Saturday, November 12, 2005

catch 22 (joseph heller)

General Dreedle's nurse always followed General Dreedle everywhere he went, even into the briefing room just before the mission to Avignon, where she stood with her asinine smile at the side of the platform and bloomed like a fertile oasis at General Dreedle's shoulder in her pink-and-green uniform. Yossarian looked at her and fell in love desperately. His spirits sank, leaving him empty inside and numb. He sat gazing in clammy want at her full red lips and dimpled cheeks as he listened to Major Danby describe in a monotonous, didactic male drone the heavy concentrations of flak awaiting them at Avignon, and he moaned in deep despair suddenly at the thought that he might never see again this lovely woman to whom he had never spoken a word and whom he now loved so pathetically. He throbbed and ached with sorrow, fear and desire as he stared at her; she was so beautiful. He worshipped the ground she stood on. He licked his parched, thirsting lips with his sticky tongue and moaned in misery again, loudly enough this time to attract the startled, searching glances of the men sitting around him on the rows of crude wooden benches in their chocolate-coloured coveralls and stitched white parachute harnesses.
Nately turned to him quickly with alarm. 'What is it?' he whispered. 'What's the matter?'
Yossarian did not hear him. He was sick with lust and mesmerised with regret. General Dreedle's nurse was only a little chubby and his senses were stuffed to congestion with the yellow radiance of her hair and the unfelt pressure of her soft short fingers, with the rounded untasted wealth of her nubile breasts in her Army-pink shirt that was opened wide at the throat and with the rolling, ripened triangular confluences of her belly and thighs in her tight, slick forest-green gabardine officer's pants. He drank her in insatiably from head to painted toenail. He never wanted to lose her. 'Ooooooooooooooh,' he moaned again, and this time the whole room rippled at his quavering, drawn-out cry. A wave of startled uneasiness broke over the officers on the dias, and even Major Danby, who had begun synchronising the watches, was distracted momentarily as he counted out the seconds and almost had to begin again. Nately followed Yossarian's transfixed gaze down the long frame auditorium until he came to General Dreedle's nurse. He blanched with trepidation when he guessed what was troubling Yossarian.
'Cut it out, will you?' Nately warned in a fierce whisper.
'Oooooooooooooooooh,' Yossarian moaned a fourth time, this time loudly enough for everyone to hear him distinctly.
'Are you crazy?' Nately hissed vehemently. 'You'll get into trouble.'
'Oooooooooooooooooh,' Dunbar answered Yossarian from the opposite end of the room.
Nately recognised Dunbar's voice. The situation was now out of control, and he turned away with a small moan. 'Ooh.'
'Oooooooooooooooooooh,' Dunbar moaned back at him.
'Oooooooooooooooooh,' Nately moaned out loud in exasperation when he realised that he had just moaned.
'Ooooooooooooooooooh,' Dunbar moaned back at him again.
'Ooooooooooooooh,' someone entirely new chimed in from another section of the room, and Nately's hair stood on end.
Yossarian and Dunbar both replied while Nately cringed and hunted about futilely for some hole in which to hide and take Yossarian with him. A sprinkling of people were smothering laughter. An elfin impulse possessed Nately and he moaned intentionally the next time there was a lull. Another new voice answered. The flavor of disobedience was titillating, and Nately moaned deliberately again, the next time he could squeeze one in edgewise. Still another new voice echoed him. The room was boiling irrepressibly into bedlam. An eerie hubbub of voices was rising. Feet were scuffled, and things began to drop from people's fingers - pencils, computers, map cases, clattering steel flak helmets. A number of men who were not moaning were now giggling openly, and there was no telling how far the unorganised insurrection of moaning might have gone if General Dreedle himself had not come forward to quell it, stepping out determinedly in the center of the platform directly in front of Major Danby, who, with his earnest, perservering head down, was still concentrating on his wrist watch and saying, '.... twenty-five seconds ... twenty ... fifteen.... ' General Dreedle's great, red, domineering face was gnarled with perplexity and oaken with awesome resolution.
'That will be all, men,' he ordered tensely, his eyes glaring with disapproval and his square jaw firm, and that's all there was. 'I run a fighting outfit,' he told them sternly, when the room had grown absolutely quiet and the men on the benches were all cowering sheepishly, 'and there'll be no more moaning in this group as long as I'm in command. Is that clear?'
It was clear to everyone but Major Danby, who was still concentrating on his wrist watch and counting down the seconds aloud. '!' called out Major Danby, and raised his eyes triumphantly to discover that no one had been listening to him and that he would have to begin all over again. 'Oooh,' he moaned in frustration.
'What was that?' roared General Dreedle incredulously and whirled round in a murderous rage upon Major Danby, who staggered back in terrified confusion and began to quail and perspire. 'Who is this man?'
'Major Danby, Sir,' Colonel Cathcart stammered. 'My group operations officer.'
'Take him outside and shoot him,' ordered General Dreedle.
'I said take him outside and shoot him. Can't you hear?'
'Yes sir!' Colonel Cathcart responded smartly, swallowing hard, and turned in a brisk manner to his chauffeur and his meteorologist. 'Take Major Danby out and shoot him.'


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