I don’t necessarily find Holden Caulfield to be a source of wisdom, but lately I’ve found a quote from The Catcher in the Rye sticking out in my head: “I’m always saying, ‘Glad to’ve met you’ to someone I’m not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff though.”
Overall, I’m fairly straightforward, and I would not dare utter such a phrase if I didn’t mean it. Any interaction that isn’t genuine to me feels a little dirty. However, I’m wondering if J.D. Salinger knew exactly how accurate that sentiment has proven to be when it comes down to uncomfortable life situations. In fact, I’ve unknowingly adopted that concept as a survival skill to get me out of sticky situations.
For instance, when I called a Lyft the other night with a friend, and made a joke that our ride had arrived as a car cruised down my street, music blaring, windows down. Then we both stopped laughing when he yelled over the music, “Are you Carly? Did you request a Lyft?” The smile dripped off of my face as the joke was clearly on me at this point.
I hesitated, but got into the car anyways, assuming since I had a friend with me we would be fine. And then I fell back on my survival skill instincts that I’ve adopted whenever I don’t have control over a situation in a confined space: I ask a million questions in order to get an idea of what that person is like. This also helps to establish me as a more likable character, because I’ve found that most people enjoy telling you stories about themselves and it builds some trust.
So I kept asking this guy questions, and agreed blindly with facts that I did not agree with in real life. Not something I would normally be interested in doing, but, again, he was driving the car, so I was going to do anything to prevent him from getting upset with me and kicking me out/intentionally wrecking the car/trying to murder me.
He announced that he was from New York and hated Seattle. He was loud and boisterous, and then proceeded to tell us about how he used to be a cop in New York City. Then told us about how he got laid off and took vacations with his unemployment checks by abusing the system. His girlfriend was his police captain, who he used to argue with, and they had filed formal complaints against each other. That is until one drunken Christmas party involving mistletoe and a romantic agreement to drop all of their charges against one another.
While I was sitting there, wondering how this story would end (because I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t drawn into his tale at this point), I counted the minutes until I could get out of the vehicle. There was something about being trapped in a car with someone that you aren’t sure about that makes a situation escalate to exceedingly uncomfortable relatively quickly.
“You know how you wake up five years later, look at the person next to you, and are like, ‘FUCK NO!” he laughed.
No. I have no idea what that is like. But I laughed uncomfortably and agreed anyways.
I got out of the car safely and was glad to have heard the story, but was glad to have my feet on solid ground as well. I always feel a little bad lying or feigning interest in something that I’m not super invested in, but it is my version of saying “glad to’ve met you.” If I told him how disturbing his relationship stories and abuse of the unemployment system was to me, it would not have ended well for me in that car. So I faked my level of concern.
I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one to pick up on this Holden Caulfield life skill out here in Seattle.
I was on the bus a while back, and a man got on board and started talking to himself, which is not that unusual. He started chanting “U.S.A, U.S.A” at one point and then passionately began describing to the empty seat in front of him that “U.S. means us. And it’s all about us.”
Why another guy decided to sit next to him and ask him about his life story, I was floored. But I also couldn’t look away. The crazy guy pulled himself away from the conversation he was having with his imaginary friend, looked at the conversation instigator dead in the eye, and said, “I don’t know you. Why are you talking to me?”
I laughed out loud, causing several people to turn around. I was impressed that this crazy guy had the gall to call out the man talking to him and basically say what any normal person should say. If I felt trapped in a conversation on a bus, I’m sure I would have pulled a “glad to’ve met you,” until I could escape the confinement of a limited space.
But I figured that man who started the conversation was simply trying to pull his best Holden Caulfield defense mechanism. He wanted to fake his way through a conversation with this guy in order to bring himself some sort of peace of mind. He just wasn’t as seasoned of a Holden Caulfield as I was.