The Laboratorium
October 1993

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And Holden, When You Call Me …

The phonies in there were getting to me. I had a bit of a headache and all the stupid nothing chatter was making it worse. I tossed back the last of my drink and put it back on the table. I slid a ten-dollar bill under the cup for the waitress, because of the way she handled that phony in the gabardine suit. I liked her. She looked a little like Jane. I squinted at her. Maybe not, when I thought about it. I thought about calling Jane but it felt really late. Normally that wouldn't have stopped me, but I really was feeling pretty lousy and it was enough to make me forget for a moment. I bumped into a stiff-looking guy with a big red nose. He started yelling at me, but I kept staring at that nose. It was so red, it looked like he was wearing a strawberry. He looked pretty smashed. I wanted to leave, but I couldn't tear my eyes off of his nose. I guess some guys really do get red noses when they're drunk. He was fat, too. Really fat. I was just staring at his nose and comparing him to a blimp and he was screaming at the top of his lungs in some drunken idiotic ramble. He must have seen I wasn't paying any attention, beacuse he turned around and stormed off. I pulled on my coat and pushed out through the door.

It was getting really cold out. It was a lot colder than I remembered, or maybe it was the drink. I was too dazed to notice much. I sorta figgured I should get back to someplace warm, in some part of my brain that was still working, so I stuck out my arm and waited for a cab to come by. It took about five minutes, and I would have looked pretty stupid if there were anyone else around to see, just holding my arm out, but I was so conked out I didn't care. After a while, it was like a game, seeing how much longer I could hold up my arm while my fingers froze off. Eventually a taxi pulled up, and I got in.

The taxi was roasty warm, and I was so happy being warm I forgot to tell the driver where I wanted to go. He just pulled off and started driving like he knew where to go and I just plain forgot to tell him where. Shows you how awful I was feeling. The first thing I noticed about the driver was his hair. It was white and all over the place. I leaned forward and looked at his face from the side, and he had a beard and mustache to go with it. He looked a little like the stained glass pictures of famous prophets you see in churches, except his hair was all so messy he looked more comical than anything else. He saw me leaning forward, and he turned to me and asked me where I wanted him to go.

"Take me to the Edmont. Nah. Where do you want to go?" I didn't care. I thought maybe he might have a better idea.

"I have no pressing need to go to any particular destination. For me the ultimate goal is not the point of arrival, but the journey." He spoke in big long sentences. A lot of people I know speak like that to sound important. My driver, though, looked so comical that I knew he wasn't puffing up. I liked him. He seemed natural, not phony at all. I misunderstood him at first, though.

"Then why aren't you taking me to Scarsdale? That'd get you a nice big fair."

"Because I doubt very much that you have any desire to be deposited in Scarsdale. For you, the ultimate destination is significant."

"Nah. It isn't, damn it. I'm falling. Doesn't matter where."

"Perhaps, sir, you are stationary, and the world is accelerating upwards around you. Perhaps you are the only rock of stability in the cosmos." I liked that. It was neat, the way he put it. I didn't even notice the "sir". He seemed to be driving to the Edmont anyway. I gave up. I saw skyscrapers taking off like rocket ships, passing me by. I saw Ackley and Stradlater, zooming off, falling upwards. I sure he meant something else, but that's what I saw. I was falling, though. Falling asleep. I was on the edge when he said something to me.

"Here we are." I shook myself and paid the fare. I was just about to step out when I remembered about the ducks in Central Park.

"You know the ducks on the ponds in Central Park. The ones you feed bread and so on. Where do they go in the winter when it freezes over? Does a guy come in a truck and take them away?" He scratched his head a bit, nodded, and pulled his beard.

"I believe they hibernate beneath the ice. I could be wrong. Biological science has never been my strong suit." He said this with an odd grin that made me think he was hiding something. At least he answered my question. It didn't sound right, but I liked it. It was sort of a digression, I guess, but I didn't hate digressions like they wanted me to. I opened the door, and stepped outside. The cold air was really biting me. On a whim, I leaned back inside and reached for his hand. I shook it, and he returned the shake with a quiet dignity.

"Thank you. I've been wondering about that for a while. My name's Holden. Holden Caulfield." I gave him another five-dollar bill, just because I liked him. I was really outspending myself. I was down to alomst nothing.

"Thank you, Mr. Cowfeld. I'm Albert. Albert Einstein." He nodded pleasantly. I closed the door, rather gently, and pulled my coat a little tighter. It didn't help much. I still felt lousy. Before I even knew what was happening, I was vomiting on the sidewalk. It just overcame me. I stared at it a while, in suprise, and then I turned around. I had to get inside. It was killing me to be out like this.