The Catcher In The Rye by J D Salinger
[16-year-old Holden Caulfield is meeting a girl he hasn’t seen for some time, for a pre-Christmas date]
Finally, old Sally started coming up the stairs, and I started down to meet her. She looked terrific. She really did. She had on this black coat and sort of a black beret. She hardly ever wore a hat, but that beret looked nice. The funny part is, I felt like marrying her the minute I saw her. I’m crazy. I didn’t even like her much…
“Lets go ice-skating at Radio City!”
That’s the kind of ideas she always had. …
“You can rent those darling little skating skirts,” old Sally said. “Jeannette Cultz did it last week.”
That’s why she was so hot to go. She wanted to see herself in one of those little skirts that just come down over their butt and all.
So we went, and after they gave us our skates, they gave Sally this little blue butt-twitcher of a dress to wear. She really did look damn good in it, though. I have to admit it. And don’t think she didn’t know it. She kept walking ahead of me, so that I’d see how cute her little ass looked...
[Later] “C’mon, let’s get outa here,” I said. “You give me a royal pain in the ass, if you want to know the truth.”
Boy, did she hit the ceiling when I said that.
observations: Holden, from an era when teenagers supposedly didn’t exist, is seen as the archetypal teenager. But it’s highly unfair to teenagers to see him that way. Yes, his voice is a cocktail of baseless certainty, wilful ignorance, funny but lamentable lack of empathy, and stunning self-unawareness. (He’s always a little surprised when people don’t appreciate his own bad behaviour – see the last bit of the extract above.) No, you can never really like him even though the people who annoy him annoy you too. But anyone who thinks all this is specific to teenagers can never have read a newspaper letters page or column, or the comments on any of a million blogs or message boards – except CiB, obviously - or any social media at all. At least Holden has some excuse, in being so young.
You could say his default position is overreaction, and that that’s what makes him funny. He often responds to people who in truth are just being a bit irritating as though they are war criminals. He tilts at the wrong targets in a way that only properly reveals itself to you when you’re older: for example, he seems to hate his prep-school roommate Stradlater for thinking he’s God’s gift to women, but maybe it’s because he actually is, at least in the sense that girls adore him. (The Urban Dictionary actually lists “Stradlater” as a noun meaning a man irresistible to women. So it must be true...) And he can’t simply say that Sally looked good in her skimpy dress, he has to look down on her both for wanting to, and for wanting him to notice.
Of course I was wholly on Holden Caulfield’s side, when I read the book first and I was a teenager. But it’s a great example of a book that reads differently as your own age changes. Reading it now, when I could easily have grandchildren Holden’s age, I find myself giving everyone else an easier ride, because I think they’ll behave differently and maybe better when they grow up a bit; but not Holden. I think it’s because he’s the one who’s already had his say. (As has Clothes In Books, see these entries…)
The most famous outdoor ice rink in NYC, often mentioned or seen in TV shows and films, is at the Rockefeller Center. Well, so is the famous music hall, Radio City: Holden and Sally go to that same rink. It’s been operating since 1936.
I was spoilt for choice with pictures of people looking good in black coats and berets but the winner had to be Debbie Harry in her awesome prime. The skater showing her legs off has a pretty good excuse, even if they’re the wrong kind of skates. As far as I know she was a real drive-in waitress, about the time Holden was writing.