J.D. Salinger - The Catcher in the Rye (Chap. 16)

Song Rating: 7.17/10

Song lyrics:

After I had my breakfast, it was only around noon, and I wasnt meeting old Sally till two oclock, so I started taking this long walk. I couldnt stop thinking about those two nuns. I kept thinking about that beatup old straw basket they went around collecting money with when they werent teaching school. I kept trying to picture my mother or somebody, or my aunt, or Sally Hayess crazy mother, standing outside some department store and collecting dough for poor people in a beat-up old straw basket. It was hard to picture. Not so much my mother, but those other two. My aunts pretty charitable--she does a lot of Red Cross work and all--but shes very well-dressed and all, and when she does anything charitable shes always very well-dressed and has lipstick on and all that crap. I couldnt picture her doing anything for charity if she had to wear black clothes and no lipstick while she was doing it. And old Sally Hayess mother. Jesus Christ. The only way she could go around with a basket collecting dough would be if everybody kissed her a** for her when they made a contribution. If they just dropped their dough in her basket, then walked away without saying anything to her, ignoring her and all, shed quit in about an hour. Shed get bored. Shed hand in her basket and then go someplace swanky for lunch. Thats what I liked about those nuns. You could tell, for one thing, that they never went anywhere swanky for lunch. It made me so damn sad when I thought about it, their never going anywhere swanky for lunch or anything. I knew it wasnt too important, but it made me sad anyway.

I started walking over toward Broadway, just for the hell of it, because I hadnt been over there in years. Besides, I wanted to find a record store that was open on Sunday. There was this record I wanted to get for Phoebe, called Little Shirley Beans. It was a very hard record to get. It was about a little kid that wouldnt go out of the house because two of her front teeth were out and she was ashamed to. I heard it at Pencey. A boy that lived on the next floor had it, and I tried to buy it off him because I knew it would knock old Phoebe out, but he wouldnt sell it. It was a very old, terrific record that this colored girl singer, Estelle Fletcher, made about twenty years ago. She sings it very Dixieland and whorehouse, and it doesnt sound at all mushy. If a white girl was singing it, shed make it sound cute as hell, but old Estelle Fletcher knew what the hell she was doing, and it was one of the best records I ever heard. I figured Id buy it in some store that was open on Sunday and then Id take it up to the park with me. It was Sunday and Phoebe goes rollerskating in the park on Sundays quite frequently. I knew where she hung out mostly.

It wasnt as cold as it was the day before, but the sun still wasnt out, and it wasnt too nice for walking. But there was one nice thing. This family that you could tell just came out of some church were walking right in front of me--a father, a mother, and a little kid about six years old. They looked sort of poor. The father had on one of those pearl-gray hats that poor guys wear a lot when they want to look sharp. He and his wife were just walking along, talking, not paying any attention to their kid. The kid was swell. He was walking in the street, instead of on the sidewalk, but right next to the curb. He was making out like he was walking a very straight line, the way kids do, and the whole time he kept singing and humming. I got up closer so I could hear what he was singing. He was singing that song, If a body catch a body coming through the rye. He had a pretty little voice, too. He was just singing for the hell of it, you could tell. The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing If a body catch a body coming through the rye. It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more.

Broadway was mobbed and messy. It was Sunday, and only about twelve oclock, but it was mobbed anyway. Everybody was on their way to the movies--the Paramount or the Astor or the Strand or the Capitol or one of those crazy places. Everybody was all dressed up, because it was Sunday, and that made it worse. But the worst part was that you could tell they all wanted to go to the movies. I couldnt stand looking at them. I can understand somebody going to the movies because theres nothing else to do, but when somebody really wants to go, and even walks fast so as to get there quicker, then it depresses hell out of me. Especially if I see millions of people standing in one of those long, terrible lines, all the way down the block, waiting with this terrific patience for seats and all. Boy, I couldnt get off that goddam Broadway fast enough. I was lucky. The first record store I went into had a copy of Little Shirley Beans. They charged me five bucks for it, because it was so hard to get, but I didnt care. Boy, it made me so happy all of a sudden. I could hardly wait to get to the park to see if old Phoebe was around so that I could give it to her.

When I came out of the record store, I pa**ed this d**tore, and I went in. I figured maybe Id give old Jane a buzz and see if she was home for vacation yet. So I went in a phone booth and called her up. The only trouble was, her mother answered the phone, so I had to hang up. I didnt feel like getting involved in a long conversation and all with her. Im not crazy about talking to girls mothers on the phone anyway. I shouldve at least asked her if Jane was home yet, though. It wouldnt have k**ed me. But I didnt feel like it. You really have to be in the mood for that stuff.

I still had to get those damn theater tickets, so I bought a paper and looked up to see what shows were playing. On account of it was Sunday, there were only about three shows playing. So what I did was, I went over and bought two orchestra seats for I Know My Love. It was a benefit performance or something. I didnt much want to see it, but I knew old Sally, the queen of the phonies, would start drooling all over the place when I told her I had tickets for that, because the Lunts were in it and all. She liked shows that are supposed to be very sophisticated and dry and all, with the Lunts and all. I dont. I dont like any shows very much, if you want to know the truth. Theyre not as bad as movies, but theyre certainly nothing to rave about. In the first place, I hate actors. They never act like people. They just think they do. Some of the good ones do, in a very slight way, but not in a way thats fun to watch. And if any actors really good, you can always tell he knows hes good, and that spoils it. You take Sir Laurence Olivier, for example. I saw him in Hamlet. D.B. took Phoebe and I to see it last year. He treated us to lunch first, and then he took us. Hed already seen it, and the way he talked about it at lunch, I was anxious as hell to see it, too. But I didnt enjoy it much. I just dont see whats so marvelous about Sir Laurence Olivier, thats all. He has a terrific voice, and hes a helluva handsome guy, and hes very nice to watch when hes walking or dueling or something, but he wasnt at all the way D.B. said Hamlet was. He was too much like a goddam general, instead of a sad, screwed-up type guy. The best part in the whole picture was when old Ophelias brother--the one that gets in the duel with Hamlet at the very end-- was going away and his father was giving him a lot of advice. While the father kept giving him a lot of advice, old Ophelia was sort of horsing around with her brother, taking his dagger out of the holster, and teasing him and all while he was trying to look interested in the bull his father was shooting. That was nice. I got a big bang out of that. But you dont see that kind of stuff much. The only thing old Phoebe liked was when Hamlet patted this dog on the head. She thought that was funny and nice, and it was. What Ill have to do is, Ill have to read that play. The trouble with me is, I always have to read that stuff by myself. If an actor acts it out, I hardly listen. I keep worrying about whether hes going to do something phony every minute.

After I got the tickets to the Lunts show, I took a cab up to the park. I shouldve taken a subway or something, because I was getting slightly low on dough, but I wanted to get off that damn Broadway as fast as I could.

It was lousy in the park. It wasnt too cold, but the sun still wasnt out, and there didnt look like there was anything in the park except dog crap and globs of spit and cigar butts from old men, and the benches all looked like theyd be wet if you sat down on them. It made you depressed, and every once in a while, for no reason, you got goose flesh while you walked. It didnt seem at all like Christmas was coming soon. It didnt seem like anything was coming. But I kept walking over to the Mall anyway, because thats where Phoebe usually goes when shes in the park. She likes to skate near the bandstand. Its funny. Thats the same place I used to like to skate when I was a kid.

When I got there, though, I didnt see her around anywhere. There were a few kids around, skating and all, and two boys were playing Flys Up with a soft ball, but no Phoebe. I saw one kid about her age, though, sitting on a bench all by herself, tightening her skate. I thought maybe she might know Phoebe and could tell me where she was or something, so I went over and sat down next to her and asked her, Do you know Phoebe Caulfield, by any chance?
Who? she said. All she had on was jeans and about twenty sweaters. You could tell her mother made them for her, because they were lumpy as hell. Phoebe Caulfield. She lives on Seventy-first Street. Shes in the fourth grade, over at--
You know Phoebe?


Yeah, Im her brother. You know where she is?
Shes in Miss Callons cla**, isnt she? the kid said.
I dont know. Yes, I think she is.
Shes probly in the museum, then. We went last Saturday, the kid said.
Which museum? I asked her.
She shrugged her shoulders, sort of. I dont know, she said. The museum.
I know, but the one where the pictures are, or the one where the Indians are?
The one where the Indians.
Thanks a lot, I said. I got up and started to go, but then I suddenly remembered it was Sunday. This is Sunday, I told the kid.
She looked up at me. Oh. Then she isnt.

She was having a helluva time tightening her skate. She didnt have any gloves on or anything and her hands were all red and cold. I gave her a hand with it. Boy, I hadnt had a skate key in my hand for years. It didnt feel funny, though. You could put a skate key in my hand fifty years from now, in pitch dark, and Id still know what it is. She thanked me and all when I had it tightened for her. She was a very nice, polite little kid. God, I love it when a kids nice and polite when you tighten their skate for them or something. Most kids are. They really are. I asked her if shed care to have a hot chocolate or something with me, but she said no, thank you. She said she had to meet her friend. Kids always have to meet their friend. That k**s me.

Even though it was Sunday and Phoebe wouldnt be there with her cla** or anything, and even though it was so damp and lousy out, I walked all the way through the park over to the Museum of Natural History. I knew that was the museum the kid with the skate key meant. I knew that whole museum routine like a book. Phoebe went to the same school I went to when I was a kid, and we used to go there all the time. We had this teacher, Miss Aigletinger, that took us there damn near every Saturday. Sometimes we looked at the animals and sometimes we looked at the stuff the Indians had made in ancient times. Pottery and straw baskets and all stuff like that. I get very happy when I think about it. Even now. I remember after we looked at all the Indian stuff, usually we went to see some movie in this big auditorium. Columbus. They were always showing Columbus discovering America, having one helluva time getting old Ferdinand and Isabella to lend him the dough to buy ships with, and then the sailors mutinying on him and all. Nobody gave too much of a damn about old Columbus, but you always had a lot of candy and gum and stuff with you, and the inside of that auditorium had such a nice smell. It always smelled like it was raining outside, even if it wasnt, and you were in the only nice, dry, cosy place in the world. I loved that damn museum. I remember you had to go through the Indian Room to get to the auditorium. It was a long, long room, and you were only supposed to whisper. The teacher would go first, then the cla**. Youd be two rows of kids, and youd have a partner. Most of the time my partner was this girl named Gertrude Levine. She always wanted to hold your hand, and her hand was always sticky or sweaty or something. The floor was all stone, and if you had some marbles in your hand and you dropped them, they bounced like madmen all over the floor and made a helluva racket, and the teacher would hold up the cla** and go back and see what the hell was going on. She never got sore, though, Miss Aigletinger. Then youd pa** by this long, long Indian war canoe, about as long as three goddam Cadillacs in a row, with about twenty Indians in it, some of them paddling, some of them just standing around looking tough, and they all had war paint all over their faces. There was one very spooky guy in the back of the canoe, with a mask on. He was the witch doctor. He gave me the creeps, but I liked him anyway. Another thing, if you touched one of the paddles or anything while you were pa**ing, one of the guards would say to you, Dont touch anything, children, but he always said it in a nice voice, not like a goddam cop or anything. Then youd pa** by this big gla** case, with Indians inside it rubbing sticks together to make a fire, and a squaw weaving a blanket. The squaw that was weaving the blanket was sort of bending over, and you could see her bosom and all. We all used to sneak a good look at it, even the girls, because they were only little kids and they didnt have any more bosom than we did. Then, just before you went inside the auditorium, right near the doors, you pa**ed this Eskimo. He was sitting over a hole in this icy lake, and he was fishing through it. He had about two fish right next to the hole, that hed already caught. Boy, that museum was full of gla** cases. There were even more upstairs, with deer inside them drinking at water holes, and birds flying south for the winter. The birds nearest you were all stuffed and hung up on wires, and the ones in back were just painted on the wall, but they all looked like they were really flying south, and if you bent your head down and sort of looked at them upside down, they looked in an even bigger hurry to fly south. The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobodyd move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobodyd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that youd be so much older or anything. It wouldnt be that, exactly. Youd just be different, thats all. Youd have an overcoat on this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and youd have a new partner. Or youd have a substitute taking the cla**, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or youd heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or youd just pa**ed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean youd be different in some way--I cant explain what I mean. And even if I could, Im not sure Id feel like it.

I took my old hunting hat out of my pocket while I walked, and put it on. I knew I wouldnt meet anybody that knew me, and it was pretty damp out. I kept walking and walking, and I kept thinking about old Phoebe going to that museum on Saturdays the way I used to. I thought how shed see the same stuff I used to see, and how shed be different every time she saw it. It didnt exactly depress me to think about it, but it didnt make me feel gay as hell, either. Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big gla** cases and just leave them alone. I know thats impossible, but its too bad anyway. Anyway, I kept thinking about all that while I walked.

I pa**ed by this playground and stopped and watched a couple of very tiny kids on a seesaw. One of them was sort of fat, and I put my hand on the skinny kids end, to sort of even up the weight, but you could tell they didnt want me around, so I let them alone.

Then a funny thing happened. When I got to the museum, all of a sudden I wouldnt have gone inside for a million bucks. It just didnt appeal to me--and here Id walked through the whole goddam park and looked forward to it and all. If Phoebed been there, I probably would have, but she wasnt. So all I did, in front of the museum, was get a cab and go down to the Biltmore. I didnt feel much like going. Id made that damn date with Sally, though.

Date of text publication: 18.01.2021 at 01:37