Oh, Holden. We can’t make up our mind between feeling sorry for him and telling him to just get a grip already. The problem? All he wants to do is connect with someone—anyone—but the boy has high standards. Impossibly high standards. Standards so high that only a precocious fourth-grader can live up to them.
It’s tough being a lonely misanthrope.
Lost in the Crowd
No matter how many times Holden says he’s “lonesome” (it’s a lot), he often can’t even get to the point of reaching out at all. The very first thing the does when he gets off the train in New York is go to a phone booth … and then he leaves twenty minutes later without having even picked up the receive. We’re going to quote the whole passage, because it’s worth it:
as soon as I was inside, I couldn't think of anybody to call up. My brother D.B. was in Hollywood. My kid sister Phoebe goes to bed around nine o'clock— so I couldn't call her up. […] My parents would be the ones [to pick up the phone]. Then I thought of giving Jane Gallagher's mother a buzz, and find out when Jane's vacation started, but I didn't feel like it. Besides, it was pretty late to call up. Then I thought of calling this girl I used to go around with quite frequently, Sally Hayes, because I knew her Christmas vacation had started already—she'd written me this long, phony letter, inviting me over to help her trim the Christmas tree Christmas Eve and all— but I was afraid her mother'd answer the phone. […] Then I thought of calling up this guy that went to the Whooton School when I was there, Carl Luce, but I didn't like him much. So I ended up not calling anybody. I came out of the booth, after about twenty minutes or so. (9.1)
Every time Holden thinks of someone to call, he ends up deciding not to—usually because he’s afraid he’ll have to interact with someone he doesn’t like. (Like adults.) On the one hand, this is just Holden’s passivity. Over and over again, he decides not to do something.
On the other hand, judging by the interactions that he does have, we … can’t really blame him. Take a look at just a handful of these encounters:
He invites Ackley along to the movies, but Ackley won't return the favor by letting Holden sleep in his roommate's bed. He writes Stradlater's composition for him, and in return gets yelled at (and socked in the nose, but technically that was for different reasons). He even had to type that essay on a junky old typewriter because he had lent his own to the guy down the hall. He lends out up his hound's-tooth jacket, knowing it'll get stretched out in the shoulders. He gets stuck with the tab for the three "moronic" girls' drinks in the Lavender Room at his…