Selected Passages from
Catch-22 in the Rye


All of a sudden, this lady got on at Millan. The whole car was empty, because it was pretty late and all, but she sat down next to me.

"Oh, are you in the 256th squadron?" she said. I still had my goddam uniform on.

"Yes, the fighting 256th Squadron," I said. "That's two to the fighting eighth power," I added.

She giggled. She had a nice giggle. "Oh, how lovely! Perhaps you know my husband, Clevinger."

I froze. Old Clevinger had disappeared in a bombing run last week or so. His goddam plane had probably been shot down. He was more than likely dead. His wife must have not gotten one of those letters that Colonel Cathcart, our group commander, always sends to the survivors if someone dies or is reported missing in action. You know, those form letters I was telling you about. They killed me.

"Yes, I do. He's in my group."

Old Clevinger's wife obviously didn't notice my hesitancy because she replied, "Oh, how nice!". She wasn't corny at all. Just so goddam nice. Not a phony at all. "I must tell Clevy we met. May I ask your name, dear?"

"Washington Irving," I told her. I didn't feel like giving her my whole life story.

We had a pretty nice chat. I told her I was on rest leave, and she explained she was vacationing in the Medditeranian. The last hour or two we didn't talk much. She started reading this Saturday Evening Post she had with her, and I gazed out the window. Finally, she got off at Naples, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for her, the goddam letter she'd find in her mailbox when she'd return home. She was young with this beautiful goddam smile. She wouldn't be smiling much after she hears the news.

I was damn near bawling, if you want to know the truth.



I started reading that book, Out of Africa. I’d read it already, but I wanted to read certain parts over again. I’d only read about three pages when I heard somebody come in through the tent. It was Orr, this guy that roomed with me.

“Hi,” he said. He always said it like he was terrifically bored or terrifically tired. He wanted you to think he’d come in by mistake, for God’s sake.

“Hi,” I said, but I didn’t look up from my book. He started tinkering with the faucet that fed gasoline in to this goddam stove he had started building.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“What?” he said. He always made you say everything twice.

“What are you doing?” I asked again.

“There’s a leak here. I’m trying to fix it.”

“Well, stop it, willya? I’m trying to read here.”

“What the hellya reading?” he asked. He was kneeling on the floor of the tent now. He was taking the faucet apart, counting and studying all the tiny pieces carefully, and then reassembling the whole thing back together. He could do it for hours at a time. Over and over again. It killed me.

“Goddam book.”

“Any good?”

“This sentence I’m reading is terrific,” I said. He finished tinkering around with the goddam faucet and started walking around the tent, very slow and all, picking up stuff. He picked up this picture of this girl I used to go around with before I got drafted, Sally Hayes. He musta picked up that goddam picture a thousand times ever since I put it up.

“When I was a kid, I used to walk around all day with crab apples in my cheeks. One in each cheek.”

I threw the book down. It was impossible to read anything with a guy like Orr around you.

“Why?” I finally asked.

“Because they’re better than horse chestnuts,” he answered with a twinge of triumph in his voice.

“Why’d you walk around with crab apples in your cheeks? That’s what I asked,” I said, glaring at him.

He didn’t notice, of course. He was still pacing around the room.

“When I couldn’t get crab apples, I used horse chestnuts. They’re about the same size and actually have a better shape, though the shape don’t matter much. Who belongsa this?” He was holding the hunting knife from the mosquito-net bar by the dead man in our tent. That guy Orr’d pick up anything. I told him it was the dead man’s. So he chucked it backwards, and it landed three inches away from the dead man’s head. If Old Orr had better aim, it probably woulda killed the guy, if he weren’t already dead.

“Why did you walk around with anything in your cheeks?” I was losing my patience now. You always lose your patience when you’re talking with a guy like Orr.

“I didn’t walk around with anything in my cheeks. I walked around with crab apples in my cheeks, and when I couldn’t get crab apples I used horse chestnuts. In my cheeks. One in each cheek.”


“Because I wanted…”

“Jesus Christ! Why did you want—”

“—apple cheeks.”

“—apple cheeks?”

“I wanted apple cheeks,” he replied. He started cutting his toenails. He was doing it over the floor, too, so I’d walk on them with my bare feet later. “Well, not really. I didn’t want apple cheeks. I wanted big cheeks. I didn’t care about the color so much, but I wanted them big.”

“Do you mind cutting your nails over the table, hey?” He kept right on cutting them over the floor. What lousy manners. I mean it.

“Do you want to know why I wanted big cheeks?”

I didn’t answer.



I was lying in bed one morning with this one Italian girl, Luciana, in an apartment in Rome. I lit cigarettes for the both of us. I asked her about this pink chemise she wouldn’t remove, even when during the night before.

“I’m in bad shape. I’m in lousy shape,” was her excuse.

I started tracing her back with my finger and she got all tense as hell when I got to this one part. It was a scar, she finally told me. She said she had been wounded in a goddam air raid.

Dove?” I asked.




My heart cracked. Then, all of a sudden, I got this idea.

“Look,” I said. “Here’s my idea. How would you like to get the hell out of here? I know this guy down in the mess hall that we can borrow his plane for a couple of weeks. He owes me ten bucks. What we could do is, tomorrow morning we could fly down to Malta and Palermo, and all around there, see. It’s beautiful as down there. It really is.”

I was getting excited as hell, and I sort of reached her and took her hand. What a goddam fool I was.

“No kidding,” I said. We could live somewhere with a brook and all and, later on, we could get married or something. Honest to God, we could have a terrific time! Wuddya say? C’mon! Wuddya say? Will you do it with me? Please!”

Tu sei pazzo,” she told me with a laugh.

“Why am I crazy?” I asked her.

“You can’t just do something like that,” she said. She sounded sore as hell.

“Why not? Why the hell not?”

“Perché non possiamo sposarsi.”

“Why can’t you get married?”

“Because we can’t, that’s all. In the first place, I am not a virgin. No one wants a girl who is not a virgin. And did you ever stop to think what you’d do if you didn’t get a job when your money ran out? We’d starve to death. The whole thing’s so fantastic, it... it isn't even— perche sei pazzo!”

“Why am I crazy? It isn’t fantastic. I’d get a job. Don’t worry about that. You don’t have to worry about that. What’s the matter? Don’t you want to go with me? Say so, if you don’t.”

“It isn’t that. It isn’t that at all.”

“Why am I crazy?” I asked her again.

“Perché vuoi sposarmi.”

I wrinkled my forehead with quizzical amusement. “You won’t marry me because I’m crazy, and you say I’m crazy because I want to marry you? Is that right?”


I was beginning to hate her, in a way. “Why can’tcha? Why not? Tu sei pazz!!!

“Stop screaming at me, please,” she said. Which was crap, because I wasn’t even screaming at her.

“C’mon, let’s get outa here,” I said. We both hated each other’s guts by that time. You could see there wasn’t any sense trying to have an intelligent conversation. I was sorry as hell I’d started it. I was getting depressed as hell again. I asked her to write her name and address down on a piece of paper.

“Why?” she demanded as we were walking down the steps. She got indignant as hell. “So you can tear it up into little pieces as soon as I leave?”

“Who’s going to tear it up? What the hell are you talking about?”

“You will. You’ll tear it up into little pieces the minute I’m gone and go walking away like a big shot because a beautiful girl like me let you sleep with her and did not ask you for money.” She was sort of crying, and all of a sudden I did feel sort of sorry I’d said it. She scribbled her name and address on a piece of paper anyway and thrust it at me. “Here,” she said, huffy as hell. “Don’t forget to tear it into tiny pieces as soon as I am gone.”

The minute she was gone, I went and tore up that slip of paper up and walked in the other direction, feeling very much like a big shot because a beautiful young girl like old Luciana had slept with me and did not ask for money. I shouldn’t’ve, but I was pretty goddam fed up by that time.

If you want to know the truth, I don’t even know why I started all that stuff with her. I mean about going away somewhere, to Malta and Palermo and all. The terrible part, though, is that I meant it when I asked her. That’s the terrible part. I swear to God I’m a madman.