhere or heard it somewhere. Everything I had was bourgeois as hell. Even my fountain pen was bourgeois. He borrowed it off me all the time, but it was bourgeois anyway. We only roomed together about two months. Then we both asked to be moved.
And the funny thing was, I sort of missed him after we moved, because he had a helluva good sense of humor and we had a lot of fun sometimes. I wouldn’t be surprised if he missed me, too. At first he only used to be kidding when he called my stuff bourgeois, and I didn’t give a damn–it was sort of funny, in fact. Then, after a while, you could tell he wasn’t kidding any more. The thing is, it’s really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs–if yours are really good ones and theirs aren’t.
You think if they’re intelligent and all, the other person, and have a good sense of humor, that they don’t give a damn whose suitcases are better, but they do. They really do. It’s one of the reasons why I roomed with a stupid bastard like Stradlater. At least his suitcases were as good as mine.
Anyway, these two nuns were sitting next to me, and we sort of struck up a conversation. The one right next to me had one of those straw baskets that you see nuns and Salvation Army babes collecting dough with around Christmas time. You see them standing on corners, especially on Fifth Avenue, in front of the big department stores and all. Anyway, the one next to me dropped hers on the floor and I reached down and picked it up for her. I asked her if she was out collecting money for charity and all. She said no.
She said she couldn’t get it in her suitcase when she was packing it and she was just carrying it. She had a pretty nice smile when she looked at you. She had a big nose, and she had on those glasses with sort of iron rims that aren’t too attractive, but she had a helluva kind face. “I thought if you were taking up a collection,” I told her, “I could make a small contribution. You could keep the money for when you do take up a collection.”
“Oh, how very kind of you,” she said, and the other one, her friend, looked over at me. The other one was reading a little black book while she drank her coffee. It looked like a Bible, but it was too skinny. It was a Bible-type book, though. All the two of them were eating for breakfast was toast and coffee. That depressed me. I hate it if I’m eating bacon and eggs or something and somebody else is only eating toast and coffee.
They let me give them ten bucks as a contribution. They kept asking me if I was sure I could afford it and all. I told them I had quite a bit of money with me, but they didn’t seem to believe me. They took it, though, finally. The both of them kept thanking me so much it was embarrassing. I swung the conversation around to general topics and asked them where they were going. They said they were schoolteachers and that they’d just come from Chicago and that they were going to start teaching at some convent on 168th Street or 186th Street or one of those streets way the hell uptown. The one next to me, with the iron glasses, said she taught English and her friend taught history andAmerican government. Then I started wondering like a bastard what the one sitting next to me, that taught English, thought about, being a nun and all, when she read certain books for English. Books not necessarily with a lot of s@xy stuff in them, but books with lovers and all in them. Take old Eustacia Vye, in The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. She wasn’t too s@xy or anything, but even so you can’t help wondering what a nun maybe thinks about when she reads about old Eustacia. I didn’t say anything, though, naturally. All I said was English was my best subject.
“Oh, really? Oh, I’m so glad!” the one with the glasses, that taught English, said.
“What have you read this year? I’d be very interested to know.” She was really nice.
“Well, most of the time we were on the Anglo-Saxons. Beowulf, and old Grendel, and Lord Randal My Son, and all those things. But we had to read outside books for extra credit once in a while. I read The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, and Romeo and Juliet and Julius–”
“Oh, Romeo and Juliet! Lovely! Didn’t you just love it?” She certainly didn’t sound much like a nun.
“Yes. I did. I liked it a lot. There were a few things I didn’t like about it, but it was quite moving, on the whole.”
“What didn’t you like about it? Can you remember?” To tell you the truth, it was sort of embarrassing, in a way, to be talking about Romeo and Juliet with her. I mean that play gets pretty s@xy in some parts, and she was a nun and all, but she asked me, so I discussed it with her for a while. “Well, I’m not too crazy about Romeo and Juliet,” I said.
“I mean I like them, but–I don’t know. They get pretty annoying sometimes. I mean I felt much sorrier when old Mercutio got killed than when Romeo and Juliet did. The think is, I never liked Romeo too much after Mercutio gets stabbed by that other man–Juliet’s cousin–what’s his name?”
“That’s right. Tybalt,” I said–I always forget that guy’s name. “It was Romeo’s fault. I mean I liked him the best in the play, old Mercutio. I don’t know. All those Montagues and Capulets, they’re all right–especially Juliet–but Mercutio, he was–it’s hard to explain. He was very smart and entertaining and all. The thing is, it drives me crazy if somebody gets killed– especially somebody very smart and entertaining and alland it’s somebody else’s fault. Romeo and Juliet, at least it was their own fault.”
“What school do you go to?” she asked me. She probably wanted to get off the subject of Romeo and Juliet.
I told her Pencey, and she’d heard of it. She said it was a very good school. I let it pass, though. Then the other one, the one that taught history and government, said they’d better be running along. I took their check off them, but they wouldn’t let me pay it. The one with the glasses made me give it back to her.
“You’ve been more than generous,” she said. “You’re a very sweet boy.” She certainly was nice. She reminded me a little bit of old Ernest Morrow’s mother, the one I met on the train. When she smiled, mostly. “We’ve enjoyed talking to you so much,” she said.
I said I’d enjoyed talking to them a lot, too. I meant it, too. I’d have enjoyed it even more though, I think, if I hadn’t been sort of afraid, the whole time I was talking to them, that they’d all of a sudden try to find out if I was a Catholic. Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re a Catholic. It happens to me a lot, I know, partly because mylast name is Irish, and most people of Irish descent are Catholics. As a matter of fact, my father was a Catholic once. He quit, though, when he married my mother. But Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re a Catholic even if they don’t know your last name. I knew this one Catholic boy, Louis Shaney, when I was at the Whooton School. He was the first boy I ever met there. He and I were sitting in the first two chairs outside the goddam infirmary, the day school opened, waiting for our physicals, and we sort of struck up this conversation about tennis. He was quite interested in tennis, and so was I.
He told me he went to the Nationals at Forest Hills every summer, and I told him I did too, and then we talked about certain hot-shot tennis players for quite a while. He knew quite a lot about tennis, for a kid his age. He really did. Then, after a while, right in the middle of the goddam conversation, he asked me, “Did you happen to notice where the Catholic church is in town, by any chance?” The thing was, you could tell by the way he asked me that he was trying to find out if I was a Catholic. He really was. Not that he was prejudiced or anything, but he just wanted to know. He was enjoying the conversation about tennis and all, but you could tell he would’ve enjoyed it more if I was a Catholic and all. That kind of stuff drives me crazy. I’m not saying it ruined our conversation or anything–it didn’t–but it sure as hell didn’t do it any good. That’s why I was glad those two nuns didn’t ask me if I was a Catholic. It wouldn’t have spoiled the conversation if they had, but it would’ve been different, probably. I’m not saying I blame Catholics. I don’t. I’d be the same way, probably, if I was a Catholic. It’s just like those suitcases I was telling you about, in a way. All I’m saying is that it’s no good for a nice conversation.
That’s all I’m saying.
When they got up to go, the two nuns, I did something very stupid and
embarrassing. I was smoking a cigarette, and when I stood up to say good-by to them, by mistake I blew some smoke in their face. I didn’t mean to, but I did it. I apologized like a madman, and they were very polite and nice about it, but it was very embarrassing anyway.
After they left, I started getting sorry that I’d only given them ten bucks for their collection. But the thing was, I’d made that date to go to a matinee with old Sally Hayes, and I needed to keep some dough for the tickets and stuff. I was sorry anyway, though.
Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.
After I had my breakfast, it was only around noon, and I wasn’t meeting old Sally till two o’clock, so I started taking this long walk. I couldn’t stop thinking about those two nuns. I kept thinking about that beatup old straw basket they went around collecting money with when they weren’t teaching school. I kept trying to picture my mother or somebody, or my aunt, or Sally Hayes’s crazy mother, standing outside some department store and collecting dough for poor people in a beat-up old straw basket. It was hard to picture. Not so much my mother, but those other two. My aunt’s pretty charitable–she does a lot of Red Cross work and all–but she’s very well-dressed and all, and when she does anything charitable she’s always very well-dressed and has lipstick on and all that crap. I couldn’t picture her doing anything for charity if she had to wear black clothes and no lipstick while she was doing it. And old Sally Hayes’s mother. Jesus Christ. The onlyway she could go around with a basket collecting dough would be if everybody kissed her ass for her when they made a contribution. If they just dropped their dough in her basket, then walked away without saying anything to her, ignoring her and all, she’d quit in about an hour. She’d get bored. She’d hand in her basket and then go someplace swanky for lunch. That’s what I liked about those nuns. You could tell, for one thing, that they never went anywhere swanky for lunch. It made me so damn sad when I thought about it, their never going anywhere swanky for lunch or anything. I knew it wasn’t too important, but it made me sad anyway.
I started walking over toward Broadway, just for the hell of it, because I hadn’t been over there in years. Besides, I wanted to find a record store that was open on Sunday. There was this record I wanted to get for Phoebe, called “Little Shirley Beans.”
It was a very hard record to get. It was about a little kid that wouldn’t go out of the house because two of her front teeth were out and she was ashamed to. I heard it at Pencey. A boy that lived on the next floor had it, and I tried to buy it off him because I knew it would knock old Phoebe out, but he wouldn’t sell it. It was a very old, terrific record that this colored girl singer, Estelle Fletcher, made about twenty years ago. She sings it very Dixieland and whorehouse, and it doesn’t sound at all mushy. If a white girl was singing it, she’d make it sound cute as hell, but old Estelle Fletcher knew what the hell she was doing, and it was one of the best records I ever heard. I figured I’d buy it in some store that was open on Sunday and then I’d take it up to the park with me. It was Sunday and Phoebe goes rollerskating in the park on Sundays quite frequently. I knew where she hung out mostly.
It wasn’t as cold as it was the day before, but the sun still wasn’t out, and it wasn’t too nice for walking. But there was one nice thing. This family that you could tell just came out of some church were walking right in front of me–a father, a mother, and a little kid about six years old. They looked sort of poor. The father had on one of those pearl-gray hats that poor guys wear a lot when they want to look sharp. He and his wife were just walking along, talking, not paying any attention to their kid. The kid was swell.
He was walking in the street, instead of on the sidewalk, but right next to the curb. He was making out like he was walking a very straight line, the way kids do, and the whole time he kept singing and humming. I got up closer so I could hear what he was singing.
He was singing that song, “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” He had a pretty little voice, too. He was just singing for the hell of it, you could tell. The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more.
Broadway was mobbed and messy. It was Sunday, and only about twelve o’clock, but it was mobbed anyway. Everybody was on their way to the movies–the Paramount or the Astor or the Strand or the Capitol or one of those crazy places. Everybody was all dressed up, because it was Sunday, and that made it worse. But the worst part was that you could tell they all wanted to go to the movies. I couldn’t stand looking at them. I can understand somebody going to the movies because there’s nothing else to do, but when somebody really wants to go, and even walks fast so as to get there quicker, then it depresses hell out of me. Especially if I see millions of people standing in one of those long, terrible lines, all the way down the block, waiting with this terrific patience for seats and all. Boy, I couldn’t get off that goddam Broadway fast enough. I was lucky. The firstrecord store I went into had a copy of “Little Shirley Beans.” They charged me five bucks for it, because it was so hard to get, but I didn’t care. Boy, it made me so happy all of a sudden. I could hardly wait to get to the park to see if old Phoebe was around so that I could give it to her.
When I came out of the record store, I passed this drugstore, and I went in. I figured maybe I’d give old Jane a buzz and see if she was home for vacation yet. So I went in a phone booth and called her up. The only trouble was, her mother answered the phone, so I had to hang up. I didn’t feel like getting involved in a long conversation and all with her. I’m not crazy about talking to girls’ mothers on the phone anyway. I should’ve at least asked her if Jane was home yet, though. It wouldn’t have killed me. But I didn’t feel like it. You really have to be in the mood for that stuff.
I still had to get those damn theater tickets, so I bought a paper and looked up to see what shows were playing. On account of it was Sunday, there were only about three shows playing. So what I did was, I went over and bought two orchestra seats for I Know My Love. It was a benefit performance or something. I didn’t much want to see it, but I knew old Sally, the queen of the phonies, would start drooling all over the place when I told her I had tickets for that, because the Lunts were in it and all. She liked shows that are supposed to be very sophisticated and dry and all, with the Lunts and all. I don’t. I don’t like any shows very much, if you want to know the truth. They’re not as bad as movies, but they’re certainly nothing to rave about. In the first place, I hate actors. They never act like people. They just think they do. Some of the good ones do, in a very slight way, but not in a way that’s fun to watch. And if any actor’s really good, you can always tell he knows he’s good, and that spoils it. You take Sir Laurence Olivier, for example. I saw him in Hamlet. D.B. took Phoebe and I to see it last year. He treated us to lunch first, and then he took us. He’d already seen it, and the way he talked about it at lunch, I was anxious as hell to see it, too. But I didn’t enjoy it much. I just don’t see what’s so marvelous about Sir Laurence Olivier, that’s all. He has a terrific voice, and he’s a helluva handsome guy, and he’s very nice to watch when he’s walking or dueling or something, but he wasn’t at all the way D.B. said Hamlet was. He was too much like a goddam general, instead of a sad, screwed-up type guy. The best part in the whole picture was when old Ophelia’s brother–the one that gets in the duel with Hamlet at the very endwas going away and his father was giving him a lot of advice. While the father kept giving him a lot of advice, old Ophelia was sort of horsing around with her brother, taking his dagger out of the holster, and teasing him and all while he was trying to look interested in the bull his father was shooting. That was nice. I got a big bang out of that.
But you don’t see that kind of stuff much. The only thing old Phoebe liked was when Hamlet patted this dog on the head. She thought that was funny and nice, and it was.
What I’ll have to do is, I’ll have to read that play. The trouble with me is, I always have to read that stuff by myself. If an actor acts it out, I hardly listen. I keep worrying about whether he’s going to do something phony every minute.
After I got the tickets to the Lunts’ show, I took a cab up to the park. I should’ve taken a subway or something, because I was getting slightly low on dough, but I wanted to get off that damn Broadway as fast as I could.
It was lousy in the park. It wasn’t too cold, but the sun still wasn’t out, and there didn’t look like there was anything in the park except dog crap and globs of spit and cigar butts from old men, and the benches all looked like they’d be wet if you sat down onthem. It made you depressed, and every once in a while, for no reason, you got goose flesh while you walked. It didn’t seem at all like Christmas was coming soon. It didn’t seem like anything was coming. But I kept walking over to the Mall anyway, because that’s where Phoebe usually goes when she’s in the park. She likes to skate near the bandstand. It’s funny. That’s the same place I used to like to skate when I was a kid.
When I got there, though, I didn’t see her around anywhere. There were a few kids around, skating and all, and two boys were playing Flys Up with a soft ball, but no Phoebe. I saw one kid about her age, though, sitting on a bench all by herself, tightening her skate. I thought maybe she might know Phoebe and could tell me where she was or something, so I went over and sat down next to her and asked her, “Do you know Phoebe Caulfield, by any chance?”
“Who?” she said. All she had on was jeans and about twenty sweaters. You could tell her mother made them for her, because they were lumpy as hell.
“Phoebe Caulfield. She lives on Seventy-first Street. She’s in the fourth grade, over at–”
“You know Phoebe?”
“Yeah, I’m her brother. You know where she is?”
“She’s in Miss Callon’s class, isn’t she?” the kid said.
“I don’t know. Yes, I think she is.”
“She’s prob’ly in the museum, then. We went last Saturday,” the kid said.
“Which museum?” I asked her.
She shrugged her shoulders, sort of. “I don’t know,” she said. “The museum.”
“I know, but the one where the pictures are, or the one where the Indians are?”
“The one where the Indians.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said. I got up and started to go, but then I suddenly remembered it was Sunday. “This is Sunday,” I told the kid.
She looked up at me. “Oh. Then she isn’t.”
She was having a helluva time tightening her skate. She didn’t have any gloves on or anything and her hands were all red and cold. I gave her a hand with it. Boy, I hadn’t had a skate key in my hand for years. It didn’t feel funny, though. You could put a skate key in my hand fifty years from now, in pitch dark, and I’d still know what it is. She thanked me and all when I had it tightened for her. She was a very nice, polite little kid.
God, I love it when a kid’s nice and polite when you tighten their skate for them or something. Most kids are. They really are. I asked her if she’d care to have a hot chocolate or something with me, but she said no, thank you. She said she had to meet her friend. Kids always have to meet their friend. That kills me.
Even though it was Sunday and Phoebe wouldn’t be there with her class or anything, and even though it was so damp and lousy out, I walked all the way through the park over to the Museum of Natural History. I knew that was the museum the kid with the skate key meant. I knew that whole museum routine like a book. Phoebe went to the same school I went to when I was a kid, and we used to go there all the time. We had this teacher, Miss Aigletinger, that took us there damn near every Saturday. Sometimes we looked at the animals and sometimes we looked at the stuff the Indians had made in ancient times. Pottery and straw baskets and all stuff like that. I get very happy when I think about it. Even now. I remember after we looked at all the Indian stuff, usually we went to see some movie in this big auditorium. Columbus. They were always showingColumbus discovering America, having one helluva time getting old Ferdinand and Isabella to lend him the dough to buy ships with, and then the sailors mutinying on him and all. Nobody gave too much of a damn about old Columbus, but you always had a lot of candy and gum and stuff with you, and the inside of that auditorium had such a nice smell. It always smelled like it was raining outside, even if it wasn’t, and you were in the only nice, dry, cosy place in the world. I loved that damn museum. I remember you had to go through the Indian Room to get to the auditorium. It was a long, long room, and you were only supposed to whisper. The teacher would go first, then the class. You’d be two rows of kids, and you’d have a partner. Most of the time my partner was this girl named Gertrude Levine. She always wanted to hold your hand, and her hand was always sticky or sweaty or something. The floor was all stone, and if you had some marbles in your hand and you dropped them, they bounced like madmen all over the floor and made a helluva racket, and the teacher would hold up the class and go back and see what the hell was going on. She never got sore, though, Miss Aigletinger. Then you’d pass by this long, long Indian war canoe, about as long as three goddam Cadillacs in a row, with about twenty Indians in it, some of them paddling, some of them just standing around looking tough, and they all had war paint all over their faces. There was one very spooky guy in the back of the canoe, with a mask on. He was the witch doctor. He gave me the creeps, but I liked him anyway. Another thing, if you touched one of the paddles or anything while you were passing, one of the guards would say to you, “Don’t touch anything, children,” but he always said it in a nice voice, not like a goddam cop or anything. Then you’d pass by this big glass case, with Indians inside it rubbing sticks together to make a fire, and a squaw weaving a blanket. The squaw that was weaving the blanket was sort of bending over, and you could see her bosom and all. We all used to sneak a good look at it, even the girls, because they were only little kids and they didn’t have any more bosom than we did. Then, just before you went inside the auditorium, right near the doors, you passed this Eskimo. He was sitting over a hole in this icy lake, and he was fishing through it. He had about two fish right next to the hole, that he’d already caught. Boy, that museum was full of glass cases. There were even more upstairs, with deer inside them drinking at water holes, and birds flying south for the winter. The birds nearest you were all stuffed and hung up on wires, and the ones in back were just painted on the wall, but they all looked like they were really flying south, and if you bent your head down and sort of looked at them upside down, they looked in an even bigger hurry to fly south. The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was.
Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat on this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or you’d have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way–I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.I took my old hunting hat out of my pocket while I walked, and put it on. I knew I wouldn’t meet anybody that knew me, and it was pretty damp out. I kept walking and walking, and I kept thinking about old Phoebe going to that museum on Saturdays the way I used to. I thought how she’d see the same stuff I used to see, and how she’d be different every time she saw it. It didn’t exactly depress me to think about it, but it didn’t make me feel gay as hell, either. Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad anyway. Anyway, I kept thinking about all that while I walked.
I passed by this playground and stopped and watched a couple of very tiny kids on a seesaw. One of them was sort of fat, and I put my hand on the skinny kid’s end, to sort of even up the weight, but you could tell they didn’t want me around, so I let them alone.
Then a funny thing happened. When I got to the museum, all of a sudden I wouldn’t have gone inside for a million bucks. It just didn’t appeal to me–and here I’d walked through the whole goddam park and looked forward to it and all. If Phoebe’d been there, I probably would have, but she wasn’t. So all I did, in front of the museum, was get a cab and go down to the Biltmore. I didn’t feel much like going. I’d made that damn date with Sally, though.
I was way early when I got there, so I just sat down on one of those leather couches right near the clock in the lobby and watched the girls. A lot of schools were home for vacation already, and there were about a million girls sitting and standing around waiting for their dates to show up. Girls with their legs crossed, girls with their legs not crossed, girls with terrific legs, girls with lousy legs, girls that looked like swell girls, girls that looked like they’d be bit@hes if you knew them. It was really nice sightseeing, if you know what I mean. In a way, it was sort of depressing, too, because you kept wondering what the hell would happen to all of them. When they got out of school and college, I mean. You figured most of them would probably marry dopey guys.
Guys that always talk about how many miles they get to a gallon in their goddam cars.
Guys that get sore and childish as hell if you beat them at golf, or even just some stupid game like ping-pong. Guys that are very mean. Guys that never read books. Guys that are very boring–But I have to be careful about that. I mean about calling certain guys bores. I don’t understand boring guys. I really don’t. When I was at Elkton Hills, I roomed for about two months with this boy, Harris Mackim. He was very intelligent and all, but he was one of the biggest bores I ever met. He had one of these very raspy voices, and he never stopped talking, practically. He never stopped talking, and what was awful was, he never said anything you wanted to hear in the first place. But he could do one thing. The sonuvabit@h could whistle better than anybody I ever heard. He’d be making his bed, or hanging up stuff in the closet–he was always hanging up stuff in the closet–it drove me crazy–and he’d be whistling while he did it, if he wasn’t talking in this raspy voice. He could even whistle classical stuff, but most of the time he just whistled jazz. He could take something very jazzy, like “Tin Roof Blues,” and whistle it so nice and easy–rightwhile he was hanging stuff up in the closet–that it could kill you. Naturally, I never told him I thought he was a terrific whistler. I mean you don’t just go up to somebody and say, “You’re a terrific whistler.” But I roomed with him for about two whole months, even though he bored me till I was half crazy, just because he was such a terrific whistler, the best I ever heard. So I don’t know about bores. Maybe you shouldn’t feel too sorry if you see some swell girl getting married to them. They don’t hurt anybody, most of them, and maybe they’re secretly all terrific whistlers or something. Who the hell knows? Not me.
Finally, old Sally started coming up the stairs, and I started down to meet her. She looked terrific. She really did. She had on this black coat and sort of a black beret. She hardly ever wore a hat, but that beret looked nice. The funny part is, I felt like marrying her the minute I saw her. I’m crazy. I didn’t even like her much, and yet all of a sudden I felt like I was in love with her and wanted to marry her. I swear to God I’m crazy. I admit it.
“Holden!” she said. “It’s marvelous to see you! It’s been ages.” She had one of these very loud, embarrassing voices when you met her somewhere. She got away with it because she was so damn good-looking, but it always gave me a pain in the ass.
“Swell to see you,” I said. I meant it, too. “How are ya, anyway?”
“Absolutely marvelous. Am I late?”
I told her no, but she was around ten minutes late, as a matter of fact. I didn’t give a damn, though. All that crap they have in cartoons in the Saturday Evening Post and all, showing guys on street corners looking sore as hell because their dates are late–that’s bunk. If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she’s late? Nobody.
“We better hurry,” I said. “The show starts at two-forty.” We started going down the stairs to where the taxis are.
“What are we going to see?” she said.
“I don’t know. The Lunts. It’s all I could get tickets for.”
“The Lunts! Oh, marvelous!” I told you she’d go mad when she heard it was for the Lunts.
We horsed around a little bit in the cab on the way over to the theater. At first she didn’t want to, because she had her lipstick on and all, but I was being seductive as hell and she didn’t have any alternative. Twice, when the goddam cab stopped short in traffic, I damn near fell off the seat. Those damn drivers never even look where they’re going, I swear they don’t. Then, just to show you how crazy I am, when we were coming out of this big clinch, I told her I loved her and all. It was a lie, of course, but the thing is, I meant it when I said it. I’m crazy. I swear to God I am.
“Oh, darling, I love you too,” she said. Then, right in the same damn breath, she said, “Promise me you’ll let your hair grow. Crew cuts are getting corny. And your hair’s so lovely.”
Lovely my ass.
The show wasn’t as bad as some I’ve seen. It was on the crappy side, though. It was about five hundred thousand years in the life of this one old couple. It starts out when they’re young and all, and the girl’s parents don’t want her to marry the boy, but she marries him anyway. Then they keep getting older and older. The husband goes to war, and the wife has this brother that’s a drunkard. I couldn’t get very interested. I mean I didn’t care too much when anybody in the family died or anything. They were all just a bunch of actors. The husband and wife were a pretty nice old couple–very witty and all–but I couldn’t get too interested in them. For one thing, they kept drinking tea or some goddam thing all through the play. Every time you saw them, some butler was shoving some tea in front of them, or the wife was pouring it for somebody. And everybody kept coming in and going out all the time–you got dizzy watching people sit down and stand up. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were the old couple, and they were very good, but I didn’t like them much. They were different, though, I’ll say that. They didn’t act like people and they didn’t act like actors. It’s hard to explain. They acted more like they knew they were celebrities and all. I mean they were good, but they were too good. When one of them got finished making a speech, the other one said something very fast right after it.
It was supposed to be like people really talking and interrupting each other and all. The trouble was, it was too much like people talking and interrupting each other. They acted a little bit the way old Ernie, down in the Village, plays the piano. If you do something too good, then, after a while, if you don’t watch it, you start showing off. And then you’re not as good any more. But anyway, they were the only ones in the show–the Lunts, I meanthat looked like they had any real brains. I have to admit it.
At the end of the first act we went out with all the other jerks for a cigarette. What a deal that was. You never saw so many phonies in all your life, everybody smoking their ears off and talking about the play so that everybody could hear and know how sharp they were. Some dopey movie actor was standing near us, having a cigarette. I don’t know his name, but he always plays the part of a guy in a war movie that gets yellow before it’s time to go over the top. He was with some gorgeous blonde, and the two of them were trying to be very blasé and all, like as if he didn’t even know people were looking at him.
Modest as hell. I got a big bang out of it. Old Sally didn’t talk much, except to rave about the Lunts, because she was busy rubbering and being charming. Then all of a sudden, she saw some jerk she knew on the other side of the lobby. Some guy in one of those very dark gray flannel suits and one of those checkered vests. Strictly Ivy League. Big deal.
He was standing next to the wall, smoking himself to death and looking bored as hell.
Old Sally kept saying, “I know that boy from somewhere.” She always knew somebody, any place you took her, or thought she did. She kept saying that till I got bored as hell, and I said to her, “Why don’t you go on over and give him a big soul kiss, if you know him? He’ll enjoy it.” She got sore when I said that. Finally, though, the jerk noticed her and came over and said hello. You should’ve seen the way they said hello. You’d have thought they hadn’t seen each other in twenty years. You’d have thought they’d taken baths in the same bathtub or something when they were little kids. Old buddyroos. It was nauseating. The funny part was, they probably met each other just once, at some phony party. Finally, when they were all done slobbering around, old Sally introduced us. His name was George something–I don’t even remember–and he went to Andover. Big, big deal. You should’ve seen him when old Sally asked him how he liked the play. He was the kind of a phony that have to give themselves room when they answer somebody’s question. He stepped back, and stepped right on the lady’s foot behind him. He probably broke every toe in her body. He said the play itself was no masterpiece, but that the Lunts, of course, were absolute angels. Angels. For Chrissake. Angels. That killed me.
Then he and old Sally started talking about a lot of people they both knew. It was the phoniest conversation you ever heard in your life. They both kept thinking of places as fast as they could, then they’d think of somebody that lived there and mention their name.
I was all set to puke when it was time to go sit down again. I really was. And then, whenthe next act was over, they continued their goddam boring conversation. They kept thinking of more places and more names of people that lived there. The worst part was, the jerk had one of those very phony, Ivy League voices, one of those very tired, snobby voices. He sounded just like a girl. He didn’t hesitate to horn in on my date, the bastard. I even thought for a minute that he was going to get in the goddam cab with us when the show was over, because he walked about two blocks with us, but he had to meet a bunch of phonies for cocktails, he said. I could see them all sitting around in some bar, with their goddam checkered vests, criticizing shows and books and women in those tired, snobby voices. They kill me, those guys.
I sort of hated old Sally by the time we got in the cab, after listening to that phony Andover bastard for about ten hours. I was all set to take her home and all–I really wasbut she said, “I have a marvelous idea!” She was always having a marvelous idea.
“Listen,” she said. “What time do you have to be home for dinner? I mean are you in a terrible hurry or anything? Do you have to be home any special time?”
“Me? No. No special time,” I said. Truer word was never spoken, boy. “Why?”
“Let’s go ice-skating at Radio City!”
That’s the kind of ideas she always had.
“Ice-skating at Radio City? You mean right now?”
“Just for an hour or so. Don’t you want to? If you don’t want to–”
“I didn’t say I didn’t want to,” I said. “Sure. If you want to.”
“Do you mean it? Don’t just say it if you don’t mean it. I mean I don’t give a darn, one way or the other.”
Not much she didn’t.
“You can rent those darling little skating skirts,” old Sally said. “Jeannette Cultz did it last week.”
That’s why she was so hot to go. She wanted to see herself in one of those little skirts that just come down over their butt and all.
So we went, and after they gave us our skates, they gave Sally this little blue butttwitcher of a dress to wear. She really did look damn good in it, though. I save to admit it.
And don’t think she didn’t know it. The kept walking ahead of me, so that I’d see how cute her little ass looked. It did look pretty cute, too. I have to admit it.
The funny part was, though, we were the worst skaters on the whole goddam rink.
I mean the worst. And there were some lulus, too. Old Sally’s ankles kept bending in till they were practically on the ice. They not only looked stupid as hell, but they probably hurt like hell, too. I know mine did. Mine were killing me. We must’ve looked gorgeous.
And what made it worse, there were at least a couple of hundred rubbernecks that didn’t have anything better to do than stand around and watch everybody falling all over themselves.
“Do you want to get a table inside and have a drink or something?” I said to her finally.
“That’s the most marvelous idea you’ve had all day,” the said. She was killing herself. It was brutal. I really felt sorry for her.
We took off our goddam skates and went inside this bar where you can get drinks and watch the skaters in just your stocking feet. As soon as we sat down, old Sally took off her gloves, and I gave her a cigarette. She wasn’t looking too happy. The waiter came up, and I ordered a Coke for her–she didn’t drink–and a Scotch and soda for myself, butthe sonuvabit@h wouldn’t bring me one, so I had a Coke, too. Then I sort of started lighting matches. I do that quite a lot when I’m in a certain mood. I sort of let them burn down till I can’t hold them any more, then I drop them in the ashtray. It’s a nervous habit.
Then all of a sudden, out of a clear blue sky, old Sally said, “Look. I have to know. Are you or aren’t you coming over to help me trim the tree Christmas Eve? I have to know.” She was still being snotty on account of her ankles when she was skating.
“I wrote you I would. You’ve asked me that about twenty times. Sure, I am.”
“I mean I have to know,” she said. She started looking all around the goddam room.
All of a sudden I quit lighting matches, and sort of leaned nearer to her over the table. I had quite a few topics on my mind. “Hey, Sally,” I said.
“What?” she said. She was looking at some girl on the other side of the room.
“Did you ever get fed up?” I said. “I mean did you ever get scared that everything was going to go lousy unless you did something? I mean do you like school, and all that stuff?”
“It’s a terrific bore.”
“I mean do you hate it? I know it’s a terrific bore, but do you hate it, is what I mean.”
“Well, I don’t exactly hate it. You always have to–”
“Well, I hate it. Boy, do I hate it,” I said. “But it isn’t just that. It’s everything. I hate living in New York and all. Taxicabs, and Madison Avenue buses, with the drivers and all always yelling at you to get out at the rear door, and being introduced to phony guys that call the Lunts angels, and going up and down in elevators when you just want to go outside, and guys fitting your pants all the time at Brooks, and people always–”
“Don’t shout, please,” old Sally said. Which was very funny, because I wasn’t even shouting.
“Take cars,” I said. I said it in this very quiet voice. “Take most people, they’re crazy about cars. They worry if they get a little scratch on them, and they’re always talking about how many miles they get to a gallon, and if they get a brand-new car already they start thinking about trading it in for one that’s even newer. I don’t even like old cars. I mean they don’t even interest me. I’d rather have a goddam horse. A horse is at least human, for God’s sake. A horse you can at least–”
“I don’t know what you’re even talking about,” old Sally said. “You jump from one–”
“You know something?” I said. “You’re probably the only reason I’m in New York right now, or anywhere. If you weren’t around, I’d probably be someplace way the hell off. In the woods or some goddam place. You’re the only reason I’m around, practically.”
“You’re sweet,” she said. But you could tell she wanted me to change the damn subject.
“You ought to go to a boys’ school sometime. Try it sometime,” I said. “It’s full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and s@x all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques. The guys that are on the basketball team stick together, the Catholics stick together, the goddamintellectuals stick together, the guys that play bridge stick together. Even the guys that belong to the goddam Book-of-the-Month Club stick together. If you try to have a little intelligent–”
“Now, listen,” old Sally said. “Lots of boys get more out of school than that.”
“I agree! I agree they do, some of them! But that’s all I get out of it. See? That’s my point. That’s exactly my goddam point,” I said. “I don’t get hardly anything out of anything. I’m in bad shape. I’m in lousy shape.”
“You certainly are.”
Then, all of a sudden, I got this idea.
“Look,” I said. “Here’s my idea. How would you like to get the hell out of here?
Here’s my idea. I know this guy down in Greenwich Village that we can borrow his car for a couple of weeks. He used to go to the same school I did and he still owes me ten bucks. What we could do is, tomorrow morning we could drive up to Massachusetts and Vermont, and all around there, see. It’s beautiful as hell up there, It really is.” I was getting excited as hell, the more I thought of it, and I sort of reached over and took old Sally’s goddam hand. What a goddam fool I was. “No kidding,” I said. “I have about a hundred and eighty bucks in the bank. I can take it out when it opens in the morning, and then I could go down and get this guy’s car. No kidding. We’ll stay in these cabin camps and stuff like that till the dough runs out. Then, when the dough runs out, I could get a job somewhere and we could live somewhere with a brook and all and, later on, we could get married or something. I could chop all our own wood in the wintertime and all.
Honest to God, we could have a terrific time! Wuddaya say? C’mon! Wuddaya say? Will you do it with me? Please!”
“You can’t just do something like that,” old Sally said. She sounded sore as hell.
“Why not? Why the hell not?”
“Stop screaming at me, please,” she said. Which was crap, because I wasn’t even screaming at her.
“Why can’tcha? Why not?”
“Because you can’t, that’s all. In the first place, we’re both practically children.
And did you ever stop to think what you’d do if you didn’t get a job when your money ran out? We’d starve to death. The whole thing’s so fantastic, it isn’t even–”
“It isn’t fantastic. I’d get a job. Don’t worry about that. You don’t have to worry about that. What’s the matter? Don’t you want to go with me? Say so, if you don’t.”
“It isn’t that. It isn’t that at all,” old Sally said. I was beginning to hate her, in a way. “We’ll have oodles of time to do those things–all those things. I mean after you go to college and all, and if we should get married and all. There’ll be oodles of marvelous places to go to. You’re just–”
“No, there wouldn’t be. There wouldn’t be oodles of places to go to at all. It’d be entirely different,” I said. I was getting depressed as hell again.
“What?” she said. “I can’t hear you. One minute you scream at me, and the next you–”
“I said no, there wouldn’t be marvelous places to go to after I went to college and all. Open your ears. It’d be entirely different. We’d have to go downstairs in elevators with suitcases and stuff. We’d have to phone up everybody and tell ‘em good-by and send ‘em postcards from hotels and all. And I’d be working in some office, making a lot of dough, and riding to work in cabs and Madison Avenue buses, and reading newspapers,and playing bridge all the time, and going to the movies and seeing a lot of stupid shorts and coming attractions and newsreels. Newsreels. Christ almighty. There’s always a dumb horse race, and some dame breaking a bottle over a ship, and some chimpanzee riding a goddam bicycle with pants on. It wouldn’t be the same at all. You don’t see what I mean at all.”
“Maybe I don’t! Maybe you don’t, either,” old Sally said. We both hated each other’s guts by that time. You could see there wasn’t any sense trying to have an intelligent conversation. I was sorry as hell I’d started it.
“C’mon, let’s get outa here,” I said. “You give me a royal pain in the ass, if you want to know the truth.”
Boy, did she hit the ceiling when I said that. I know I shouldn’t’ve said it, and I probably wouldn’t’ve ordinarily, but she was depressing the hell out of me. Usually I never say crude things like that to girls. Boy, did she hit the ceiling. I apologized like a madman, but she wouldn’t accept my apology. She was even crying. Which scared me a little bit, because I was a little afraid she’d go home and tell her father I called her a pain in the ass. Her father was one of those big silent bastards, and he wasn’t too crazy about me anyhow. He once told old Sally I was too goddam noisy.
“No kidding. I’m sorry,” I kept telling her.
“You’re sorry. You’re sorry. That’s very funny,” she said. She was still sort of crying, and all of a sudden I did feel sort of sorry I’d said it.
“C’mon, I’ll take ya home. No kidding.”
“I can go home by myself, thank you. If you think I’d let you take me home, you’re mad. No boy ever said that to me in my entire life.”
The whole thing was sort of funny, in a way, if you thought about it, and all of a sudden I did something I shouldn’t have. I laughed. And I have one of these very loud, stupid laughs. I mean if I ever sat behind myself in a movie or something, I’d probably lean over and tell myself to please shut up. It made old Sally madder than ever.
I stuck around for a while, apologizing and trying to get her to excuse me, but she wouldn’t. She kept telling me to go away and leave her alone. So finally I did it. I went inside and got my shoes and stuff, and left without her. I shouldn’t’ve, but I was pretty goddam fed up by that time.
If you want to know the truth, I don’t even know why I started all that stuff with her. I mean about going away somewhere, to Massachusetts and Vermont and all. I probably wouldn’t’ve taken her even if she’d wanted to go with me. She wouldn’t have been anybody to go with. The terrible part, though, is that I meant it when I asked her.
That’s the terrible part. I swear to God I’m a madman.
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