TO MY MOTHER
If you really want to hear about
it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is
where I was born, an what my lousy childhood was
like, and how my parents were occupied and all
before they had me, and all that David Copperfield
kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it,
if you want to know the truth. In the first place,
that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my
parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I
told anything pretty personal about them. They're
quite touchy about anything like that, especially my
father. They're nice and all--I'm not saying
that--but they're also touchy as hell. Besides, I'm
not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography
or anything. I'll just tell you about this madman
stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just
before I got pretty run-down and had to come out
here and take it easy. I mean that's all I told D.B.
about, and he's my brother and all. He's in
Hollywood. That isn't too far from this crumby
place, and he comes over and visits me practically
every week end. He's going to drive me home when I
go home next month maybe. He just got a Jaguar. One
of those little English jobs that can do around two
hundred miles an hour. It cost him damn near four
thousand bucks. He's got a lot of dough, now. He
didn't use to. He used to be just a regular writer,
when he was home. He wrote this terrific book of
short stories, The Secret Goldfish, in case you
never heard of him. The best one in it was "The
Secret Goldfish." It was about this little kid that
wouldn't let anybody look at his goldfish because
he'd bought it with his own money. It killed me. Now
he's out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute. If
there's one thing I hate, it's the movies. Don't
even mention them to me.
Where I want to start telling is the day I left
Pencey Prep. Pencey Prep is this school that's in
Agerstown, Pennsylvania. You probably heard of it.
You've probably seen the ads, anyway. They advertise
in about a thousand magazines, always showing some
hotshot guy on a horse jumping over a fence. Like as
if all you ever did at Pencey was play polo all the
time. I never even once saw a horse anywhere near
the place. And underneath the guy on the horse's
picture, it always says: "Since 1888 we have been
molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young
men." Strictly for the birds. They don't do any damn
more molding at Pencey than they do at any other
school. And I didn't know anybody there that was
splendid and clear-thinking and all. Maybe two guys.
If that many. And they probably came to Pencey that
Anyway, it was the Saturday of the football game
with Saxon Hall. The game with Saxon Hall was
supposed to be a very big deal around Pencey. It was
the last game of the year, and you were supposed to
commit suicide or something if old Pencey didn't
win. I remember around three o'clock that afternoon
I was standing way the hell up on top of Thomsen
Hill, right next to this crazy cannon that was in
the Revolutionary War and all. You could see the
whole field from there, and you could see the two
teams bashing each other all over the place. You
couldn't see the grandstand too hot, but you could
hear them all yelling, deep and terrific on the
Pencey side, because practically the whole school
except me was there, and scrawny and faggy on the
Saxon Hall side, because the visiting team hardly
ever brought many people with them.
There were never many girls at all at the football
games. Only seniors were allowed to bring girls with
them. It was a terrible school, no matter how you
looked at it. I like to be somewhere at least where
you can see a few girls around once in a while, even
if they're only scratching their arms or blowing
their noses or even just giggling or something. Old
Selma Thurmer--she was the headmaster's
daughter--showed up at the games quite often, but
she wasn't exactly the type that drove you mad with
desire. She was a pretty nice girl, though. I sat
next to her once in the bus from Agerstown and we
sort of struck up a conversation. I liked her. She
had a big nose and her nails were all bitten down
and bleedy-looking and she had on those damn falsies
that point all over the place, but you felt sort of
sorry for her. What I liked about her, she didn't
give you a lot of horse manure about what a great
guy her father was. She probably knew what a phony
slob he was.
The reason I was standing way up on Thomsen Hill,
instead of down at the game, was because I'd just
got back from New York with the fencing team. I was
the goddam manager of the fencing team. Very big
deal. We'd gone in to New York that morning for this
fencing meet with McBurney School. Only, we didn't
have the meet. I left all the foils and equipment
and stuff on the goddam subway. It wasn't all my
fault. I had to keep getting up to look at this map,
so we'd know where to get off. So we got back to
Pencey around two-thirty instead of around
dinnertime. The whole team ostracized me the whole
way back on the train. It was pretty funny, in a
The other reason I wasn't down at the game was
because I was on my way to say good-by to old
Spencer, my history teacher. He had the grippe, and
I figured I probably wouldn't see him again till
Christmas vacation started. He wrote me this note
saying he wanted to see me before I went home. He
knew I wasn't coming back to Pencey.
I forgot to tell you about that. They kicked me
out. I wasn't supposed to come back after Christmas
vacation on account of I was flunking four subjects
and not applying myself and all. They gave me
frequent warning to start applying
myself--especially around midterms, when my parents
came up for a conference with old Thurmer--but I
didn't do it. So I got the ax. They give guys the ax
quite frequently at Pencey. It has a very good
academic rating, Pencey. It really does.
Anyway, it was December and all, and it was cold
as a witch's teat, especially on top of that stupid
hill. I only had on my reversible and no gloves or
anything. The week before that, somebody'd stolen my
camel's-hair coat right out of my room, with my
fur-lined gloves right in the pocket and all. Pencey
was full of crooks. Quite a few guys came from these
very wealthy families, but it was full of crooks
anyway. The more expensive a school is, the more
crooks it has--I'm not kidding. Anyway, I kept
standing next to that crazy cannon, looking down at
the game and freezing my ass off. Only, I wasn't
watching the game too much. What I was really
hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind
of a good-by. I mean I've left schools and places I
didn't even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I
don't care if it's a sad good-by or a bad goodby,
but when I leave a place I like to know I'm leaving
it. If you don't, you feel even worse.
I was lucky. All of a sudden I thought of
something that helped make me know I was getting the
hell out. I suddenly remembered this time, in around
October, that I and Robert Tichener and Paul
Campbell were chucking a football around, in front
of the academic building. They were nice guys,
especially Tichener. It was just before dinner and
it was getting pretty dark out, but we kept chucking
the ball around anyway. It kept getting darker and
darker, and we could hardly see the ball any more,
but we didn't want to stop doing what we were doing.
Finally we had to. This teacher that taught biology,
Mr. Zambesi, stuck his head out of this window in
the academic building and told us to go back to the
dorm and get ready for dinner. If I get a chance to
remember that kind of stuff, I can get a good-by
when I need one--at least, most of the time I can.
As soon as I got it, I turned around and started
running down the other side of the hill, toward old
Spencer's house. He didn't live on the campus. He
lived on Anthony Wayne Avenue.
I ran all the way to the main gate, and then I
waited a second till I got my breath. I have no
wind, if you want to know the truth. I'm quite a
heavy smoker, for one thing--that is, I used to be.
They made me cut it out. Another thing, I grew six
and a half inches last year. That's also how I
practically got t.b. and came out here for all these
goddam checkups and stuff. I'm pretty healthy,
Anyway, as soon as I got my breath back I ran
across Route 204. It was icy as hell and I damn near
fell down. I don't even know what I was running
for--I guess I just felt like it. After I got across
the road, I felt like I was sort of disappearing. It
was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically
cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like
you were disappearing every time you crossed a road.
Boy, I rang that doorbell fast when I got to old
Spencer's house. I was really frozen. My ears were
hurting and I could hardly move my fingers at all.
"C'mon, c'mon," I said right out loud, almost,
"somebody open the door." Finally old Mrs. Spencer
opened. it. They didn't have a maid or anything, and
they always opened the door themselves. They didn't
have too much dough.
"Holden!" Mrs. Spencer said. "How lovely to see
you! Come in, dear! Are you frozen to death?" I
think she was glad to see me. She liked me. At
least, I think she did.
Boy, did I get in that house fast. "How are you,
Mrs. Spencer?" I said. "How's Mr. Spencer?"
"Let me take your coat, dear," she said. She
didn't hear me ask her how Mr. Spencer was. She was
sort of deaf.
She hung up my coat in the hall closet, and I sort
of brushed my hair back with my hand. I wear a crew
cut quite frequently and I never have to comb it
much. "How've you been, Mrs. Spencer?" I said again,
only louder, so she'd hear me.
"I've been just fine, Holden." She closed the
closet door. "How have you been?" The way she asked
me, I knew right away old Spencer'd told her I'd
been kicked out.
"Fine," I said. "How's Mr. Spencer? He over his
"Over it! Holden, he's behaving like a perfect--I
don't know what. . . He's in his room, dear. Go
They each had their own room and all. They were
both around seventy years old, or even more than
that. They got a bang out of things, though--in a
haif-assed way, of course. I know that sounds mean
to say, but I don't mean it mean. I just mean that I
used to think about old Spencer quite a lot, and if
you thought about him too much, you wondered what
the heck he was still living for. I mean he was all
stooped over, and he had very terrible posture, and
in class, whenever he dropped a piece of chalk at
the blackboard, some guy in the first row always had
to get up and pick it up and hand it to him. That's
awful, in my opinion. But if you thought about him
just enough and not too much, you could figure it
out that he wasn't doing too bad for himself. For
instance, one Sunday when some other guys and I were
over there for hot chocolate, he showed us this old
beat-up Navajo blanket that he and Mrs. Spencer'd
bought off some Indian in Yellowstone Park. You
could tell old Spencer'd got a big bang out of
buying it. That's what I mean. You take somebody old
as hell, like old Spencer, and they can get a big
bang out of buying a blanket.
His door was open, but I sort of knocked on it
anyway, just to be polite and all. I could see where
he was sitting. He was sitting in a big leather
chair, all wrapped up in that blanket I just told
you about. He looked over at me when I knocked.
"Who's that?" he yelled. "Caulfield? Come in, boy."
He was always yelling, outside class. It got on your
The minute I went in, I was sort of sorry I'd
come. He was reading the Atlantic Monthly, and there
were pills and medicine all over the place, and
everything smelled like Vicks Nose Drops. It was
pretty depressing. I'm not too crazy about sick
people, anyway. What made it even more depressing,
old Spencer had on this very sad, ratty old bathrobe
that he was probably born in or something. I don't
much like to see old guys in their pajamas and
bathrobes anyway. Their bumpy old chests are always
showing. And their legs. Old guys' legs, at beaches
and places, always look so white and unhairy.
"Hello, sir," I said. "I got your note. Thanks a
lot." He'd written me this note asking me to stop by
and say good-by before vacation started, on account
of I wasn't coming back. "You didn't have to do all
that. I'd have come over to say good-by anyway."
"Have a seat there, boy," old Spencer said. He
meant the bed.
I sat down on it. "How's your grippe, sir?"
"M'boy, if I felt any better I'd have to send for
the doctor," old Spencer said. That knocked him out.
He started chuckling like a madman. Then he finally
straightened himself out and said, "Why aren't you
down at the game? I thought this was the day of the
"It is. I was. Only, I just got back from New York
with the fencing team," I said. Boy, his bed was
like a rock.
He started getting serious as hell. I knew he
would. "So you're leaving us, eh?" he said.
"Yes, sir. I guess I am."
He started going into this nodding routine. You
never saw anybody nod as much in your life as old
Spencer did. You never knew if he was nodding a lot
because he was thinking and all, or just because he
was a nice old guy that didn't know his ass from his
"What did Dr. Thurmer say to you, boy? I
understand you had quite a little chat."
"Yes, we did. We really did. I was in his office
for around two hours, I guess."
"What'd he say to you?"
"Oh. . . well, about Life being a game and all.
And how you should play it according to the rules.
He was pretty nice about it. I mean he didn't hit
the ceiling or anything. He just kept talking about
Life being a game and all. You know."
"Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one
plays according to the rules."
"Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it."
Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side
where all the hot-shots are, then it's a game, all
right--I'll admit that. But if you get on the other
side, where there aren't any hot-shots, then what's
a game about it? Nothing. No game. "Has Dr. Thurmer
written to your parents yet?" old Spencer asked me.
"He said he was going to write them Monday."
"Have you yourself communicated with them?"
"No, sir, I haven't communicated with them,
because I'll probably see them Wednesday night when
I get home."
"And how do you think they'll take the news?"
"Well. . . they'll be pretty irritated about it,"
I said. "They really will. This is about the fourth
school I've gone to." I shook my head. I shake my
head quite a lot. "Boy!" I said. I also say "Boy!"
quite a lot. Partly because I have a lousy
vocabulary and partly because I act quite young for
my age sometimes. I was sixteen then, and I'm
seventeen now, and sometimes I act like I'm about
thirteen. It's really ironical, because I'm six foot
two and a half and I have gray hair. I really do.
The one side of my head--the right side--is full of
millions of gray hairs. I've had them ever since I
was a kid. And yet I still act sometimes like I was
only about twelve. Everybody says that, especially
my father. It's partly true, too, but it isn't all
true. People always think something's all true. I
don't give a damn, except that I get bored sometimes
when people tell me to act my age. Sometimes I act a
lot older than I am--I really do--but people never
notice it. People never notice anything.
Old Spencer started nodding again. He also started
picking his nose. He made out like he was only
pinching it, but he was really getting the old thumb
right in there. I guess he thought it was all right
to do because it was only me that was in the room. I
didn't care, except that it's pretty disgusting to
watch somebody pick their nose.
Then he said, "I had the privilege of meeting your
mother and dad when they had their little chat with
Dr. Thurmer some weeks ago. They're grand people."
"Yes, they are. They're very nice."
Grand. There's a word I really hate. It's a phony.
I could puke every time I hear it.
Then all of a sudden old Spencer looked like he
had something very good, something sharp as a tack,
to say to me. He sat up more in his chair and sort
of moved around. It was a false alarm, though. All
he did was lift the Atlantic Monthly off his lap and
try to chuck it on the bed, next to me. He missed.
It was only about two inches away, but he missed
anyway. I got up and picked it up and put it down on
the bed. All of a sudden then, I wanted to get the
hell out of the room. I could feel a terrific
lecture coming on. I didn't mind the idea so much,
but I didn't feel like being lectured to and smell
Vicks Nose Drops and look at old Spencer in his
pajamas and bathrobe all at the same time. I really
It started, all right. "What's the matter with
you, boy?" old Spencer said. He said it pretty
tough, too, for him. "How many subjects did you
carry this term?"
"Five. And how many are you failing in?"
"Four." I moved my ass a little bit on the bed. It
was the hardest bed I ever sat on. "I passed English
all right," I said, "because I had all that Beowulf
and Lord Randal My Son stuff when I was at the
Whooton School. I mean I didn't have to do any work
in English at all hardly, except write compositions
once in a while."
He wasn't even listening. He hardly ever listened
to you when you said something.
"I flunked you in history because you knew
"I know that, sir. Boy, I know it. You couldn't
"Absolutely nothing," he said over again. That's
something that drives me crazy. When people say
something twice that way, after you admit it the
first time. Then he said it three times. "But
absolutely nothing. I doubt very much if you opened
your textbook even once the whole term. Did you?
Tell the truth, boy."
"Well, I sort of glanced through it a couple of
times," I told him. I didn't want to hurt his
feelings. He was mad about history.
"You glanced through it, eh?" he said--very
sarcastic. "Your, ah, exam paper is over there on
top of my chiffonier. On top of the pile. Bring it
It was a very dirty trick, but I went over and
brought it over to him--I didn't have any
alternative or anything. Then I sat down on his
cement bed again. Boy, you can't imagine how sorry I
was getting that I'd stopped by to say good-by to
He started handling my exam paper like it was a
turd or something. "We studied the Egyptians from
November 4th to December 2nd," he said. "You chose
to write about them for the optional essay question.
Would you care to hear what you had to say?"
"No, sir, not very much," I said.
He read it anyway, though. You can't stop a
teacher when they want to do something. They just do
The Egyptians were an ancient race of Caucasians
one of the northern sections of Africa. The latter
as we all
know is the largest continent in the Eastern
I had to sit there and listen to that crap. It
certainly was a dirty trick.
The Egyptians are extremely interesting to us
various reasons. Modern science would still like
to know what
the secret ingredients were that the Egyptians
used when they
wrapped up dead people so that their faces would
not rot for
innumerable centuries. This interesting riddle is
a challenge to modern science in the twentieth
He stopped reading and put my paper down. I was
beginning to sort of hate him. "Your essay, shall we
say, ends there," he said in this very sarcastic
voice. You wouldn't
think such an old guy would be so sarcastic and
all. "However, you dropped me a little note, at the
bottom of the page," he said.
"I know I did," I said. I said it very fast
because I wanted to stop him before he started
reading that out loud. But you couldn't stop him. He
was hot as a firecracker.
DEAR MR. SPENCER [he read out loud]. That is all I
the Egyptians. I can't seem to get very interested
although your lectures are very interesting. It is
with me if you flunk me though as I am flunking
else except English anyway.
Respectfully yours, HOLDEN CAULFIELD.
He put my goddam paper down then and looked at me
like he'd just beaten hell out of me in ping-pong or
something. I don't think I'll ever forgive him for
reading me that crap out loud. I wouldn't've read it
out loud to him if he'd written it--I really
wouldn't. In the first place, I'd only written that
damn note so that he wouldn't feel too bad about
"Do you blame me for flunking you, boy?" he said.
"No, sir! I certainly don't," I said. I wished to
hell he'd stop calling me "boy" all the time.
He tried chucking my exam paper on the bed when he
was through with it. Only, he missed again,
naturally. I had to get up again and pick it up and
put it on top of the Atlantic Monthly. It's boring
to do that every two minutes.
"What would you have done in my place?" he said.
"Tell the truth, boy."
Well, you could see he really felt pretty lousy
about flunking me. So I shot the bull for a while. I
told him I was a real moron, and all that stuff. I
told him how I would've done exactly the same thing
if I'd been in his place, and how most people didn't
appreciate how tough it is being a teacher. That
kind of stuff. The old bull.
The funny thing is, though, I was sort of thinking
of something else while I shot the bull. I live in
New York, and I was thinking about the lagoon in
Central Park, down near Central Park South. I was
wondering if it would be frozen over when I got
home, and if it was, where did the ducks go. I was
wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got
all icy and frozen over. I wondered if some guy came
in a truck and took them away to a zoo or something.
Or if they just flew away.
I'm lucky, though. I mean I could shoot the old
bull to old Spencer and think about those ducks at
the same time. It's funny. You don't have to think
too hard when you talk to a teacher. All of a
sudden, though, he interrupted me while I was
shooting the bull. He was always interrupting you.
"How do you feel about all this, boy? I'd be very
interested to know. Very interested."
"You mean about my flunking out of Pencey and
all?" I said. I sort of wished he'd cover up his
bumpy chest. It wasn't such a beautiful view.
"If I'm not mistaken, I believe you also had some
difficulty at the Whooton School and at Elkton
Hills." He didn't say it just sarcastic, but sort of
"I didn't have too much difficulty at Elkton
Hills," I told him. "I didn't exactly flunk out or
anything. I just quit, sort of."
"Why, may I ask?"
"Why? Oh, well it's a long story, sir. I mean it's
pretty complicated." I didn't feel like going into
the whole thing with him. He wouldn't have
understood it anyway. It wasn't up his alley at all.
One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was
because I was surrounded by phonies. That's all.
They were coming in the goddam window. For instance,
they had this headmaster, Mr. Haas, that was the
phoniest bastard I ever met in my life. Ten times
worse than old Thurmer. On Sundays, for instance,
old Haas went around shaking hands with everybody's
parents when they drove up to school. He'd be
charming as hell and all. Except if some boy had
little old funny-looking parents. You should've seen
the way he did with my roommate's parents. I mean if
a boy's mother was sort of fat or corny-looking or
something, and if somebody's father was one of those
guys that wear those suits with very big shoulders
and corny black-and-white shoes, then old Hans would
just shake hands with them and give them a phony
smile and then he'd go talk, for maybe a half an
hour, with somebody else's parents. I can't stand
that stuff. It drives me crazy. It makes me so
depressed I go crazy. I hated that goddam Elkton
Old Spencer asked me something then, but I didn't
hear him. I was thinking about old Haas. "What,
sir?" I said.
"Do you have any particular qualms about leaving
"Oh, I have a few qualms, all right. Sure. . . but
not too many. Not yet, anyway. I guess it hasn't
really hit me yet. It takes things a while to hit
me. All I'm doing right now is thinking about going
home Wednesday. I'm a moron."
"Do you feel absolutely no concern for your
"Oh, I feel some concern for my future, all right.
Sure. Sure, I do." I thought about it for a minute.
"But not too much, I guess. Not too much, I guess."
"You will," old Spencer said. "You will, boy. You
will when it's too late."
I didn't like hearing him say that. It made me
sound dead or something. It was very depressing. "I
guess I will," I said.
"I'd like to put some sense in that head of yours,
boy. I'm trying to help you. I'm trying to help you,
if I can."
He really was, too. You could see that. But it was
just that we were too much on opposite sides ot the
pole, that's all. "I know you are, sir," I said.
"Thanks a lot. No kidding. I appreciate it. I really
do." I got up from the bed then. Boy, I couldn't've
sat there another ten minutes to save my life. "The
thing is, though, I have to get going now. I have
quite a bit of equipment at the gym I have to get to
take home with me. I really do." He looked up at me
and started nodding again, with this very serious
look on his face. I felt sorry as hell for him, all
of a sudden. But I just couldn't hang around there
any longer, the way we were on opposite sides of the
pole, and the way he kept missing the bed whenever
he chucked something at it, and his sad old bathrobe
with his chest showing, and that grippy smell of
Vicks Nose Drops all over the place. "Look, sir.
Don't worry about me," I said. "I mean it. I'll be
all right. I'm just going through a phase right now.
Everybody goes through phases and all, don't they?"
"I don't know, boy. I don't know."
I hate it when somebody answers that way. "Sure.
Sure, they do," I said. "I mean it, sir. Please
don't worry about me." I sort of put my hand on his
shoulder. "Okay?" I said.
"Wouldn't you like a cup of hot chocolate before
you go? Mrs. Spencer would be--"
"I would, I really would, but the thing is, I have
to get going. I have to go right to the gym. Thanks,
though. Thanks a lot, sir."
Then we shook hands. And all that crap. It made me
feel sad as hell, though.
"I'll drop you a line, sir. Take care of your
After I shut the door and started back to the
living room, he yelled something at me, but I
couldn't exactly hear him. I'm pretty sure he yelled
"Good luck!" at me,
I hope to hell not. I'd never yell "Good luck!" at
anybody. It sounds terrible, when you think about
I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your
life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to
buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm
going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera.
It's terrible. So when I told old Spencer I had to
go to the gym and get my equipment and stuff, that
was a sheer lie. I don't even keep my goddam
equipment in the gym.
Where I lived at Pencey, I lived in the
Ossenburger Memorial Wing of the new dorms. It was
only for juniors and seniors. I was a junior. My
roommate was a senior. It was named after this guy
Ossenburger that went to Pencey. He made a pot of
dough in the undertaking business after he got out
of Pencey. What he did, he started these undertaking
parlors all over the country that you could get
members of your family buried for about five bucks
apiece. You should see old Ossenburger. He probably
just shoves them in a sack and dumps them in the
river. Anyway, he gave Pencey a pile of dough, and
they named our wing alter him. The first football
game of the year, he came up to school in this big
goddam Cadillac, and we all had to stand up in the
grandstand and give him a locomotive--that's a
cheer. Then, the next morning, in chapel, be made a
speech that lasted about ten hours. He started off
with about fifty corny jokes, just to show us what a
regular guy he was. Very big deal. Then he started
telling us how he was never ashamed, when he was in
some kind of trouble or something, to get right down
his knees and pray to God. He told us we should
always pray to God--talk to Him and all--wherever we
were. He told us we ought to think of Jesus as our
buddy and all. He said he talked to Jesus all the
time. Even when he was driving his car. That killed
me. I just see the big phony bastard shifting into
first gear and asking Jesus to send him a few more
stiffs. The only good part of his speech was right
in the middle of it. He was telling us all about
what a swell guy he was, what a hot-shot and all,
then all of a sudden this guy sitting in the row in
front of me, Edgar Marsalla, laid this terrific
fart. It was a very crude thing to do, in chapel and
all, but it was also quite amusing. Old Marsalla. He
damn near blew the roof off. Hardly anybody laughed
out loud, and old Ossenburger made out like he
didn't even hear it, but old Thurmer, the
headmaster, was sitting right next to him on the
rostrum and all, and you could tell he heard it.
Boy, was he sore. He didn't say anything then, but
the next night he made us have compulsory study hall
in the academic building and he came up and made a
speech. He said that the boy that had created the
disturbance in chapel wasn't fit to go to
Pencey. We tried to get old Marsalla to rip off
another one, right while old Thurmer was making his
speech, but be wasn't in the right mood. Anyway,
that's where I lived at Pencey. Old Ossenburger
Memorial Wing, in the new dorms.
It was pretty nice to get back to my room, after I
left old Spencer, because everybody was down at the
game, and the heat was on in our room, for a change.
It felt sort of cosy. I took off my coat and my tie
and unbuttoned my shirt collar; and then I put on
this hat that I'd bought in New York that morning.
It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very,
very long peaks. I saw it in the window of this
sports store when we got out of the subway, just
after I noticed I'd lost all the goddam foils. It
only cost me a buck. The way I wore it, I swung the
old peak way around to the back--very corny, I'll
admit, but I liked it that way. I looked good in it
that way. Then I got this book I was reading and sat
down in my chair. There were two chairs in every
room. I had one and my roommate, Ward Stradlater,
had one. The arms were in sad shape, because
everybody was always sitting on them, but they were
pretty comfortable chairs.
The book I was reading was this book I took out of
the library by mistake. They gave me the wrong book,
and I didn't notice it till I got back to my room.
They gave me Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen. I
thought it was going to stink, but it didn't. It was
a very good book. I'm quite illiterate, but I read a
lot. My favorite author is my brother D.B., and my
next favorite is Ring Lardner. My brother gave me a
book by Ring Lardner for my birthday, just before I
went to Pencey. It had these very funny, crazy plays
in it, and then it had this one story about a
traffic cop that falls in love with this very cute
girl that's always speeding. Only, he's married, the
cop, so be can't marry her or anything. Then this
girl gets killed, because she's always speeding.
That story just about killed me. What I like best is
a book that's at least funny once in a while. I read
a lot of classical books, like The Return of the
Native and all, and I like them, and I read a lot of
war books and mysteries and all, but they don't
knock me out too much. What really knocks me out is
a book that, when you're all done reading it, you
wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend
of yours and you could call him up on the phone
whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much,
though. I wouldn't mind calling this Isak Dinesen
up. And Ring Lardner, except that D.B. told me he's
dead. You take that book Of Human Bondage, by
Somerset Maugham, though. I read it last summer.
It's a pretty good book and all, but I wouldn't want
to call Somerset Maugham up. I don't know, He just
isn't the kind of guy I'd want to call up, that's
all. I'd rather call old Thomas Hardy up. I like
that Eustacia Vye.
Anyway, I put on my new hat and sat down and
started reading that book Out of Africa. I'd read it
already, but I wanted to read certain parts over
again. I'd only read about three pages, though, when
I heard somebody coming through the shower curtains.
Even without looking up, I knew right away who it
was. It was Robert Ackley, this guy that roomed
right next to me. There was a shower right between
every two rooms in our wing, and about eighty-five
times a day old Ackley barged in on me. He was
probably the only guy in the whole dorm, besides me,
that wasn't down at the game. He hardly ever went
anywhere. He was a very peculiar guy. He was a
senior, and he'd been at Pencey the whole four years
and all, but nobody ever called him anything except
"Ackley." Not even Herb Gale, his own roommate, ever
called him "Bob" or even "Ack." If he ever gets
married, his own wife'll probably call him "Ackley."
He was one of these very, very tall,
round-shouldered guys--he was about six four--with
lousy teeth. The whole time he
roomed next to me, I never even once saw him brush
his teeth. They always looked mossy and awful, and
he damn near made you sick if you saw him in the
dining room with his mouth full of mashed potatoes
and peas or something. Besides that, he had a lot of
pimples. Not just on his forehead or his chin, like
most guys, but all over his whole face. And not only
that, he had a terrible personality. He was also
sort of a nasty guy. I wasn't too crazy about him,
to tell you the truth.
I could feel him standing on the shower ledge,
right behind my chair, taking a look to see if
Stradlater was around. He hated Stradlater's guts
and he never came in the room if Stradlater was
around. He hated everybody's guts, damn near.
He came down off the shower ledge and came in the
room. "Hi," he said. He always said it like he was
terrifically bored or terrifically tired. He didn't
want you to think he was visiting you or anything.
He wanted you to think he'd come in by mistake, for
"Hi," I said, but I didn't look up from my book.
With a guy like Ackley, if you looked up from your
book you were a goner. You were a goner anyway, but
not as quick if you didn't look up right away.
He started walking around the room, very slow and
all, the way he always did, picking up your personal
stuff off your desk and chiffonier. He always picked
up your personal stuff and looked at it. Boy, could
he get on your nerves sometimes. "How was the
fencing?" he said. He just wanted me to quit reading
and enjoying myself. He didn't give a damn about the
fencing. "We win, or what?" he said.
"Nobody won," I said. Without looking up, though.
"What?" he said. He always made you say everything
"Nobody won," I said. I sneaked a look to see what
he was fiddling around with on my chiffonier. He was
looking at this picture of this girl I used to go
around with in New York, Sally Hayes. He must've
picked up that goddam picture and looked at it at
least five thousand times since I got it. He always
put it back in the wrong place, too, when he was
finished. He did it on purpose. You could tell.
"Nobody won," he said. "How come?"
"I left the goddam foils and stuff on the subway."
I still didn't look up at him.
"On the subway, for Chrissake! Ya lost them, ya
"We got on the wrong subway. I had to keep getting
up to look at a goddam map on the wall."
He came over and stood right in my light. "Hey," I
said. "I've read this same sentence about twenty
times since you came in."
Anybody else except Ackley would've taken the
goddam hint. Not him, though. "Think they'll make ya
pay for em?" he said.
"I don't know, and I don't give a damn. How 'bout
sitting down or something, Ackley kid? You're right
in my goddam light." He didn't like it when you
called him "Ackley kid." He was always telling me I
was a goddam kid, because I was sixteen and he was
eighteen. It drove him mad when I called him "Ackley
He kept standing there. He was exactly the kind of
a guy that wouldn't get out of your light when you
asked him to. He'd do it, finally, but it took him a
lot longer if you asked him to. "What the hellya
reading?" he said.
He shoved my book back with his hand so that he
could see the name of it. "Any good?" he said.
"This sentence I'm reading is terrific." I can be
quite sarcastic when I'm in the mood. He didn't get
It, though. He started walking around the room
again, picking up all my personal stuff, and
Stradlater's. Finally, I put my book down on the
floor. You couldn't read anything with a guy like
Ackley around. It was impossible.
I slid way the hell down in my chair and watched
old Ackley making himself at home. I was feeling
sort of tired from the trip to New York and all, and
I started yawning. Then I started horsing around a
little bit. Sometimes I horse around quite a lot,
just to keep from getting bored. What I did was, I
pulled the old peak of my hunting hat around to the
front, then pulled it way down over my eyes. That
way, I couldn't see a goddam thing. "I think I'm
going blind," I said in this very hoarse voice.
"Mother darling, everything's getting so dark in
"You're nuts. I swear to God," Ackley said.
"Mother darling, give me your hand, Why won't you
give me your hand?"
"For Chrissake, grow up."
I started groping around in front of me, like a
blind guy, but without getting up or anything. I
kept saying, "Mother darling, why won't you give me
your hand?" I was only horsing around, naturally.
That stuff gives me a bang sometimes. Besides, I
know it annoyed hell out of old Ackley. He always
brought out the old sadist in me. I was pretty
sadistic with him quite often. Finally, I quit,
though. I pulled the peak around to the back again,
"Who belongsa this?" Ackley said. He was holding
my roommate's knee supporter up to show me. That guy
Ackley'd pick up anything. He'd even pick up your
jock strap or something. I told him it was
Stradlater's. So he chucked it on Stradlater's bed.
He got it off Stradlater's chiffonier, so he chucked
it on the bed.
He came over and sat down on the arm of
Stradlater's chair. He never sat down in a chair.
Just always on the arm. "Where the hellja get that
hat?" he said.
"You got robbed." He started cleaning his goddam
fingernails with the end of a match. He was always
cleaning his fingernails. It was funny, in a way.
His teeth were always mossy-looking, and his ears
were always dirty as hell, but he was always
cleaning his fingernails. I guess he thought that
made him a very neat guy. He took another look at my
hat while he was cleaning them. "Up home we wear a
hat like that to shoot deer in, for Chrissake," he
said. "That's a deer shooting hat."
"Like hell it is." I took it off and looked at it.
I sort of closed one eye, like I was taking aim at
it. "This is a people shooting hat," I said. "I
shoot people in this hat."
"Your folks know you got kicked out yet?"
"Where the hell's Stradlater at, anyway?"
"Down at the game. He's got a date." I yawned. I
was yawning all over the place. For one thing, the
room was too damn hot. It made you sleepy. At
Pencey, you either froze to death or died of the
"The great Stradlater," Ackley said. "--Hey. Lend
me your scissors a second, willya? Ya got 'em
"No. I packed them already. They're way in the top
of the closet."
"Get 'em a second, willya?" Ackley said, "I got
this hangnail I want to cut off."
He didn't care if you'd packed something or not
and had it way in the top of the closet. I got them
for him though. I nearly got killed doing it, too.
The second I opened the closet door, Stradlater's
tennis racket--in its wooden press and all--fell
right on my head. It made a big clunk, and it hurt
like hell. It damn near killed old Ackley, though.
He started laughing in this very high falsetto
voice. He kept laughing the whole time I was taking
down my suitcase and getting the scissors out for
him. Something like that--a guy getting hit on the
head with a rock or something--tickled the pants off
Ackley. "You have a damn good sense of humor, Ackley
kid," I told him. "You know that?" I handed him the
scissors. "Lemme be your manager. I'll get you on
the goddam radio." I sat down in my chair again, and
he started cutting his big horny-looking nails. "How
'bout using the table or something?" I said. "Cut
'em over the table, willya? I don't feel like
walking on your crumby nails in my bare feet
tonight." He kept right on cutting them over the
floor, though. What lousy manners. I mean it.
"Who's Stradlater's date?" he said. He was always
keeping tabs on who Stradlater was dating, even
though he hated Stradlater's guts.
"I don't know. Why?"
"No reason. Boy, I can't stand that sonuvabitch.
He's one sonuvabitch I really can't stand."
"He's crazy about you. He told me he thinks you're
a goddam prince," I said. I call people a "prince"
quite often when I'm horsing around. It keeps me
from getting bored or something.
"He's got this superior attitude all the time,"
Ackley said. "I just can't stand the sonuvabitch.
You'd think he--"
"Do you mind cutting your nails over the table,
hey?" I said. "I've asked you about fifty--"
"He's got this goddam superior attitude all the
time," Ackley said. "I don't even think the
sonuvabitch is intelligent. He thinks he is. He
thinks he's about the most--"
"Ackley! For Chrissake. Willya please cut your
crumby nails over the table? I've asked you fifty
He started cutting his nails over the table, for a
change. The only way he ever did anything was if you
yelled at him.
I watched him for a while. Then I said, "The
reason you're sore at Stradlater is because he said
that stuff about brushing your teeth once in a
while. He didn't mean to insult you, for cryin' out
loud. He didn't say it right or anything, but he
didn't mean anything insulting. All he meant was
you'd look better and feel better if you sort of
brushed your teeth once in a while."
"I brush my teeth. Don't gimme that."
"No, you don't. I've seen you, and you don't," I
said. I didn't say it nasty, though. I felt sort of
sorry for him, in a way. I mean it isn't too nice,
naturally, if somebody tells you you don't brush
your teeth. "Stradlater's all right He's not too
bad," I said. "You don't know him, thats the
"I still say he's a sonuvabitch. He's a conceited
"He's conceited, but he's very generous in some
things. He really is," I said. "Look. Suppose, for
instance, Stradlater was wearing a tie or something
that you liked. Say he had a tie on that you liked a
helluva lot--I'm just giving you an example, now.
You know what he'd do? He'd probably take it off and
give it ta you. He really would. Or--you know what
he'd do? He'd leave it on your bed or something. But
he'd give you the goddam tie. Most guys would
"Hell," Ackley said. "If I had his dough, I would,
"No, you wouldn't." I shook my head. "No, you
wouldn't, Ackley kid. If you had his dough, you'd be
one of the biggest--"
"Stop calling me 'Ackley kid,' God damn it. I'm
old enough to be your lousy father."
"No, you're not." Boy, he could really be
aggravating sometimes. He never missed a chance to
let you know you were sixteen and he was eighteen.
"In the first place, I wouldn't let you in my goddam
family," I said.
"Well, just cut out calling me--"
All of a sudden the door opened, and old
Stradlater barged in, in a big hurry. He was always
in a big hurry. Everything was a very big deal. He
came over to me and gave me these two playful as
hell slaps on both cheeks--which is something that
can be very annoying. 'Listen," he said. "You going
out anywheres special tonight?"
"I don't know. I might. What the hell's it doing
out--snowing?" He had snow all over his coat.
"Yeah. Listen. If you're not going out anyplace
special, how 'bout lending me your hound's-tooth
"Who won the game?" I said.
"It's only the half. We're leaving," Stradlater
said. "No kidding, you gonna use your hound's-tooth
tonight or not? I spilled some crap all over my gray
"No, but I don't want you stretching it with your
goddam shoulders and all," I said. We were
practically the same heighth, but he weighed about
twice as much as I did. He had these very broad
"I won't stretch it." He went over to the closet
in a big hurry. "How'sa boy, Ackley?" he said to
Ackley. He was at least a pretty friendly guy,
Stradlater. It was partly a phony kind of friendly,
but at least he always said hello to Ackley and all.
Ackley just sort of grunted when he said "How'sa
boy?" He wouldn't answer him, but he didn't have
guts enough not to at least grunt. Then he said to
me, "I think I'll get going. See ya later."
"Okay," I said. He never exactly broke your heart
when he went back to his own room.
Old Stradlater started taking off his coat and tie
and all. "I think maybe I'll take a fast shave," he
said. He had a pretty heavy beard. He really did.
"Where's your date?" I asked him.
"She's waiting in the Annex." He went out of the
room with his toilet kit and towel under his arm. No
shirt on or anything. He always walked around in his
bare torso because he thought he had a damn good
build. He did, too. I have to admit it.
I didn't have anything special to do, so I went
down to the can and chewed the rag with him while he
was shaving. We were the only ones in the can,
because everybody was still down at the game. It was
hot as hell and the windows were all steamy. There
were about ten washbowls, all right against the
wall. Stradlater had the middle one. I sat down on
the one right next to him and started turning the
cold water on and off--this nervous habit I have.
Stradlater kept whistling 'Song of India" while he
shaved. He had one of those very piercing whistles
that are practically never in tune, and he always
picked out some song that's hard to whistle even if
you're a good whistler, like "Song of India" or
"Slaughter on Tenth Avenue." He could really mess a
You remember I said before that Ackley was a slob
in his personal habits? Well, so was Stradlater, but
in a different way. Stradlater was more of a secret
slob. He always looked all right, Stradlater, but
for instance, you should've seen the razor he shaved
himself with. It was always rusty as hell and full
of lather and hairs and crap. He never cleaned it or
anything. He always looked good when he was finished
fixing himself up, but he was a secret slob anyway,
if you knew him the way I did. The reason he fixed
himself up to look good was because he was madly in
love with himself. He thought he was the handsomest
guy in the Western Hemisphere. He was pretty
handsome, too--I'll admit it. But he was mostly the
kind of a handsome guy that if your parents saw his
picture in your Year Book, they'd right away say,
"Who's this boy?" I mean he was mostly a Year Book
kind of handsome guy. I knew a lot of guys at Pencey
I thought were a lot handsomer than Stradlater, but
they wouldn't look handsome if you saw their
pictures in the Year Book. They'd look like they had
big noses or their ears stuck out. I've had that
Anyway, I was sitting on the washbowl next to
where Stradlater was shaving, sort of turning the
water on and off. I still had my red hunting hat on,
with the peak around to the back and all. I really
got a bang out of that hat.
"Hey," Stradlater said. "Wanna do me a big favor?"
"What?" I said. Not too enthusiastic. He was
always asking you to do him a big favor. You take a
very handsome guy, or a guy that thinks he's a real
hot-shot, and they're always asking you to do them a
big favor. Just because they're crazy about
themseif, they think you're crazy about them, too,
and that you're just dying to do them a favor. It's
sort of funny, in a way.
"You goin' out tonight?" he said.
"I might. I might not. I don't know. Why?"
"I got about a hundred pages to read for history
for Monday," he said. "How 'bout writing a
composition for me, for English? I'll be up the
creek if I don't get the goddam thing in by Monday,
the reason I ask. How 'bout it?"
It was very ironical. It really was.
"I'm the one that's flunking out of the goddam
place, and you're asking me to write you a goddam
composition," I said.
"Yeah, I know. The thing is, though, I'll be up
the creek if I don't get it in. Be a buddy. Be a
I didn't answer him right away. Suspense is good
for some bastards like Stradlater.
"What on?" I said.
"Anything. Anything descriptive. A room. Or a
house. Or something you once lived in or something--
you know. Just as long as it's descriptive as hell."
He gave out a big yawn while he said that. Which is
something that gives me a royal pain in the ass. I
mean if somebody yawns right while they're asking
you to do them a goddam favor. "Just don't do it too
good, is all," he said. "That sonuvabitch Hartzell
thinks you're a hot-shot in English, and he knows
you're my roommate. So I mean don't stick all the
commas and stuff in the right place."
That's something else that gives me a royal pain.
I mean if you're good at writing compositions and
somebody starts talking about commas. Stradlater was
always doing that. He wanted you to think that the
only reason he was lousy at writing compositions was
because he stuck all the commas in the wrong place.
He was a little bit like Ackley, that way. I once
sat next to Ackley at this basketball game. We had a
terrific guy on the team, Howie Coyle, that could
sink them from the middle of the floor, without even
touching the backboard or anything. Ackley kept
saying, the whole goddam game, that Coyle had a
perfect build for basketball. God, how I hate that
I got bored sitting on that washbowl after a
while, so I backed up a few feet and started doing
this tap dance, just for the hell of it. I was just
amusing myself. I can't really tap-dance or
anything, but it was a stone floor in the can, and
it was good for tap-dancing. I started imitating one
of those guys in the movies. In one of those
musicals. I hate the movies like poison, but I get a
bang imitating them. Old Stradlater watched me in
the mirror while he was shaving. All I need's an
audience. I'm an exhibitionist. "I'm the goddarn
Governor's son," I said. I was knocking myself out.
Tap-dancing all over the place. "He doesn't want me
to be a tap dancer. He wants me to go to Oxford. But
it's in my goddam blood, tap-dancing." Old
Stradlater laughed. He didn't have too bad a sense
of humor. "It's the opening night of the Ziegfeld
Follies." I was getting out of breath. I have hardly
any wind at all. "The leading man can't go on. He's
drunk as a bastard. So who do they get to take his
place? Me, that's who. The little ole goddam
"Where'dja get that hat?" Stradlater said. He
meant my hunting hat. He'd never seen it before.
I was out of breath anyway, so I quit horsing
around. I took off my hat and looked at it for about
the ninetieth time. "I got it in New York this
morning. For a buck. Ya like it?"
Stradlater nodded. "Sharp," he said. He was only
flattering me, though, because right away he said,
"Listen. Are ya gonna write that composition for me?
I have to know."
"If I get the time, I will. If I don't, I won't,"
I said. I went over and sat down at the washbowl
next to him again. "Who's your date?" I asked him.
"Hell, no! I told ya. I'm through with that pig."
"Yeah? Give her to me, boy. No kidding. She's my
"Take her . . . She's too old for you."
All of a sudden--for no good reason, really,
except that I was sort of in the mood for horsing
around--I felt like jumping off the washbowl and
getting old Stradlater in a half nelson. That's a
wrestling hold, in case you don't know, where you
get the other guy around the neck and choke him to
death, if you feel like it. So I did it. I landed on
him like a goddam panther.
"Cut it out, Holden, for Chrissake!" Stradlater
said. He didn't feel like horsing around. He was
shaving and all. "Wuddaya wanna make me do--cut my
goddam head off?"
I didn't let go, though. I had a pretty good half
nelson on him. "Liberate yourself from my viselike
grip." I said.
"Je-sus Christ." He put down his razor, and all of
a sudden jerked his arms up and sort of broke my
hold on him. He was a very strong guy. I'm a very
weak guy. "Now, cut out the crap," he said. He
started shaving himself all over again. He always
shaved himself twice, to look gorgeous. With his
crumby old razor.
"Who is your date if it isn't Fitzgerald?" I asked
him. I sat down on the washbowl next to him again.
"That Phyllis Smith babe?"
"No. It was supposed to he, but the arrangements
got all screwed up. I got Bud Thaw's girl's roommate
now . . . Hey. I almost forgot. She knows you."
"Who does?" I said.
"Yeah?" I said. "What's her name?" I was pretty
"I'm thinking . . . Uh. Jean Gallagher."
Boy, I nearly dropped dead when he said that.
"Jane Gallagher," I said. I even got up from the
washbowl when he said that. I damn near dropped
dead. "You're damn right I know her. She practically
lived right next door to me, the summer before last.
She had this big damn Doberman pinscher. That's how
I met her. Her dog used to keep coming over in
"You're right in my light, Holden, for Chrissake,"
Stradlater said. "Ya have to stand right there?"
Boy, was I excited, though. I really was.
"Where is she?" I asked him. "I oughta go down and
say hello to her or something. Where is she? In the
"How'd she happen to mention me? Does she go to
B.M. now? She said she might go there. She said she
might go to Shipley, too. I thought she went to
Shipley. How'd she happen to mention me?" I was
pretty excited. I really was.
"I don't know, for Chrissake. Lift up, willya?
You're on my towel," Stradlater said. I was sitting
on his stupid towel.
"Jane Gallagher," I said. I couldn't get over it.
"Jesus H. Christ."
Old Stradlater was putting Vitalis on his hair. My
"She's a dancer," I said. "Ballet and all. She
used to practice about two hours every day, right in
the middle of the hottest weather and all. She was
worried that it might make her legs lousy--all thick
and all. I used to play checkers with her all the
"You used to play what with her all the time?"
"Checkers, for Chrissake!"
"Yeah. She wouldn't move any of her kings. What
she'd do, when she'd get a king, she wouldn't move
it. She'd just leave it in the back row. She'd get
them all lined up in the back row. Then she'd never
use them. She just liked the way they looked when
they were all in the back row."
Stradlater didn't say anything. That kind of stuff
doesn't interest most people.
"Her mother belonged to the same club we did," I
said. "I used to caddy once in a while, just to make
some dough. I caddy'd for her mother a couple of
times. She went around in about a hundred and
seventy, for nine holes."
Stradlater wasn't hardly listening. He was combing
his gorgeous locks.
"I oughta go down and at least say hello to her,"
"I will, in a minute."
He started parting his hair all over again. It
took him about an hour to comb his hair.
"Her mother and father were divorced. Her mother
was married again to some booze hound," I said.
"Skinny guy with hairy legs. I remember him. He wore
shorts all the time. Jane said he was supposed to be
a playwright or some goddam thing, but all I ever
saw him do was booze all the time and listen to
every single goddam mystery program on the radio.
And run around the goddam house, naked. With Jane
around, and all."
"Yeah?" Stradlater said. That really interested
him. About the booze hound running around the house
naked, with Jane around. Stradlater was a very sexy
"She had a lousy childhood. I'm not kidding."
That didn't interest Stradlater, though. Only very
sexy stuff interested him.
"Jane Gallagher. Jesus . . . I couldn't get her
off my mind. I really couldn't. "I oughta go down
and say hello to her, at least."
"Why the hell don'tcha, instead of keep saying
it?" Stradlater said.
I walked over to the window, but you couldn't see
out of it, it was so steamy from all the heat in the
can.. "I'm not in the mood right now," I said. I
wasn't, either. You have to be in the mood for those
things. "I thought she went to Shipley. I could've
sworn she went to Shipley." I walked around the can
for a little while. I didn't have anything else to
do. "Did she enjoy the game?" I said.
"Yeah, I guess so. I don't know."
"Did she tell you we used to play checkers all the
time, or anything?"
"I don't know. For Chrissake, I only just met
her," Stradlater said. He was finished combing his
goddam gorgeous hair. He was putting away all his
crumby toilet articles.
"Listen. Give her my regards, willya?"
"Okay," Stradlater said, but I knew he probably
wouldn't. You take a guy like Stradlater, they never
give your regards to people.
He went back to the room, but I stuck around in
the can for a while, thinking about old Jane. Then I
went back to the room, too.
Stradlater was putting on his tie, in front of the
mirror, when I got there. He spent around half his
goddam life in front of the mirror. I sat down in my
chair and sort of watched him for a while.
"Hey," I said. "Don't tell her I got kicked out,
That was one good thing about Stradlater. You
didn't have to explain every goddam little thing
with him, the way you had to do with Ackley. Mostly,
I guess, because he wasn't too interested. That's
really why. Ackley, it was different. Ackley was a
very nosy bastard.
He put on my hound's-tooth jacket.
"Jesus, now, try not to stretch it all over the
place" I said. I'd only worn it about twice.
"I won't. Where the hell's my cigarettes?"
"On the desk." He never knew where he left
anything. "Under your muffler." He put them in his
coat pocket--my coat pocket.
I pulled the peak of my hunting hat around to the
front all of a sudden, for a change. I was getting
sort of nervous, all of a sudden. I'm quite a
nervous guy. "Listen, where ya going on your date
with her?" I asked him. "Ya know yet?"
"I don't know. New York, if we have time. She only
signed out for nine-thirty, for Chrissake."
I didn't like the way he said it, so I said, "The
reason she did that, she probably just didn't know
what a handsome, charming bastard you are. If she'd
known, she probably would've signed out for
nine-thirty in the morning."
"Goddam right," Stradlater said. You couldn't rile
him too easily. He was too conceited. "No kidding,
now. Do that composition for me," he said. He had
his coat on, and he was all ready to go. "Don't
knock yourself out or anything, but just make it
descriptive as hell. Okay?"
I didn't answer him. I didn't feel like it. All I
said was, "Ask her if she still keeps all her kings
in the back row."
"Okay," Stradlater said, but I knew he wouldn't.
"Take it easy, now." He banged the hell out of the
I sat there for about a half hour after he left. I
mean I just sat in my chair, not doing anything. I
kept thinking about Jane, and about Stradlater
having a date with her and all. It made me so
nervous I nearly went crazy. I already told you what
a sexy bastard Stradlater was.
All of a sudden, Ackley barged back in again,
through the damn shower curtains, as usual. For once
in my stupid life, I was really glad to see him. He
took my mind off the other stuff.
He stuck around till around dinnertime, talking
about all the guys at Pencey that he hated their
guts, and squeezing this big pimple on his chin. He
didn't even use his handkerchief. I don't even think
the bastard had a handkerchief, if you want to know
the truth. I never saw him use one, anyway.
We always had the same meal on Saturday nights at
Pencey. It was supposed to be a big deal, because
they gave you steak. I'll bet a thousand bucks the
reason they did that was because a lot of guys'
parents came up to school on Sunday, and old Thurmer
probably figured everybody's mother would ask their
darling boy what he had for dinner last night, and
he'd say, "Steak." What a racket. You should've seen
the steaks. They were these little hard, dry jobs
that you could hardly even cut. You always got these
very lumpy mashed potatoes on steak night, and for
dessert you got Brown Betty, which nobody ate,
except maybe the little kids in the lower school
that didn't know any better--and guys like Ackley
that ate everything.
It was nice, though, when we got out of the
dining room. There were about three inches of snow
on the ground, and it was still coming down like a
madman. It looked pretty as hell, and we all started
throwing snowballs and horsing around all over the
place. It was very childish, but everybody was
really enjoying themselves.
I didn't have a date or anything, so I and this
friend of mine, Mal Brossard, that was on the
wrestling team, decided we'd take a bus into
Agerstown and have a hamburger and maybe see a lousy
movie. Neither of us felt like sitting around on our
ass all night. I asked Mal if he minded if Ackley
came along with us. The reason I asked was because
Ackley never did anything on Saturday night, except
stay in his room and squeeze his pimples or
something. Mal said he didn't mind but that he
wasn't too crazy about the idea. He didn't like
Ackley much. Anyway, we both went to our rooms to
get ready and all, and while I was putting on my
galoshes and crap, I yelled over and asked old
Ackley if he wanted to go to the movies. He could
hear me all right through the shower curtains, but
he didn't answer me right away. He was the kind of a
guy that hates to answer you right away. Finally he
came over, through the goddam curtains, and stood on
the shower ledge and asked who was going besides me.
He always had to know who was going. I swear, if
that guy was shipwrecked somewhere, and you rescued
him in a goddam boat, he'd want to know who the guy
was that was rowing it before he'd even get in. I
told him Mal Brossard was going. He said, "That
bastard . . . All right. Wait a second." You'd think
he was doing you a big favor.
It took him about five hours to get ready. While
he was doing it, I went over to my window and opened
it and packed a snowball with my bare hands. The
snow was very good for packing. I didn't throw it at
anything, though. I started to throw it. At a car
that was parked across the street. But I changed my
mind. The car looked so nice and white. Then I
started to throw it at a hydrant, but that looked
too nice and white, too. Finally I didn't throw it
at anything. All I did was close the window and walk
around the room with the snowball, packing it
harder. A little while later, I still had it with me
when I and Brossnad and Ackley got on the bus. The
bus driver opened the doors and made me throw it
out. I told him I wasn't going to chuck it at
anybody, but he wouldn't believe me. People never
Brossard and Ackley both had seen the picture that
was playing, so all we did, we just had a couple of
hamburgers and played the pinball machine for a
little while, then took the bus back to Pencey. I
didn't care about not seeing the movie, anyway. It
was supposed to be a comedy, with Cary Grant in it,
and all that crap. Besides, I'd been to the movies
with Brossard and Ackley before. They both laughed
like hyenas at stuff that wasn't even funny. I
didn't even enjoy sitting next to them in the
It was only about a quarter to nine when we got
back to the dorm. Old Brossard was a bridge fiend,
and he started looking around the dorm for a game.
Old Ackley parked himself in my room, just for a
change. Only, instead of sitting on the arm of
Stradlater's chair, he laid down on my bed, with his
face right on my pillow and all. He started talking
in this very monotonous voice, and picking at all
his pimples. I dropped about a thousand hints, but I
couldn't get rid of him. All he did was keep talking
in this very monotonous voice about some babe he was
supposed to have had sexual intercourse with the
summer before. He'd already told me about it about a
hundred times. Every time he told it, it was
different. One minute he'd be giving it to her in
his cousin's Buick, the next minute he'd be giving
it to her under some boardwalk. It was all a lot of
naturally. He was a virgin if ever I saw one. I
doubt if he ever even gave anybody a feel. Anyway,
finally I had to come right out and tell him that I
had to write a composition for Stradlater, and that
he had to clear the hell out, so I could
concentrate. He finally did, but he took his time
about it, as usual. After he left, I put on my
pajamas and bathrobe and my old hunting hat, and
started writing the composition.
The thing was, I couldn't think of a room or a
house or anything to describe the way Stradlater
said he had to have. I'm not too crazy about
describing rooms and houses anyway. So what I did, I
wrote about my brother Allie's baseball mitt. It was
a very descriptive subject. It really was. My
brother Allie had this left-handed fielder's mitt.
He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive
about it, though, was that he had poems written all
over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In
green ink. He wrote them on it so that he'd have
something to read when he was in the field and
nobody was up at bat. He's dead now. He got leukemia
and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18, 1946.
You'd have liked him. He was two years younger than
I was, but he was about fifty times as intelligent.
He was terrifically intelligent. His teachers were
always writing letters to my mother, telling her
what a pleasure it was having a boy like Allie in
their class. And they weren't just shooting the
crap. They really meant it. But it wasn't just that
he was the most intelligent member in the family. He
was also the nicest, in lots of ways. He never got
mad at anybody. People with red hair are supposed to
get mad very easily, but Allie never did, and he had
very red hair. I'll tell you what kind of red hair
he had. I started playing golf when I was only ten
years old. I remember once, the summer I was around
twelve, teeing off and all, and having a hunch that
if I turned around all of a sudden, I'd see Allie.
So I did, and sure enough, he was sitting on his
bike outside the fence--there was this fence that
went all around the course--and he was sitting
there, about a hundred and fifty yards behind me,
watching me tee off. That's the kind of red hair he
had. God, he was a nice kid, though. He used to
laugh so hard at something he thought of at the
dinner table that he just about fell off his chair.
I was only thirteen, and they were going to have me
psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the
windows in the garage. I don't blame them. I really
don't. I slept in the garage the night he died, and
I broke all the goddam windows with my fist, just
for the hell of it. I even tried to break all the
windows on the station wagon we had that summer, but
my hand was already broken and everything by that
time, and I couldn't do it. It was a very stupid
thing to do, I'll admit, but I hardly didn't even
know I was doing it, and you didn't know Allie. My
hand still hurts me once in a while when it rains
and all, and I can't make a real fist any more--not
a tight one, I mean--but outside of that I don't
care much. I mean I'm not going to be a goddam
surgeon or a violinist or anything anyway.
Anyway, that's what I wrote Stradlater's
composition about. Old Allie's baseball mitt. I
happened to have it with me, in my suitcase, so I
got it out and copied down the poems that were
written on it. All I had to do was change Allie's
name so that nobody would know it was my brother and
not Stradlater's. I wasn't too crazy about doing it,
but I couldn't think of anything else descriptive.
Besides, I sort of liked writing about it. It took
me about an hour, because I had to use Stradlater's
lousy typewriter, and it kept jamming on me. The
reason I didn't use my own was because I'd lent it
to a guy down the hall.
It was around ten-thirty, I guess, when I finished
it. I wasn't tired, though, so I looked out the
window for a while. It wasn't snowing out any more,
but every once in a while you could hear a car
somewhere not being able to get started. You could
old Ackley snoring. Right through the goddam
shower curtains you could hear him. He had sinus
trouble and he couldn't breathe too hot when he was
asleep. That guy had just about everything. Sinus
trouble, pimples, lousy teeth, halitosis, crumby
fingernails. You had to feel a little sorry for the
Some things are hard to remember. I'm thinking now
of when Stradlater got back from his date with Jane.
I mean I can't remember exactly what I was doing
when I heard his goddam stupid footsteps coming down
the corridor. I probably was still looking out the
window, but I swear I can't remember. I was so damn
worried, that's why. When I really worry about
something, I don't just fool around. I even have to
go to the bathroom when I worry about something.
Only, I don't go. I'm too worried to go. I don't
want to interrupt my worrying to go. If you knew
Stradlater, you'd have been worried, too. I'd
double-dated with that bastard a couple of times,
and I know what I'm talking about. He was
unscrupulous. He really was.
Anyway, the corridor was all linoleum and all, and
you could hear his goddam footsteps coming right
towards the room. I don't even remember where I was
sitting when he came in--at the window, or in my
chair or his. I swear I can't remember.
He came in griping about how cold it was out. Then
he said, "Where the hell is everybody? It's like a
goddam morgue around here." I didn't even bother to
answer him. If he was so goddam stupid not to
realize it was Saturday night and everybody was out
or asleep or home for the week end, I wasn't going
to break my neck telling him. He started getting
undressed. He didn't say one goddam word about Jane.
Not one. Neither did I. I just watched him. All he
did was thank me for letting him wear my
hound's-tooth. He hung it up on a hanger and put it
in the closet.
Then when he was taking off his tie, he asked me
if I'd written his goddam composition for him. I
told him it was over on his goddam bed. He walked
over and read it while he was unbuttoning his shirt.
He stood there, reading it, and sort of stroking his
bare chest and stomach, with this very stupid
expression on his face. He was always stroking his
stomach or his chest. He was mad about himself.
All of a sudden, he said, "For Chrissake, Holden.
This is about a goddam baseball glove."
"So what?" I said. Cold as hell.
"Wuddaya mean so what? I told ya it had to be
about a goddam room or a house or something."
"You said it had to be descriptive. What the
hell's the difference if it's about a baseball
"God damn it." He was sore as hell. He was really
furious. "You always do everything backasswards." He
looked at me. "No wonder you're flunking the hell
out of here," he said. "You don't do one damn thing
the way you're supposed to. I mean it. Not one damn
"All right, give it back to me, then," I said. I
went over and pulled it right out of his goddam
hand. Then I tore it up.
"What the hellja do that for?" he said.
I didn't even answer him. I just threw the pieces
in the wastebasket. Then I lay down on my bed, and
we both didn't say anything for a long time. He got
all undressed, down to his shorts, and I lay on my
bed and lit a cigarette. You weren't allowed to
smoke in the dorm, but you could do it late at night
when everybody was asleep or out and nobody could
smell the smoke. Besides, I did it to annoy
Stradlater. It drove him crazy when you broke any
rules. He never smoked in the dorm. It was only me.
He still didn't say one single solitary word about
Jane. So finally I said, "You're back pretty goddam
late if she only signed out for nine-thirty. Did you
make her be late signing in?"
He was sitting on the edge of his bed, cutting his
goddam toenails, when I asked him that. "Coupla
minutes," he said. "Who the hell signs out for
nine-thirty on a Saturday night?" God, how I hated
"Did you go to New York?" I said.
"Ya crazy? How the hell could we go to New York if
she only signed out for nine-thirty?"
He looked up at me. "Listen," he said, "if you're
gonna smoke in the room, how 'bout going down to the
can and do it? You may be getting the hell out of
here, but I have to stick around long enough to
I ignored him. I really did. I went right on
smoking like a madman. All I did was sort of turn
over on my side and watched him cut his damn
toenails. What a school. You were always watching
somebody cut their damn toenails or squeeze their
pimples or something.
"Did you give her my regards?" I asked him.
The hell he did, the bastard.
"What'd she say?" I said. "Did you ask her if she
still keeps all her kings in the back row?"
"No, I didn't ask her. What the hell ya think we
did all night--play checkers, for Chrissake?"
I didn't even answer him. God, how I hated him.
"If you didn't go to New York, where'd ya go with
her?" I asked him, after a little while. I could
hardly keep my voice from shaking all over the
place. Boy, was I getting nervous. I just had a
feeling something had gone funny.
He was finished cutting his damn toenails. So he
got up from the bed, in just his damn shorts and
all, and started getting very damn playful. He came
over to my bed and started leaning over me and
taking these playful as hell socks at my shoulder.
"Cut it out," I said. "Where'd you go with her if
you didn't go to New York?"
"Nowhere. We just sat in the goddam car." He gave
me another one of those playtul stupid little socks
on the shoulder.
"Cut it out," I said. "Whose car?"
Ed Banky was the basketball coach at Pencey. Old
Stradlater was one of his pets, because he was the
center on the team, and Ed Banky always let him
borrow his car when he wanted it. It wasn't allowed
for students to borrow faculty guys' cars, but all
athletic bastards stuck together. In every
school I've gone to, all the athletic bastards stick
Stradlater kept taking these shadow punches down
at my shoulder. He had his toothbrush in his hand,
and he put it in his mouth. "What'd you do?" I said.
"Give her the time in Ed Banky's goddam car?" My
voice was shaking something awful.
"What a thing to say. Want me to wash your mouth
out with soap?"
"That's a professional secret, buddy."
This next part I don't remember so hot. All I know
is I got up from the bed, like I was going down to
the can or something, and then I tried to sock him,
with all my might, right smack in the toothbrush, so
it would split his goddam throat open. Only, I
missed. I didn't connect. All I did was sort of get
him on the side of the head or something. It
probably hurt him a little bit, but not as much as I
wanted. It probably would've hurt him a lot, but I
did it with my right hand, and I can't make a good
fist with that hand. On account of that injury I
told you about.
Anyway, the next thing I knew, I was on the goddam
floor and he was sitting on my chest, with his face
all red. That is, he had his goddam knees on my
chest, and he weighed about a ton. He had hold of my
wrists, too, so I couldn't take another sock at him.
I'd've killed him.
"What the hell's the matter with you?" he kept
saying, and his stupid race kept getting redder and
"Get your lousy knees off my chest," I told him. I
was almost bawling. I really was. "Go on, get off a
me, ya crumby bastard."
He wouldn't do it, though. He kept holding onto my
wrists and I kept calling him a sonuvabitch and all,
for around ten hours. I can hardly even remember
what all I said to him. I told him he thought he
could give the time to anybody he felt like. I told
him he didn't even care if a girl kept all her kings
in the back row or not, and the reason he didn't
care was because he was a goddam stupid moron. He
hated it when you called a moron. All morons hate it
when you call them a moron.
"Shut up, now, Holden," he said with his big
stupid red face. "just shut up, now."
"You don't even know if her first name is Jane or
Jean, ya goddam moron!"
"Now, shut up, Holden, God damn it--I'm warning
ya," he said--I really had him going. "If you don't
shut up, I'm gonna slam ya one."
"Get your dirty stinking moron knees off my
"If I letcha up, will you keep your mouth shut?"
I didn't even answer him.
He said it over again. "Holden. If I letcha up,
willya keep your mouth shut?"
He got up off me, and I got up, too. My chest hurt
like hell from his dirty knees. "You're a dirty
stupid sonuvabitch of a moron," I told him.
That got him really mad. He shook his big stupid
finger in my face. "Holden, God damn it, I'm warning
you, now. For the last time. If you don't keep your
yap shut, I'm gonna--"
"Why should I?" I said--I was practically yelling.
"That's just the trouble with all you morons. You
never want to discuss anything. That's the way you
can always tell a moron. They never want to discuss
Then he really let one go at me, and the next
thing I knew I was on the goddam floor again. I
don't remember if he knocked me out or not, but I
don't think so. It's pretty hard to knock a guy out,
except in the goddam movies. But my nose was
bleeding all over the place. When I looked up old
Stradlater was standing practically right on top of
me. He had his goddam toilet kit under his arm. "Why
the hell don'tcha shut up when I tellya to?" he
said. He sounded pretty nervous. He probably was
scared he'd fractured my skull or something when I
hit the floor. It's too bad I didn't. "You asked for
it, God damn it," he said. Boy, did he look worried.
I didn't even bother to get up. I just lay there
in the floor for a while, and kept calling him a
moron sonuvabitch. I was so mad, I was practically
"Listen. Go wash your face," Stradlater said. "Ya
I told him to go wash his own moron face--which
was a pretty childish thing to say, but I was mad as
hell. I told him to stop off on the way to the can
and give Mrs. Schmidt the time. Mrs. Schmidt was the
janitor's wife. She was around sixty-five.
I kept sitting there on the floor till I heard old
Stradlater close the door and go down the corridor
to the can. Then I got up. I couldn't find my goddam
hunting hat anywhere. Finally I found it. It was
under the bed. I put it on, and turned the old peak
around to the back, the way I liked it, and then I
went over and took a look at my stupid face in the
mirror. You never saw such gore in your life. I had
blood all over my mouth and chin and even on my
pajamas and bath robe. It partly scared me and it
partly fascinated me. All that blood and all sort of
made me look tough. I'd only been in about two
fights in my life, and I lost both of them. I'm not
too tough. I'm a pacifist, if you want to know the
I had a feeling old Ackley'd probably heard all
the racket and was awake. So I went through the
shower curtains into his room, just to see what the
hell he was doing. I hardly ever went over to his
room. It always had a funny stink in it, because he
was so crumby in his personal habits.
A tiny bit of light came through the shower
curtains and all from our room, and I could see him
lying in bed. I knew damn well he was wide awake.
"Ackley?" I said. "Y'awake?"
It was pretty dark, and I stepped on somebody's
shoe on the floor and danm near fell on my head.
Ackley sort of sat up in bed and leaned on his arm.
He had a lot of white stuff on his face, for his
pimples. He looked sort of spooky in the dark. "What
the hellya doing, anyway?" I said.
"Wuddaya mean what the hell am I doing? I was
tryna sleep before you guys started making all that
noise. What the hell was the fight about, anyhow?"
"Where's the light?" I couldn't find the light. I
was sliding my hand all over the wall.
"Wuddaya want the light for? . . . Right next to
I finally found the switch and turned It on. Old
Ackley put his hand up so the light wouldn't hurt
"Jesus!" he said. "What the hell happened to
you?" He meant all the blood and all.
"I had a little goddam tiff with Stradlater," I
said. Then I sat down on the floor. They never had
any chairs in their room. I don't know what the hell
they did with their chairs. "Listen," I said, "do
you feel like playing a little Canasta?" He was a
"You're still bleeding, for Chrissake. You better
put something on it."
"It'll stop. Listen. Ya wanna play a little
Canasta or don'tcha?"
"Canasta, for Chrissake. Do you know what time it
is, by any chance?"
"It isn't late. It's only around eleven,
"Only around!" Ackley said. "Listen. I gotta get
up and go to Mass in the morning, for Chrissake. You
guys start hollering and fighting in the middle of
the goddam--What the hell was the fight about,
"It's a long story. I don't wanna bore ya, Ackley.
I'm thinking of your welfare," I told him. I never
discussed my personal life with him. In the first
place, he was even more stupid than Stradlater.
Stradlater was a goddam genius next to Ackley.
"Hey," I said, "is it okay if I sleep in Ely's bed
tonight? He won't be back till tomorrow night, will
he?" I knew damn well he wouldn't. Ely went home
damn near every week end.
"I don't know when the hell he's coming back,"
Boy, did that annoy me. "What the hell do you mean
you don't know when he's coming back? He never comes
back till Sunday night, does he?"
"No, but for Chrissake, I can't just tell somebody
they can sleep in his goddam bed if they want to."
That killed me. I reached up from where I was
sitting on the floor and patted him on the goddam
shoulder. "You're a prince, Ackley kid," I said.
"You know that?"
"No, I mean it--I can't just tell somebody they
can sleep in--"
"You're a real prince. You're a gentleman and a
scholar, kid," I said. He really was, too. "Do you
happen to have any cigarettes, by any chance?--Say
'no' or I'll drop dead."
"No, I don't, as a matter of fact. Listen, what
the hell was the fight about?"
I didn't answer him. All I did was, I got up and
went over and looked out the window. I felt so
lonesome, all of a sudden. I almost wished I was
"What the hell was the fight about, anyhow?"
Ackley said, for about the fiftieth time. He
certainly was a bore about that.
"About you," I said.
"About me, for Chrissake?"
"Yeah. I was defending your goddam honor.
Stradlater said you had a lousy personality. I
couldn't let him get away with that stuff."
That got him excited. "He did? No kidding? He
I told him I was only kidding, and then I went
over and laid down on Ely's bed. Boy, did I feel
rotten. I felt so damn lonesome.
"This room stinks," I said. "I can smell your
socks from way over here. Don'tcha ever send them to
"If you don't like it, you know what you can do,"
Ackley said. What a witty guy. "How 'bout turning
off the goddam light?"
I didn't turn it off right away, though. I just
kept laying there on Ely's bed, thinking about Jane
and all. It just drove me stark staring mad when I
thought about her
and Stradlater parked somewhere in that fat-assed
Ed Banky's car. Every time I thought about it, I
felt like jumping out the window. The thing is, you
didn't know Stradlater. I knew him. Most guys at
Pencey just talked about having sexual intercourse
with girls all the time--like Ackley, for
instance--but old Stradlater really did it. I was
personally acquainted with at least two girls he
gave the time to. That's the truth.
"Tell me the story of your fascinating life,
Ackley kid," I said.
"How 'bout turning off the goddam light? I gotta
get up for Mass in the morning."
I got up and turned it off, if it made him happy.
Then I laid down on Ely's bed again.
"What're ya gonna do--sleep in Ely's bed?" Ackley
said. He was the perfect host, boy.
"I may. I may not. Don't worry about it."
"I'm not worried about it. Only, I'd hate like
hell if Ely came in all of a sudden and found some
"Relax. I'm not gonna sleep here. I wouldn't abuse
your goddam hospitality."
A couple of minutes later, he was snoring like
mad. I kept laying there in the dark anyway, though,
trying not to think about old Jane and Stradlater in
that goddam Ed Banky's car. But it was almost
impossible. The trouble was, I knew that guy
Stradlater's technique. That made it even worse. We
once double-dated, in Ed Banky's car, and Stradlater
was in the back, with his date, and I was in the
front with mine. What a technique that guy had. What
he'd do was, he'd start snowing his date in this
very quiet, sincere voice--like as if he wasn't only
a very handsome guy but a nice, sincere guy, too. I
damn near puked, listening to him. His date kept
saying, "No--please. Please, don't. Please." But old
Stradlater kept snowing her in this Abraham Lincoln,
sincere voice, and finally there'd be this terrific
silence in the back of the car. It was really
embarrassing. I don't think he gave that girl the
time that night--but damn near. Damn near.
While I was laying there trying not to think, I
heard old Stradlater come back from the can and go
in our room. You could hear him putting away his
crumby toilet articles and all, and opening the
window. He was a fresh-air fiend. Then, a little
while later, he turned off the light. He didn't even
look around to see where I was at.
It was even depressing out in the street. You
couldn't even hear any cars any more. I got feeling
so lonesome and rotten, I even felt like waking
"Hey, Ackley," I said, in sort of a whisper, so
Stradlater couldn't hear me through the shower
Ackley didn't hear me, though.
He still didn't hear me. He slept like a rock.
He heard that, all right.
"What the hell's the matter with you?" he said. "I
was asleep, for Chrissake."
"Listen. What's the routine on joining a
monastery?" I asked him. I was sort of toying with
the idea of joining one. "Do you have to be a
Catholic and all?"
"Certainly you have to be a Catholic. You bastard,
did you wake me just to ask me a dumb ques--"
"Aah, go back to sleep. I'm not gonna join one
anyway. The kind of luck I have, I'd probably join
one with all the wrong kind of monks in it. All
stupid bastards. Or just bastards."
When I said that, old Ackley sat way the hell up
in bed. "Listen," he said, "I don't care what you
say about me or anything, but if you start making
cracks about my goddam religion, for Chrissake--"
"Relax," I said. "Nobody's making any cracks about
your goddam religion." I got up off Ely's bed, and
started towards the door. I didn't want to hang
around in that stupid atmosphere any more. I stopped
on the way, though, and picked up Ackley's hand, and
gave him a big, phony handshake. He pulled it away
from me. "What's the idea?" he said.
"No idea. I just want to thank you for being such
a goddam prince, that's all," I said. I said it in
this very sincere voice. "You're aces, Ackley kid,"
I said. "You know that?"
"Wise guy. Someday somebody's gonna bash your--"
I didn't even bother to listen to him. I shut the
damn door and went out in the corridor.
Everybody was asleep or out or home for the week
end, and it was very, very quiet and depressing in
the corridor. There was this empty box of Kolynos
toothpaste outside Leahy and Hoffman's door, and
while I walked down towards the stairs, I kept
giving it a boot with this sheep-lined slipper I had
on. What I thought I'd do, I thought I might go down
and see what old Mal Brossard was doing. But all of
a sudden, I changed my mind. All of a sudden, I
decided what I'd really do, I'd get the hell out of
Pencey--right that same night and all. I mean not
wait till Wednesday or anything. I just didn't want
to hang around any more. It made me too sad and
lonesome. So what I decided to do, I decided I'd
take a room in a hotel in New York--some very
inexpensive hotel and all--and just take it easy
till Wednesday. Then, on Wednesday, I'd go home all
rested up and feeling swell. I figured my parents
probably wouldn't get old Thurmer's letter saying
I'd been given the ax till maybe Tuesday or
Wednesday. I didn't want to go home or anything till
they got it and thoroughly digested it and all. I
didn't want to be around when they first got it. My
mother gets very hysterical. She's not too bad after
she gets something thoroughly digested, though.
Besides, I sort of needed a little vacation. My
nerves were shot. They really were.
Anyway, that's what I decided I'd do. So I went
back to the room and turned on the light, to start
packing and all. I already had quite a few things
packed. Old Stradlater didn't even wake up. I lit a
cigarette and got all dressed and then I packed
these two Gladstones I have. It only took me about
two minutes. I'm a very rapid packer.
One thing about packing depressed me a little. I
had to pack these brand-new ice skates my mother had
practically just sent me a couple of days before.
That depressed me. I could see my mother going in
Spaulding's and asking the salesman a million dopy
questions--and here I was getting the ax again. It
made me feel pretty sad. She bought me the wrong
kind of skates--I wanted racing skates and she
bought hockey--but it made me sad anyway. Almost
every time somebody gives me a present, it ends up
making me sad.
After I got all packed, I sort of counted my
dough. I don't remember exactly how much I had, but
I was pretty loaded. My grandmother'd just sent me a
wad about a week before. I have this grandmother
that's quite lavish with her dough. She doesn't have
all her marbles any more--she's old as hell--and she
keeps sending me money for my
birthday about four times a year. Anyway, even
though I was pretty loaded, I figured I could always
use a few extra bucks. You never know. So what I did
was, I went down the hail and woke up Frederick
Woodruff, this guy I'd lent my typewriter to. I
asked him how much he'd give me for it. He was a
pretty wealthy guy. He said he didn't know. He said
he didn't much want to buy it. Finally he bought it,
though. It cost about ninety bucks, and all he
bought it for was twenty. He was sore because I'd
woke him up.
When I was all set to go, when I had my bags and
all, I stood for a while next to the stairs and took
a last look down the goddam corridor. I was sort of
crying. I don't know why. I put my red hunting hat
on, and turned the peak around to the back, the way
I liked it, and then I yelled at the top of my
goddam voice, "Sleep tight, ya morons!" I'll bet I
woke up every bastard on the whole floor. Then I got
the hell out. Some stupid guy had thrown peanut
shells all over the stairs, and I damn near broke my
It was too late to call up for a cab or anything,
so I walked the whole way to the station. It wasn't
too far, but it was cold as hell, and the snow made
it hard for walking, and my Gladstones kept banging
hell out of my legs. I sort of enjoyed the air and
all, though. The only trouble was, the cold made my
nose hurt, and right under my upper lip, where old
Stradlater'd laid one on me. He'd smacked my lip
right on my teeth, and it was pretty sore. My ears
were nice and warm, though. That hat I bought had
earlaps in it, and I put them on--I didn't give a
damn how I looked. Nobody was around anyway.
Everybody was in the sack.
I was quite lucky when I got to the station,
because I only had to wait about ten minutes for a
train. While I waited, I got some snow in my hand
and washed my face with it. I still had quite a bit
of blood on.
Usually I like riding on trains, especially at
night, with the lights on and the windows so black,
and one of those guys coming up the aisle selling
coffee and sandwiches and magazines. I usually buy a
ham sandwich and about four magazines. If I'm on a
train at night, I can usually even read one of those
dumb stories in a magazine without puking. You know.
One of those stories with a lot of phony, lean-jawed
guys named David in it, and a lot of phony girls
named Linda or Marcia that are always lighting all
the goddam Davids' pipes for them. I can even read
one of those lousy stories on a train at night,
usually. But this time, it was different. I just
didn't feel like it. I just sort of sat and not did
anything. All I did was take off my hunting hat and
put it in my pocket.
All of a sudden, this lady got on at Trenton and
sat down next to me. Practically the whole car was
empty, because it was pretty late and all, but she
sat down next to me, instead of an empty seat,
because she had this big bag with her and I was
sitting in the front seat. She stuck the bag right
out in the middle of the aisle, where the conductor
and everybody could trip over it. She had these
orchids on, like she'd just been to a big party or
something. She was around forty or forty-five, I
guess, but she was very good looking. Women kill me.
They really do. I don't mean I'm oversexed or
anything like that--although I am quite sexy. I just
like them, I mean. They're always leaving their
goddam bags out in the middle of the aisle.
Anyway, we were sitting there, and all of a
sudden she said to me, "Excuse me, but isn't that a
Pencey Prep sticker?" She was looking up at my
suitcases, up on the rack.
"Yes, it is," I said. She was right. I did have a
goddam Pencey sticker on one of my Gladstones. Very
corny, I'll admit.
"Oh, do you go to Pencey?" she said. She had a
nice voice. A nice telephone voice, mostly. She
should've carried a goddam telephone around with
"Yes, I do," I said.
"Oh, how lovely! Perhaps you know my son, then,
Ernest Morrow? He goes to Pencey."
"Yes, I do. He's in my class."
Her son was doubtless the biggest bastard that
ever went to Pencey, in the whole crumby history of
the school. He was always going down the corridor,
after he'd had a shower, snapping his soggy old wet
towel at people's asses. That's exactly the kind of
a guy he was.
"Oh, how nice!" the lady said. But not corny. She
was just nice and all. "I must tell Ernest we met,"
she said. "May I ask your name, dear?"
"Rudolf Schmidt," I told her. I didn't feel like
giving her my whole life history. Rudolf Schmidt was
the name of the janitor of our dorm.
"Do you like Pencey?" she asked me.
"Pencey? It's not too bad. It's not paradise or
anything, but it's as good as most schools. Some of
the faculty are pretty conscientious."
"Ernest just adores it."
"I know he does," I said. Then I started shooting
the old crap around a little bit. "He adapts himself
very well to things. He really does. I mean he
really knows how to adapt himself."
"Do you think so?" she asked me. She sounded
interested as hell.
"Ernest? Sure," I said. Then I watched her take
off her gloves. Boy, was she lousy with rocks.
"I just broke a nail, getting out of a cab," she
said. She looked up at me and sort of smiled. She
had a terrifically nice smile. She really did. Most
people have hardly any smile at all, or a lousy one.
"Ernest's father and I sometimes worry about him,"
she said. "We sometimes feel he's not a terribly
"How do you mean?"
"Well. He's a very sensitive boy. He's really
never been a terribly good mixer with other boys.
Perhaps he takes things a little more seriously than
he should at his age."
Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was
about as sensitive as a goddam toilet seat.
I gave her a good look. She didn't look like any
dope to me. She looked like she might have a pretty
damn good idea what a bastard she was the mother of.
But you can't always tell--with somebody's mother, I
mean. Mothers are all slightly insane. The thing is,
though, I liked old Morrow's mother. She was all
right. "Would you care for a cigarette?" I asked
She looked all around. "I don't believe this is a
smoker, Rudolf," she said. Rudolf. That killed me.
"That's all right. We can smoke till they start
screaming at us," I said. She took a cigarette off
me, and I gave her a light.
She looked nice, smoking. She inhaled and all, but
she didn't wolf the smoke down, the way most women
around her age do. She had a lot of charm. She had
quite a lot of sex appeal, too, if you really want
She was looking at me sort of funny. I may be
wrong but I believe your nose is bleeding, dear, she
said, all of a sudden.
I nodded and took out my handkerchief. "I got hit
with a snowball," I said. "One of those very icy
ones." I probably would've told her what really
happened, but it would've taken too long. I liked
her, though. I was beginning to feel sort of sorry
I'd told her my name was Rudolf Schmidt. "Old
Ernie," I said. "He's one of the most popular boys
at Pencey. Did you know that?"
"No, I didn't."
I nodded. "It really took everybody quite a long
time to get to know him. He's a funny guy. A strange
guy, in lots of ways--know what I mean? Like when I
first met him. When I first met him, I thought he
was kind of a snobbish person. That's what I
thought. But he isn't. He's just got this very
original personality that takes you a little while
to get to know him."
Old Mrs. Morrow didn't say anything, but boy, you
should've seen her. I had her glued to her seat. You
take somebody's mother, all they want to hear about
is what a hot-shot their son is.
Then I really started chucking the old crap
around. "Did he tell you about the elections?" I
asked her. "The class elections?"
She shook her head. I had her in a trance, like. I
"Well, a bunch of us wanted old Ernie to be
president of the class. I mean he was the unanimous
choice. I mean he was the only boy that could really
handle the job," I said--boy, was I chucking it.
"But this other boy--Harry Fencer--was elected. And
the reason he was elected, the simple and obvious
reason, was because Ernie wouldn't let us nominate
him. Because he's so darn shy and modest and all. He
refused. . . Boy, he's really shy. You oughta make
him try to get over that." I looked at her. "Didn't
he tell you about it?"
"No, he didn't."
I nodded. "That's Ernie. He wouldn't. That's the
one fault with him--he's too shy and modest. You
really oughta get him to try to relax occasionally."
Right that minute, the conductor came around for
old Mrs. Morrow's ticket, and it gave me a chance to
quit shooting it. I'm glad I shot it for a while,
though. You take a guy like Morrow that's always
snapping their towel at people's asses--really
trying to hurt somebody with it--they don't just
stay a rat while they're a kid. They stay a rat
their whole life. But I'll bet, after all the crap I
shot, Mrs. Morrow'll keep thinking of him now as
this very shy, modest guy that wouldn't let us
nominate him for president. She might. You can't
tell. Mothers aren't too sharp about that stuff.
"Would you care for a cocktail?" I asked her. I
was feeling in the mood for one myself. "We can go
in the club car. All right?"
"Dear, are you allowed to order drinks?" she asked
me. Not snotty, though. She was too charming and all
to be snotty.
"Well, no, not exactly, but I can usually get them
on account of my heighth," I said. "And I have quite
a bit of gray hair." I turned sideways and showed
her my gray
hair. It fascinated hell out of her. "C'mon,
join me, why don't you?" I said. I'd've enjoyed
"I really don't think I'd better. Thank you so
much, though, dear," she said. "Anyway, the club
car's most likely closed. It's quite late, you
know." She was right. I'd forgotten all about what
time it was.
Then she looked at me and asked me what I was
afraid she was going to ask me. "Ernest wrote that
he'd be home on Wednesday, that Christmas vacation
would start on Wednesday," she said. "I hope you
weren't called home suddenly because of illness in
the family." She really looked worried about it. She
wasn't just being nosy, you could tell.
"No, everybody's fine at home," I said. "It's me.
I have to have this operation."
"Oh! I'm so sorry," she said. She really was, too.
I was right away sorry I'd said it, but it was too
"It isn't very serious. I have this tiny little
tumor on the brain."
"Oh, no!" She put her hand up to her mouth and
all. "Oh, I'll be all right and everything! It's
right near the outside. And it's a very tiny one.
They can take it out in about two minutes."
Then I started reading this timetable I had in my
pocket. Just to stop lying. Once I get started, I
can go on for hours if I feel like it. No kidding.
We didn't talk too much after that. She started
reading this Vogue she had with her, and I looked
out the window for a while. She got off at Newark.
She wished me a lot of luck with the operation and
all. She kept calling me Rudolf. Then she invited me
to visit Ernie during the summer, at Gloucester,
Massachusetts. She said their house was right on the
beach, and they had a tennis court and all, but I
just thanked her and told her I was going to South
America with my grandmother. Which was really a hot
one, because my grandmother hardly ever even goes
out of the house, except maybe to go to a goddam
matinee or something. But I wouldn't visit that
sonuvabitch Morrow for all the dough in the world,
even if I was desperate.
The first thing I did when I got off at Penn
Station, I went into this phone booth. I felt like
giving somebody a buzz. I left my bags right outside
the booth so that I could watch them, but as soon as
I was inside, I couldn't think of anybody to call
up. My brother D.B. was in Hollywood. My kid sister
Phoebe goes to bed around nine o'clock--so I
couldn't call her up. She wouldn't've cared if I'd
woke her up, but the trouble was, she wouldn't've
been the one that answered the phone. My parents
would be the ones. So that was out. Then I thought
of giving Jane Gallagher's mother a buzz, and find
out when Jane's vacation started, but I didn't feel
like it. Besides, it was pretty late to call up.
Then I thought of calling this girl I used to go
around with quite frequently, Sally Hayes, because I
knew her Christmas vacation had started
already--she'd written me this long, phony letter,
inviting me over to help her trim the Christmas tree
Christmas Eve and all--but I was afraid her mother'd
answer the phone. Her mother knew my mother, and I
could picture her breaking a goddam leg to get to
the phone and tell my mother I was in New York.
Besides, I wasn't crazy about talking to old Mrs.
Hayes on the phone. She once told Sally I was wild.
She said I was wild and that I had no direction in
life. Then I thought of
calling up this guy that went to the Whooton
School when I was there, Carl Luce, but I didn't
like him much. So I ended up not calling anybody. I
came out of the booth, after about twenty minutes or
so, and got my bags and walked over to that tunnel
where the cabs are and got a cab.
I'm so damn absent-minded, I gave the driver my
regular address, just out of habit and all--I mean I
completely forgot I was going to shack up in a hotel
for a couple of days and not go home till vacation
started. I didn't think of it till we were halfway
through the park. Then I said, "Hey, do you mind
turning around when you get a chance? I gave you the
wrong address. I want to go back downtown."
The driver was sort of a wise guy. "I can't turn
around here, Mac. This here's a one-way. I'll have
to go all the way to Ninedieth Street now."
I didn't want to start an argument. "Okay," I
said. Then I thought of something, all of a sudden.
"Hey, listen," I said. "You know those ducks in that
lagoon right near Central Park South? That little
lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where
they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over? Do
you happen to know, by any chance?" I realized it
was only one chance in a million.
He turned around and looked at me like I was a
madman. "What're ya tryna do, bud?" he said. "Kid
"No--I was just interested, that's all."
He didn't say anything more, so I didn't either.
Until we came out of the park at Ninetieth Street.
Then he said, "All right, buddy. Where to?"
"Well, the thing is, I don't want to stay at any
hotels on the East Side where I might run into some
acquaintances of mine. I'm traveling incognito," I
said. I hate saying corny things like "traveling
incognito." But when I'm with somebody that's corny,
I always act corny too. "Do you happen to know whose
band's at the Taft or the New Yorker, by any
"No idear, Mac."
"Well--take me to the Edmont then," I said. "Would
you care to stop on the way and join me for a
cocktail? On me. I'm loaded."
"Can't do it, Mac. Sorry." He certainly was good
company. Terrific personality.
We got to the Edmont Hotel, and I checked in. I'd
put on my red hunting cap when I was in the cab,
just for the hell of it, but I took it off before I
checked in. I didn't want to look like a screwball
or something. Which is really ironic. I didn't know
then that the goddam hotel was full of perverts and
morons. Screwballs all over the place.
They gave me this very crumby room, with nothing
to look out of the window at except the other side
of the hotel. I didn't care much. I was too
depressed to care whether I had a good view or not.
The bellboy that showed me to the room was this very
old guy around sixty-five. He was even more
depressing than the room was. He was one of those
bald guys that comb all their hair over from the
side to cover up the baldness. I'd rather be bald
than do that. Anyway, what a gorgeous job for a guy
around sixty-five years old. Carrying people's
suitcases and waiting around for a tip. I suppose he
wasn't too intelligent or anything, but it was
After he left, I looked out the window for a
while, with my coat on and all. I didn't have
anything else to do. You'd be surprised what was
going on on the other side of the hotel. They didn't
even bother to pull their shades down. I saw one
guy, a gray-haired, very distinguished-looking guy
with only his shorts on, do something you wouldn't
believe me if I told you. First he put his
suitcase on the bed. Then he took out all these
women's clothes, and put them on. Real women's
clothes--silk stockings, high-heeled shoes,
brassiere, and one of those corsets with the straps
hanging down and all. Then he put on this very tight
black evening dress. I swear to God. Then he started
walking up and down the room, taking these very
small steps, the way a woman does, and smoking a
cigarette and looking at himself in the mirror. He
was all alone, too. Unless somebody was in the
bathroom--I couldn't see that much. Then, in the
window almost right over his, I saw a man and a
woman squirting water out of their mouths at each
other. It probably was highballs, not water, but I
couldn't see what they had in their glasses. Anyway,
first he'd take a swallow and squirt it all over
her, then she did it to him--they took turns, for
God's sake. You should've seen them. They were in
hysterics the whole time, like it was the funniest
thing that ever happened. I'm not kidding, the hotel
was lousy with perverts. I was probably the only
normal bastard in the whole place--and that isn't
saying much. I damn near sent a telegram to old
Stradlater telling him to take the first train to
New York. He'd have been the king of the hotel.
The trouble was, that kind of junk is sort of
fascinating to watch, even if you don't want it to
be. For instance, that girl that was getting water
squirted all over her face, she was pretty
good-looking. I mean that's my big trouble. In my
mind, I'm probably the biggest sex maniac you ever
saw. Sometimes I can think of very crumby stuff I
wouldn't mind doing if the opportunity came up. I
can even see how it might be quite a lot of fun, in
a crumby way, and if you were both sort of drunk and
all, to get a girl and squirt water or something all
over each other's face. The thing is, though, I
don't like the idea. It stinks, if you analyze it. I
think if you don't really like a girl, you shouldn't
horse around with her at all, and if you do like
her, then you're supposed to like her face, and if
you like her face, you ought to be careful about
doing crumby stuff to it, like squirting water all
over it. It's really too bad that so much crumby
stuff is a lot of fun sometimes. Girls aren't too
much help, either, when you start trying not to get
too crumby, when you start trying not to spoil
anything really good. I knew this one girl, a couple
of years ago, that was even crumbier than I was.
Boy, was she crumby! We had a lot of fun, though,
for a while, in a crumby way. Sex is something I
really don't understand too hot. You never know
where the hell you are. I keep making up these sex
rules for myself, and then I break them right away.
Last year I made a rule that I was going to quit
horsing around with girls that, deep down, gave me a
pain in the ass. I broke it, though, the same week I
made it--the same night, as a matter of fact. I
spent the whole night necking with a terrible phony
named Anne Louise Sherman. Sex is something I just
don't understand. I swear to God I don't.
I started toying with the idea, while I kept
standing there, of giving old Jane a buzz--I mean
calling her long distance at B.M., where she went,
instead of calling up her mother to find out when
she was coming home. You weren't supposed to call
students up late at night, but I had it all figured
out. I was going to tell whoever answered the phone
that I was her uncle. I was going to say her aunt
had just got killed in a car accident and I had to
speak to her immediately. It would've worked, too.
The only reason I didn't do it was because I wasn't
in the mood. If you're not in the mood, you can't do
that stuff right.
After a while I sat down in a chair and smoked a
couple of cigarettes. I was feeling pretty horny. I
have to admit it. Then, all of a sudden, I got this
idea. I took out my wallet and started looking for
this address a guy I met at a party last summer,
went to Princeton, gave me. Finally I found it. It
was all a funny color from my wallet, but you could
still read it. It was the address of this girl that
wasn't exactly a whore or anything but that didn't
mind doing it once in a while, this Princeton guy
told me. He brought her to a dance at Princeton
once, and they nearly kicked him out for bringing
her. She used to be a burlesque stripper or
something. Anyway, I went over to the phone and gave
her a buzz. Her name was Faith Cavendish, and she
lived at the Stanford Arms Hotel on Sixty-fifth and
Broadway. A dump, no doubt.
For a while, I didn t think she was home or
something. Nobody kept answering. Then, finally,
somebody picked up the phone.
"Hello?" I said. I made my voice quite deep so
that she wouldn't suspect my age or anything. I have
a pretty deep voice anyway.
"Hello," this woman's voice said. None too
"Is this Miss Faith Cavendish?"
"Who's this?" she said. "Who's calling me up at
this crazy goddam hour?"
That sort of scared me a little bit. "Well, I know
it's quite late," I said, in this very mature voice
and all. "I hope you'll forgive me, but I was very
anxious to get in touch with you." I said it suave
as hell. I really did.
"Who is this?" she said.
"Well, you don't know me, but I'm a friend of
Eddie Birdsell's. He suggested that if I were in
town sometime, we ought to get together for a
cocktail or two."
"Who? You're a friend of who?" Boy, she was a real
tigress over the phone. She was damn near yelling at
"Edmund Birdsell. Eddie Birdsell," I said. I
couldn't remember if his name was Edmund or Edward.
I only met him once, at a goddam stupid party.
"I don't know anybody by that name, Jack. And if
you think I enjoy bein' woke up in the middle--"
"Eddie Birdsell? From Princeton?" I said.
You could tell she was running the name over in
her mind and all.
"Birdsell, Birdsell. . . from Princeton.. .
"That's right," I said.
"You from Princeton College?"
"Oh. . . How is Eddie?" she said. "This is
certainly a peculiar time to call a person up,
though. Jesus Christ."
"He's fine. He asked to be remembered to you."
"Well, thank you. Remember me to him," she said.
"He's a grand person. What's he doing now?" She was
getting friendly as hell, all of a sudden.
"Oh, you know. Same old stuff," I said. How the
hell did I know what he was doing? I hardly knew the
guy. I didn't even know if he was still at
Princeton. "Look," I said. "Would you be interested
in meeting me for a cocktail somewhere?"
"By any chance do you have any idea what time it
is?" she said. "What's your name, anyhow, may I
ask?" She was getting an English accent, all of a
sudden. "You sound a little on the young side."
I laughed. "Thank you for the compliment," I
said-- suave as hell. "Holden Caulfield's my name."
I should've given her a phony name, but I didn't
think of it.
"Well, look, Mr. Cawffle. I'm not in the habit
of making engagements in the middle of the night.
I'm a working gal."
"Tomorrow's Sunday," I told her.
"Well, anyway. I gotta get my beauty sleep. You
know how it is."
"I thought we might have just one cocktail
together. It isn't too late."
"Well. You're very sweet," she said. "Where ya
callin' from? Where ya at now, anyways?"
"Me? I'm in a phone booth."
"Oh," she said. Then there was this very long
pause. "Well, I'd like awfully to get together with
you sometime, Mr. Cawffle. You sound very
attractive. You sound like a very attractive person.
But it is late."
"I could come up to your place."
"Well, ordinary, I'd say grand. I mean I'd love to
have you drop up for a cocktail, but my roommate
happens to be ill. She's been laying here all night
without a wink of sleep. She just this minute closed
her eyes and all. I mean."
"Oh. That's too bad."
"Where ya stopping at? Perhaps we could get
together for cocktails tomorrow."
"I can't make it tomorrow," I said. "Tonight's the
only time I can make it." What a dope I was. I
shouldn't've said that.
"Oh. Well, I'm awfully sorry."
"I'll say hello to Eddie for you."
"Willya do that? I hope you enjoy your stay in New
York. It's a grand place."
"I know it is. Thanks. Good night," I said. Then I
Boy, I really fouled that up. I should've at least
made it for cocktails or something.
It was still pretty early. I'm not sure what time
it was, but it wasn't too late. The one thing I hate
to do is go to bed when I'm not even tired. So I
opened my suitcases and took out a clean shirt, and
then I went in the bathroom and washed and changed
my shirt. What I thought I'd do, I thought I'd go
downstairs and see what the hell was going on in the
Lavender Room. They had this night club, the
Lavender Room, in the hotel.
While I was changing my shirt, I damn near gave my
kid sister Phoebe a buzz, though. I certainly felt
like talking to her on the phone. Somebody with
sense and all. But I couldn't take a chance on
giving her a buzz, because she was only a little kid
and she wouldn't have been up, let alone anywhere
near the phone. I thought of maybe hanging up if my
parents answered, but that wouldn't've worked,
either. They'd know it was me. My mother always
knows it's me. She's psychic. But I certainly
wouldn't have minded shooting the crap with old
Phoebe for a while.
You should see her. You never saw a little kid so
pretty and smart in your whole life. She's really
smart. I mean she's had all A's ever since she
started school. As a matter of fact, I'm the only
dumb one in the family. My brother D.B.'s a writer
and all, and my brother Allie, the one that died,
that I told you about, was a wizard. I'm the only
really dumb one. But you ought to see old Phoebe.
She has this sort of red hair, a little bit like
Allie's was, that's very short in the summertime. In
the summertime, she sticks it behind
her ears. She has nice, pretty little ears. In the
wintertime, it's pretty long, though. Sometimes my
mother braids it and sometimes she doesn't. It's
really nice, though. She's only ten. She's quite
skinny, like me, but nice skinny. Roller-skate
skinny. I watched her once from the window when she
was crossing over Fifth Avenue to go to the park,
and that's what she is, roller-skate skinny. You'd
like her. I mean if you tell old Phoebe something,
she knows exactly what the hell you're talking
about. I mean you can even take her anywhere with
you. If you take her to a lousy movie, for instance,
she knows it's a lousy movie. If you take her to a
pretty good movie, she knows it's a pretty good
movie. D.B. and I took her to see this French movie,
The Baker's Wife, with Raimu in it. It killed her.
Her favorite is The 39 Steps, though, with Robert
Donat. She knows the whole goddam movie by heart,
because I've taken her to see it about ten times.
When old Donat comes up to this Scotch farmhouse,
for instance, when he's running away from the cops
and all, Phoebe'll say right out loud in the
movie--right when the Scotch guy in the picture says
it--"Can you eat the herring?" She knows all the
talk by heart. And when this professor in the
picture, that's really a German spy, sticks up his
little finger with part of the middle joint missing,
to show Robert Donat, old Phoebe beats him to
it--she holds up her little finger at me in the
dark, right in front of my face. She's all right.
You'd like her. The only trouble is, she's a little
too affectionate sometimes. She's very emotional,
for a child. She really is. Something else she does,
she writes books all the time. Only, she doesn't
finish them. They're all about some kid named Hazel
Weatherfield--only old Phoebe spells it "Hazle." Old
Hazle Weatherfield is a girl detective. She's
supposed to be an orphan, but her old man keeps
showing up. Her old man's always a "tall attractive
gentleman about 20 years of age." That kills me. Old
Phoebe. I swear to God you'd like her. She was smart
even when she was a very tiny little kid. When she
was a very tiny little kid, I and Allie used to take
her to the park with us, especially on Sundays.
Allie had this sailboat he used to like to fool
around with on Sundays, and we used to take old
Phoebe with us. She'd wear white gloves and walk
right between us, like a lady and all. And when
Allie and I were having some conversation about
things in general, old Phoebe'd be listening.
Sometimes you'd forget she was around, because she
was such a little kid, but she'd let you know. She'd
interrupt you all the time. She'd give Allie or I a
push or something, and say, "Who? Who said that?
Bobby or the lady?" And we'd tell her who said it,
and she'd say, "Oh," and go right on listening and
all. She killed Allie, too. I mean he liked her,
too. She's ten now, and not such a tiny little kid
any more, but she still kills everybody--everybody
with any sense, anyway.
Anyway, she was somebody you always felt like
talking to on the phone. But I was too afraid my
parents would answer, and then they'd find out I was
in New York and kicked out of Pencey and all. So I
just finished putting on my shirt. Then I got all
ready and went down in the elevator to the lobby to
see what was going on.
Except for a few pimpy-looking guys, and a few
whory-looking blondes, the lobby was pretty empty.
But you could hear the band playing in the Lavender
Room, and so I went in there. It wasn't very
crowded, but they gave me a lousy table anyway--way
in the back. I should've waved a buck under the
head-waiter's nose. In New York, boy, money really
talks--I'm not kidding.
The band was putrid. Buddy Singer. Very brassy,
but not good brassy--corny brassy. Also, there were
very few people around my age in the place. In fact,
nobody was around my age. They were mostly old,
show-offy-looking guys with their dates. Except at
the table right next to me. At the table right
next to me, there were these three girls around
thirty or so. The whole three of them were pretty
ugly, and they all had on the kind of hats that you
knew they didn't really live in New York, but one of
them, the blonde one, wasn't too bad. She was sort
of cute, the blonde one, and I started giving her
the old eye a little bit, but just then the waiter
came up for my order. I ordered a Scotch and soda,
and told him not to mix it--I said it fast as hell,
because if you hem and haw, they think you're under
twenty-one and won't sell you any intoxicating
liquor. I had trouble with him anyway, though. "I'm
sorry, sir," he said, "but do you have some
verification of your age? Your driver's license,
I gave him this very cold stare, like he'd
insulted the hell out of me, and asked him, "Do I
look like I'm under twenty-one?"
"I'm sorry, sir, but we have our--"
"Okay, okay," I said. I figured the hell with it.
"Bring me a Coke." He started to go away, but I
called him back. "Can'tcha stick a little rum in it
or something?" I asked him. I asked him very nicely
and all. "I can't sit in a corny place like this
cold sober. Can'tcha stick a little rum in it or
"I'm very sorry, sir. . ." he said, and beat it on
me. I didn't hold it against him, though. They lose
their jobs if they get caught selling to a minor.
I'm a goddam minor.
I started giving the three witches at the next
table the eye again. That is, the blonde one. The
other two were strictly from hunger. I didn't do it
crudely, though. I just gave all three of them this
very cool glance and all. What they did, though, the
three of them, when I did it, they started giggling
like morons. They probably thought I was too young
to give anybody the once-over. That annoyed hell out
of me-- you'd've thought I wanted to marry them or
something. I should've given them the freeze, after
they did that, but the trouble was, I really felt
like dancing. I'm very fond of dancing, sometimes,
and that was one of the times. So all of a sudden, I
sort of leaned over and said, "Would any of you
girls care to dance?" I didn't ask them crudely or
anything. Very suave, in fact. But God damn it, they
thought that was a panic, too. They started giggling
some more. I'm not kidding, they were three real
morons. "C'mon," I said. "I'll dance with you one at
a time. All right? How 'bout it? C'mon!" I really
felt like dancing.
Finally, the blonde one got up to dance with me,
because you could tell I was really talking to her,
and we walked out to the dance floor. The other two
grools nearly had hysterics when we did. I certainly
must've been very hard up to even bother with any of
But it was worth it. The blonde was some dancer.
She was one of the best dancers I ever danced with.
I'm not kidding, some of these very stupid girls can
really knock you out on a dance floor. You take a
really smart girl, and half the time she's trying to
lead you around the dance floor, or else she's such
a lousy dancer, the best thing to do is stay at the
table and just get drunk with her.
"You really can dance," I told the blonde one.
"You oughta be a pro. I mean it. I danced with a pro
once, and you're twice as good as she was. Did you
ever hear of Marco and Miranda?"
"What?" she said. She wasn't even listening to me.
She was looking all around the place.
"I said did you ever hear of Marco and Miranda?"
"I don't know. No. I don't know."
"Well, they're dancers, she's a dancer. She's not
too hot, though. She does everything she's supposed
to, but she's not so hot anyway. You know when a
girl's really a terrific dancer?"
"Wudga say?" she said. She wasn't listening to me,
even. Her mind was wandering all over the place.
"I said do you know when a girl's really a
"Well--where I have my hand on your back. If I
think there isn't anything underneath my hand--no
can, no legs, no feet, no anything--then the girl's
really a terrific dancer."
She wasn't listening, though. So I ignored her for
a while. We just danced. God, could that dopey girl
dance. Buddy Singer and his stinking band was
playing "Just One of Those Things" and even they
couldn't ruin it entirely. It's a swell song. I
didn't try any trick stuff while we danced--I hate a
guy that does a lot of show-off tricky stuff on the
dance floor--but I was moving her around plenty, and
she stayed with me. The funny thing is, I thought
she was enjoying it, too, till all of a sudden she
came out with this very dumb remark. "I and my girl
friends saw Peter Lorre last night," she said. "The
movie actor. In person. He was buyin' a newspaper.
"You're lucky," I told her. "You're really lucky.
You know that?" She was really a moron. But what a
dancer. I could hardly stop myself from sort of
giving her a kiss on the top of her dopey head--you
know-- right where the part is, and all. She got
sore when I did it.
"Hey! What's the idea?"
"Nothing. No idea. You really can dance," I said.
"I have a kid sister that's only in the goddam
fourth grade. You're about as good as she is, and
she can dance better than anybody living or dead."
"Watch your language, if you don't mind."
What a lady, boy. A queen, for Chrissake.
"Where you girls from?" I asked her.
She didn't answer me, though. She was busy looking
around for old Peter Lorre to show up, I guess.
"Where you girls from?" I asked her again.
"What?" she said.
"Where you girls from? Don't answer if you don't
feel like it. I don't want you to strain yourself."
"Seattle, Washington," she said. She was doing me
a big favor to tell me.
"You're a very good conversationalist," I told
her. "You know that?"
I let it drop. It was over her head, anyway. "Do
you feel like jitterbugging a little bit, if they
play a fast one? Not corny jitterbug, not jump or
anything--just nice and easy. Everybody'll all sit
down when they play a fast one, except the old guys
and the fat guys, and we'll have plenty of room.
"It's immaterial to me," she said. "Hey--how old
are you, anyhow?"
That annoyed me, for some reason. "Oh, Christ.
Don't spoil it," I said. "I'm twelve, for Chrissake.
I'm big for my age."
"Listen. I toleja about that. I don't like that
type language," she said. "If you're gonna use that
type language, I can go sit down with my girl
friends, you know."
I apologized like a madman, because the band was
starting a fast one. She started jitterbugging with
me-- but just very nice and easy, not corny. She was
really good. All you had to do was touch her. And
when she turned around, her pretty little butt
twitched so nice and all. She knocked me out. I mean
it. I was half in love with her by the time we sat
down. That's the thing about girls. Every time they
do something pretty, even if they're not much to
look at, or even if they're sort of stupid, you fall
half in love with them, and then you never know
where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They
can drive you crazy. They really can.
They didn't invite me to sit down at their table--
mostly because they were too ignorant--but I sat
down anyway. The blonde I'd been dancing with's name
was Bernice something--Crabs or Krebs. The two ugly
ones' names were Marty and Laverne. I told them my
name was Jim Steele, just for the hell of it. Then I
tried to get them in a little intelligent
conversation, but it was practically impossible. You
had to twist their arms. You could hardly tell which
was the stupidest of the three of them. And the
whole three of them kept looking all around the
goddam room, like as if they expected a flock of
goddam movie stars to come in any minute. They
probably thought movie stars always hung out in the
Lavender Room when they came to New York, instead of
the Stork Club or El Morocco and all. Anyway, it
took me about a half hour to find out where they all
worked and all in Seattle. They all worked in the
same insurance office. I asked them if they liked
it, but do you think you could get an intelligent
answer out of those three dopes? I thought the two
ugly ones, Marty and Laverne, were sisters, but they
got very insulted when I asked them. You could tell
neither one of them wanted to look like the other
one, and you couldn't blame them, but it was very
I danced with them all--the whole three of
them--one at a time. The one ugly one, Laverne,
wasn't too bad a dancer, but the other one, old
Marty, was murder. Old Marty was like dragging the
Statue of Liberty around the floor. The only way I
could even half enjoy myself dragging her around was
if I amused myself a little. So I told her I just
saw Gary Cooper, the movie star, on the other side
of the floor.
"Where?" she asked me--excited as hell. "Where?"
"Aw, you just missed him. He just went out. Why
didn't you look when I told you?"
She practically stopped dancing, and started
looking over everybody's heads to see if she could
see him. "Oh, shoot!" she said. I'd just about
broken her heart-- I really had. I was sorry as hell
I'd kidded her. Some people you shouldn't kid, even
if they deserve it.
Here's what was very funny, though. When we got
back to the table, old Marty told the other two that
Gary Cooper had just gone out. Boy, old Laverne and
Bernice nearly committed suicide when they heard
that. They got all excited and asked Marty if she'd
seen him and all. Old Mart said she'd only caught a
glimpse of him. That killed me.
The bar was closing up for the night, so I bought
them all two drinks apiece quick before it closed,
and I ordered two more Cokes for myself. The goddam
table was lousy with glasses. The one ugly one,
Laverne, kept kidding me because I was only drinking
Cokes. She had a sterling sense of humor. She and
old Marty were drinking Tom Collinses--in the middle
of December, for God's sake. They didn't know any
blonde one, old Bernice, was drinking bourbon and
water. She was really putting it away, too. The
whole three of them kept looking for movie stars the
whole time. They hardly talked--even to each other.
Old Marty talked more than the other two. She kept
saying these very corny, boring things, like calling
the can the "little girls' room," and she thought
Buddy Singer's poor old beat-up clarinet player was
really terrific when he stood up and took a couple
of ice-cold hot licks. She called his clarinet a
"licorice stick." Was she corny. The other ugly one,
Laverne, thought she was a very witty type. She kept
asking me to call up my father and ask him what he
was doing tonight. She kept asking me if my father
had a date or not. Four times she asked me that--she
was certainly witty. Old Bernice, the blonde one,
didn't say hardly anything at all. Every time I'd
ask her something, she said "What?" That can get on
your nerves after a while.
All of a sudden, when they finished their drink,
all three of them stood up on me and said they had
to get to bed. They said they were going to get up
early to see the first show at Radio City Music
Hall. I tried to get them to stick around for a
while, but they wouldn't. So we said good-by and
all. I told them I'd look them up in Seattle
sometime, if I ever got there, but I doubt if I ever
will. Look them up, I mean.
With cigarettes and all, the check came to about
thirteen bucks. I think they should've at least
offered to pay for the drinks they had before I
joined them--I wouldn't've let them, naturally, but
they should've at least offered. I didn't care much,
though. They were so ignorant, and they had those
sad, fancy hats on and all. And that business about
getting up early to see the first show at Radio City
Music Hall depressed me. If somebody, some girl in
an awful-looking hat, for instance, comes all the
way to New York--from Seattle, Washington, for God's
sake--and ends up getting up early in the morning to
see the goddam first show at Radio City Music Hall,
it makes me so depressed I can't stand it. I'd've
bought the whole three of them a hundred drinks if
only they hadn't told me that.
I left the Lavender Room pretty soon after they
did. They were closing it up anyway, and the band
had quit a long time ago. In the first place, it was
one of those places that are very terrible to be in
unless you have somebody good to dance with, or
unless the waiter lets you buy real drinks instead
of just Cokes. There isn't any night club in the
world you can sit in for a long time unless you can
at least buy some liquor and get drunk. Or unless
you're with some girl that really knocks you out.