Catch-22 is 50

Well, that milestone had been past a couple of days ago having first been published on October 11, 1961 (I was sure it was first published in the 50s, but not so, according to publisher Simon & Schuster), but I must say it was my favourite book, and possibly remains my favourite book of fiction of all time.

As is obvious by now, the book title originated the phrase, which is now often used to describe a no-win situation, or the state of being “between a rock and a hard place”. The book is uproariously funny, and I have read it twice over many years ago. I am not sure how it is that Joseph Heller found a way to make me laugh one minute and have me gasp over a major tragedy the next minute, but he found a way. There are not many books written like that, and as Stephen King said of Heller’s book: his style can’t be imitated.

[Media Monday] The Sweater, by Roch Carrier

This is a children’s story by a Quebec-born author named Roch Carrier. A quote from this story reads: “We lived in three places: the school, the Church, and the skating rink. But our real life was on the skating rink.” This quote is seen as striking such a chord in Canadian culture, that it was chosen by the Canadian buy herbal viagra Mint in 2001 to be placed on the back of our five-dollar bills.

Roch Carrier as a boy, brought up as a non-conformist by wearing a Maple Leafs sweater in 1940s rural Quebec.

Here is the story, forever preserved by The National Film Board:

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Sleeping with Martha

My wife persuaded me to sleep with Martha. She said that it will make me feel good, and that it was good to have her in bed with us. When I tried to do it with Martha I was spoiled for anything else, and my wife wasn’t even jealous. However, I noticed, that while Martha was good in bed, she kept my head up a little more than made me comfortable, and I wished it would stop. But after a while I got used to it. I told my wife that these were the best Martha Stewart pillows she ever bought, and I had to have more.

Completely believing people's wildest stories

I’m into totally believing every story people tell me about themselves. Sometimes, when people tell me their problems, it’s complete horse-crap, with only the flimsiest relation to reality. But I sit in wide-eyed fascination of these artistic bullshitters. I’m just along for the ride, and sitting and listening to these tall tales aren’t really going to hurt me. So I believe it. All of it. With all my heart. It has nothing to do with me, so who cares? I even offer to help out with their “predicament” (which they fabricated of course). And it never amounts to anything anyway.

Here’s how you play: you completely, without holding back, believe everything a bullshitter tells you. If they falter, help them out in order to get their story right. In order to win the game, you have to “land on your feet”, and neither player gets hurt. Those are the rules.

OK? Ready to rumble?

I saw Karen again, and this time it was in the Student Building on campus. She asked me if I remember bumping into her a month ago near the Harbour Front with her mother. I vaguely remembered, and said so.

She said if I could clearly remember this, that she wanted me to testify that in court, because she thought the police were giving her trouble. I was not able to find out what kind of trouble. She was evasive. I didn’t want to pry, but my naturally supportive self wanted to jump in and help her out. I told her so. But, funny thing, none of it amounted to anything. The conversation about court just evaporated. Living in fear of the police didn’t seem all that important, all of a sudden, and I never heard about it again.

It was just like the day later on when she spoke about the fact that her parents were Nazis. She was in her 30s when she spoke to me on this (and that would make her parents, what, oh 50 or 60 years old when they gave birth to her)? She went on about how they used to operate the torture chambers in some part of Poland. She lived in mortal fear of her parents, apparently, because they ruined the livelihood of her brother and set his house on fire. She was now living in fear of them coming for her.

Now did I react and say “Come off it, Karen”? Nooooo. I was the proud picture of gullability itself. I listened to her for hours, in fascination of her and this incredible story. The next day I ran to the university library and took out an atlas of Nazi prison camps. There were hundreds of small camps dotting Poland. I laid it out for her to jog her memory. She pointed at one called Treblinka, but she was no longer going into the same level of fine detail that she was regaling to me earlier with.

The subject was dropped, and never pursued again. For some odd reason, the topic of her parents about to kill her any day now did not seem to inspire as much fear and was no longer important, and she never brought it up again.