J.D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye (Chap. 3)
I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera. It's terrible. So when I told old Spencer I had to go to the gym and get my equipment and stuff, that was a sheer lie. I don't even keep my goddam equipment in the gym.
Where I lived at Pencey, I lived in the Ossenburger Memorial Wing of the new dorms. It was only for juniors and seniors. I was a junior. My roommate was a senior. It was named after this guy Ossenburger that went to Pencey. He made a pot of dough in the undertaking business after he got out of Pencey. What he did, he started these undertaking parlors all over the country that you could get members of your family buried for about five bucks apiece. You should see old Ossenburger. He probably just shoves them in a sack and dumps them in the river. Anyway, he gave Pencey a pile of dough, and they named our wing alter him. The first football game of the year, he came up to school in this big goddam Cadillac, and we all had to stand up in the grandstand and give him a locomotive--that's a cheer. Then, the next morning, in chapel, be made a speech that lasted about ten hours. He started off with about fifty corny jokes, just to show us what a regular guy he was. Very big deal. Then he started telling us how he was never ashamed, when he was in some kind of trouble or something, to get right down his knees and pray to God. He told us we should always pray to God--talk to Him and all--wherever we were. He told us we ought to think of Jesus as our buddy and all. He said he talked to Jesus all the time. Even when he was driving his car. That killed me. I just see the big phony bastard shifting into first gear and asking Jesus to send him a few more stiffs. The only good part of his speech was right in the middle of it. He was telling us all about what a swell guy he was, what a hot-shot and all, then all of a sudden this guy sitting in the row in front of me, Edgar Marsalla, laid this terrific fart. It was a very crude thing to do, in chapel and all, but it was also quite amusing. Old Marsalla. He damn near blew the roof off. Hardly anybody laughed out loud, and old Ossenburger made out like he didn't even hear it, but old Thurmer, the headmaster, was sitting right next to him on the rostrum and all, and you could tell he heard it. Boy, was he sore. He didn't say anything then, but the next night he made us have compulsory study hall in the academic building and he came up and made a speech. He said that the boy that had created the
Disturbance in chapel wasn't fit to go to Pencey. We tried to get old Marsalla to rip off another one, right while old Thurmer was making his speech, but be wasn't in the right mood. Anyway, that's where I lived at Pencey. Old Ossenburger Memorial Wing, in the new dorms.
It was pretty nice to get back to my room, after I left old Spencer, because everybody was down at the game, and the heat was on in our room, for a change. It felt sort of cosy. I took off my coat and my tie and unbuttoned my shirt collar; and then I put on this hat that I'd bought in New York that morning. It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks. I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway, just after I noticed I'd lost all the goddam foils. It only cost me a buck. The way I wore it, I swung the old peak way around to the back--very corny, I'll admit, but I liked it that way. I looked good in it that way. Then I got this book I was reading and sat down in my chair. There were two chairs in every room. I had one and my roommate, Ward Stradlater, had one. The arms were in sad shape, because everybody was always sitting on them, but they were pretty comfortable chairs.
The book I was reading was this book I took out of the library by mistake. They gave me the wrong book, and I didn't notice it till I got back to my room. They gave me Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen. I thought it was going to stink, but it didn't. It was a very good book. I'm quite illiterate, but I read a lot. My favorite author is my brother D.B., and my next favorite is Ring Lardner. My brother gave me a book by Ring Lardner for my birthday, just before I went to Pencey. It had these very funny, crazy plays in it, and then it had this one story about a traffic cop that falls in love with this very cute girl that's always speeding. Only, he's married, the cop, so be can't marry her or anything. Then this girl gets killed, because she's always speeding. That story just about killed me. What I like best is a book that's at least funny once in a while. I read a lot of classical books, like The Return of the Native and all, and I like them, and I read a lot of war books and mysteries and all, but they don't knock me out too much. What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though. I wouldn't mind calling this Isak Dinesen up. And Ring Lardner, except that D.B. told me he's dead. You take that book Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham, though. I read it last summer. It's a pretty good book and all, but I wouldn't want to call Somerset Maugham up. I don't know, He just isn't the kind of guy I'd want to call up, that's all. I'd rather call old Thomas Hardy up. I like that Eustacia Vye.
Anyway, I put on my new hat and sat down and started reading that book Out of Africa. I'd read it already, but I wanted to read certain parts over again. I'd only read about three pages, though, when I heard somebody coming through the shower curtains. Even without looking up, I knew right away who it was. It was Robert Ackley, this guy that roomed right next to me. There was a shower right between every two rooms in our wing, and about eighty-five times a day old Ackley barged in on me. He was probably the only guy in the whole dorm, besides me, that wasn't down at the game. He hardly ever went anywhere. He was a very peculiar guy. He was a senior, and he'd been at Pencey the whole four years and all, but nobody ever called him anything except "Ackley." Not even Herb Gale, his own roommate, ever called him "Bob" or even "Ack." If he ever gets married, his own wife'll probably call him "Ackley." He was one of these very, very tall, round-shouldered guys--he was about six four--with lousy teeth. The whole time he
Roomed next to me, I never even once saw him brush his teeth. They always looked mossy and awful, and he damn near made you sick if you saw him in the dining room with his mouth full of mashed potatoes and peas or something. Besides that, he had a lot of pimples. Not just on his forehead or his chin, like most guys, but all over his whole face. And not only that, he had a terrible personality. He was also sort of a nasty guy. I wasn't too crazy about him, to tell you the truth.
I could feel him standing on the shower ledge, right behind my chair, taking a look to see if Stradlater was around. He hated Stradlater's guts and he never came in the room if Stradlater was around. He hated everybody's guts, damn near.
He came down off the shower ledge and came in the room. "Hi," he said. He always said it like he was terrifically bored or terrifically tired. He didn't want you to think he was visiting you or anything. He wanted you to think he'd come in by mistake, for God's sake.
"Hi," I said, but I didn't look up from my book. With a guy like Ackley, if you looked up from your book you were a goner. You were a goner anyway, but not as quick if you didn't look up right away.
He started walking around the room, very slow and all, the way he always did, picking up your personal stuff off your desk and chiffonier. He always picked up your personal stuff and looked at it. Boy, could he get on your nerves sometimes. "How was the fencing?" he said. He just wanted me to quit reading and enjoying myself. He didn't give a damn about the fencing. "We win, or what?" he said.
"Nobody won," I said. Without looking up, though.
"What?" he said. He always made you say everything twice.
"Nobody won," I said. I sneaked a look to see what he was fiddling around with on my chiffonier. He was looking at this picture of this girl I used to go around with in New York, Sally Hayes. He must've picked up that goddam picture and looked at it at least five thousand times since I got it. He always put it back in the wrong place, too, when he was finished. He did it on purpose. You could tell.
"Nobody won," he said. "How come?"
"I left the goddam foils and stuff on the subway." I still didn't look up at him.
"On the subway, for Chrissake! Ya lost them, ya mean?"
"We got on the wrong subway. I had to keep getting up to look at a goddam map on the wall."
He came over and stood right in my light. "Hey," I said. "I've read this same sentence about twenty times since you came in."
Anybody else except Ackley would've taken the goddam hint. Not him, though. "Think they'll make ya pay for em?" he said.
"I don't know, and I don't give a damn. How 'bout sitting down or something, Ackley kid? You're right in my goddam light." He didn't like it when you called him "Ackley kid." He was always telling me I was a goddam kid, because I was sixteen and he was eighteen. It drove him mad when I called him "Ackley kid."
He kept standing there. He was exactly the kind of a guy that wouldn't get out of your light when you asked him to. He'd do it, finally, but it took him a lot longer if you asked him to. "What the hellya reading?" he said.
He shoved my book back with his hand so that he could see the name of it. "Any good?" he said.
"This sentence I'm reading is terrific." I can be quite sarcastic when I'm in the mood. He didn't get It, though. He started walking around the room again, picking up all my personal stuff, and Stradlater's. Finally, I put my book down on the floor. You couldn't read anything with a guy like Ackley around. It was impossible.
I slid way the hell down in my chair and watched old Ackley making himself at home. I was feeling sort of tired from the trip to New York and all, and I started yawning. Then I started horsing around a little bit. Sometimes I horse around quite a lot, just to keep from getting bored. What I did was, I pulled the old peak of my hunting hat around to the front, then pulled it way down over my eyes. That way, I couldn't see a goddam thing. "I think I'm going blind," I said in this very hoarse voice. "Mother darling, everything's getting so dark in here."
"You're nuts. I swear to God," Ackley said.
"Mother darling, give me your hand, Why won't you give me your hand?"
"For Chrissake, grow up."
I started groping around in front of me, like a blind guy, but without getting up or anything. I kept saying, "Mother darling, why won't you give me your hand?" I was only horsing around, naturally. That stuff gives me a bang sometimes. Besides, I know it annoyed hell out of old Ackley. He always brought out the old sadist in me. I was pretty sadistic with him quite often. Finally, I quit, though. I pulled the peak around to the back again, and relaxed.
"Who belongsa this?" Ackley said. He was holding my roommate's knee supporter up to show me. That guy Ackley'd pick up anything. He'd even pick up your jock strap or something. I told him it was Stradlater's. So he chucked it on Stradlater's bed. He got it off Stradlater's chiffonier, so he chucked it on the bed.
He came over and sat down on the arm of Stradlater's chair. He never sat down in a chair. Just always on the arm. "Where the hellja get that hat?" he said.
"You got robbed." He started cleaning his goddam fingernails with the end of a match. He was always cleaning his fingernails. It was funny, in a way. His teeth were always mossy-looking, and his ears were always dirty as hell, but he was always cleaning his fingernails. I guess he thought that made him a very neat guy. He took another look at my hat while he was cleaning them. "Up home we wear a hat like that to shoot deer in, for Chrissake," he said. "That's a deer shooting hat."
"Like hell it is." I took it off and looked at it. I sort of closed one eye, like I was taking aim at it. "This is a people shooting hat," I said. "I shoot people in this hat."
"Your folks know you got kicked out yet?"
"Where the hell's Stradlater at, anyway?"
"Down at the game. He's got a date." I yawned. I was yawning all over the place. For one thing, the room was too damn hot. It made you sleepy. At Pencey, you either froze to death or died of the heat.
"The great Stradlater," Ackley said. "--Hey. Lend me your scissors a second, willya? Ya got 'em handy?"
"No. I packed them already. They're way in the top of the closet."
"Get 'em a second, willya?" Ackley said, "I got this hangnail I want to cut off."
He didn't care if you'd packed something or not and had it way in the top of the closet. I got them for him though. I nearly got killed doing it, too. The second I opened the closet door, Stradlater's tennis racket--in its wooden press and all--fell right on my head. It made a big clunk, and it hurt like hell. It damn near killed old Ackley, though. He started laughing in this very high falsetto voice. He kept laughing the whole time I was taking down my suitcase and getting the scissors out for him. Something like that--a guy getting hit on the head with a rock or something--tickled the pants off Ackley. "You have a damn good sense of humor, Ackley kid," I told him. "You know that?" I handed him the scissors. "Lemme be your manager. I'll get you on the goddam radio." I sat down in my chair again, and he started cutting his big horny-looking nails. "How 'bout using the table or something?" I said. "Cut 'em over the table, willya? I don't feel like walking on your crumby nails in my bare feet tonight." He kept right on cutting them over the floor, though. What lousy manners. I mean it.
"Who's Stradlater's date?" he said. He was always keeping tabs on who Stradlater was dating, even though he hated Stradlater's guts.
"I don't know. Why?"
"No reason. Boy, I can't stand that sonuvabitch. He's one sonuvabitch I really can't stand."
"He's crazy about you. He told me he thinks you're a goddam prince," I said. I call people a "prince" quite often when I'm horsing around. It keeps me from getting bored or something.
"He's got this superior attitude all the time," Ackley said. "I just can't stand the sonuvabitch. You'd think he--"
"Do you mind cutting your nails over the table, hey?" I said. "I've asked you about fifty--"
"He's got this goddam superior attitude all the time," Ackley said. "I don't even think the sonuvabitch is intelligent. He thinks he is. He thinks he's about the most--"
"Ackley! For Chrissake. Willya please cut your crumby nails over the table? I've asked you fifty times."
He started cutting his nails over the table, for a change. The only way he ever did anything was if you yelled at him.
I watched him for a while. Then I said, "The reason you're sore at Stradlater is because he said that stuff about brushing your teeth once in a while. He didn't mean to insult you, for cryin' out loud. He didn't say it right or anything, but he didn't mean anything insulting. All he meant was you'd look better and feel better if you sort of brushed your teeth once in a while."
"I brush my teeth. Don't gimme that."
"No, you don't. I've seen you, and you don't," I said. I didn't say it nasty, though. I felt sort of sorry for him, in a way. I mean it isn't too nice, naturally, if somebody tells you you don't brush your teeth. "Stradlater's all right He's not too bad," I said. "You don't know him, thats the trouble."
"I still say he's a sonuvabitch. He's a conceited sonuvabitch."
"He's conceited, but he's very generous in some things. He really is," I said. "Look. Suppose, for instance, Stradlater was wearing a tie or something that you liked. Say he had a tie on that you liked a helluva lot--I'm just giving you an example, now. You know what he'd do? He'd probably take it off and give it ta you. He really would. Or--you know what he'd do? He'd leave it on your bed or something. But he'd give you the goddam tie. Most guys would probably just--"
"Hell," Ackley said. "If I had his dough, I would, too."
"No, you wouldn't." I shook my head. "No, you wouldn't, Ackley kid. If you had his dough, you'd be one of the biggest--"
"Stop calling me 'Ackley kid,' God damn it. I'm old enough to be your lousy father."
"No, you're not." Boy, he could really be aggravating sometimes. He never missed a chance to let you know you were sixteen and he was eighteen. "In the first place, I wouldn't let you in my goddam family," I said.
"Well, just cut out calling me--"
All of a sudden the door opened, and old Stradlater barged in, in a big hurry. He was always in a big hurry. Everything was a very big deal. He came over to me and gave me these two playful as hell slaps on both cheeks--which is something that can be very annoying. 'Listen," he said. "You going out anywheres special tonight?"
"I don't know. I might. What the hell's it doing out--snowing?" He had snow all over his coat.
"Yeah. Listen. If you're not going out anyplace special, how 'bout lending me your hound's-tooth jacket?"
"Who won the game?" I said.
"It's only the half. We're leaving," Stradlater said. "No kidding, you gonna use your hound's-tooth tonight or not? I spilled some crap all over my gray flannel."
"No, but I don't want you stretching it with your goddam shoulders and all," I said. We were practically the same heighth, but he weighed about twice as much as I did. He had these very broad shoulders.
"I won't stretch it." He went over to the closet in a big hurry. "How'sa boy, Ackley?" he said to Ackley. He was at least a pretty friendly guy, Stradlater. It was partly a phony kind of friendly, but at least he always said hello to Ackley and all.
Ackley just sort of grunted when he said "How'sa boy?" He wouldn't answer him, but he didn't have guts enough not to at least grunt. Then he said to me, "I think I'll get going. See ya later."
"Okay," I said. He never exactly broke your heart when he went back to his own room.
Old Stradlater started taking off his coat and tie and all. "I think maybe I'll take a fast shave," he said. He had a pretty heavy beard. He really did.
"Where's your date?" I asked him.
"She's waiting in the Annex." He went out of the room with his toilet kit and towel under his arm. No shirt on or anything. He always walked around in his bare torso because he thought he had a damn good build. He did, too. I have to admit it.
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