When Holden Caulfield Met King Solomon

When Holden Caulfield met King Solomon, he couldn’t find an ashtray, and opted instead to extinguish his cigarette on the thigh of his corduroy pants. Solomon didn’t flinch, remembering the vices of his youth, and inhaling without displeasure the lingering nicotine dissolving in the space between them, in the air that felt stagnant, despite the October breeze.

Holden held out hope that Solomon was not a phony, but another wanderer, albeit confined to a throne. Jerusalem was at peace, but Solomon’s qualms were not at bay. And what use was a palace of precious metals when nobody is remembered beyond his generation?

He hath made everything beautiful in its time,” Solomon stated calmly, wary of Holden’s shuffling stance, his discomfort seeming as though the wooden bench beneath them was giving him splinters. “Holden, are you in pain?” asked the King, interrupting his own lecture to the young man, who had unbuttoned his wool cardigan, only to re-fasten it with the buttons purposely misaligned.

“The thing is that I’m feeling peculiar today, on account of this dream I had last night. Not a dream exactly, because the truth is, I’ll tell you, I didn’t sleep at all really. But I was thinking a whole lot. Not about anything the phonies want you to think about, like the consequences of dropping out of the damn prep school, or responsibility. The truth is I was asked to leave the school, but ‘asked’ in the way that means they don’t give one fraction of a damn about your answer.” Solomon unfastened his bronze cufflinks, cupping them in his palms as if to warm them. “But the truth is, it ought to be a different thing entirely when you’re the man making the decrees. ‘Law and order,’ they call it, because the law is whatever the Man orders you to do. They only tune in when you’re just born, alien-looking and brainless, and even then, it’s because you don’t look obviously mortal yet, so they can play along with their grand ideas that they will all be the Man forever. That anything is forever. It’s a funny, funny thing, when you think about it real hard, really.”

A time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away…” Solomon exhaled into the distance. Holden was staring at the King’s forehead, and scratching the emerging stubble on his own chin. “Holden, boy, I do wonder what you might be seeking. What can you cast away when you have nothing to hold onto? Me, I’ve held on to too much, perhaps. I’ve acquired jewels and trophies, and trophy wives, and prayers answered in abundance. And wisdom to crack the riddles that keep people up at night. And, G-d, does it exhaust me. And I see that you’re searching, that you too want to acquire something. But first you need to know what you’ve thrown away before its time.”

At this point, Holden lights another cigarette, a half-burned one he had stored in the paper box after ashing it mid-smoke that morning. Some things needed to be ended, or at least paused, after all. He blinks, and looks back up at the King before kicking a pebble down the sidewalk and watching it get caught in a crack. His gaze softens, though he cannot be called vulnerable really. His lips melt into a smile, still wrapped around his cigarette, and it seems his countenance has been there behind the smoke all along, Solomon could swear by it.

“The thing is, Sol, I’m damn near bawling, I feel so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why.”

He hath set the world in your heart, yet so that man cannot find the answers…from beginning to end.”

“Inexplicable, they would call it. The teacher-phonies. Tremendous, they would dub that, the hippie-phonies. I don’t know what the hell to say. If you want to know the truth, I don’t know what I think.”

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“Futility of futilities, breath of breaths.”

King Solomon opens his palms and spreads his fingers, so that one cufflink clinks pathetically onto the asphalt, just past the sidewalk curb. Holden shifts forward, as if to reach for the bronze thing, then reclines back in hopeless hesitation. Solomon’s eyes point to Holden’s scuffed Doc Martens, then up to his red hat, where a dribbling line of salty sweat making its exodus onto Caulfield’s forehead. The boy leans his body forward again, and grabs the cufflink, fingering its dusty edges. His look is not quite fascinated, but not quite jaded. He tosses it a foot in the air, throwing the bronze piece with no intention of throwing it away. It lands squarely in his grasp, then disappears into his corduroy pocket.

“It’s all yours,” King Solomon assures Holden. Holden nods, and this pair of misfits waits for the next bus without impatience. They will travel in whatever direction it’s heading.



Author’s Note: I’ve quoted from, and alluded to, Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), The Catcher in the Rye, and Midrash Rabah (biblical exegetical work) quite liberally. My intentions are only to further explore the ideas in these works in a creative context, with utmost respect for the holy writings of the Tanakh and Midrash, and with appropriate credit to the legendary J.D Salinger. I’ve taken liberties in translating the biblical verses, and encourage readers to examine them on their own.

Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) verses from Chapter 3

Kohelet Rabah commentary on Kohelet 3:11

Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, p. 213-214