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The Catcher in the Rye
J. D. Salinger
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and 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.
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.
Anyway it was the Saturday of the football game with Saxxon Hall. The game with Saxxon 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.
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.
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 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 way.
Pencey was full of crooks. Quite a few guys came from these wealthy families, but it was full of crooks anyway. The more expensive a school is, the more crooks it has - I'm not kidding.
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 good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I'm leaving it. If you don't, you feel even worse.
"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.
People never notice anything.
"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 it.
The Egyptians were an ancient race of Caucasians residing in one of the northern sections of Africa. The latter as we all know is the largest continent in the Eastern Hemisphere.I had to sit there and listen to that crap. It certainly was a dirty trick.
The Egyptians are extremely interesting to us today for various reasons. Modern sciences 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 still quite a challenge to modern science in the twentieth century.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 know about the Egyptians. I can't seem to get very interested in them although your lectures are very interesting. It is alright with me if you flunk me though as I'm flunking everything else except English anyway. Respectfully yours, HOLDEN CAULFIELD.He put me goddam paper down then and looked at me like he'd just beaten hell out of me in ping-pong or something.
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.
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 not. I hope to hell not. I'd never yell "Good luck!" at anybody. It sounds terrible, when you think about it.
... he started telling us how he was never ashamed, when he was in some kind of trouble or something, to get right down on his knees and pray to God. He told us we should always pray to God - talk to Him and all - whenever 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 in his car. That killed me. I can just see the big phony bastard shifting into first gear and asking Jesus to send him a few more stiffs.
What really knocks me out is a book, when you're all done reading it, you wished 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.
"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...
"What the hellya reading?"
He shove my book back with his hand so that he could see the name on it. "Any good?" he said.
"This sentence I'm reading is terrific."
"Stop calling me 'Ackley kid,' God damn it. I'm old enough to be your lousy father."
"No, you're not." Boy, he could be really 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.
"I got about a hundred pages to read for history on 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 flunking out of this goddam place, and you're asking me to write you a goddam composition," 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... 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 places.
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.
"Listen, where ya going on your date with her?" I asked him. "Ya know yet?"
"I don't know. New York, if we have the 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 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.
... 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 guy who 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.
People never believe you.
You could also hear old Ackley snoring. Right through the goddam shower curtains you could hear him. he has 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 that crazy sonuvabitch.
"Hey Ackley," I said, in sort of a whisper so Stradlater couldn't hear me through the shower curtains.
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 of 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 up just to ask me a dumb ques-"
"Aah, go back to sleep. I'm not going to 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 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 that 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 crazy neck.
Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a toilet seat.
"Would you care for a cigarette?" I asked her
She looked all around. "I don't believe this is a smoker, Rudolf," she said. Rudolf. That killed me.
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.
Sex is something I really don't understand too hot. You never know where the hell you are... Sex is something I just don't understand. I swear to God.
I'm a goddam minor.
I was about 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.
... she was terrific to hold hands with. Most girls, if you hold hands with them, their goddam hand dies on you, or else they think they have to keep moving their hands all the time, as if they were afraid they'd bore you or something. Jane was different. We'd get into a goddam movie or something, and right away we'd start holding hands, and we won't quite till the movie was over. And without changing the position or making a deal out of it. You never even worried, with Jane, whether your hand was sweaty or not. All you knew was, you were happy. You really were.
Ernie's a big fat colored guy that plays the piano. He's a terrific snob and he won't hardly even talk to you unless you're a big shot or a celebrity or something, but he can really play the piano. He's so good, he's almost corny, in fact. I don't exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it. I certainly like to hear him play, but sometimes you feel like turning the goddam piano over. I think it's because sometimes when he plays, he sounds like the kind of guy that won't talk to you unless you're a big shot.
"The fish don't go no place. They stay right where they are, the fish. Right in the goddamn lake."
"The fish - that's different. The fish is different. I'm talking about the ducks," I said.
"What's different about it? Nothing's different about it," Horwitz said. "It's tougher for the fish, the winter and all than it is for the ducks, for Chrissake. use your head, for Chrissake."
I didn't say anything for about a minute. Then I said, "All right. What do they do, the fish and all, when that whole little lake's a solid block of ice, people skating on it and all?"
Old Horwitz turned around again. "What the hellaya mean what do they do?" He yelled at me. "They stay right where they are, for Chrissake."
"They can't just ignore the ice. They can't just ignore it."
"Nobody's ignoring it. Nobody's ignoring it. They live right in the goddam ice. It's their nature, for Chrissake. They get frozen right in one position for the whole winter."
"Yeah? What do they eat then? I mean, if they're frozen solid, they can't even swim around looking for food and all."
"Their bodies, for Chrissake - what'sa matter with ya? Their bodies take in nutrition and all, right through the goddam seaweed and crap. They got their pores open the whole time. That's their nature, for Chrissake."
People always clap for the wrong things.
Then she left. The Navy guy and I told each other we were glad to've met each other. Which always kills me. I am always saying "Glad to've met you" to somebody I'm not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.
The thing is, most of the time when you're coming pretty close to doing it with a girl, she keeps telling you to stop. The trouble with me is, I stop. Most guys don't. I can't help it. You never really know whether they want you to stop or whether they're just scared as hell, or whether they're just telling you to stop so that if you do go through with it, the blame'll be on you, not them. Anyway, I keep stopping. The trouble is, I get to feeling sorry for them... They tell me to stop, so I stop. I always wished I hadn't, after I take them home, but I keep doing it anyway.
I wouldn't mind being pretty good at that stuff. Half the time, if you really want to know the truth, when I'm horsing around with a girl, I have a helluva lot of trouble just finding what I'm looking for, for God's sake, if you know what I mean. Take this girl that I just missed having sexual intercourse with, that I told you about. It took me about an hour to just get her goddam brassière off. By the time I did get it off, she was about ready to spit in my eye.
I'm sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don't care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible. Take the Disciples, for instance. They annoyed the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth. They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while He was alive, they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head. All they did was keep letting Him down. I like almost anybody in the Bible better than the Disciples. If you want to know the truth, the guy I like best in the Bible, next to Jesus, was that lunatic and all, that lived in the tombs and kept cutting himself with stones. I like him ten times as much as the Disciples, that poor bastard.
He kept saying they were too new and bourgeois. That was his favorite goddam word. He read it somewhere or heard it somewhere, Everything I had was bourgeois as hell. Even my fountain pen was bourgeois. He borrowed it off me all the time, but it was bourgeois anyway.
The thing is, it's really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs - if yours are really good ones and theirs aren't. You think if they're intelligent and all, the other person, and have a good sense of humor, that they don't give a damn whose suitcases are better, but they do. They really do. It's one of the reasons why I roomed with a stupid bastard like Stradlater. At least his suitcases were as good as mine.
Catholics are always trying to find out if you're Catholic.
Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.
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, the brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the kerb and singing "If a body catch a body coming through the rye." It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed anymore.
"Promise me you'll let your hair grow. Crew cuts are getting corny. And your hair's so lovely."
Lovely my ass.
The waiter came up, and I ordered a Coke for her - she didn't drink - and a Scotch and soda for myself, but the sonuvabitch wouldn't bring you one, so I had a Coke too.
"You ought to go to a boy's school sometimes. Try it sometime," I said. "It's full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques. The guys that are on the basketball team stick together, the goddam intellectuals stick together, the guys that play bridge stick together. Even the guys that belong to the goddam Book-of-the-Month Club stick together."
Girls. You never know what they're going to think.
All these angels start coming out of the boxes and everywhere, guys carrying crucifixes and stuff all over the place, and the whole bunch of them - thousands of them - singing "Come All Ye Faithful" like mad. Big deal. It's supposed to be religious as hell, I know, and very pretty and all, but I can't see anything religious or pretty, for God's sake, about a bunch of actors carrying crucifixes all over the stage. When they all finished and started going out the boxes again, you could tell they could hardly wait to get a cigarette of something. I saw it with old Sally Hayes the year before, and she kept saying how beautiful it was, the costumes and all. I said old Jesus probably would've puked if He could see it...
I was crazy about The Great Gatsby. Old Gatsby. Old sport. That killed me. Anyway, I'm sort of glad they've got the atomic bomb invented. If there's ever another war, I'm going to sit right the hell on top of it. I'll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will.
One of them played the piano - strictly lousy - and the other one sang, and most of the songs were either pretty dirty or in French. The one that sang, old Janine, was always whispering into the goddam microphone before she sang. She'd say, "And now we would like to geeve you our impressions of Vooly Voo Fransay. Eet ees the story of a leetle Fransh girl who comes to a beeg ceety, just like New York, and falls een love wees a leetle boy from Brookleen. We hope you like eet."
People never give your message to anybody.
Boy, when you're dead they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody.
When the weather's nice, my parents go out quite frequently and stick a bunch of flowers on old Allie's grave. I went with them a couple of times, but I cut it out. In the first place, I don't enjoy seeing him in that crazy cemetery. Surrounded by dead guys and tombstones and all. It wasn't too bad when the sun was out, but twice - twice - we were there when it started to rain. It was awful. It rained on his lousy tombstone, and it rained on the grass on his stomach. It rained all over the place. All the visitors that were visiting the cemetery started running like hell over to their cars. That's what nearly drove me crazy. All the visitors could get in their cars and turn on their radios and all and then go someplace nice for dinner - everybody except Allie. I couldn't stand it. I know it's only his body and all that's in the cemetery, and his soul's in Heaven and all that crap, but I couldn't stand it anyway. I just wished he wasn't there.
"You know that song 'If a body catch a body comin' through the rye'? I'd like -"
"It's 'If a body meet a body coming through the rye'!" old Phoebe said. "It's a poem. By Robert Burns."
"I know it's a poem by Robert Burns."...
Anyway, I keep picturing these little kids playing some game in this big field or rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean, except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy."
I walked all the way downstairs, instead of taking the elevator. I went down the back stairs. I nearly broke my neck on about ten million garbage pails, but I got out alright.
While I was walking, I passed these two guys that were unloading this big Christmas tree off a truck. One guy kept saying to the other guy, "Hold the sonuvabitch up. Hold it up for Chrissake!" It certainly was a gorgeous way to talk about a Christmas tree.
But while I was sitting down, I saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody'd written "Fuck you" on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they'd wonder what it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them - all cockeyed, naturally, what it meant, and how they'd all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of days. I kept wanting to kill whoever'd written it. I figured it was some perverty bum that'd sneaked in the school late at night to take a leak or something and then wrote it on the wall. I kept picturing myself catching him at it, and how I'd smash his head on the stone steps till he was good and goddam dead and bloody. But I knew, too, I wouldn't have the guts to do it.
That's the whole trouble. You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write "Fuck you" right under your nose. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it'll say "Holden Caulfield" on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it'll say "Fuck you." I'm positive.
About all I know is, I sorta miss everybody I told about. Even Stradlater and Ackley, for instance. I think I even miss that goddam Maurice. Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.