Last time, Holden insulted Sally on their no good, very bad date and then got drinks with a sort-of old friend named Carl, whom he harasses about his sex life, as you’d expect from a teenage boy, but not from one like Holden, who sometimes acts like he’s 40.
When we last left Holden (that is, if you could tear yourself away at the end of Chapter 19), he had just been left alone at a seedy bar, after begging not-a-friend-not-yet-a-frenemy Carl Luce to stay for another drink. Luce didn’t stay, but Holden does—for another and another and another. He gets so drunk that he decides to drunk dial Sally. You read that right: Holden drunk dials Sally. [Informal poll: should I or should I not get an English PhD just to write a dissertation on the development of the drunk dial in American literature since the 1960s?] And maybe the best part is that he does all this from a payphone—you know, those weird-looking structures on the street you probably thought were part of a public art project until recently.
When Holden finally does get Sally on the line, he tells her again, rather forcefully, that he will trim her tree for her (is that what the kids are calling it these days?) and she hangs up on him. Thus ends a seminal moment in world literature.
Afterward, Holden decides to go into Central Park to “see what the hell the ducks were doing.” Remember: It’s probably one or two AM at this point, in the middle of winter, and all I’m thinking is that this story would end very differently if Holden Caulfield had been Hilda Caulfield instead. SPOILER ALERT: He doesn’t find any ducks. I think this is a bad sign.
Holden’s freezing at this point—quite literally, as his wet hair is freezing into chunks—and he starts fantasizing about getting pneumonia and dying, about how everyone would act at his funeral—such a drama queen! (Can you tell humor is my defense mechanism?) Luckily, at this point, which is maybe an all time low for Holden in the book, he decides to sneak home to talk to his little sister Phoebe.
Pretty much as soon as he gets home and sees Phoebe, who’s asleep in their older brother’s enormous bed, Holden starts feeling good. Not just “not bad,” but actually good. Hmm… just going on a hunch here, but *maybe* Holden’s suffering from a bit of a Peter Pan syndrome, maybe, despite all his bluster, he doesn’t want to grow up? Again, just a hunch…
When Holden does wake Phoebe up, she’s absolutely thrilled to see him and immediately begins telling him about everything that’s going on in her life. And then she realizes he’s home early and that he got kicked out and she’s so furious she refuses to talk to him. So Holden launches into a long monologue about why he hated Pencey. He tells her about all the phonies and mean guys and corny jokes.
“I just didn’t like anything that was happening at Pencey,” he concludes. “I can’t explain.”
“You don’t like anything that’s happening,” Phoebe zings back.
And after she says that, Holden says, sure he does, but then can’t think of anything other than this guy named James Castle, from one of his old boarding schools, who jumped out of his dorm window when he was being bullied. He doesn’t say that to Phoebe, though. After a long silence, he says he likes Allie and hanging out—”talking and thinking about stuff.”
But Phoebe, who seems to be the voice of capitalism, says hanging out “isn’t anything really!” She demands that Holden name something he “like to be. Like a scientist. Or a lawyer or something.”
Holden doesn’t want to be any of those things, though. What he would like to be is a catcher in the rye, the person who, he imagines, stands at the edge of a cliff, before a meadow filled with thousands of little kids running around and playing without watching where there going, and so he, the catcher in the rye, would catch those who got too close to the edge, would save them from falling off…
Pretty accurate description of my morning: swimming around in a goddam pot of tea
Phrase that could’ve been copped from The Beatles: The sun only comes out when it feels like coming out.
The way home smells: It isn’t cauliflower and it isn’t perfume.
Grossest adjective use: She gets very fisty when she feels like it.
Sweetest moment: I could tell by the back of her that she was listening
Moment that reminded me most of a Robert Frost poem: darker and darker and spookier and spookier
…And some Dr. Seuss rhymes on fleek: everything creaks and squeaks… I was afraid my parents might hear me sneaking in.
Sentence that best encapsulates the whole book: It was just very cold and nobody around anywhere.
What a few of my friends still haven’t learned: But she was listening, at least. If somebody listens, it’s not too bad.
Pseudo-philosophical moment that actually didn’t feel so pseudo: Even if you did go around saving guys’ lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys’ lives, or because you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddam trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies? How would you know you weren’t being a phony?
If you’re following along at home, this post covers chapters 20, 21, and 22. Catch up here!