Once Holden comes back to Phoebe's room, she tries to ignore him. He assures her he's going to be fine on his ranch in Colorado, and harasses her about a stupid haircut somebody gave her.
She asks him why he got the ax.
A million reasons, Holden replies – mostly, everyone there was mean and phony. He can tell Phoebe is listening, even though she refuses to turn around and face him.
Even the teachers were phony, he continues, like the way Mr. Spencer would kill himself making jokes when the headmaster was sitting in on his class, or the alumni that would come back on Veteran's Day to see if the initials they carved into the bathroom wall were still there. He just didn't like it.
Phoebe counters that Holden never likes anything, which makes him feel (perhaps rightfully so) depressed. She makes him name just one thing he likes a lot.
Holden finds that he can't concentrate on this question. All he can think about are the two nuns and their collecting baskets.
Or a boy he knew at Elkton Hills named James Castle, a "skinny little weak-looking guy" who called someone else (Phil) conceited. Phil and his entourage did something "repulsive" to try to make James take it back; instead of apologizing, James jumped out the window and killed himself.
Holden remembers that James was wearing his (Holden's) turtleneck sweater at the time. And the guys that were harassing James didn't even have to go to jail.
Since Phoebe's still waiting for an answer about what he really likes, Holden says "Allie."
Phoebe counters that Allie's dead, and that shouldn't count, but Holden says you don't stop liking somebody just because they die. Besides, he also likes sitting there with her.
Phoebe doesn't think that should count, either. She wants to know what he wants to be, like a lawyer or a scientist or something.
Holden says he'd be fine with lawyers if they saved innocent guys' lives all the time, but really all they do is drink martinis and play golf.
Finally, he asks Phoebe if she knows the song he heard the little boy singing earlier, "If a body catch a body comin' through the rye."
Phoebe corrects him. It's not a song, she says, it's a poem by Robert Burns, and it goes, "If a body meet a body," not "catch a body." (We don't know why a little kid would know about Robert Burns.)
There's no way we can say this better than the author in a summary, so here it is, Holden's response to Phoebe:
"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they're running, and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy."
Phoebe thinks for a bit, but all she can say is that their father is really going to kill him.
Holden decides to phone Mr. Antolini (one of the three numbers in his address book), who used to be an instructor at Elkton Hills but now teaches English at N.Y.U.
Before he leaves, Phoebe sits up (looking so pretty, Holden tells us) and demonstrates the fruits of her recent labor in belching class. It's not much, but Holden tells her it's good.