A couple years back Louis Menand wrote on the pertinence of “The Catcher in the Rye.” One of his characteristic re-evaluations of standard texts, his “placing” of the book seemed to diminish it. I was struck, in particular, by the way he passed over Salinger’s clarities about class. (To Menand, per so many “New Yorker” writers, upper middle class culture is The Culture.) But Salinger/Holden sensed young UHBs were different. (To nod to Fitzgerald and Whit Stillman’s term for Urban Haute Bourgeois.) Salinger hit the mark here without hammering on in an episode with a minor character, Dick Sagle–a former roommate of Holden’s who had “a helluva good sense of humor.” Holden recalls how Sagle used to tease him by calling him and a lot of his things “bourgeois.” The teasing got harsher, though, as time passed. Money was changing everything. The roomies’ relationship foundered since they couldn’t find a way to lose the class baggage that came unbidden with them to prep school. Salinger broke it all down to the difference between Holden’s expensive Mark Cross suitcases and Sagle’s cheap luggage. (Genius imaging of their class issues.) Holden hid his suitcases under the bed (along with Sagle’s), trying to salve his roommate’s dearthy emotions. But he was put out when he found out Sagle had placed the stylish suitcases back in plain sight, hoping people would think they were his (though he’d disdained Mark Cross bags as bourgie). Sagle’s envy and shame killed the potential friendship between him and Holden. It was enough to make Holden want to change roommates. (In the end, they both asked to be moved.) But Holden admits to regrets. He missed Sagle and “I wouldn’t be surprised if he missed me, too.” Instead of holding on to an un-UHBish buddy, Holden gave up and went to room with the rich, “stupid bastard” Stradlater: “At least his suitcases were as good as mine.”
What follows was written by a teenager who adopts Holden’s voice (though his own background is probably closer to Dick Sagle’s) as he shoots streaks of today’s young UHBs at play…B.D.
I went to a party pretty recently. If you wanna know, it was actually a homecoming party. They had it a month or so after Christmas. I really do like Christmas–it’s nice even if it’s a little phony sometimes. It really kills me when I see a little kid get all happy and all when they get some nice present or something. But like there was this one time I went with my mom to a 99 cent store to get some lights for our tree and I saw this guy getting presents there for his kid, (a girl, I think). He looked grim as if he knew his kid wasn’t going to love the cheapo gifts. Man, it made me so depressed. I still remember his face vividly and the way his shoulders seemed to slump down by his elbows. Anyway, back to the party. It was funny, I had to pay fifty bucks to go. Too much if ya ask me. Everyone else went (except the scrawny kids), so I had to too.
The night of the party it was colder than a witch’s teat. It was like I was in Antarctica. I was supposed to meet up with this kid. He’s nice, but a little nosy and maybe too buddy-buddy. For instance, he’s the type of guy who’s always saying hi to people he’s not friends with. I dunno, stuff like that gets on my nerves.
Anyway, I found the kid outside the club. We couldn’t go in yet because it hadn’t opened. Cold and kind of disgruntled we decided to wait in Buffalo Wild Wings. The people working there were nice, they let us sit at a table and not order anything. Little things like that, that people do… Things like not being stuck on the rules or complaining just because you can. Kids are always complaining, most of the time it’s nothing stuff. Anyway we had to wait a while, and we ran into this intellectual kid. He’s the type to know what pederastic means. I don’t know him really well, I don’t really know anyone too well–it’s my first year at the school–but he’s alright, not like those preppy intellectuals. Thank god for Buffalo Wild Wings though. It was cold man. You know that winter cold, not snowy, pretty or anything, just goddamnit, cold. I have a lousy vocabulary. I bet the intellectual knew 50 words for cold, like those Eskimos we learned about in 3rd grade. He’s the type. I should ask him for some good words.
Anyway more of the kids started to arrive. It was crazy, the girls came in short dresses. Weren’t freezing. But how? We all kind of milled around until the security guard finally opened the doors, and people flooded in. I saw a girl dancing (I guess you’d call it that). She was like waving around and she was definitely drunk. I was confused because more and more people appeared to be drunk, already. So I realized that almost everyone had been drinking before the party.
I found a couple sober people to talk with. We ended up making fun of everyone who was tore up. It was ok for a bit, goofing on everyone. If you wanna know, there were quite a few sober people, it’s just a lot of them were pretending to be blasted. Some of us noticed when police and ICE agents came and started looking over the place. They checked the wait staff for their working papers and looked for alcohol. The drunk kids didn’t pick up on what was happening. Awareness, that’s one of the virtues of being sober. Of course maybe you don’t wanna be aware. If I got gone maybe I wouldn’t care about all those phonies or wonder if one of the club staffers is on the verge of being deported. Should I even try to get real at a party? It’s not like I can change anything anyways.
I got depressed, or my “friend” did, and I felt bad with him. I guess that’s what friendship is. Getting depressed when your friend gets depressed. I guess that’s kinda cynical. I don’t like the people who always talk about how friendship is such a wonderful thing, you know. But my friend got sad because this girl he liked got with a few guys. He knew he didn’t have much of a chance with her. But he still didn’t want to see her with someone else. I tried to distract his mind and he asked me to stay with him for a little bit. Just to talk. He didn’t feel like being alone in his thoughts.
The music was very loud, I don’t remember it being memorable. There was another real odd moment. While everyone was dancing, I caught these two waiters at the counter breaking up. They were laughing at the partiers. It was sort of a relief, because seeing the adult club staff be stoic and sober had made me feel weird. You know when you’re with people having fun, and see someone sad. I can’t gulp down something nice, like a milkshake, around a homeless person. If I walk by a homeless person and I’m eating something sweet, it starts to taste bad. Anyway I started to carry myself differently after seeing them laughing at us. I guess I’m kinda self-conscious, like I wouldn’t call it that, maybe unsure of myself. I really do have a lousy vocabulary.
One of my sober companions was worried this other kid was gonna throw up because he was drunk. So we tried to tell him why he shouldn’t be racing around completely pukey. But he told us that he would leave the dance floor just before he needed to throw up. He babbled on about how his precise sense of timing would allow him to avoid spitting out his guts on the floor.
I moved on and bumped into another mighty explainer. After a series of drunken, mumbled sentences–I felt like that British comic who pretends she can translate ANY language–I figured out he’d dropped his phone in a crowd of dancers. He encouraged me to try to help him find it. Suddenly, though, the guy ran back on to the floor and started dancing. He’d forgotten about his phone. I lost him in the crowd, until he started jumping in the air.
Some older guys I play with on the soccer team, juniors, were drunk too but seeing I was sober congratulated me. One of them began making out with a girl. But that nosy kid I’d met up with earlier tried to interrupt to say “Hi.” Yeah, he’s actually really nosy. He’s not a bad person, whatever that means. He’s way touchy-feely though, I mean like he’s draping his arm around you.
The party was full of people who were in a mood to body up. There was this one girl, very nice and innocent, who was drunk, and she started patting people’s heads. It was pretty sweet. But she looked kinda lost, like she didn’t know what she was doing at the party. Her face was scrunched up and it was like she was squinting. Maybe like she was trying to figure out where she was and what was happening to her. I’m probably just reading too much into it, I do that a lot. There was this other girl who was hooking up with a lot of partiers. She was wasted, and was getting with people she didn’t even know, and guys who were not drunk. It was sad because her friends weren’t taking care of her. Yeah, that really killed me, the fact her friends didn’t look out for her. I learned never go to party without one sober friend.
The party became less enjoyable each hour and by midnight I was ready to go home. I looked around for someone to take the train back uptown. But nobody was going my way. As I exited I had to pick up my coat. While at the coat check, there was this kid who’d lost his ticket. He wasn’t able to get his coat for two hours. Stuff like that always happens at goddam parties. Goddam parties, they’ll be the death of me. Anyways I kinda like the kid who lost his ticket. I don’t really know him too well. He seems like a decent person. You know how it is when you think you’d want to be friends with someone, but you keep missing each other while you’re both being bored somewhere else.
Yeah, anyway as I was leaving the party, the guards asked a few questions about how I was gonna get home. I told them that I would meet my dad. One of the guards, assuming I was drunk like the rest, told me to watch my step on the stairs. I don’t know but I felt kind of proud I was sober. You know when you get that responsible feeling, not like when you do your chores or something. Not that crumby stuff, like something meaningful. Anyway, I walked through cold, empty Times Square while my mom yelled at me on my phone for being irresponsible. After reaching the station I realized I’d lost my metro-card. Then my mom got even more scared and angry fearing I was gonna get attacked in Times Square. My mom then said she would take a cab all the way down to 42nd. I tried to explain that I would just take the train home. It took a while to convince her, but she came around. Just as I thought my parents were done with me, my mom remembered I’d lost my card. So I lied that I had a friend with me and he would swipe for me. Mothers are all slightly insane. After an age of deliberations on how I should get home I bundled onto an uptown 1 train. (Whoah – my aunt would shush me now. She refuses to do that kind of travel talk. “How was your trip?” Don’t ask!…Why the hell should anyone care, unless you’re desperate to share that dead time too! That reminds me I once had a parent soccer coach who used to google someplace you weren’t going and tell you how to get there. And then he’d start on options. “You could also take the 7 train and switch at…” But that’s another trip.) You wanna know what gets me riled up, the 2.75 fare. It used to 2.50. That was perfect. I wonder why with that extra 25 cents the MTA can’t renovate some of the train stations. Except for the “new” ones, they’re all dirty. It’s kind of like the city’s slobby secret. Though I like train rides, I always read something. But I was stuck that night. No backpack, no book…
There’s these little poems they have in the train, poetry in motion. I wonder who came up with that dumbo line, probably some phony. Coming home from work, tired, who’s looking for something graceful? Or when you’re rushing somewhere. Anyway, most of the poems are nothing special. I guess they’re okay as a way not to make eye contact with other passengers. But there was this one, when I was coming home from the homecoming party. It went like this:
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
That part about how days come and go was depressing. If you think about it time only goes forward. Sometimes I want it to stop, so I can stay right there and enjoy things when I’m happy. Man, that just gets me down, I guess that’s why I feel kinda sad on my birthdays. That damn poem made me gloomy as Eeyore for a second but then I felt better thinking that writer was out there. Sorta like a friend in the distance. (But closer than the doctor or the priest!) At the party, I’d been pretty lonely. The only way to feel part of something at parties is to join everyone else. If you wanna know, I don’t think I’m a party guy.