31. Yo-Yo’s Roomies
Yossarian was warm when the cold weather came and whale-shaped clouds blew low through a dingy, slate-gray sky, almost without end, like the droning, dark, iron flocks of B-17 and B-24 bombers from the long-range air bases in Italy the day of the invasion of southern France two months earlier. Everyone in the squadron knew that Kid Sampson’s skinny legs had washed up on the wet sand to lie there and rot like a purple twisted wishbone. No one would go to retrieve them, not Gus or Wes or even the men in the mortuary at the hospital; everyone made believe that Kid Sampson’s legs were not there, that they had bobbed away south forever on the tide like all of Clevinger and Orr. Now that bad weather had come, almost no one ever sneaked away alone any more to peek through bushes like a pervert at the moldering stumps.
There were no more beautiful days. There were no more easy missions. There was stinging rain and dull, chilling fog, and the men flew at week-long intervals, whenever the weather cleared. At night the wind moaned. The gnarled and stunted tree trunks creaked and groaned and forced Yossarian’s thoughts each morning, even before he was fully awake, back on Kid Sampson’s skinny legs bloating and decaying, as systematically as a ticking clock, in the icy rain and wet sand all through the blind, cold, gusty October nights. After Kid Sampson’s legs, he would think of pitiful, whimpering Snowden freezing to death in the rear section of the plane, holding his eternal, immutable secret concealed inside his quilted, armor-plate flak suit until Yossarian had finished sterilizing and bandaging the wrong wound on his leg, and then spilling it out suddenly all over the floor. At night when he was trying to sleep, Yossarian would call the roll of all the men, women and children he had ever known who were now dead. He tried to remember all the soldiers, and he resurrected images of all the elderly people he had known when a child—all the aunts, uncles, neighbors, parents and grandparents, his own and everyone else’s, and all the pathetic, deluded shopkeepers who opened their small, dusty stores at dawn and worked in them foolishly until midnight. They were all dead, too. The number of dead people just seemed to increase. And the Germans were still fighting. Death was irreversible, he suspected, and he began to think he was going to lose.
Yossarian was warm when the cold weather came because of Orr’s marvelous stove, and he might have existed in his warm tent quite comfortably if not for the memory of Orr, and if not for the gang of animated roommates that came swarming inside rapaciously one day from the two full combat crews Colonel Cathcart had requisitioned—and obtained in less than forty-eight hours—as replacements for Kid Sampson and McWatt. Yossarian emitted a long, loud, croaking gasp of protest when he trudged in tiredly after a mission and found them already there.
There were four of them, and they were having a whale of a good time as they helped each other set up their cots. They were horsing around. The moment he saw them, Yossarian knew they were impossible. They were frisky, eager and exuberant, and they had all been friends in the States. They were plainly unthinkable.
They were noisy, overconfident, empty-headed kids of twenty-one. They had gone to college and were engaged to pretty, clean girls whose pictures were already standing on the rough cement mantelpiece of Orr’s fireplace. They had ridden in speedboats and played tennis. They had been horseback riding. One had once been to bed with an older woman. They knew the same people in different parts of the country and had gone to school with each other’s cousins. They had listened to the World Series and really cared who won football games. They were obtuse; their morale was good. They were glad that the war had lasted long enough for them to find out what combat was really like. They were halfway through unpacking when Yossarian threw them out.
They were plainly out of the question, Yossarian explained adamantly to Sergeant Towser, whose sallow equine face was despondent as he informed Yossarian that the new officers would have to be admitted. Sergeant Towser was not permitted to requisition another six-man tent from Group while Yossarian was living in one alone.
‘I’m not living in this one alone,’ Yossarian said with a sulk. ‘I’ve got a dead man in here with me. His name is Mudd.’
‘Please, sir,’ begged Sergeant Towser, sighing wearily, with a sidelong glance at the four baffled new officers listening in mystified silence just outside the entrance. ‘Mudd was killed on the mission to Orvieto. You know that. He was flying right beside you.’
‘Then why don’t you move his things out?’
‘Because he never even got here. Captain, please don’t bring that up again. You can move in with Lieutenant Nately if you like. I’ll even send some men from the orderly room to transfer your belongings.’ But to abandon Orr’s tent would be to abandon Orr, who would have been spurned and humiliated clannishly by these four simple-minded officers waiting to move in. It did not seem just that these boisterous, immature young men should show up after all the work was done and be allowed to take possession of the most desirable tent on the island. But that was the law, Sergeant Towser explained, and all Yossarian could do was glare at them in baleful apology as he made room for them and volunteer helpful penitent hints as they moved inside his privacy and made themselves at home.
They were the most depressing group of people Yossarian had ever been with. They were always in high spirits. They laughed at everything. They called him ‘Yo-Yo’ jocularly and came in tipsy late at night and woke him up with their clumsy, bumping, giggling efforts to be quiet, then bombarded him with asinine shouts of hilarious good-fellowship when he sat up cursing to complain. He wanted to massacre them each time they did. They reminded him of Donald Duck’s nephews. They were afraid of Yossarian and persecuted him incessantly with nagging generosity and with their exasperating insistence on doing small favors for him. They were reckless, puerile, congenial, naive, presumptuous, deferential and rambunctious. They were dumb; they had no complaints. They admired Colonel Cathcart and they found Colonel Korn witty. They were afraid of Yossarian, but they were not the least bit afraid of Colonel Cathcart’s seventy missions. They were four clean-cut kids who were having lots of fun, and they were driving Yossarian nuts. He could not make them understand that he was a crotchety old fogey of twenty-eight, that he belonged to another generation, another era, another world, that having a good time bored him and was not worth the effort, and that they bored him, too. He could not make them shut up; they were worse than women. They had not brains enough to be introverted and repressed.
Cronies of theirs in other squadrons began dropping in unashamedly and using the tent as a hangout. There was often not room enough for him. Worst of all, he could no longer bring Nurse Duckett there to lie down with her. And now that foul weather had come, he had no place else! This was a calamity he had not foreseen, and he wanted to bust his roommates’ heads open with his fists or pick them up, each in turn, by the seats of their pants and the scruffs of their necks and pitch them out once and for all into the dank, rubbery perennial weeds growing between his rusty soupcan urinal with nail holes in the bottom and the knotty-pine squadron latrine that stood like a beach locker not far away.
Instead of busting their heads open, he tramped in his galoshes and black raincoat through the drizzling darkness to invite Chief White Halfoat to move in with him, too, and drive the fastidious, clean-living bastards out with his threats and swinish habits. But Chief White Halfoat felt cold and was already making plans to move up into the hospital to die of pneumonia. Instinct told Chief White Halfoat it was almost time. His chest ached and he coughed chronically. Whiskey no longer warmed him. Most damning of all, Captain Flume had moved back into his trailer. Here was an omen of unmistakable meaning.
‘He had to move back,’ Yossarian argued in a vain effort to cheer up the glum, barrel-chested Indian, whose well-knit sorrel-red face had degenerated rapidly into a dilapidated, calcareous gray. ‘He’d die of exposure if he tried to live in the woods in this weather.’
‘No, that wouldn’t drive the yellowbelly back,’ Chief White Halfoat disagreed obstinately. He tapped his forehead with cryptic insight. ‘No, sirree. He knows something. He knows it’s time for me to die of pneumonia, that’s what he knows. And that’s how I know it’s time.’
‘What does Doc Daneeka say?’
‘I’m not allowed to say anything,’ Doc Daneeka said sorrowfully from his seat on his stool in the shadows of a corner, his smooth, tapered, diminutive face turtle-green in the flickering candlelight. Everything smelled of mildew. The bulb in the tent had blown out several days before, and neither of the two men had been able to muster the initiative to replace it. ‘I’m not allowed to practice medicine any more,’ Doc Daneeka added.
‘He’s dead,’ Chief White Halfoat gloated, with a horse laugh entangled in phlegm. ‘That’s really funny.’
‘I don’t even draw my pay any more.’
‘That’s really funny,’ Chief White Halfoat repeated. ‘All this time he’s been insulting my liver, and look what happened to him. He’s dead. Killed by his own greed.’
‘That’s not what killed me,’ Doc Daneeka observed in a voice that was calm and flat. ‘There’s nothing wrong with greed. It’s all that lousy Dr. Stubbs’ fault, getting Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn stirred up against flight surgeons. He’s going to give the medical profession a bad name by standing up for principle. If he’s not careful, he’ll be black-balled by his state medical association and kept out of the hospitals.’ Yossarian watched Chief White Halfoat pour whiskey carefully into three empty shampoo bottles and store them away in the musette bag he was packing.
‘Can’t you stop by my tent on your way up to the hospital and punch one of them in the nose for me?’ he speculated aloud. ‘I’ve got four of them, and they’re going to crowd me out of my tent altogether.’
‘You know, something like that once happened to my whole tribe,’ Chief White Halfoat remarked in jolly appreciation, sitting back on his cot to chuckle. ‘Why don’t you get Captain Black to kick those kids out? Captain Black likes to kick people out.’ Yossarian grimaced sourly at the mere mention of Captain Black, who was already bullying the new fliers each time they stepped into his intelligence tent for maps or information. Yossarian’s attitude toward his roommates turned merciful and protective at the mere recollection of Captain Black. It was not their fault that they were young and cheerful, he reminded himself as he carried the swinging beam of his flashlight back through the darkness. He wished that he could be young and cheerful, too. And it wasn’t their fault that they were courageous, confident and carefree. He would just have to be patient with them until one or two were killed and the rest wounded, and then they would all turn out okay. He vowed to be more tolerant and benevolent, but when he ducked inside his tent with his friendlier attitude a great blaze was roaring in the fireplace, and he gasped in horrified amazement. Orr’s beautiful birch logs were going up in smoke! His roommates had set fire to them! He gaped at the four insensitive overheated faces and wanted to shout curses at them. He wanted to bang their heads together as they greeted him with loud convivial cries and invited him generously to pull up a chair and eat their chestnuts and roasted potatoes. What could he do with them?
And the very next morning they got rid of the dead man in his tent! Just like that, they whisked him away! They carried his cot and all his belongings right out into the bushes and simply dumped them there, and then they strode back slapping their hands briskly at a job well done. Yossarian was stunned by their overbearing vigor and zeal, by their practical, direct efficiency. In a matter of moments they had disposed energetically of a problem with which Yossarian and Sergeant Towser had been grappling unsuccessfully for months. Yossarian was alarmed—they might get rid of him just as quickly, he feared—and ran to Hungry Joe and fled with him to Rome the day before Nately’s whore finally got a good night’s sleep and woke up in love.
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