Yossarian Part One
This is part one of a homage to Catch 22. Parts two, three, four, five, six, and seven are also available.
I The Texan How can you not like a story that begins “It was love at first sight”. Somehow, this had always happened to PG with Catch 22. He was beginning his third attempt at reading it, and thought that maybe writing about it would improve the chances of finishing the damn thing.
PG does not remember when he bought the book. It is a nice hardback edition, with grocery bag paper scotch taped around the cover. Whether or not the original dust cover was there is irrelevant at this time, although it would decrease the value to a collector. The copyright page says 1961, and there is no indication of a subsequent printing.
After the first attempt at reading, PG used the book as a tool. He operated a blueprint machine, with an electric sensor. The sensor would cut the machine off if a piece of paper did not go over it every minute. This was annoying, as PG sometimes used the developer on the machine, without feeding paper into the front. The book would tell the sensor that paper was over it, and the machine would not cut off. It worked very well.
PG had the good fortune to bring the book with him when he left the job. Several things got left behind. There was an architects rendering of a Christian Science church n 15th street downtown, that was a source of great pride and pleasure. The day when PG stormed out of shaky reprographics the print got left behind.
So begins the chapter by chapter breakdown of the great american novel. It may go unfinished. The last time PG tried this was Eat, Pray, Love, which nobody considers the Great American Novel. By the middle of the book, the lady writer was in the bathroom writing notes to G-d. PG wondered why he was fooling with a book like that, but felt the need to finish what he started. No such constrictions will apply to this series. It is about war, and modern americans wars are not supposed to be finished.
The first chapter starts with Yossarian in the hospital. Whether he is sick, or goofing off, is a matter of conjecture. After a while, you realize there is very little difference between the two. He decides the spend the rest of the war in the hospital, until a Texan moves into the ward. He does not like the Texan, does not have a good reason for not liking him, but does not need one. Yossarian is soon out of the hospital.
At this point it is essential to know how to spell Yossarian. He is the most important character, and some say the hero. Spell check can be used, but that is cheating. It is easy to break down. Yo is obvious. SS is a popular set of initials, especially for someone being shot at by Nazis. ARIAN can be tricky. If you take the Nazi theme a bit further, you can say that it is Aryan, with an I in the middle. This would be the American version anyway, to have the I in the middle of the master race, but to deny that you are a racist. Or crazyist, (spell check suggestion:Craigslist) which would be a genuine handicap while reading this book.
II Clevinger PG is beginning to think that Catch 22 is a bunch of crazy people having ironic interior conversations, and not doing much of anything. Now, in a war, this is not a bad thing. If nothing is happening, that means you have not been killed. This is a downside of war. Maybe a plot will hatch if we stick with it long enough. The style of writing is fun, even if there is no plot to sustain it. We will see. The original plan was to read fifty pages, and if it was not a barrel of laughs to consider putting it down. This is not a library book, so there is no deadline.
Not much happened in chapter two. Yossarian and Clevinger called each other crazy, and they were both correct. Towards the end of this chapter, someone says something about the Colonel wanting fifty missions from his flyers. This book might have a plot after all.
When writing this chapter, it would appear helpful to mention what Clevinger does. The first two chapters do not say what the man does, but they do mention that he used to live in a tent near Yossarian. While trying to track down the function of Clevenger, PG decided to underline the names of the characters, with a red pencil, the first time they appear in the story. After that, if PG wants to underline them, then he can. This should make it a bit easier to determine what the swarm of characters in this story do. These red pencil marks will further undermine the resale value of this book, what resale value it has left with a grocery store bag dust cover.
In 1992, PG had a downstairs neighbor named Ron Clevinger. He was a nice guy. His boyfriend, named Keith Maffey, was a jerk. They had violent quarrels, which was disturbing to someone living upstairs. If the house caught fire, then PG’s apartment upstairs would be affected. One night, they were wrestling in the living room, and the tv fell to the ground with a spectacular crash.
The guys downstairs were trying to start a remodeling business. They did not know what they were doing. The landlord let them put a new roof on the house, and it leaked. The roof was finally replaced a couple of years later. After a few months, they didn’t pay their rent, and were evicted. PG did not miss them. In the winter of 1993, there was a snow jam, which is a once every ten years big deal in Atlanta. A few days after the snow melted, PG read a funeral notice for Keith Maffey. Someone shot him dead during the storm. PG never did hear the details.
III Havermeyer This peace story about a war story is being written, at first, on a laptop. PG has long been a desktop only kind of guy, but the advantages of having a second machine were piling up. Finally, the computer store in Doraville had a sale, where they offered laptops that had been leased out. When PG got his it was $20 off, which paid part of the sales tax.
This is a fun device to use, but it takes a bit of getting used to. The touchpad is very different from a mouse, and this model does not have a number pad to the right of the letters. PG is trying to train himself to use the numbers at the top of the keyboard, and one day he will learn how. The most troubling thing about this machine is the tendency of the cursor to drift to another spot on the screen without warning. You will be typing merrily away, put the machine down, and when you get back the letters are going in a place halfway up the document. It is very annoying.
Chapter three is part crazy person noodling, and part plot action. Yossarian and Orr, his roommate, get into a discussion about why Orr likes to stuff crab apples in his cheeks. The reason is that they are better than chestnuts. They go round and round, talk about a whore that beat up Orr, but never get to the bottom of his love for big cheeks.
A couple of characters with funny names are introduced. General P.P. Peckum is a pretentious prick, which is a bit redundant. At least the pretentious part, unless it is a female, in which case a different body part is used. All prick implies is the masculine gender of the individual. Captain Aardvark is Yossarian’s navigator, and is usually the first name called at roll.
The plot part involves Yossarians desire to get out of the war alive. He takes evasive action when he flies, and is not overly concerned if the target is hit. Havermeyer, by contrast, never takes evasive action, and hangs around the crime scene to make sure the target is hit.
“Havermeyer was a lead bombardier who never missed. Yossarian was a lead bombardier who had been demoted because he no longer gave a damn whether he missed or not. He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive.”
Yossarian is thought of as a good guy. However, when he went on missions, he dumped bombs wherever it felt right, without concern about hitting the target. It is probable that some of these bombs landed on Italian civilians. Our hero murdered people whose only crime was having a dictator who was buddies with Hitler. The fact that all armies do the same thing does not make the barbequed Italians any less dead.
IV Doc Daneeka Doc Daneeka is a character with a lot to say. He was setting up a profitable practice in New York, involving crooked pharmacists and abortions. The war got in the way. Doc has little sympathy for any airman with problems, because his are worse.
Chapter four is a bunch of people hanging out talking nonsense. Except that it is all men, but it is still nonsense. Somebody asks if any poet ever made money, and someone says that T.S. Eliot did. Soon, General Dreedle, and his idiot son in law Colonel Moodus, thought that T.S. Eliot was one of their men.
There are some online resources that are going to make this project a lot easier. One is SparkNotes It is like CliffNotes, only digital. It tells us that Colonel Peckum thinks that T.S. Eliot is a coded message, and worries because he does not know the meaning.
Another handy device is wikiqotes. It has quotes from the text, and is easier than copying passages on file cards. “This literary-work article needs cleanup. Please review Wikiquote:Templates, especially the standard format of literary-work articles, to determine how to edit this article to conform to a higher standard of article quality. This page has been listed as needing cleanup since 2008-09-11.”
V Chief White Halfoat The namesake of this chapter is Doc Daneeka’s roommate. CWH was from a tribe in Oklahoma. His family had a way of settling where oil was going to be found, so they were followed from site to site by oil company men. The term native american had not been invented when this was written, so CWH is called Indian. He likes to drink, which is another unfortunate stereotype. Catch 22 probably would not be helped by being politically correct.
CWH staggers into the tent while Yossarian is having a chat with Doc Daneeka. In this chapter, Doc is happy that the war came when it did, because his practice was broke. After CWH retires to his bottle, Yossarian gets down to business with the Doc. He wants to be grounded from flight duty. The reason for this is a desire to not be killed, and the excuse is that he was crazy.
There is a difference between an excuse and a reason. In Iraq, the reasons for wanting to invade were multiple: oil access, making Israel happy, revenge for the survival of Saddam after the first oil war, and a desire to make money for the military industrial complex. None of these were thought to be very convincing, so a decision was made to say that Iraq had WMD, and was about to give them to terrorists. A committee made a decision to use this as the rationale for the war. It was the excuse. An excuse does not have to be true, it just has to convince the people who need to be convinced.
Getting back to Yossarian, he had sane reasons for claiming he was crazy. The army was wise to him. WW2 was a serious struggle for survival, and excuses like insanity or homosexuality were not accepted. On page 41, the title of the book is mentioned for the first time.
“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.
VI Hungry Joe Hungry Joe is an airman. He has screaming nightmares, which disturb his neighbors. He has flown more than enough missions, but the order to send him home never comes. The number of missions needed to complete a tour of duty keeps going up. It is now set at fifty five.
Fifty five became a notorious number during the seventies. There was a gas shortage, followed by a very convenient war, and the price of gasoline went up. One of the ideas for reducing the use of gasoline was to lower the speed limit on the interstates. This had been set at seventy, which people regarded as their right as free americans. The speed limit was lowered to fifty five, and people were not happy.
The interstate system was not finished yet. There were gaps, where you had to get off the freeway and go for a while on surface roads. One notorious bypass was in Cobb County, where I75 stopped just a bit past the Big Chicken. You had to get off, and travel north on highway 41 for a while, until you could get back on the interstate. This was when roads in Cobb county were fun to drive. There was a one lane bridge over the river on Akers Mill Road. You had to wait until it was clear to go across. On the other side was the Riverbend apartments, widely regarded as the king of swinging singles apartment complexes. Those were the days. And people wonder why the Big Chicken rolls his eyes.
Pictures are from “The Special Collections and Archives,Georgia State University Library”