Holden waits for Carl Luce at the Wicker Bar in the Seton Hotel, which he describes as a very fancy place. As he waits, he thinks that the establishment is filled with so many phonies that it’s enough to make a person “hate everybody in the world.” Passing the time before Luce arrives, he drinks scotch and sodas and listens to a French cocktail singer as she performs. He also keeps tabs on a group of men at the other end of the bar, thinking that they might be gay. This, he thinks, is something Luce will be able to confirm when he arrives, since Luce always knew more about sex than anybody at the Whooton School. In fact, he often informed Holden that somebody was gay, though Holden sometimes thought that Luce himself might be gay. Still, Holden respects Luce’s vast knowledge of sex.
Again, Holden’s disdain for “phonies” brings itself to bear on his mood. When he says that there are enough phonies in the Wicker Bar to make a person “hate everybody in the world,” the reader can see his misanthropic tendencies, which encourage him to alienate himself from the people around him. Still, this attitude doesn’t keep him from wondering about the group of men at the other end of the bar. Thinking about whether or not they’re gay is a way for him to once again consider the supposed boundaries of what society deems acceptable when it comes to sex and romance. Although Holden’s curiosity is tinged by his homophobic impulse to view gay men as profoundly different from him, it is also yet another testament to the fact that he is still navigating what it means to become a sexual being.
When Luce arrives, Holden points out the group of men at the other end of the bar and asks Luce if they’re gay, but Luce only tells him to grow up. Holden then asks Luce about his sex life, and once again, Luce tells him to grow up. Eventually, though, Holden convinces Luce to tell him that he’s in a relationship with an older woman, though Luce resists getting pulled into what he refers to as a “typical Caulfield conversation.” As they talk, Luce periodically reminds Holden that he can’t stay long, but this doesn’t deter Holden from posing inappropriate questions, wanting badly to hear the vivid details of Luce’s sex life. All the while, Holden feels himself getting drunker and drunker, but continues to pester Luce and eventually admits that his own sex life is “lousy.” Luce, for his part, suggests that this is because he’s immature.
Holden’s incessant curiosity about Luce’s sex life betrays his immature insecurities about his own romantic life, including his fears and confusion regarding homosexuality. Just as Holden seemed to purposefully sabotage his connection with Sally, he now does the same with Luce, pestering him even though it’s clear that Luce is on the verge of abandoning him in the bar. Once again, then, he tries to alienate himself as soon as he puts himself in a situation in which he might actually connect with another person.
After a while, Holden says the main problem with his sex life is that he can’t become intimate with a girl unless he actually likes her. In response, Luce says he should see a psychoanalyst. Because Luce’s father is an analyst, Holden asks what would happen if he actually did go to therapy, and Luce informs him that a therapist would help him identify patterns in his thinking. He then tells Holden to call his father if he wants, though he says he doesn’t care either way what Holden does. In response, Holden puts his hand on his shoulder and tells him he’s a “real friendly bastard,” at which point Luce gets up and announces that he has to leave. Before he goes, Holden asks him to have one more drink with him because he’s lonely, but Luce doesn’t listen, leaving Holden by himself at the bar.
Luce is not the first person to suggest that Holden should see a psychoanalyst. Indeed, Holden’s own parents wanted to have him psychoanalyzed after he punched out all the windows in the garage in the aftermath of Allie’s death. However, they apparently never followed through with this, which is why Holden finds himself curious about what, exactly, he would get out of therapy. As soon as Luce responds, though, Holden makes a mockery of him by displaying a false sense of camaraderie. Putting his hand on Luce and calling him a “real friendly bastard,” he belittles his friend’s attempt (half-hearted as it is) to help him. As a result, Luce leaves, ignoring Holden’s confession that he’s lonely.