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Ordinarily, Yossarian’s pilot was McWatt, who, shaving in loud red, clean pajamas outside his tent each morning, was one of the odd, ironic, incomprehensible things surrounding Yossarian. McWatt was the craziest combat man of them all probably, because he was perfectly sane and still did not mind the war. He was a short-legged, wide-shouldered, smiling young soul who whistled bouncy show tunes continuously and turned over cards with sharp snaps when he dealt at blackjack or poker until Hungry Joe disintegrated into quaking despair finally beneath their cumulative impact and began ranting at him to stop snapping the cards.
“You son of a bitch, you only do it because it hurts me,” Hungry Joe would yell furiously, as Yossarian held him back soothingly with one hand. “That’s the only reason he does it, because he likes to hear me scream—you goddam son of a bitch!”
McWatt crinkled his fine, freckled nose apologetically and vowed not to snap the cards any more, but always forgot. McWatt wore fleecy bedroom slippers with his red pajamas and slept between freshly pressed colored bedsheets like the one Milo had retrieved half of for him from the grinning thief with the sweet tooth in exchange for none of the pitted dates Milo had borrowed from Yossarian. McWatt was deeply impressed with Milo, who, to the amusement of Corporal Snark, his mess sergeant, was already buying eggs for seven cents apiece and selling them for five cents. But McWatt was never as impressed with Milo as Milo had been with the letter Yossarian had obtained for his liver from Doc Daneeka.
“What’s this?” Milo had cried out in alarm, when he came upon the enormous corrugated carton filled with packages of dried fruit and cans of fruit juices and desserts that two of the Italian laborers Major --- de Coverley had kidnaped for his kitchen were about to carry off to Yossarian’s tent.
“This is Captain Yossarian, sir,” said Corporal Snark with a superior smirk. Corporal Snark was an intellectual snob who felt he was twenty years ahead of his time and did not enjoy cooking down to the masses. “He has a letter from Doc Daneeka entitling him to all the fruit and fruit juices he wants.”
“What’s this?” cried out Yossarian, as Milo went white and began to sway.
“This is Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder, sir,” said Corporal Snark with a derisive wink. “One of our new pilots. He became mess officer while you were in the hospital this last time.”
“What’s this?” cried out McWatt, late in the afternoon, as Milo handed him half his bedsheet.
“It’s half of the bedsheet that was stolen from your tent this morning,” Milo explained with nervous self-satisfaction, his rusty mustache twitching rapidly. “I’ll bet you didn’t even know it was stolen.”
“Why should anyone want to steal half a bedsheet?” Yossarian asked.
Milo grew flustered. “You don’t understand,” he protested.
And Yossarian also did not understand why Milo needed so desperately to invest in the letter from Doc Daneeka, which came right to the point. “Give Yossarian all the dried fruit and fruit juices he wants,” Doc Daneeka had written. “He says he has a liver condition.”
“A letter like this,” Milo mumbled despondently, “could ruin any mess officer in the world.” Milo had come to Yossarian’s tent just to read the letter again, following his carton of lost provisions across the squadron like a mourner. “I have to give you as much as you ask for. Why, the letter doesn’t even say you have to eat all of it yourself.”
“And it’s a good thing it doesn’t,” Yossarian told him, “because I never eat any of it. I have a liver condition.”
“Oh, yes, I forgot,” said Milo, in a voice lowered deferentially. “Is it bad?”
“Just bad enough,” Yossarian answered cheerfully.
“I see,” said Milo. “What does that mean?”
“It means that it couldn’t be better...”
“I don’t think I understand.”
“...without being worse. Now do you see?”
“Yes, now I see. But I still don’t think I understand.”
“Well, don’t let it trouble you. Let it trouble me. You see, I don’t really have a liver condition. I’ve just got the symptoms. I have a Garnett-Fleischaker syndrome.”
“I see,” said Milo. “And what is a Garnett-Fleischaker syndrome?”
“A liver condition.”
“I see,” said Milo, and began massaging his black eyebrows together wearily with an expression of interior pain, as though waiting for some stinging discomfort he was experiencing to go away. “In that case,” he continued finally, “I suppose you do have to be very careful about what you eat, don’t you?.
“Very careful indeed,” Yossarian told him. “A good Garnett-Fleischaker syndrome isn’t easy to come by, and I don’t want to ruin mine. That’s why I never eat any fruit.”
“Now I do see,” said Milo. “Fruit is bad for your liver?”
“No, fruit is good for my liver. That’s why I never eat any.”
“Then what do you do with it?” demanded Milo, plodding along doggedly through his mounting confusion to fling out the question burning on his lips. “Do you sell it?”
“I give it away.”
“To who?” cried Milo, in a voice cracking with dismay.
“To anyone who wants it,” Yossarian shouted back.
Milo let out a long, melancholy wail and staggered back, beads of perspiration popping out suddenly all over his ashen face. He tugged on his unfortunate mustache absently, his whole body trembling.
“I give a great deal of it to Dunbar,” Yossarian went on.
“Dunbar?” Milo echoed numbly.
“Yes. Dunbar can eat all the fruit he wants and it won’t do him a damned bit of good. I just leave the carton right out there in the open for anyone who wants any to come and help himself. Aarfy comes here to get prunes because he says he never gets enough prunes in the mess hall. You might look into that when you’ve got some time because it’s no fun having Aarfy hanging around here. Whenever the supply runs low I just have Corporal Snark fill me up again. Nately always takes a whole load of fruit along with him whenever he goes to Rome. He’s in love with a whore there who hates me and isn’t at all interested in him. She’s got a kid sister who never leaves them alone in bed together, and they live in an apartment with an old man and woman and a bunch of other girls with nice fat thighs who are always kidding around also. Nately brings them a whole cartonful every time he goes.”
“Does he sell it to them?”
“No, he gives it to them.”
Milo frowned. “Well, I suppose that’s very generous of him,” he remarked with no enthusiasm.
“Yes, very generous,” Yossarian agreed.
“And I’m sure it’s perfectly legal,” said Milo, “since the food is yours once you get it from me. I suppose that with conditions as hard as they are, these people are very glad to get it.”
“Yes, very glad,” Yossarian assured him. “The two girls sell it all on the black market and use the money to buy flashy costume jewelry and cheap perfume.”
Milo perked up. “Costume jewelry!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t know that. How much are they paying for cheap perfume?”
“The old man uses his share to buy raw whiskey and dirty pictures. He’s a lecher.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“Is there much of a market in Rome for dirty pictures?” Milo asked.
“You’d be surprised. Take Aarfy, for instance. Knowing him, you’d never suspect, would you?”
“That he’s a lecher?”
“No, that he’s a navigator. You know Captain Aardvaark, don’t you? He’s that nice guy who came up to you your first day in the squadron and said, ‘Aardvaark’s my name, and navigation is my game.’ He wore a pipe in his face and probably asked you what college you went to. Do you know him?”
Milo was paying no attention. “Let me be your partner,” he blurted out imploringly.
Yossarian turned him down, even though he had no doubt that the truckloads of fruit would be theirs to dispose of any way they saw fit once Yossarian had requisitioned them from the mess hall with Doc Daneeka’s letter. Milo was crestfallen, but from that moment on he trusted Yossarian with every secret but one, reasoning shrewdly that anyone who would not steal from the country he loved would not steal from anybody. Milo trusted Yossarian with every secret but the location of the holes in the hills in which he began burying his money once he returned from Smyrna with his planeload of figs and learned from Yossarian that a C.I.D. man had come to the hospital. To Milo, who had been gullible enough to volunteer for it, the position of mess officer was a sacred trust.
“I didn’t even realize we weren’t serving enough prunes,” he had admitted that first day. “I suppose it’s because I’m still so new. I’ll raise the question with my first chef.”
Yossarian eyed him sharply. “What first chef?” he demanded. “You don’t have a first chef.”
“Corporal Snark,” Milo explained, looking away a little guiltily. “He’s the only chef I have, so he really is my first chef, although I hope to move him over to the administrative side. Corporal Snark tends to be a little too creative, I feel. He thinks being a mess sergeant is some sort of art form and is always complaining about having to prostitute his talents. Nobody is asking him to do any such thing! Incidentally, do you happen to know why he was busted to private and is only a corporal now?”
“Yes,” said Yossarian. “He poisoned the squadron.”
Milo went pale again. “He did what?”
“He mashed hundreds of cakes of GI soap into the sweet potatoes just to show that people have the taste of Philistines and don’t know the difference between good and bad. Every man in the squadron was sick. Missions were canceled.”
“Well!” Milo exclaimed, with thin-upped disapproval. “He certainly found out how wrong he was, didn’t he?”
“On the contrary,” Yossarian corrected. “He found out how right he was. We packed it away by the plateful and clamored for more. We all knew we were sick, but we had no idea we’d been poisoned.”
Milo sniffed in consternation twice, like a shaggy brown hare. “In that case, I certainly do want to get him over to the administrative side. I don’t want anything like that happening while I’m in charge. You see,” he confided earnestly, “what I hope to do is give the men in this squadron the best meals in the whole world. That’s really something to shoot at, isn’t it? If a mess officer aims at anything less, it seems to me, he has no right being mess officer. Don’t you agree?”
Yossarian turned slowly to gaze at Milo with probing distrust. He saw a simple, sincere face that was incapable of subtlety or guile, an honest, frank face with disunited large eyes, rusty hair, black eyebrows and an unfortunate reddish-brown mustache. Milo had a long, thin nose with sniffing, damp nostrils heading sharply off to the right, always pointing away from where the rest of him was looking. It was the face of a man of hardened integrity who could no more consciously violate the moral principles on which his virtue rested than he could transform himself into a despicable toad. One of these moral principles was that it was never a sin to charge as much as the traffic would bear. He was capable of mighty paroxysms of righteous indignation, and he was indignant as could be when he learned that a C.I.D. man was in the area looking for him.
“He’s not looking for you,” Yossarian said, trying to placate him. “He’s looking for someone up in the hospital who’s been signing Washington Irving’s name to the letters he’s been censoring.”
“I never signed Washington Irving’s name to any letters,” Milo declared.
“Of course not.”
“But that’s just a trick to get me to confess I’ve been making money in the black market.” Milo hauled violently at a disheveled hunk of his off-colored mustache. “I don’t like guys like that. Always snooping around people like us. Why doesn’t the government get after ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen, if it wants to do some good? He’s got no respect for rules and regulations and keeps cutting prices on me.”
Milo’s mustache was unfortunate because the separated halves never matched. They were like Milo’s disunited eyes, which never looked at the same thing at the same time. Milo could see more things than most people, but he could see none of them too distinctly. In contrast to his reaction to news of the C.I.D. man, he learned with calm courage from Yossarian that Colonel Cathcart had raised the number of missions to fifty-five.
“We’re at war,” he said. “And there’s no use complaining about the number of missions we have to fly. If the colonel says we have to fly fifty-five missions, we have to fly them.”
“Well, I don’t have to fly them,” Yossarian vowed. “I’ll go see Major Major.”
“How can you? Major Major never sees anybody.”
“Then I’ll go back into the hospital.”
“You just came out of the hospital ten days ago,” Milo reminded him reprovingly. “You can’t keep running into the hospital every time something happens you don’t like. No, the best thing to do is fly the missions. It’s our duty.”
Milo had rigid scruples that would not even allow him to borrow a package of pitted dates from the mess hall that day of McWatt’s stolen bedsheet, for the food at the mess hall was all still the property of the government.
“But I can borrow it from you,” he explained to Yossarian, “since all this fruit is yours once you get it from me with Doctor Daneeka’s letter. You can do whatever you want to with it, even sell it at a high profit instead of giving it away free. Wouldn’t you want to do that together?”
Milo gave up. “Then lend me one package of pitted dates,” he requested. “I’ll give it back to you. I swear I will, and there’ll be a little something extra for you.”
Milo proved good as his word and handed Yossarian a quarter of McWatt’s yellow bedsheet when he returned with the unopened package of dates and with the grinning thief with the sweet tooth who had stolen the bedsheet from McWatt’s tent. The piece of bedsheet now belonged to Yossarian. He had earned it while napping, although he did not understand how. Neither did McWatt.
“What’s this?” cried McWatt, staring in mystification at the ripped half of his bedsheet.
“It’s half of the bedsheet that was stolen from your tent this morning,” Milo explained. “I’ll bet you didn’t even know it was stolen.”
“Why should anyone want to steal half a bedsheet?” Yossarian asked.
Milo grew flustered. “You don’t understand,” he protested. “He stole the whole bedsheet, and I got it back with the package of pitted dates you invested. That’s why the quarter of the bedsheet is yours. You made a very handsome return on your investment, particularly since you’ve gotten back every pitted date you gave me.” Milo next addressed himself to McWatt. “Half the bedsheet is yours because it was all yours to begin with, and I really don’t understand what you’re complaining about, since you wouldn’t have any part of it if Captain Yossarian and I hadn’t intervened in your behalf.”
“Who’s complaining?” McWatt exclaimed. “I’m just trying to figure out what I can do with half a bedsheet.”
“There are lots of things you can do with half a bedsheet,” Milo assured him. “The remaining quarter of the bedsheet I’ve set aside for myself as a reward for my enterprise, work and initiative. It’s not for myself, you understand, but for the syndicate. That’s something you might do with half the bedsheet. You can leave it in the syndicate and watch it grow.”
“The syndicate I’d like to form someday so that I can give you men the good food you deserve.”
“You want to form a syndicate?”
“Yes, I do. No, a mart. Do you know what a mart is?”
“It’s a place where you buy things, isn’t it?”
“And sell things,” corrected Milo.
“And sell things.”
“All my life I’ve wanted a mart. You can do lots of things if you’ve got a mart. But you’ve got to have a mart.”
“You want a mart?”
“And every man will have a share.”
Yossarian was still puzzled, for it was a business matter, and there was much about business matters that always puzzled him.
“Let me try to explain it again,” Milo offered with growing weariness and exasperation, jerking his thumb toward the thief with the sweet tooth, still grinning beside him. “I knew he wanted the dates more than the bedsheet. Since he doesn’t understand a word of English, I made it a point to conduct the whole transaction in English.”
“Why didn’t you just hit him over the head and take the bedsheet away from him?” Yossarian asked.
Pressing his lips together with dignity, Milo shook his head. “That would have been most unjust,” he scolded firmly. “Force is wrong, and two wrongs never make a right. It was much better my way. When I held the dates out to him and reached for the bedsheet, he probably thought I was offering to trade.”
“What were you doing?”
“Actually, I was offering to trade, but since he doesn’t understand English, I can always deny it.”
“Suppose he gets angry and wants the dates?”
“Why, we’ll just hit him over the head and take them away from him,” Milo answered without hesitation. He looked from Yossarian to McWatt and back again. “I really can’t see what everyone is complaining about. We’re all much better off than before. Everybody is happy but this thief, and there’s no sense worrying about him, since he doesn’t even speak our language and deserves whatever he gets. Don’t you understand?”
But Yossarian still didn’t understand either how Milo could buy eggs in Malta for seven cents apiece and sell them at a profit in Pianosa for five cents.
|Ebook version 0—please increment version number if you make corrections to this text. Thanks! The Toad exploring the world of lucid dreaming||This text will contain errors even though I spent at least a few minutes on each page trying to correct major errors such as Sanskrit names. This was the first|
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|A journey down the Severn from Thomas Harral’s Picturesque Views of the River (1824) [Text only version]||Now first translated from the original latin, and collated with the french version, with dissertations, new translation of the text, and copious indices|