Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here
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The demented Army Air Force of Catch-22, the lethal business world of Something Happened, the dysfunctional family of Good as Gold-all these, we have assumed, had their roots in Joseph Heller's own past. Now, more than thirty-five years after the explosion of Catch-22 into the world's consciousness, Heller gives us his life.
Here is his Coney Island childhood, down the block from the world's most famous amusement park. It was the height of the Depression, it was a fatherless family, yet little Joey Heller had a terrific time--on the boardwalk, in the ocean (dangerously out of his depth), playing follow-the-leader in and out of local bars, even in school. Then a series of jobs, from delivering telegrams (on his first bike) to working in a navy yard-until Pearl Harbor, the air force, Italy. And after the war, college (undreamed-of before the G.I. Bill), teaching, Madison Avenue, marriage, and-always-writing. And finally the spectacular success of Catch-22, launching one of the great literary careers.
The strengths of Now and Then lie in the energy, humor, and mischief that have characterized all of Heller's work, along with the dark undertones that lie beneath them. He brings back a Coney Island that is not only a symbol of fun and fantasy around the world but a vision of what seems today to have been a golden age of carefree innocence. For the first time, he writes about the people and the events, both tragic and hilarious, he was eventually to translate, in Catch-22, into such memorable characters as Hungry Joe, Orr, Major--de Coverley, Natel's whore, and (of course) Yossarian, and such moving and frightening scenes as the death of Snowden. Now and Then is both an account of a remarkable life and a glimpse into the creative process of a major American writer.
wagon. Surviving into my time was the spacious, elegant German beer garden Feltman’s, a famous meeting place for fun-loving celebrities of the Gay Nineties, but it was on the way out by the time I discovered it. It was the original Mr. Felt-man himself who is credited with inventing the frankfurter, a small boiled sausage that he served on a roll. Also in operation in my time as a Coney Island amusement was an exhibition of premature babies in incubators. I swear to God it’s true! I now find out
flavors, musing on why, with vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry standard, and burnt almond and butter pecan available, and then pistachio for the plain novelty of color rather than for any particular excellence of taste, there was a need for so many more flavors. And who in hell was Howard Johnson, of whom we had never heard? On the boardwalk we preferred our soft ice cream, our frozen custard, to the true ice cream we normally enjoyed at home or in our street, and Howard Johnson’s was soon gone.
Island and seeing his mother frequently. I believe I had by then already trained myself defensively to stifle painful emotion. I am walking proof of at least part of Freud’s theories of repression and the domain of the unconscious, and perhaps, in writing this way here and in other things I’ve published, of denial and sublimation, too. Today, I wouldn’t try that swim for a million dollars, tax-free, although I don’t doubt I could make it there and back. It’s this haunted imagination that’s mine
were already in port. From Boston we were transported by rail to Atlantic City for routine processing and reassignment, and from there, on furlough, I traveled home to Coney Island and was triumphantly back with my family as something of a glamorous war hero. I never thought to ask what they worried about and said about me while they waited for my letters, and I still don’t know. Among the first things I did during my medical examination in Atlantic City was ask to be taken off flying status.
auspicious climax, I unilaterally and abruptly broke off my treatments with him. That sudden termination followed a disappointing return to the city after a summer away alone, half in Aspen, where I soon made friends, and half in Santa Fe, where I already had some, when I lost all patience and felt myself running out of money. Expenses were building, income was not. A lawyer had counseled me to just relax all summer and assured me that all disagreements relating to the divorce would be