Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
[Havermeyer was a lead bombardier who never took evasive action going in to the target and thereby increased the danger of all the men who flew in the same formation with him. ‘Havermeyer, why the hell don’t you ever take evasive action?‘ they would demand in a rage after the mission.]
Havermeyer grinned and nodded and tried to explain how he dumdummed the bullets with a hunting knife before he fired them at the field mice
in his tent every night. Havermeyer was the best damned bombardier they had, but he flew straight and level all the way from the I.P. to the target, and even far beyond the
target until he saw the falling bombs strike ground and explode in a darting spurt of
abrupt orange that flashed beneath the swirling pall of smoke and pulverized debris
geysering up wildly in huge, rolling waves of gray and black. Havermeyer held mortal men
rigid in six planes as steady and still as sitting ducks while he followed the bombs all
the way down through the plexiglass nose with deep interest and gave the German gunners
below all the time they needed to set their sights and take their aim and pull their
triggers or lanyards or switches or whatever the hell they did pull when they wanted to
kill people they didn’t know.
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.
The men had loved flying behind Yossarian, who used to come barreling in over the
target from all directions and every height, climbing and diving and twisting and turning
so steeply and sharply that it was all the pilots of the other five planes could do to
stay in formation with him, leveling out only for the two or three seconds it took for
the bombs to drop and then zooming off again with an aching howl of engines, and
wrenching his flight through the air so violently as he wove his way through the filthy
barrages of flak that the six planes were soon flung out all over the sky like prayers,
each one a pushover for the German fighters, which was just fine with Yossarian, for
there were no German fighters any more and he did not want any exploding planes near his
when they exploded. Only when all the Sturm und Drang had been left far behind would he
tip his flak helmet back wearily on his sweating head and stop barking directions to
McWatt at the controls, who had nothing better to wonder about at a time like that than
where the bombs had fallen.
‘Bomb bay clear,’ Sergeant Knight in the back would announce.
‘Did we hit the bridge?’ McWatt would ask.
‘I couldn’t see, sir, I kept getting bounced around back here pretty hard and I
couldn’t see. Everything’s covered with smoke now and I can’t see.’
‘Hey, Aarfy, did the bombs hit the target?’
‘What target?’ Captain Aardvaark, Yossarian’s plump, pipe-smoking navigator, would
say from the confusion of maps he had created at Yossarian’s side in the nose of the
ship. ‘I don’t think we’re at the target yet. Are we?’
‘Yossarian, did the bombs hit the target?’
‘What bombs?’ answered Yossarian, whose only concern had been the flak.
‘Oh, well,’ McWatt would sing, ‘what the hell.’ Yossarian did not give a damn whether
he hit the target or not, just as long as Havermeyer or one of the other lead bombardiers
did and they never had to go back. Every now and then someone grew angry enough at
Havermeyer to throw a punch at him.
‘Me big man,’ he would shout. ‘Me big photographer from Life magazine. Big picture on heap big cover. Si, si, si! Hollywood star. Multi dinero. Multi divorces. Multi ficky-fick all day long.’
Few women anywhere could resist such wily cajolery, and prostitutes would spring to their feet eagerly and hurl themselves into whatever fantastic poses he requested for them. Women killed Hungry Joe. His response to them as sexual beings was one of frenzied worship and idolatry. They were lovely, satisfying, maddening manifestations of the miraculous, instruments of pleasure too powerful to be measured, too keen to be endured, and too exquisite to be intended for employment by base, unworthy man. He could interpret their naked presence in his hands only as a cosmic oversight destined to be rectified speedily, and he was driven always to make what carnal use of them he could in the fleeting moment or two he felt he had before Someone caught wise and whisked them away. He could never decide whether to furgle them or photograph them, for he had found it impossible to do both simultaneously. In fact, he was finding it almost impossible to do either, so scrambled were his powers of performance by the compulsive need for haste that invariably possessed him. The pictures never came out, and Hungry Joe never got in.
The odd thing was that in civilian life Hungry Joe really had been a photographer for Life magazine.