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I heard this sentence in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's(film)'.

What happened to you, anyway?
You take off for the powder room and that's the last I see you.

The speaker talks about things happened at the past. Why does he use simple present tense? to emphasize what she did?

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In the Routledge Dictionary of English Language Studies (2007), Michael Pierce outlines seven uses of the English present tense:

  1. Permanent state: Jupiter is a gas giant.
  2. General truth: A stitch in time saves nine.

These two uses are traditionally known as the gnomic present and are not usually distinguished.

  1. Habitual: She works from home.
  2. Performative: I pronounce you man and wife.
  3. Future: My flight leaves Monday morning.
  4. Live commentary: He goes wide for a pass…
  5. Historical present: The troops quietly gather by the light of the full moon and prepare for battle.

It is these last two categories that are applicable to your question. Live commentary can be seen as a generally spoken form of the historical present, but one scholar suggests that the roles might actually be reversed:

The historical present is probably to some extent an imitation of the present tense used in live commentary. We are all familiar with people who change abruptly from the past tense into the present tense when recounting a dramatic experience:

I'd hardly opened the door when she comes out of the kitchen, screaming loudly…

Here the speaker pretends a moment to be reporting directly from the scene as an eyewitness, inviting the listener to step in the role of one who is listening to an on-the-spot reporter. The speaker is in fact asking the listener to participate in a role-playing game. — Geir Farner, Literary Fiction: The Ways We Read Narrative Literature, 2014.

In spoken conversation, however, the invitation implied in the present tense is not merely to imagine oneself in the role of an eyewitness, but to see narrated events through the eyes of the narrator as they were happening, quite literally adopting the narrator's point of view.

In this sense, perhaps we should encourage the creation of a new sub-category of live commentary along the lines of the I-stayed-out-late-again-and-my-mom's-gonna-kill-me present:

You stay out until all hours and don't call, then you come waltzing in at three in the morning…

This genre of parental lecture usually takes place the next morning, but a parent's use of the present tense in such contexts demands that a child take the parent's point of view, i.e., that the parent is understandably concerned when a child doesn't return until hours after the expected time.

The little lecture to Holly Golightly is of the same nature, the speaker encouraging her to take his point of view after making him wait at the table far longer than he expected.

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You're absolutely spot on. All I can do is confirm that it is called the historical present. The historical present is as part and parcel of today's English as phrasal verbs. In other words, it's used quite heavily. For more details see its own Wikipedia page. But generally, we use the historical present for past-tense situations to make them more vivid in our minds as we speak about them. If you want to see more examples of how the historical present is used in real life, check out the Associated Press's Today in History television show. You will see that they use it there all the time.

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  • So it is "historical present" as opposed to "historic present." – Arun Mar 27 '18 at 9:19
  • These two terms are just different names for the same concept. They're all fine. You can use either one. See the Wikipedia page where it says that both names can be used. – Michael Rybkin Mar 27 '18 at 9:23
  • The context is a bit different from that of "historic(al) present." – Kris Mar 27 '18 at 9:58

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