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That Guy Caulfield
By Tim Brostrom


      It’s not like me to mess up on writing a paper, it’s really not. But what
happened was, I was going home after class feeling depressed and I went down
Howard Street which is the way I have to go, and I was thinking — am I a phony?
I had to stop at the train tracks and all because the Amtrak was coming by at
about a thousand miles an hour. The train was going by, mist was spraying off the
tracks, red lights were blinking, my windshield wipers were squeaking,
everybody was cold just sitting in their cars alone. It made me sad. You don’t
want to go home if you’re sad and everything.

         If you want to know the truth, I went to Bilbo’s Pizza Joint. Guess who I
saw there — Caulfield, Holden Caulfield. That killed me. Here I was just reading
this book Catcher In The Rye, for your class, and I get all depressed like I do
sometimes and I go to Bilbo’s and there’s the guy in the book sitting in a booth all
by himself. I think about how he wanted to know where the ducks go and all and
look at him sitting all alone like that and it bothers me like a bastard. It really
does. So I go over there and he let me sit down with him like I was a regular guy
or something.

         Anyway, we’re sitting there and he asks me why I’m in school, being as
old as I am. I don’t like to talk about myself when I don’t have to, so I asked him
if there was any connection in his book to Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching
God? You know, how the dearest women in his life were Janie and Phoebe? He
wouldn’t say really, but he was smiling pretty good. I think he thought JD would
have been interested in that. He didn’t ask me any more questions about myself at
least.

         I realized I had my book case along and I thought I would get The Catcher
autographed and so I unzipped it real quick. It’s a really good book case if you
want to know. It’s a Lowe. Lowe designed packs for the army. I carry it all the
time now. Anyway, I get The Catcher out to get his autograph and he autographs

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it and all. Then he wants to see the Kinko’s packet for the class and I show it to
him just as his pizza comes. He likes to read a lot.

         He’s reading the stuff starting practically on the first page and I keep
telling him to skip ahead to the Poe stuff or Fuller or somebody. I like the Fuller
piece about her travels in Michigan and all. It’s goddamgood writing. I try to get
him to skip up there so I can ask him if he ever found out about the ducks, but he
gets all involved in this Ann Bradstreet poem on page114? The Vanity of All
Worldly Things. He’s pretty involved in it and all but his pizza is getting cold and
that whole wheat crust tastes like wallpaper if you let it get really cold. So, I tell
him if he’s so goddaminterested in the poem why not let me just read it to him as
he eats.



         Where is the man can say, “Lo, I have found

         On brittle earth a consolation sound”?

         What is’t in honour to be set on high?

         No, they like beasts and sons of men shall die,

         And whilst they live, how oft doth turn their fate;

                  (Bradstreet 14)



         He’s eating his pizza and listening and some babes at the next table are
listening and I feel kind of foolish. Old Holden seems to like it though so I go on.
It’s pretty good too, for being so old and everything. I am trying to like it because
I think Holden likes it. Bradstreet is saying that there is nothing on earth that
makes sense. Everything is phony. Everyone and everything will let you down.
That probably means her too. I know it means me.



         What is’t in beauty? No that’s but a snare,


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         They’re foul enough today, that once were fair.

                  (Bradstreet 14)



         Even the things that aren’t phony? They die away in the end just when you
get used to them being around. So what’s the use? It’s useless. Maybe you’re
beautiful, like that guy Stadlater in The Catcher, or maybe you’re a nose picker
like Ackley or something, but it really doesn’t matter. That’s not the point. These
are “But vanity, vexations of mind” (Bradstreet 14). What matters is getting to
“that living crystal fount” (Bradstreet 15). That is what Bradstreet calls God or
something. I don’t think they had New Age back then—old age? It must be God
or maybe it’s just purity of thought. Crystals are pure. You can see right through
them and see if there’s anything phony in them. Anyway, you drink from this
fount and all your troubles are gone. Everything’s swell from then on. Even death
can’t touch you.

         Just then, after the line “Nor death shall see, but are immortal made”
(Bradstreet 15), Holden interrupts me and asks how many more stanzas are in the
poem. I count the lines and feel my face getting red. “Six lines,” I tell him. God I
hate being interrupted when I’m reading couplets out loud to someone.

         “Well, you can read them I guess,” he says and goes back to eating. I look
at him and he has sauce on his cheek but I don’t say anything.



         This pearl of price, this tree of life, this spring,

         Who is possessed of shall reign a king.

         Nor change of state nor cares shall ever see,

         But wear his crown... (Bradstreet 15)




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          “How many lines left now,” Holden blurts out. He looks kind of pissed so
I stop.

          “I can’t keep reading couplets if you interrupt all the time,” I tell him.
There is nothing I hate more than being interrupted. “If you want me to read to
you, you can’t interrupt me all the time. You interrupted me about 50 times
already.”

          “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m a goddamatheist. This is the kind of phony stuff
I hear about all the time. First Bradstreet talks about what everybody knows
already — everybody’s phony. But then, instead of offering some kind of
practical advice or something, she blasts off into this crystal thing. What’s the
next one like?”

          “You won’t like the next couplet either,” I say to him kind of angry like.
He wouldn’t either. If you don’t believe in God and all, how are you going to
relate to Ann Bradstreet?

          “Skip a page then,” he says, but I don’t feel like it.

          “You’re not an atheist,” I tell him. “Being an atheist takes a lot of
concentration. You have to really stick to the point a long time to be an atheist.
Besides, you exaggerate about a hundred times every minute. You have some
doubt about God and stuff and you’re pissed about the world being phony and all,
but you don’t have the focus to be an atheist. I know. I’ve tried it for a long time
being a Buddhist and all, and it’s really hard. It’s probably not even worth it.
Look at you. You ended up being a phony atheist. Goddamthat’s depressing. If
you weren’t, how come you believe your brother Allie’s soul’s in Heaven and all
(Salinger 156)?

          I could tell I really put him on the dime when I said all that and I might
have hurt his feelings. I don’t think of what I am doing sometimes. But what
would you do? The guy interrupts all the time.

          Another time old Sally called him “a sacrilegious atheist” (Salinger 137)
after they watched the Christmas thing at the Radio City Music Hall, and he said

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he probably was. Probably! I don’t like to ruminate or anything but it takes a lot
of concentration to be an atheist.

         “I’m feeling a little tired,” Holden says to me. “You want a drink, or some
coffee or anything?”

         I look at him and I am sorry for what I have said. Really sorry! I am a real
phony that way. I think Holden is really compassionate, actually, in some ways.
Really. I like him probably as much as this waitress at the Arcadia Cafe. She said
Holden is her favorite character. She read the book 15 frigging times. He isn’t my
favorite character or anything, but I like him. He wants to look out for the ducks.
He wants to catch the kids before they go over the cliff. He loves anything that
doesn’t make him accountable.

         Why then, am I trying to make him accountable?

         I tell him I’m sorry for all that stuff about his brother and everything and I
try to change the subject, but I can see it’s too late. He is already digging through
his pockets and pulling out quarters and dimes — a few crumpled bills. He looks
like I hurt his feelings. It really depresses me to see a guy so famous fumble with
change trying pay his goddampizzabill.

         Anyway, he gets up and leaves me sitting there in Bilbo’s all alone
thinking about how off-kilter life can be sometimes. What right did I have getting
on Holden about anything? JD wrote the thing, not him. Thinking back, I want to
cry about it practically if you want to know the truth. It really depresses me.

         Salinger did a good job though, except for that didactic section with Mr.
Antolini. It’s really didactic as hell, him getting hot like a madman and all,
quoting that psychoanalyst Stekel. “The mark of the immature man is yadda
yadda, the mark of the mature man is goddamyadda – I can’t even finish it’s so
boring. Hell with it actually, I gotta go.




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