On his way to Ernie’s, Holden strikes up a conversation with his cab driver, Horwitz. When he asks about the ducks in the Central Park lagoon, Horwitz becomes angry at the stupidity of his question, shouting that the fish have it worse than the ducks, since they have no choice but to stay in the frozen water. However, he points out that the fish survive even in the ice because “it’s their nature” to adapt to the circumstances. Holden appreciates Horwitz’s willingness to consider the question, but he decides to let the matter slide because the driver seems like such a sensitive conversational partner. Nevertheless, he invites Horwitz to have a drink with him when they reach Ernie’s, though Horwitz declines, dropping him off and reminding him that nature takes care of the fish in the lagoon.
Holden doesn’t like not knowing what happens to the ducks during the winter. The fact that he’s unsure about their future mirrors his uncertainty regarding his own future and signals how much he dislikes change. What he fails to realize, though, is that the ducks’ desertion of the Central Park lagoon is part of the migratory pattern they undergo every year, meaning that winter doesn’t force them to change, but actually reinforces their standard routine. Horwitz seemingly recognizes this, which is why he concerns himself with the fish, since the fish have no choice but to simply hunker down and deal with the winter. But even this, he insists, isn’t something to worry about, since all animals are used to finding ways to survive. Unlike Horwitz, Holden remains unable to simply accept the patterns of nature (and, by extension, the natural trajectory of his own life), instead fixating on these rather trivial matters because he doesn’t want to think about his own problems.
At Ernie’s, Holden is disgusted to find the place full of “phonies” from fancy colleges and prep schools. In one conversation, he overhears a guy he refers to as “Joe Yale” describing a fellow student’s suicide attempt. As Joe Yale tells this story to his date, he attempts to slide his hand up her skirt. As if this scene doesn’t aggravate Holden enough, he’s forced to sit at a table in the back, where he can hardly see Ernie, who has a mirror set up by the piano so that everyone can see his face while he plays—something Holden hates, since he himself wouldn’t even want people to clap for him if he were a piano player.
Holden’s sense of being alone is heightened by his surroundings. As he looks around Ernie’s, he sees that even somebody as insensitive as “Joe Yale” is with a date. In order to keep himself from thinking about his own loneliness, then, Holden once again thinks about how much he hates “phoniness,” this time directing his scorn toward Ernie’s showboating ways even though he came all this way just to see Ernie in the first place.
As Holden takes in the scene, a young woman named Lillian Simmons approaches him. Lillian used to date D.B., and Holden thinks she’s a terrible “phony.” When she reaches his table, she says it’s “marvelous” to see him and wastes no time before asking about D.B. As she talks, she and her date—a man in a Navy uniform—block the only passageway through the tables, making Holden feel simultaneously awkward and annoyed at how little she cares that she’s holding up an entire group of people behind her. Holden even suspects that she enjoys being the kind of person who would hold up a crowd. When she invites him to come sit with her and her date, he lies and says he was just leaving to meet a girl. Feeling that people always ruin things for him, he says goodbye and leaves.
Despite his feelings of loneliness, Holden immediately rejects Lillian’s offer to sit with her and her date. Unsurprisingly, this is because he thinks she’s a “phony.” This decision fits into a larger pattern in Holden’s life: when he feels lonely, he wants to spend time with people, but as soon as he actually starts talking to another person, he becomes so critical of them that he can’t stand to be in their presence, so he alienates himself once more.