SALINGER | The Catcher in the Rye (1951) | 1st chapter
If you really want to hear about it,
the first thing youll 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 dont feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my
parents would have two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty
personal about them. Theyre quitee touchy about anything like
that, especially my father. Theyre nice and all - Im not
saying that - but theyre also touchy as hell. Besides, Im
not going to tell you my whole goodam autobiography or anything. Ill
just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me last Christmas
just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out and take it easy.
I mean thats all I told D.B. about, and hes my brother and
all. Hes in Hollywood. That isnt too far from this crumby
place, and he comes over and visits me practically every week end. Hes
going to drive me home when I go home next month maybe. He just got
a Jaguar. One of those little English jobs that can do around two hundred
miles an hour. It cost him damn near four thousand bucks. Hes
got a lot of dough, now. He didnt use to. He used to be just a
regular writer, when he was home. He wrote thizs terrific book of short
stories, The Secret Goldfish, in case you never heard of him. The best
one in it was «The Secret Goldfish. It was about this
little kid that wouldnt let anybody look at his goldfish because
hed bought it with his own money. It killed me. Now hes
out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute. If theres one thing
I hate, its the movies. Dont even mention them to me.
Where I want to start is the day I left
Pencey Prep. Pencey Prep is the school thats in Agertown, Pennsylvania.
You probably heard of it. Youve probably seen the ads, anyway.
They advertise in about a thousand magazines, always showing some hot-shot
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. And underneath the guy on the horses picture,
it always says: Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid,
clear-thinking young men. Strictly for the birds. They dont
do any damn more molding at Pencey than they do at any other school.
And I didnt know anybody there that was splendid and clear-thinking
and all. Maybe two guys. If that many. And they probably came to Pencey
Anyway, it was the Saturday of the football
game with Saxon Hall. The game with Saxon 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 ou something if old Pencey didnt
win. I remember around three oclock that afternoon I was standing
way the hell on top of Thomsen Hill, right next to this crazy cannon
that was in the Revolutionary War and all. You could see the whole field
from there, and you could see the two teams bashing each other all over
the place. You couldnt see the granstand too hot, but you could
hear them all yelling, deep and terrific on the Pencey side, because
practically the whole school except me was there, and scrawny and faggy
on the Saxon Hall side, because the visiting team hardly ever brought
many people with them.
There were never many girls at all at
the football games. Only seniors were allowed to bring girls with them.
It was a terrible school, no matter how you looked at it. I like to
be somewhere at least where you can see a few girls around once in a
while, even if theyre only scratching their arms or blowing their
noses or even just giggling or something. Old Selma Thurmer - she was
the headmasters master - showed up at the games quite often, but
she wasnt 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 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. Wha I liked about her, she didnt
give you a lot of horse manure about what a great guy her father was.
She probably knew what a phony slob h e was.
The reason I was standing way up on Thomsen
Hill, instead of down at the game, was because Id just got back
from New York with the fencing team. I was the goddam manager of the
fencing team. Very big deal. Wed gone in to Newyork that morning
for this fencing meet with McBurney School. Only, we didnt have
the meet. I left all the foils and equipment and stuff on the goddam
subway. It wasnt all my fault. I had to keep getting up to look
at this map, so wed 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.
The other reason I wasnt down at
the game was because I was on my way to say good-by to old Spencer,
my history teacher. He had the grippe, and I figured I probably wouldnt
see him again till Christmas vacation started. He wrote me this note
saying he wanted to see me before I went home. He knew I wasnt
coming back to Pencey.
I forgot to tell you about that. They
kicked me out. I wasnt supposed to come back after Christmas vacation,
on account of I was flunking four subjects and not applying myself and
all. They gave me frequent warning to start applying myself - especially
around mid-terms, when my parents came up for a conference with old
Thurmer - but I didnt do it. So I got the ax. They give guys the
ax quite frequently at Pencey. It has a very good academic rating, Pencey.
It really does.
Anyway, it was December and all, and
it was cold as a witchs teat, especially on top of that stupid
hill. I only had on my reversible and no gloves or anything. sThe week
before that, somebodyd stolen my camels-hair coat right
out of my room, with my fur-lined gloves right in the pocket and all.
Pencey was full of crooks. Quite a few guys came from these very wealthy
families, but it was full of crooks anyway. The more expensive a school
is, the more crooks it has - Im not kidding. Anyway, I kept standing
next to that crazy cannon, looking down at the game and freezing my
ass off. Only, I wasnt watching the game too much. What I was
really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of a good-by.
I mean Ive left schools and places I didnt even know I was
leaving them. I dont care if its a sad good-by or a bad
good-by, but when I leave a place I live I like to know Im leaving
it. If you dont, you feel even worse.
I was lucky. All of a sudden I thought
of something that helped make me know I was getting the hell out. I
suddenly remembered this time, in around October, that I and Robert
Tichener and Paul Campbell were chucking a football around, in front
of the academic building. there were nice guys, especially Tichener.
It was just before dinner and it was getting pretty dark out, but we
kept chucking the ball around anyway. It kept getting darker and darker,
and we could hardly see the ball anyway. It kept getting darker and
darker, and we could hardly see the ball any more, but we didnt
want to stop doing what we were doing. Finally we had to. This teacher
that taught biology, Mr Zambesi, stuck his head out of this window in
the academic building and told us to go back to the dorm and get ready
for dinner. If I get a chance to remember that kind of stuff, I can
get a good-by when I need one - at least, most of the time I can. As
soon as I got it, I turned around and started running down the other
side of the hill, toward old Spencers house. He didnt live
on the campus. He lived on Anthony Wayne Avenue.
I ran all the way to the main gate, and
then I waited a second till I got my breath. I have no wind, if you
want to know the truth. Im quite a heavy smoker, for one thing
- that is, I used to be. They made me cut it out. Another thing, I grew
six and a half inches last year. Thats also how I practically
got t.b. and came out here for all these goddam checkups and stuff.
Im pretty healthy, though.
Anyway, as soon as I got my breath back
I ran accross Route 204. It was icy as hell and I damn near fell down.
I dont know what I was running for - I guess I just felt like
it. After I got accross the road, I felt like I was sort of disappearing.
It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terricfically cold, and no sun
out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time
you crossed a road.
Boy, I rang that doorbell fast when I
got to old Spencers house. I was really frozen. My ears were hurting
and I could hardly move my fingers at all. Cmon, cmon,
I said right out loud, almost, somebody open the door. Finally
old Mrs Spencer opened it. They didnt have a maid or anything,
and they always opened the door themselves. They didnt have too
Holden! Mrs Spencer said.
How lovely to see you! Come in, dear! Are youfrozen to death?
I think she was glad to see me. She liked me. At least, I think she
Boy, did I get in that house fast. How
are you, Mrs Spencer? I said. Hows Mr Spencer?
Let me take your coat, dear,
she said. She didnt hear me ask her how Mr Spencer was. She was
sort of deaf.
She hung up my coat in the hall closet,
and I sort of brushed my hair back with my hand. I wear a crew cut quite
frequently and I never have to comb it much. Howve you been,
Mrs Spencer? I said again, only louder, so shed hear me.
Ive been just fine, Holden.
She closed the closet door. How have you been? The way she
asked me, I knew right away old Spencerd told her Id been
Fine, I said. Hows
Mr Spencer? He over his grippe yet?
Over it! Holden, hes behaving like a perfect - I dont know what... Hes in his room, dear. Go right in.