Last time, we learned that novels are very contrived. On the train into New York City, Holden sat next to the mother of one of his classmates, lied a lot, checked into his hotel, thought about sex, tried to meet up with a prostitute, then went to the club downstairs where he danced with three tourists.
This chapter opens with Holden thinking about good old Jane Gallagher and the one time they ever “got close to necking.” In case you haven’t noticed yet, there are approximately eight things that Holden is thinking about at any given time. They are:
Jane Gallagher / checkers
the ducks in Central Park
sexual intercourse / general “crumbiness”
how much he loved his dead brother Allie
how much he loves his younger sister Phoebe
how much he loved his older brother DB until DB went to Hollywood and turned phony
It’s the same with Holden’s language. It’s pretty limited. Turn to any given page and you are likely to find at least one of the following phrases:
all of a sudden
I really was
I mean it
that killed me
she knocked me out
it makes me so depressed
In these ways, it feels like the only really realistic book I’ve read. I mean, it’s contrived as hell (as Holden would say), sure, yes, in terms of plot, but Holden’s thoughts and language are so repetitive, so simple and unworked out—he rarely knows why he feels a certain way—it just feels real to me in a way that other “stream of consciousness” narratives don’t. I guess old JD really was onto something. He really was.
Anyway, back to the start of the chapter: Holden’s sitting in a “vomity-looking chair” thinking about Jane, about how they first met, and that time she started crying and he kissed her all over her face. Aside from that one time, they just held hands. Apparently, Jane was a master at handholding.
Thinking about Jane in the vomity chair in the empty lobby depresses Holden. So he gets in a “vomity kind of cab” to head to this jazz club called Ernie’s. Just as he did with the last one, Holden asks this cabdriver whether he knows where the ducks in Central Park go during the winter. The driver starts talking about the fish instead, who he claims live frozen in the ice all winter, taking nutrients in through their pores. This seems impossible—do fish even have pores??—but I honestly know so little about fish and biology I almost believe him. Naturally, Holden doesn’t care about the fish. Because OMG this book is sad and all attempts at communication are failures of communication.
At Ernie’s, Holden sits down at a tiny table and orders a Scotch and soda, which is his favorite drink, “next to frozen Daiquiris,” which is pretty much like me saying peppered steak, medium rare, is my favorite food next to tofu scramble. Lest we forget that Holden is *alone*, his table is wedged between two couples: “this funny-looking guy and this funny-looking girl” and one Ivy League-type who’s feeling up his “terrific-looking girl” under the table while telling her about a friend who committed suicide. The whole time the girl is saying, “Don’t, darling, Please don’t. Not here.” Now this is making me depressed.
And then! Someone he knows appears. It’s his older brother’s ex and her new boyfriend. Yes!, I’m thinking, Holden doesn’t have to be alone!! She even invites Holden to sit at her table with her!!!! YES!!
….Oh. Wait. Nvm. False alarm. Turns out she’s a phony. Holden says he’s just on his way out to meet someone and leaves having a Sartre “Hell is other people” moment: “People are always ruining things for you,” he thinks. But, like, he seems to have forgotten that he wasn’t having fun before she came over to him anyway.
Then he walks forty blocks back to the hotel, not because he feels like walking, but because he doesn’t feel like taking a cab. Everything’s gotta be negative with this guy.
When he gets back to his hotel, the lobby, which smells like “fifty million dead cigars,” is still empty and Holden “almost wished [he] was dead.” It’s the second time he’s wished it and probably the 50-millionth time he’s said he’s depressed. Holden’s, er, playful relationship to the truth has made me write off a lot of those statements as exaggeration. But now I think he might actually be pretty depressed. Plus, he’s constantly saying stuff “kills him”—as in, cracks him up—but still. It’s a pretty heavy word to be using every other page unless there’s a good reason for it.
In the elevator back to his room, the elevator man asks if he’d like “a little tail t’night” and Holden says, yes. A few minutes later, a prostitute about his age arrives at his room. The scene goes approximately as follows:
*she walks in and takes over her green dress*
HOLDEN: Would you like a cigarette?
SUNNY: I don’t smoke.
HOLDEN: My name is Jim Steele.
SUNNY: Ya got a watch on ya?
*Holden feels depressed*
SUNNY: Hey, ya got a watch on ya?
SUNNY: Let’s go, hey.
*Holden looks at her green dress in the closet and feels depressed*
HOLDEN: Would you like a cigarette?
SUNNY: I don’t smoke.
*Holden thinks about her buying the green dress and feels depressed*
HOLDEN: Can we just talk? I’ll still pay you and all.
SUNNY: What’s the matter?
HOLDEN: Nothing. Actually, I just had an operation on my wuddayacallit—my clavichord.
*she sits in his lap and this depressed him*
HOLDEN: Do you mind cutting it out? I’m not in the mood, I just told you.
SUNNY: Why’d you ask for a girl then?
*Holden shrugs, pays her, feels depressed, helps her back into her green dress*
Best mixed metaphor: All he did in his spare time was beat women off with a club. He was a real rake and all, but he knocked women out.
Second best mixed metaphor: I was pretty damn sure old Stradlater hadn’t given her the time—I knew old Jane like a book—I still couldn’t get her off my brain.
Origins of the humblebrag: very phony, humble bow
Precursor to the itsy bitsy yellow polka dot bikini: teeny little wheeny-whiny voice
People Holden feels sorry for in this section: the piano-player Ernie, “real ugly girls,” his brother’s ex-girlfriend, Sunny the prostitute
Displaced language: The way I met her, this Doberman pinscher she had used to come over and relieve himself on our lawn, and my mother got very irritated about it. She called up Jane’s mother and made a big stink about it.
Cutest non-profane profanity: like fun you are
Least cute statement: I mean most girls are so dumb and all.
If you’re following along at home, this post covers chapters 11, 12, and 13. Catch up here!