It was still pretty early. I'm not sure what time it was, but it wasn't too late. The one thing I hate to do is go to bed when I'm not even tired. So I opened my suitcases and took out a clean shirt, and then I went in the bathroom and washed and changed my shirt. What I thought I'd do, I thought I'd go downstairs and see what the hell was going on in the Lavender Room. They had this night club, the Lavender Room, in the hotel.
While I was changing my shirt, I damn near gave my kid sister Phoebe a buzz, though. I certainly felt like talking to her on the phone. Somebody with sense and all. But I couldn't take a chance on giving her a buzz, because she was only a little kid and she wouldn't have been up, let alone anywhere near the phone. I thought of maybe hanging up if my parents answered, but that wouldn't've worked, either. They'd know it was me. My mother always knows it's me. She's psychic. But I certainly wouldn't have minded shooting the crap with old Phoebe for a while.
You should see her. You never saw a little kid so pretty and smart in your whole life. She's really smart. I mean she's had all A's ever since she started school. As a matter of fact, I'm the only dumb one in the family. My brother D.B.'s a writer and all, and my brother Allie, the one that died, that I told you about, was a wizard. I'm the only really dumb one. But you ought to see old Phoebe. She has this sort of red hair, a little bit like Allie's was, that's very short in the summertime. In the summertime, she sticks it behind
Her ears. She has nice, pretty little ears. In the wintertime, it's pretty long, though. Sometimes my mother braids it and sometimes she doesn't. It's really nice, though. She's only ten. She's quite skinny, like me, but nice skinny. Roller-skate skinny. I watched her once from the window when she was crossing over Fifth Avenue to go to the park, and that's what she is, roller-skate skinny. You'd like her. I mean if you tell old Phoebe something, she knows exactly what the hell you're talking about. I mean you can even take her anywhere with you. If you take her to a lousy movie, for instance, she knows it's a lousy movie. If you take her to a pretty good movie, she knows it's a pretty good movie. D.B. and I took her to see this French movie, The Baker's Wife, with Raimu in it. It killed her. Her favorite is The 39 Steps, though, with Robert Donat. She knows the whole goddam movie by heart, because I've taken her to see it about ten times. When old Donat comes up to this Scotch farmhouse, for instance, when he's running away from the cops and all, Phoebe'll say right out loud in the movie--right when the Scotch guy in the picture says it--"Can you eat the herring?" She knows all the talk by heart. And when this professor in the picture, that's really a German spy, sticks up his little finger with part of the middle joint missing, to show Robert Donat, old Phoebe beats him to it--she holds up her little finger at me in the dark, right in front of my face. She's all right. You'd like her. The only trouble is, she's a little too affectionate sometimes. She's very emotional, for a child. She really is. Something else she does, she writes books all the time. Only, she doesn't finish them. They're all about some kid named Hazel Weatherfield--only old Phoebe spells it "Hazle." Old Hazle Weatherfield is a girl detective. She's supposed to be an orphan, but her old man keeps showing up. Her old man's always a "tall attractive gentleman about 20 years of age." That kills me. Old Phoebe. I swear to God you'd like her. She was smart even when she was a very tiny little kid. When she was a very tiny little kid, I and Allie used to take her to the park with us, especially on Sundays. Allie had this sailboat he used to like to fool around with on Sundays, and we used to take old Phoebe with us. She'd wear white gloves and walk right between us, like a lady and all. And when Allie and I were having some conversation about things in general, old Phoebe'd be listening. Sometimes you'd forget she was around, because she was such a little kid, but she'd let you know. She'd interrupt you all the time. She'd give Allie or I a push or something, and say, "Who? Who said that? Bobby or the lady?" And we'd tell her who said it, and she'd say, "Oh," and go right on listening and all. She killed Allie, too. I mean he liked her, too. She's ten now, and not such a tiny little kid any more, but she still kills everybody--everybody with any sense, anyway.
Anyway, she was somebody you always felt like talking to on the phone. But I was too afraid my parents would answer, and then they'd find out I was in New York and kicked out of Pencey and all. So I just finished putting on my shirt. Then I got all ready and went down in the elevator to the lobby to see what was going on.
Except for a few pimpy-looking guys, and a few whory-looking blondes, the lobby was pretty empty. But you could hear the band playing in the Lavender Room, and so I went in there. It wasn't very crowded, but they gave me a lousy table anyway--way in the back. I should've waved a buck under the head-waiter's nose. In New York, boy, money really talks--I'm not kidding.
The band was putrid. Buddy Singer. Very brassy, but not good brassy--corny brassy. Also, there were very few people around my age in the place. In fact, nobody was around my age. They were mostly old, show-offy-looking guys with their dates. Except at
The table right next to me. At the table right next to me, there were these three girls around thirty or so. The whole three of them were pretty ugly, and they all had on the kind of hats that you knew they didn't really live in New York, but one of them, the blonde one, wasn't too bad. She was sort of cute, the blonde one, and I started giving her the old eye a little bit, but just then the waiter came up for my order. I ordered a Scotch and soda, and told him not to mix it--I said it fast as hell, because if you hem and haw, they think you're under twenty-one and won't sell you any intoxicating liquor. I had trouble with him anyway, though. "I'm sorry, sir," he said, "but do you have some verification of your age? Your driver's license, perhaps?"
I gave him this very cold stare, like he'd insulted the hell out of me, and asked him, "Do I look like I'm under twenty-one?"
"I'm sorry, sir, but we have our--"
"Okay, okay," I said. I figured the hell with it. "Bring me a Coke." He started to go away, but I called him back. "Can'tcha stick a little rum in it or something?" I asked him. I asked him very nicely and all. "I can't sit in a corny place like this cold sober. Can'tcha stick a little rum in it or something?"
"I'm very sorry, sir. . ." he said, and beat it on me. I didn't hold it against him, though. They lose their jobs if they get caught selling to a minor. I'm a goddam minor.
I started giving the three witches at the next table the eye again. That is, the blonde one. The other two were strictly from hunger. I didn't do it crudely, though. I just gave all three of them this very cool glance and all. What they did, though, the three of them, when I did it, they started giggling like morons. They probably thought I was too young to give anybody the once-over. That annoyed hell out of me-- you'd've thought I wanted to marry them or something. I should've given them the freeze, after they did that, but the trouble was, I really felt like dancing. I'm very fond of dancing, sometimes, and that was one of the times. So all of a sudden, I sort of leaned over and said, "Would any of you girls care to dance?" I didn't ask them crudely or anything. Very suave, in fact. But God damn it, they thought that was a panic, too. They started giggling some more. I'm not kidding, they were three real morons. "C'mon," I said. "I'll dance with you one at a time. All right? How 'bout it? C'mon!" I really felt like dancing.
Finally, the blonde one got up to dance with me, because you could tell I was really talking to her, and we walked out to the dance floor. The other two grools nearly had hysterics when we did. I certainly must've been very hard up to even bother with any of them.
But it was worth it. The blonde was some dancer. She was one of the best dancers I ever danced with. I'm not kidding, some of these very stupid girls can really knock you out on a dance floor. You take a really smart girl, and half the time she's trying to lead you around the dance floor, or else she's such a lousy dancer, the best thing to do is stay at the table and just get drunk with her.
"You really can dance," I told the blonde one. "You oughta be a pro. I mean it. I danced with a pro once, and you're twice as good as she was. Did you ever hear of Marco and Miranda?"
"What?" she said. She wasn't even listening to me. She was looking all around the place.
"I said did you ever hear of Marco and Miranda?"
"I don't know. No. I don't know."
"Well, they're dancers, she's a dancer. She's not too hot, though. She does everything she's supposed to, but she's not so hot anyway. You know when a girl's really a terrific dancer?"
"Wudga say?" she said. She wasn't listening to me, even. Her mind was wandering all over the place.
"I said do you know when a girl's really a terrific dancer?"
"Well--where I have my hand on your back. If I think there isn't anything underneath my hand--no can, no legs, no feet, no anything--then the girl's really a terrific dancer."
She wasn't listening, though. So I ignored her for a while. We just danced. God, could that dopey girl dance. Buddy Singer and his stinking band was playing "Just One of Those Things" and even they couldn't ruin it entirely. It's a swell song. I didn't try any trick stuff while we danced--I hate a guy that does a lot of show-off tricky stuff on the dance floor--but I was moving her around plenty, and she stayed with me. The funny thing is, I thought she was enjoying it, too, till all of a sudden she came out with this very dumb remark. "I and my girl friends saw Peter Lorre last night," she said. "The movie actor. In person. He was buyin' a newspaper. He's cute."
"You're lucky," I told her. "You're really lucky. You know that?" She was really a moron. But what a dancer. I could hardly stop myself from sort of giving her a kiss on the top of her dopey head--you know-- right where the part is, and all. She got sore when I did it.
"Hey! What's the idea?"
"Nothing. No idea. You really can dance," I said. "I have a kid sister that's only in the goddam fourth grade. You're about as good as she is, and she can dance better than anybody living or dead."
"Watch your language, if you don't mind."
What a lady, boy. A queen, for Chrissake.
"Where you girls from?" I asked her.
She didn't answer me, though. She was busy looking around for old Peter Lorre to show up, I guess.
"Where you girls from?" I asked her again.
"What?" she said.
"Where you girls from? Don't answer if you don't feel like it. I don't want you to strain yourself."
"Seattle, Washington," she said. She was doing me a big favor to tell me.
"You're a very good conversationalist," I told her. "You know that?"
I let it drop. It was over her head, anyway. "Do you feel like jitterbugging a little bit, if they play a fast one? Not corny jitterbug, not jump or anything--just nice and easy. Everybody'll all sit down when they play a fast one, except the old guys and the fat guys, and we'll have plenty of room. Okay?"
"It's immaterial to me," she said. "Hey--how old are you, anyhow?"
That annoyed me, for some reason. "Oh, Christ. Don't spoil it," I said. "I'm twelve, for Chrissake. I'm big for my age."
"Listen. I toleja about that. I don't like that type language," she said. "If you're gonna use that type language, I can go sit down with my girl friends, you know."
I apologized like a madman, because the band was starting a fast one. She started jitterbugging with me-- but just very nice and easy, not corny. She was really good. All you had to do was touch her. And when she turned around, her pretty little butt twitched so nice and all. She knocked me out. I mean it. I was 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. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.
They didn't invite me to sit down at their table-- mostly because they were too ignorant--but I sat down anyway. The blonde I'd been dancing with's name was Bernice something--Crabs or Krebs. The two ugly ones' names were Marty and Laverne. I told them my name was Jim Steele, just for the hell of it. Then I tried to get them in a little intelligent conversation, but it was practically impossible. You had to twist their arms. You could hardly tell which was the stupidest of the three of them. And the whole three of them kept looking all around the goddam room, like as if they expected a flock of goddam movie stars to come in any minute. They probably thought movie stars always hung out in the Lavender Room when they came to New York, instead of the Stork Club or El Morocco and all. Anyway, it took me about a half hour to find out where they all worked and all in Seattle. They all worked in the same insurance office. I asked them if they liked it, but do you think you could get an intelligent answer out of those three dopes? I thought the two ugly ones, Marty and Laverne, were sisters, but they got very insulted when I asked them. You could tell neither one of them wanted to look like the other one, and you couldn't blame them, but it was very amusing anyway.
I danced with them all--the whole three of them--one at a time. The one ugly one, Laverne, wasn't too bad a dancer, but the other one, old Marty, was murder. Old Marty was like dragging the Statue of Liberty around the floor. The only way I could even half enjoy myself dragging her around was if I amused myself a little. So I told her I just saw Gary Cooper, the movie star, on the other side of the floor.
"Where?" she asked me--excited as hell. "Where?"
"Aw, you just missed him. He just went out. Why didn't you look when I told you?"
She practically stopped dancing, and started looking over everybody's heads to see if she could see him. "Oh, shoot!" she said. I'd just about broken her heart-- I really had. I was sorry as hell I'd kidded her. Some people you shouldn't kid, even if they deserve it.
Here's what was very funny, though. When we got back to the table, old Marty told the other two that Gary Cooper had just gone out. Boy, old Laverne and Bernice nearly committed suicide when they heard that. They got all excited and asked Marty if she'd seen him and all. Old Mart said she'd only caught a glimpse of him. That killed me.
The bar was closing up for the night, so I bought them all two drinks apiece quick before it closed, and I ordered two more Cokes for myself. The goddam table was lousy with glasses. The one ugly one, Laverne, kept kidding me because I was only drinking Cokes. She had a sterling sense of humor. She and old Marty were drinking Tom Collinses--in the middle of December, for God's sake. They didn't know any better. The
Blonde one, old Bernice, was drinking bourbon and water. She was really putting it away, too. The whole three of them kept looking for movie stars the whole time. They hardly talked--even to each other. Old Marty talked more than the other two. She kept saying these very corny, boring things, like calling the can the "little girls' room," and she thought Buddy Singer's poor old beat-up clarinet player was really terrific when he stood up and took a couple of ice-cold hot licks. She called his clarinet a "licorice stick." Was she corny. The other ugly one, Laverne, thought she was a very witty type. She kept asking me to call up my father and ask him what he was doing tonight. She kept asking me if my father had a date or not. Four times she asked me that--she was certainly witty. Old Bernice, the blonde one, didn't say hardly anything at all. Every time I'd ask her something, she said "What?" That can get on your nerves after a while.
All of a sudden, when they finished their drink, all three of them stood up on me and said they had to get to bed. They said they were going to get up early to see the first show at Radio City Music Hall. I tried to get them to stick around for a while, but they wouldn't. So we said good-by and all. I told them I'd look them up in Seattle sometime, if I ever got there, but I doubt if I ever will. Look them up, I mean.
With cigarettes and all, the check came to about thirteen bucks. I think they should've at least offered to pay for the drinks they had before I joined them--I wouldn't've let them, naturally, but they should've at least offered. I didn't care much, though. They were so ignorant, and they had those sad, fancy hats on and all. And that business about getting up early to see the first show at Radio City Music Hall depressed me. If somebody, some girl in an awful-looking hat, for instance, comes all the way to New York--from Seattle, Washington, for God's sake--and ends up getting up early in the morning to see the goddam first show at Radio City Music Hall, it makes me so depressed I can't stand it. I'd've bought the whole three of them a hundred drinks if only they hadn't told me that.
I left the Lavender Room pretty soon after they did. They were closing it up anyway, and the band had quit a long time ago. In the first place, it was one of those places that are very terrible to be in unless you have somebody good to dance with, or unless the waiter lets you buy real drinks instead of just Cokes. There isn't any night club in the world you can sit in for a long time unless you can at least buy some liquor and get drunk. Or unless you're with some girl that really knocks you out.
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