Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas in the Rye

It's a common writing exercise to rewrite a story you've written in the style of some other author. It's actually good practice and a good discipline. Here's something that happened to me yesterday, told in the style of Holden Caulfield, the protagonist from The Catcher In The Rye (one of the best, funniest, most heart-breaking, and most often misunderstood books I've ever read). If you don't like words like hell and damn, maybe skip this one and read another post instead.

Christmas in Korea
by Holden Caulfieldoseyo

I guess if you ask me I'd say I didn't sleep enough or something like that. Sometimes you get some guy who says he needs like ten hours of sleep every night and it just makes you depressed as hell, as sad as when you hear lousy Christmas music in shops before Thanksgiving is even finished. I think about that guy sleeping ten hours a night, like he hates being awake or something, but I'm exactly the opposite. I'm the kind of guy who hates sleeping sometimes, so instead of laying in bed, I just do useless stuff like reading phony articles on the internet from some guy who uses the word "delineate" instead of "explain" to show off his hot-shot writing style, and you just know he makes quotation marks with his fingers during conversations. But, it's better than staring up at the ceiling when you can't sleep, because when you turn on the humidifier your mom sent you last November, that little hum gets you thinking about your mother and it just makes you lonely as hell.

So maybe it's on account of I don't always sleep enough, but sometimes it seems like the whole world is full of phonies. They're all over, but for example, today I stood next to this girl at the crosswalk who smelled like some kind of boutique shop green tea and avocado shampoo, and she talked on the phone like something special, and when I looked over at her, her scarf was messy but perfect as if she spent half an hour by the mirror tossing her scarf over her shoulder so it looked like she didn't care how it looked. Even when she knew I was looking at her, she didn't look over at me, even to smile or say "hi," so I looked at her perfect phony hair, thought some other girl in her office probably feels ugly or fat because this girl spends thirty phony minutes tossing her goddamn scarf over her shoulder in the morning, and the other girl has to wash her hair at night because her family's poor and maybe her mother has cancer and her dad lost his job in the economic crisis and they sleep on the floor and fold up the mattresses and put them in the goddamn closet every morning. Sometimes it makes you depressed as hell, these girls with perfect scarves and perfect smelling green-tea herbal scented hair and stuff.

So I crossed the street like a madman when the light changed, but everywhere I looked there was some other phony girl with perfect hair, or some hot-shot guy with the same haircut as his friends, wearing a sweater-vest or a zipper tie or something, and saying things like, "a little contrived, but well-meant, to be sure." And every shop played some lousy Christmas music that was all drippy and slow, or cheery and chippy, and it didn't feel like Christmas, more like some sweaty red-faced old man smiling so you'd buy more stuff from his deli, asking you to pay an extra quarter for "festive wrapping" instead of the usual pink butcher paper.

So I went into the subway station trying not to look at the hot-shots and phonies in the street, and looked up and down the platform for something that'd make Allie grin if he was with me, like a couple who really loved each other but they were just holding hands and looking at something together instead of making baby talk and poking each other's dimples, or some kids playing some kind of game, and their mom saying "quiet, boys, everybody can hear you" and them not caring anyway, with their hair messy instead of licked and stuck down with cruddy kids' hair gel. I get a kick out of watching kids playing on subway platforms like that, when they act like kids, and not just little adults trained by their moms to shake your hand and say, "charmed". Kids who are too quiet on subway platforms, with expensive coats and stuck down gelly hair make me feel depressed as a madman.

But there weren't any kids with messy hair playing on the subway platform. They just had their hands in their pockets waiting for the train. You take a kid, and you put her hands in her pockets and make her wait for a train, and I can't decide if I should go talk to her like she's a grown up and say "pleasure to meet you, little miss," or stick out my tongue and try to make her laugh so that she looks like a kid again. I'm quite childish that way, especially around kids much younger than me. Sometimes I make faces at little kids and I don't even care if their moms get upset. I'm not kidding.

Everybody at the subway station just walked up and down the platform like their spot on the platform was extremely important to find, and no other door or car would be right, and not even looking at other people, or only checking to see whose coat and scarf looked more expensive, and then I saw this old man leaning on the wall outside the elevator, with a cane stuck out at the floor so far away from his body he couldn't lean on it. Sometimes an old guy like that will just make you sad as hell, leaning against the wall like he can't stand, looking around, especially if he has a scarf that isn't tied up right, so that he looks cold, or if he has bifocals and you can see his big eyes looking around, or if his coat's open and his adam's apple jumps up and down like a madman when he swallows. But believe me, this guy was a great old man. He wasn't looking around for somebody to feel sorry for him at all. He had an okay coat and no scarf or sad bifocals, and he just needed to get over to the platform to get on the subway, but everybody was walking too fast to notice him wave his cane at them. He shuffled along the wall to the corner and waited all quiet for some help, without shouting or anything. Nobody noticed him except me, and finally I went over to him before I could start to feel sorry for him, and I put my arm out and said, "Do you need an elbow?" and he looked up at my face, but not into my eyes, like that might be too much.

I don't care about school or tests so much, but I can be pretty smart sometimes when I want to, and I knew right away that he didn't know any English, so he couldn't understand what I said. Instead of asking if he wanted help again, I just put my arm out so he could grab my forearm and get over to the subway platform. That old guy never even looked at my face, but he put his hand up like he'd been expecting me, and I swear instead of grabbing my forearm and putting his hand on my coat, he went along and grabbed right onto my hand. Then quick as hell, once his hand was on mine he started shuffling his cane and feet along the ground toward the spot where the subway door would open. I moved along with him and we got to the spot, but the subway was slow, so we stood there for about three minutes, me holding hands with this old guy who seemed proud, not in a phony way, like "I'll let you help me here because I'm a great old guy," but in an old, strong way, like a city tree that doesn't even know it's smaller than trees in the forest, because it's never been out there, and it's the best tree on the street.

He moved his fingers around a few times to get a better grip, and I lowered my hand so it was easier for him to hold on to it, and I felt kind of sorry for him, but at the same time I felt happy that he had somebody to help him keep his balance while he got on the subway. You take a guy who's feeling sad because there aren't any kids playing on the subway platform, and sometimes all he really needs is some nice old guy who'll hold his hand and wait for a train together, and that'll make him feel better more than some book or a song or a gift set of green tea herbal essence shampoo.

When the subway came, we shuffled into the subway and the old guy let go after he was in one of the special seats for seniors, and he gave me a crazy old Korean bow to say thanks, like I was a government official or something, and he finally looked at my face just the one time. Then I had to get off at the next stop, but I still think about him, like maybe he would have waited for twenty minutes and three trains before somebody else came to help him. Or, sometimes I think about all the other people on the platform saying, "charmed" and trading business cards, or not talking to each other at all, and how they didn't get to stand by an old guy who still took the subway, even though he couldn't even lift his feet off the ground very much, and he only had a lousy cane, not even a walker. For a minute, waiting for the train, I wondered what he was thinking, but now I hope he was just thinking something like, "the train'll come soon" and not something phony like "what a nice young man." I don't want to be a nice young man; sometimes it's just good to stand by some old guy and wait for a train together, that's all.


tamie marie said...

Damn damn damn damn damn damn damn.

You did a fine job. With the writing, I mean. The rest speaks for itself.

mamachurchmouse said...