An early passage from one of my favorite American novels, in which the main character—an airman in Europe during WWII—amuses himself in the hospital:
All the officer patients in the ward were forced to censor letters written by all the enlisted-men patients, who were kept in residence in wards of their own. It was a monotonous job, and Yossarian was disappointed to learn that the lives of enlisted men were only slightly more interesting than the lives of officers. After the first day he had no curiosity at all. To break the monotony he invented games. Death to all modifiers, he declared one day, and out of every letter that passed through his hands went every adverb and every adjective. The next day he made war on articles. He reached a much higher plane of creativity the following day when he blacked out everything in the letters but a, an and the. That erected more dynamic intralinear tensions, he felt, and in just about every case left a message far more universal. Soon he was proscribing parts of salutations and signatures and leaving the text untouched. One time he blacked out all but salutation "Dear Mary" from a letter, and at the bottom he wrote, "I yearn for you tragically, A.T. Tappman, Chaplain, U.S. Army." A.T. Tappman was the group chaplain's name.
When he had exhausted all possibilities in the letters, he began attacking the names and addresses on the envelopes, obliterating whole homes and streets, annihilating entire metropolises with careless flicks of his wrist as though he were God. Catch-22 required that each censored letter bear the censoring officer's name. Most letters he didn't read at all. On those he didn't read at all he wrote his own name. On those he did read he wrote, "Washington Irving." When that grew monotonous he wrote, "Irving Washington." Censoring the envelopes had serious repercussions, and produced a ripple of anxiety on some ethereal military echelon that floated a C.I.D. man back into the ward posing as a patient. They all knew he was a C.I.D. man because he kept inquiring about an officer named Irving or Washington and because after his first day there he wouldn't censor letters. He found them too monotonous.
In other news, you should enjoy Accidental Death of an Anarchist—by Strawberry Theater Workshop, directed by Stranger Genius Gabriel Baron—this weekend. Its author, Dario Fo, and Joseph Heller share a similar sense of humor. They start with tragedy—people getting needlessly, painfully killed because people in positions of power are selfish and stupid—and add slapstick, satire, and fabric softener. Their similar recipes produce similar results: a tragedy you want to laugh at/a comedy you want to cry about.
See this week's review of the show here.