27 June 2019


"It's been a while since I wrote a post for my website" is a thought I commonly have. I now see that it's been *checks notes* more than four years since I published anything here. Much has changed - I'm married now! - but much has not. I really need to update this site so it's less of a Web 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever era of Web this represents, and more of a general, Hello! I Have Done and Can Do These Things website. Ideally, that would come when I finally publish a novel. Speaking of which, if you are a literary agent or editor in need of one or more comedic novels, leave a comment or slide into the DMs on Twitter (now, unfortunately, my main venue of connecting with the world).

Focusing more on novels and less on essays means I haven't had any short writing to publish here. This changed recently when I watched the new adaptation of Catch-22 on Hulu. It's one of my favorite novels, and I thought the show, as an adaptation, was poorly done. (As a show, meanwhile, it was mediocre.) It got me so up in arms that I went and wrote about it, and I figured I may as well publish it here. The show has made so few waves, and I have made so few waves, that I'm hesitant to pitch it to any websites. Rather than let it moulder in my archives, then, I present it to you.

Spoiler Alert for Catch-22: the Book, the TV Show, the Whole Damn Thing

Last May, Hulu released a six-episode adaptation of Catch-22, Joseph Heller’s classic World War II novel, shepherded to the screen by George Clooney and company. Episode 3 ends with a famous moment from the book. A showboating Army Air Force pilot, McWatt, flies over a swim raft his friends are lounging upon. He buzzes them as a prank, flying as low as possible to scare them. As he turns around to buzz them again, one of his friends, Kid Sampson, grabs a pole and stands on the raft to spear the plane like a medieval jouster.

As McWatt approaches Kid Sampson, the aircraft jostles at the wrong moment and the propeller cuts his friend into bloody confetti. It’s a horrifying accident. McWatt screams in grief and shame, and the music swells as he commits suicide by plowing his plane into a cliff.


At that moment I turned to my shocked, devastated wife and said, “That was a disaster.”


“Because it’s supposed to be funny.”

That’s supposed to be funny?”

Well, it was funny in the book. And therein lies the key difference between the book and the miniseries, or the show, or whatever they will define it as to best qualify for awards.

In the miniseries, McWatt is alone on the plane. In the book, he’s with two new pilots he’s training. There’s supposed to be a third, Doc Daneeka, whose name is also on the flight log. But Doc Daneeka isn’t on the plane; McWatt adds his name to flight logs as a favor, allowing him to earn extra pay without actually flying. The two trainees parachute out of the plane before the crash. When the crowd doesn’t see a third parachute, they believe Doc Daneeka remained on board with McWatt and is also dead, despite Doc Daneeka telling all who will listen that he was not on board, that he is right there and still very much alive. But the paperwork for his death gets processed anyway, and from that point forward, Doc Daneeka becomes a living ghost.

It’s through subplots like these that the novel becomes more about society than it is about war. Combat and the military accelerate a madness that was already there to begin with and heighten the inherent absurdity of modern life. The show dispenses with that, streamlining the story so it’s almost solely on the main character, the bombardier Yossarian, and his attempts to get out of combat. It eliminates and combines characters, unscrambles the chronology of the book – Heller jumbles the timeline to make it purposefully confusing – and rearranges narrative events to happen sooner or later than they do on the page (and invents a few of its own). While this makes storytelling sense, it creates a drastically different tone than the book, increasing the realism and decreasing the absurdity and humor.  

Among the subplots the show retains is the rise of M&M Enterprises, the business “syndicate” created and run by Milo Minderbinder. Milo is the ultimate middleman, buying goods in one place to sell in another and bringing in as many partners as possible, including the opposing Germans. When they ask Milo to attack his own bomber group, he agrees because the potential profits are so high. In the show, the bomb run is prearranged with the squadron’s commanding officers, Colonels Cathcart and Korn. People are cleared out of the areas designated as bomb zones, so no casualties are incurred and everyone makes a tidy profit.

This completely defangs the version in the book, where Milo oversees the bombing operation himself, utilizing his own planes, which he commands from the control tower. His attack takes the entire group by surprise, and there are very much casualties:

Men bolted from their tents in sheer terror and did not know in which direction to turn. Wounded soon lay screaming everywhere. A cluster of fragmentation bombs exploded in the yard of the officers’ club and punched jagged holes in the side of the wooden building and in the bellies and backs of a row of lieutenants and captains standing at the bar. They doubled over in agony and dropped. The rest of the officers fled toward the two exits in panic and jammed up the doorways like a dense, howling dam of human flesh as they shrank from going farther.

Milo’s attack creates a national uproar back in America, which is instantly quelled when he shows the public “the tremendous profit he had made.” This blend of stark violence and broad satire is a hallmark of the book. It’s a bit like Looney Tunes if those characters could actually bleed and lose limbs and die.

By blanching the brutality and absurdity, the show weakens the message. We watch a familiar war story interrupted by mild humor (at times, very effective mild humor), rather than a struggle to survive an insane world. Realistic stories and characters are reverse-engineered onto a cartoon. A general, angry that Yossarian had an affair with his wife, ensures that Yossarian must continue to fly missions. The general’s name is Scheisskopf.

The entire book is haunted by the death of Snowden, a gunner hit by flak during a bomb run to Avignon. Yossarian fixes a wound on Snowden’s leg, not knowing the gunner is mortally injured beneath his flak suit. When Yossarian finally sees what happened and opens the suit, Snowden literally spills his guts. Encountering the very elements of human matter shakes Yossarian, inspiring him to temporarily stop wearing clothing and go to even greater lengths to survive. Within the timeline of the book, this event happens somewhere in the middle of the narrative; because of the fractured chronology, it is ever present, a specter that remains with Yossarian but is only revealed in full near the end.

The show places this event at the end of the timeline. It happens in the last episode and it causes a mental break from which Yossarian never recovers. He remains naked, even when resuming his missions. He’s a shattered figure, one who has apparently given up all hope of getting out of his missions, accepting whatever fate has in store for him.

It is here where the show reveals itself to be more cynical than the book, which ends with Yossarian continuing his fight against the madness. The commanding officers have offered him a bargain to stop flying missions, but his friends will have to continue to do so. Though he’s deeply tempted, Yossarian ultimately rejects it, and here is when he thinks there’s no hope at all. That’s when word arrives that his friend Orr, who disappeared when his plane crash-landed in the sea, has turned up alive and well in Sweden. It was all part of a grand scheme by Orr to get out of the war his own way, with several practice crashes to test out his theories. When Yossarian hears the news, he vows to join Orr in Sweden, or at the very least, to continue trying to reach safety.

When Yossarian gets the news about Orr in the show, he barely reacts. He’s naked in a tree, watching Snowden’s funeral, any capacity for feeling gone.

What I most find resonant about Catch-22, the book, is the very concept of Catch-22. The initial definition of the catch is the one that’s most widely known, and repeated in the miniseries itself (notably, it’s the only time the concept is mentioned outside of the title screens):

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to.

But “Catch-22” is then used as an explanation for other situations, and toward the end of the book, a simpler, more accurate definition is given: “Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.” Yossarian muses shortly after, “Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did matter was that everyone thought it existed, and that was much worse, for there was no object or text to ridicule or refute, to accuse, criticize, attack, amend, hate, revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon or burn up.”

It’s the inertia of power, the societal insanity of letting things happen because there’s no way to change them, and that’s how we’ve always done things anyway. Catch-22 does not only apply to World War II, or even war. Catch-22 is financial institutions earning billions through mass fraud and racketeering while those accused of minor crimes languish in solitary confinement because they can’t afford bail. Catch-22 is the Electoral College legally putting the losers of elections into the White House. Catch-22 is a rigged Supreme Court deciding that gerrymandering is okay. Catch-22 is school shooter drills.

We can accept these things, and say that they’re a normal part of our society, and while it may seem silly at times, this is just how it all works. Aren’t you comfortable anyway, what with your iPhone and avocado toast and cool coffee shops and boutique liquors?

Or we can fight these things, and say it doesn’t have to be like this. Even if, in the end, we’re just looking out for ourselves and our friends, maybe that will be enough. It might not make us happier, and it might not result in any significant changes, but we at least have to try.

The show’s Yossarian stops trying. The book’s Yossarian does not. I know which one I prefer.

25 February 2015


The kind folks at The Spark, the blog of Alternating Current Press, were kind enough to publish an essay I wrote on being a real working writing man. You can read it here.

The kind folks at Atticus Review were also kind, publishing my flash fiction piece Light Speed in their recent Love Stinks issue. You can read that here. (It's short. Seriously, it will only take you a minute, if that.)

30 August 2014

The Ultimate Trailer for the Ultimate Movie


A young student, JACOB, reads an old book in the most romantic section of the library.

We may be separated by great oceans, mountains, universes of souls, but you are me, and I you, one and the same, now and forever.

Jacob turns to the title page. It’s an 1850s edition of Lilies and Lace by Emily Washington. Her wood block portrait stares back at him.

She’s haunted me all my life.



Jacob and his friend, BILL, wear lab coats and examine smoking beakers.

I just know it was meant to be. There must be some way can meet.

But she’s been dead for 150 years.


Her gravestone, neglected but readable. EMILY WASHINGTON, 1839-1859, OUR BELOVED.

You’d need some kind of time machine.


Jacob, his eyes gleaming.



Jacob in darkness, his arms outstretched, shouting as electricity flashes and sparks all around.



May I present to you Miss Emily Washington.



EMILY WASHINGTON, the spitting image of the portrait, turns to greet Jacob, now dressed in period clothing.

I’m a great enthusiast of your work.

She offers her hand. He takes it. Sparks fly.

She smiles. She has crooked and yellow teeth.

SFX: Record needle scratch.


Jacob and Bill walk through a path, Jacob head down and depressed.

I can’t believe I built that time machine for nothing.

You’re just not thinking big enough. Check it, bro. I’m gonna show you how to get laid 1850s style!



A GAGGLE OF 1850s KNOCKOUTS, dressed in their finest, chatter in the middle of the ballroom.

Jacob and Bill enter carting a keg and a tray of Jello shots.

Let’s get this party started!

SFX: “This Is How We Do It”


As Jacob and Bill hand out red plastic cups of beer, Jello shots. The ladies are briefly confused, then immediately enthusiastic.

All drink, dance, party party party.

Bill jams on a harpsichord.

Jacob shows off a bottle of penicillin.

He makes out with one of the ladies. Emily walks in, sees them, pouts.

Another lady announces:

Dessert is served!

A SLAVE pushes in a dessert cart.

Jacob and Bill see the slave.


On the slave.

SFX: Record needle scratch.

Dude, what year was slavery abolished?

I don’t know.



Jacob lectures the SUPREME COURT. Behind him, Bill and Emily sit at a table. The courtroom is packed.

This is the issue that has long perplexed our nation. Our central paradox. But we cannot live long with this conflict. For it will--

Just show them the textbook.

Jacob hands the Supreme Court a copy of History of America, 1400 to Present.

He puts it on their table, flips through the pages.

Uhh... Here we are. Civil War. Check that out. And what’s after.

The judges look at the book.

SFX: Gavel slamming down.

Slavery is hereby abolished!

The courtroom cheers.

Bill gives Jacob a thumbs up.

Jacob and Emily smile at each other. Sparks fly again.

Then she grins and shows her teeth. They’re still yellow and crooked.

SFX: Record needle scratch.

Oh, right.



It’s raining. Jacob runs through the storm.

SFX: “Solsbury Hill”

Dude, sometimes you just have to follow your heart.

Jacob races up to Emily’s window. It’s on the second story. He can see her through the window.


She looks out, sees him.

And sometimes your heart has to follow you.

He climbs up the ivy-covered wall. She opens her window. He reaches her and they kiss.

Behind her, the door opens. HENRY walks in.

But Emily! I am your fiancee!

SFX: Record needle scratch.


Jacob and Emily are running away from Henry, who is leading a PACK OF RUFFIANS toward them.

After them!

Jacob and Emily reach the bridge, look down into the water.

We’ll jump!

But Jacob... I’m pregnant!

SFX: Record needle scratch.


Jacob, Emily, and Bill stand around the cradle.

He’s so cute.

But he has... the devil’s eyes!

SFX: Record needle scratch.

The door opens. The wild-eyed DOC SMITH enters and grabs Jacob’s arm.

Your son is evil! To save him, we must go back... to the future!

SFX: Record needle scratch.


Hand in hand, Emily, Jacob, Bill, and Doc Smith fly through the time tunnel.

This holiday season. Paravision Studios will give you everything you could want in a movie. Everything.


The foursome stand in the rubble of a city.

We’ve gone too far! Your son has already taken over and destroyed the earth!

Are you saying I have to... kill my own child?

SFX: Record needle scratch.

Dude, bummer.

How can I deal with this?

She looks down in the rubble and sees a corpse holding a vial of cocaine.

SFX: Record needle scratch.

Oh, hello.

She opens the vial, snorts it.


Emily does a line of coke along the kitchen counter. Jacob bursts in.

You’re ruining this family!

(re: cocaine)
This is my family now!

Bill bursts in.

This post-apocalyptic radiation has given me superpowers!

He flies into the air.



Of random images from the previous scenes and whatever else
we can film and throw in there.

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll thrill. Then you’ll laugh again. Then there will be some more crying and thrilling. All of the emotions! All of the senses! Will be given the ride of their lives! When you see... For the Love of Party and Steel and Love and Drugs and Science and Also Drama and There’s a Superman Guy in Here Too. Coming soon to a theater near you!



The marquee has that title on it. A MAN and WOMAN walk out of the theater.

What did you think?

It was alright.