Friday, 20 December 2013

Boy, did she hit the ceiling when I said that

From regular guest blogger Colm Redmond

The Catcher In The Rye
by J D Salinger

published 1951







[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.

10 comments:

  1. I didn't really get much out of this book when I read it a few years ago. Wrong book at the wrong time. Awesome picture of Debbie Harry though, back in the day.

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    1. Aye, hard to find a bad picture of Debbie Harry.

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  2. Moira - Thanks for hosting Colm.

    Colm - Holden is one of those people that you can't help agreeing with about some of the people he meets, although yes, he is extremely annoying himself. His inability to see his own role in what happens to him is frustrating when you think of him as a character. But if you think of him as a reflection of real people out there, he's not so far-fetched at all.And I have to admit to a sneaking enjoyment of the way he punctures others' self-importance. Too bad he never learns that skill when it comes to his own self-image...

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    1. He does take against people for obscure but quite compelling reasons. For decades I've been mulling over his loathing of a guy who kept saying the star basketball player had the perfect build for basketball. Holden thinks this means he wasn't giving the guy credit for his ability, and can't stand him. I can totally see his point, yet it's not enough to base a wholescale hatred of a schoolmate (or a character) on. Holden would probably have shrugged it off if someone he liked had said it. And that inconsistency's something we may all tend to do, not something that just immature people and/or teenagers do. (Actually in my mind it was always Holden's dad who was at the game with him and said it. But no it was Ackley. Someone even more loathed than Stradlater.)

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  3. Magic picture of Debbie ... well found.

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    1. I hadn't seen it till this week. Or not that I recall, anyway. I seem to remember her in a yellow beret, maybe, but not a black one.

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  4. I loved this book when I read it. I was probably very late teenager, in college. Maybe younger. And I loved all the stories. But as I read the excerpt, I do wonder how I would like it at this age. I will have to reread them all. Thanks for reminding me...

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    1. You're welcome. I read it several times from maybe age 17 onwards; but last time I tried to read it in full was probably in my early 30s and I couldn't get along with Holden at all... so I couldn't bear to read on. After a cooling-off period I can enjoy the humour more and the levels of irony and get over the problem of having no patience with the protagonist.

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  5. I don't think Debbie would have put up with Holden for more than a minute before she punctured his teenage arrogance.

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    1. I can see that, if she was the character she was in the mid-70s - when she was pretty grown-up [polite way of saying old] compared to most of the people in the bands that were Blondie's peers. But then I also think they might've bonded over a shared loathing for some of the types Salinger dissects so well.

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