“Ask me something else, Sybil,” he said. “That’s a fine bathing suit you have on. If there’s one thing I like, it’s a blue bathing suit.”
Sybil stared at him, then looked down at her protruding stomach. “This is a yellow,” she said. “This is a yellow.”
“It is? Come a little closer.”
Sybil took a step forward.
“You’re absolutely right. What a fool I am.”
“Are you going in the water?” Sybil said.
“I’m seriously considering it. I’m giving it plenty of thought, Sybil, you’ll be glad to know.”
Sybil prodded the rubber float that the young man sometimes used as a head-rest. “It needs air,” she said.
“You’re right. It needs more air than I’m willing to admit.”
This is from the second to last scene in J.D. Salinger’s short story A Perfect Day for Bananafish. It carries on like this, with a few inlaid comments as Sybil bends down to scoop up a fist of sand or the young man steadies the floating device with Sybil secured on top. But mostly it’s just this bright, quick dialogue between them. J.D. Salinger has an incredible knack for slangy, natural dialogue that can fan out an entire character in a single line. The story ends with a great tragic turn that definitely adds plenty of mystery and thoughtfulness to the rest of the comparatively idle story. But still, these lines of sparkling chit-chat are far and away the best part of the story. I’ve read the dialogue between the man and Sybil over again at least ten times, like it’s a years-old IM conversation between me and an old friend. There’s something so savory about each line, sparkling with its own personality. I think I could read an entire book of Seymour (that’s the young man, never named when he’s actually present) parlaying nonsense with Sybil or anyone he likes talking to. I think I’m only just realizing that what draws me to this dialogue so irresistibly is that it reminds me of some conversations I used to have with a strange old friend who I met when I was around 11 and kept in touch with for about ten years after that, at least through the first couple years of college. Except for the few conversations we had that were deadly serious they were mostly utter nonsense on either end. I just dug up one of our old chats from ten years ago. And just for the context of the chat, I called him by a nickname that wasn’t in any way related to his real name, but neither of those names was “James” which I just pulled out at random:
me: hello kiiidd
me: what’s doing?
me: hey do you know who hasn’t sent me an e-mail in awhile? i’ll give you a hint it starts with e and it rhymes with “lawn”
me: get it
KZZ: no hahah
me: his name’s eon
me: get it?
me: like the distance in space
KZZ: yea i sorta get it
me: get your head together
me: it’s simple mathematics
KZZ: well honestly i don’t know what in gods hell you’re talking about
me: how dare you take the lord’s name in blasphemy
KZZ: it called for it though
me: i don’t think he’ll understand
me: you son of a wench
KZZ: how do you know it’s a he
me: you got me
me: i should take this up with the authorities
KZZ: you don’t have to
KZZ: its not that big of a big deal
me: you’re talking in circles
me: lets just get down to business
me: down to important matters
me: such as the heist
me: if you know what i mean
me: if you catch my meaning
KZZ: im not sure if i do
KZZ: to be perfectly 100% honest
KZZ: with your sorry ass
me: what’s with this tomfoolery?
me: when anyway, how did it go?
me: were you “successful” or “unsuccessful” is more or less what i mean
me: if you catch what i’m meaning to mean
KZZ: well to be perfectly honest with your sorry ass i have no bleeping idea in gods green hell of what the hell you’re bleeping talking about
me: i’ve asked you once and i’ll ask you again
me: and perhaps a third time
me: but after that you’re on your own
KZZ: youre not online
me: i know i’m here just for you
me: don’t you feel prized?
KZZ: oh i thought i blocked you or something
me: would you do that?
KZZ: well it doesn’t really make sense because we couldn’t talk if i blocked you
KZZ: but maybe i blocked you and there was a glitch in the system
me: son of a wench
me: why would you block you you damn kid
me: hahah too many yous
me: now i look ridiculous!
KZZ: good one
KZZ: i get it
me: see this whole conversation was building up to that
KZZ: because we have a lot in common right
KZZ: so im like you
KZZ: i mean me
me: it took me weeks to come up with this
me: so was it worth it?
me: wait what
KZZ: if that was true i’d be impressed
KZZ: impressed by how stupid you are
me: you don’t understand
KZZ: understand what
me: wait what?
KZZ: understand what
me: wait who are you again?
me: is this james?
KZZ: yea hahah who’d you think i was?
me: no i’m just kidding
me: i knew it was you
me: you never understand me
KZZ: well since you know it’s me now, do you have any confessions you need to make
KZZ: to me
KZZ: and only me
me: why did we even agree to this arrangement if you’re going to be bowling every friday night?
me: what about you?
me: wait what?
KZZ: because bowling is the most important thing in my life
me: yea i know
me: don’t think i don’t know that
KZZ: well then why are you bringing it up
me: why are you bowling it up?
KZZ: haha im laughing out loud
KZZ: for the first time in my whole life
me: your father never made you laugh out loud?
KZZ: no one did
KZZ: except for you right now
me: wait a second
me: is this actually james?
me: like for serious this time
me: let’s be adults
KZZ: yea why wouldn’t i be james
KZZ: who the fuck else would i be
me: don’t get hostile
me: let’s just talk about this
KZZ: i’ll kill you
KZZ: i swear
KZZ: whats your address
KZZ: im gonna come over and kill you
KZZ: i mean
KZZ: give you presents
KZZ: not kill you
KZZ: i swear
me: can mine be chocolate?
me: a gun*
KZZ: yea….thats right…
me: wrong turn
KZZ: a gun will certainly be present
me: oh i’m driving by the way
KZZ: in the area
me: over to your house
KZZ: ok come on
KZZ: ok gum on
me: can i have a chocolate gun?
KZZ: yea i’ll give you a piece of gum
KZZ: *shoot you
me: ok but first i have to go to sleep
me: i have to wake up in 7 hours
me: to go to the fucking zoo
me: to see the penguins
me: everything i’ve said minus “penguins” in this conversation is 100% entirely factual
KZZ: oh hahhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaa i thought the penguins part was true
KZZ: and everything else was phony balongna baloney
me: oh god
me: i’m sorry
me: what must you think
me: now that your entire world is upside down
me: black is east
me: up is hot
KZZ: down is hot
KZZ: right is hot
KZZ: left is cold
me: don’t be gross
KZZ: up is north down is hot
KZZ: left is up right is north
me: ok goodnight
KZZ: right is down left is sideways left is upways night dark day bronze
KZZ: people dying