J.D. Salinger




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 me?"


"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 chance?"


"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 terrible anyway.


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, that 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 friendly, either.


"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 me.


"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 . . . Princeton College?"


"That's right," I said.


"You from Princeton College?"


"Well, approximately."


"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 hung up.


Boy, I really fouled that up. I should've at least made it for cocktails or something.