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Holden finishes his breakfast around noon and decides to take a walk since he has two hours to spare before his date with Sally Hayes. While he is walking, Holden cannot help but think about the nuns and their collection basket. This sets him off imagining what his mother, aunt, and "Sally Haye’s crazy mother" would do if they were given the job of collecting money for charity.
Holden has no particular direction in mind, but finds himself walking toward Broadway and decides to stop by a record store and buy a record for Phoebe. He wants to get her a rare record called ‘Little Shirley Beans’ by "this colored girl singer, Estelle Fletcher". On his way, Holden comes across "this family that you could tell just come out of some church", and the little boy attracts Holden’s attention. The boy is walking behind his parents, who are obviously poor. But the boy is happy and sings to himself. In fact, his carefree attitude and song even help to dispel some of Holden’s depression.
Holden enters a store and buys the record he wants to take Phoebe. Then he goes to a nearby drugstore to give Jane Gallagher a call. This time he really does call her house, but hangs up without asking for her because her mother answers the phone. Holden then buys a newspaper, checks to see what is playing, and buys tickets for "I Know My Love". It is a show he has little interest in seeing, but he thinks Sally Hayes will love it.
Next, Holden takes a taxi up to Central Park to look for Phoebe and give her the record. Though Phoebe often visits Central Park, she is not there, so Holden starts walking toward the Museum of Natural History, reminiscing about past trips he has made there. When he arrives, he changes his mind about going in. Instead, he hails a taxi and heads for the Biltmore to meet Sally Hayes.
At the beginning of the chapter, Holden cannot stop thinking about the nuns, one of whom reminds him of Mrs. Morrow. This is probably because Mrs. Morrow and the nun are the only two people with whom Holden has had real conversation since he left Pencey Prep. All other attempts at communication--with the taxi drivers, the three secretaries at the bar, and the prostitute--have failed miserably.
Holden seems most comfortable in the world of children. He believes all of them are like Phoebe, honest and unpretentious-- never phony. It is obvious that Holden is crazy about his little sister. He wants to buy her the record because he instinctively knows she will like it. As soon as it is purchased, he wants to find Phoebe in the park and give it to her. When he cannot find his sister, Holden asks a little girl in Central Park who knows Phoebe if she would like to join him for a hot chocolate. He also helps two mismatched children play on the see-saw. In spite of his kindnesses, the children act like they do not want Holden around. Even these innocent beings reject him; he does not belong once again.
Holden also watches a young boy walking on the curb behind his parents. The child is singing to himself, and the song goes "if a body catch a body coming through the rye". This child’s happiness has a cheering effect on Holden, probably because he has always liked the song about the rye. Later, he will confess to Phoebe that he has always thought of himself as the catcher in the rye--a person who protects children from the adult world.
Holden is heading for the natural history museum, reminiscing about past visits there when he was young. What he liked best then, and still likes, is the permanence of the exhibits, the way the Indian in the display has always caught two fish and is about to catch a third. The only thing that changes, Holden reflects, is the people who go there. Holden wonders if Phoebe thinks of this and wonders if she feels changes in herself the way he feels them inside him.
When Holden finally arrives at the museum, he discovers he no longer wants to go inside. He gets in a cab and goes to find Sally, losing an opportunity to see the differences in himself reflected by the exhibits in the museum.