Wry Moment

She had a great telephone voice.

So great, he thought, she ought to carry around a phone with her.

That’s the essence of the absurd interior dialogue. At least as best I remember it. Though it’s been, oh, 40 years. No, wait. More than that!

Absurd since, when written, no one could carry a phone around with them. Phone booths were the closest thing to a portable telephone. And they required change.

Written by the not-then-reclusive but still curiously quirky J.D. Salinger, “The Catcher in the Rye,” to be sure, has many, many other memorable merits.

Yet that’s the line – carrying around a phone – I remember. Having read the book precisely once.

It was the novel that shaped a generation. Along with “On the Road.” And a poem: “Howl.”

A generation of louts, loiterers deadbeats and malcontents. As well as presidents and statesmen, CEOs and philanthropists and genuine creators and innovators.

I was reminded of Holden Caulfield’s line while attending a recent holiday gala. The event was at a newly revived manufacturing facility. The kind built in the 50s, a time of optimism and dread.

The expansive building had sat virtually abandoned and seemingly idle for about a decade.

The lobby housing the gala isn’t spacious, even though it is substantial. A staircase and oddly angled walls cut up the space in such a way that a square foot count would be distorting and misleading.

The gala was populated, mostly, by the manufacturer’s office worker bees. Plus a sprinkling of local glitterati – who the event’s speaker introduced by class (politicians, vendors, etc.), demanding a show of hands by each class’s representatives. We non-bees served as token outsiders needing a good impression.

And in the middle of all this, but well forward and all alone in the crowd, was a perfectly poised young woman. She could not not be noticed. Which, I’m pretty sure, she knew. And had practiced. And this wasn’t the first time for her. Though it may have been for us.

Perfectly put together. Meticulous. Practically scientific.

Look up the word “fartootst” (see, too, “farpootzt”) and expect to see her picture accompanying the definition. Full length.

She’s probably a professional gala attender, I thought. Doesn’t seem like such a bad job. Crummy hours, though.

If the girl Holden observed should always carry a phone, what should this one carry with her?

Doesn’t matter.

Today Holden’s line is an anachronism. Today, of course, everyone has a phone they carry with them. Regardless of their voice quality.

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