For most people, contemplating the thought of who Joe Heller, author of Catch-22, would have voted for in the upcoming election would not require a membership to Mensa. They would automatically assume it to be the brilliant kid from Harvard rather than the spooky, disingenuous, creaky-wheel from yesteryear. Without question, he'd be racing to the polls out in East Hampton next Tuesday, eager to make his vote count, overwhelmingly impressed with Obama and depressed about McCain.
They would be wrong.
The fact is, my father never voted for anyone. Ever. In any election. He never had and never would, and he had no problem telling this to anyone, relishing the inevitable shock and dismay, the irritation and rage he would foment. It was a childish and infuriating fact about him and one never, ever open for discussion. The truth was, he was proud of it and many times this smug glee over it became the subject of passionate debates between friends and family members, kind of like the exhilarating, escalating, exasperating and mind-bogglingly hilarious screaming matches that Larry David and Richard Lewis get into on "Curb Your Enthusiasm". There is no resolution and there are no compromises and 4 minutes, it's over and forgotten, the shouting has stopped and everyone goes out to lunch. One of his oldest and closest friends for over 50 years, Dolores Karl, used to try the "ashamed method," but claims that he would always just tell her to "calm down" and that would be the end of it. Another friend, author George Mandel, a life-long, much-cherished pal, recently emailed me this on what it might have taken to get my father to vote:
It would be tough and possibly require every severe form of coercion short of violence to obtain, exact, or extort a vote from Joseph Heller. If sincere deceit failed to trick him downtown with a ruse of exorbitant Chinese dining that got us to the Board of Elections instead, for an absentee ballot to easily sign after I filled it out for him, as he gobbled the pizza I had picked up next door beforehand... Of course registration would have to be worked out first and might require forgery.
Still, I always wondered, along with everyone else, how the author of "Catch-22" could not want to have his voice heard when it came to choosing our government? How could this provocative anti-war writer, who wrote so scathingly about Kissinger and the other Washington players, sit home every Election Day with nothing but blithe amusement about what the outcome would be? He just could.
For 47 years, Catch-22 has been a part of our vernacular. A play of it, written by my father and seldom seen, will be on view here in several weeks. I was once told that it has been published in 96 languages, all over the world and that everywhere, it is known as an anti-war, peace-loving, very political book, but can there really be 96 languages?
My father would have told you that he was not political, and he wasn't. The only time I ever witnessed any departure from this was during the Vietnam War. I was down in Washington DC at one point, protesting the war with the rest of my class from NYC, lying down in the street in front of the Justice Department, about to be tear-gassed. My eyes were drawn somehow to some people up in a tree from across the street, watching the proceedings, and I realized that one of them was my father. Of course, I'd had no clue that he would even be in Washington that day, let alone perched way up in a tree, like Yossarian, but thankfully with his clothes on.
The world my father left in 1999 was such a profoundly different one than the one we face today. But would Joe Heller have been different? This was a brilliant man, even an empathetic man, couched as it was in a grumbling, frequently rude and insulting cantankerousness that didn't always quite sit right with everyone. He was also gut-bustingly funny, which more often than not, smoothed the waters for him after his cranky outbursts.
But would the cataclysmic events of the past years, the debacle in Iraq, the hideous lies and terrible cost of the imposters and astonishing guiltless, amoral dunderheads running things have propelled him out of his complacent inertia and gotten him to the voting booth, this man who stated for more than half a century that his vote didn't count? That it didn't matter who sat in the White House because all politicians were the same? Even after 8 long years of the bozo Bush? Oh sure, he'd sit home and dissect with pitiless but visceral glee the disasters of an Alan Greenspan, especially an Alan Greenspan, no doubt stating that he and the rest of the clowns running things these days should get to spend their Golden Years being tried in the Hague. (And he'd be right.) He never lacked the certainty, the direction, the enthusiasm or even the intensity of his political opinions, it's just that voting was another matter entirely. Besides, after all these years of sitting it out, I don't think he was at all interested in ruining his "record."
For many presidential elections, I can remember my mother and me, shouting at my dad, trying to get him to reconsider, telling him that "This election is different".
Well, this election is. This is the election of our lifetime and will determine more than any other in recent memory, who we are as a nation, where we're going and whether we will get there with honor, with intelligence and with the wherewithal to end our isolationism and get back to the playground to play with the big boys again.
So call me crazy but I prefer to think that next Tuesday, having pre-registered, he would have made his way to the voting booth along with everyone else and voted for the only rational choice we have, Barack Obama. And he would have considered it a privilege and a pleasure.
He just might not have told anyone about it.