“Something Happened” (Post 2/3)

SH 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/3

Post 3/3

The office in which I work

[5] The best section of the book. The satire here is almost as good as DeLillo’s White Noise (and it’s the only time Heller is going to resemble his Catch-22 style). Something Happened is never as witty and amusing as it is when Slocum is focusing on his office and we get to hear his obsessive stories for the first time. As the book goes on, Slocum’s paranoia and depression overtakes his wit. Which the point of the book, I suppose. What a weird, draining project for Heller to undertake.

Green worries painfully that someday soon the Corporate-Operations Department will take my department away from his department and give it to the Sales Department. Green has been worrying about this for eighteen years.



Nobody in the company has yet been killed in an airplane crash, and this is highly mysterious to me.



I am currently occupied (as one of my private projects) with trying to organize a self-sufficient community out of people in the company whose names are the same as occupations, tools, or natural resources.



Reeves confides in me because he thinks I am capable, honest, and unpretentious; he knows I drink and lie and whore around a lot, and he therefore feels he can trust me.


[6] We don’t get a last name for our narrator until page 33 (and no first name until page 80). His family is never identified by name, other than his youngest son (Derek). The rest of Slocum’s family is always “my wife,” “my daughter,” “my boy” (never “my son”), “my wife’s sister”, etc.

[7] This book is depressing (but far from unique) in its complete ignorance and dehumanization of all that is not White Male. I’m going to leave a couple of examples, but I won’t go through every instance. We all know this set-up and type:

Here and there in the company colored men, Negroes, in immaculate white or blue shirts and very firmly knotted ties are starting to appear; none are important yet, and nobody knows positively why they have come here or what they really want.



“I was just coming to see you,” Jane says to me. “I want to show you this layout.”

I stare brazenly at her tits. “I can see your layout.” She starts to giggle and blush deliciously, but I turn serious.


I know (hope?) this is part of the satire, but man, it’s sometimes it’s rough to be in Slocum’s ignorant head.

[8] References:

He moves to madras and paisley months after others have gone for linen or hopsack.



Madras is a lightweight cotton fabric with typically patterned texture and plaid design, used primarily for summer clothing. The fabric takes its name from the former name of the city of Chennai in India.

Hopsack is a coarse fabric of a loose plain weave.

[9] Reference:

The beautiful Countess Consuelo Crespi (if there is such a thing) will always matter more than Albert Einstein, Madame Curie, Thomas Alva Edison, Andy Kagle, and me.



Consuelo Crespi (1928 – 2010) was an American-born Italian countess who served the world of high fashion as a style-setting model and editor of Vogue (magazine) and Vogue Italia.

I don’t understand the “If there is such a thing” comment.


The jokes are bad, and nobody laughs. I have advised him to stop. He says he will. He doesn’t. He seems compelled.


[11] Reference:

He will probably get his worsted blue blazer just about the time the rest of us have switched to mohair or shantung or back to madras.



A dress fabric spun from tussore silk with random irregularities in the surface texture. It is often used for bridal gowns.

[12] Reference/Translate:

It has become virtually comme il faut at company conventions for even the very top and very old, impotent men in the company – in fact, especially those – to allude slyly and boastfully to their own and each other’s sexual misconduct in their welcoming addresses.



adjective – (French) – correct in behavior or etiquette.

My wife is unhappy

[13] Some parts ring eerily true; despite how much I want to dislike Slocum, I see parts of myself in him:

There is this wretched habit I have of acquiring the characteristics of other people. I acquire these characteristics indiscriminately, even from people I don’t like. (…)

I do not do this voluntarily. It’s a weakness, I know, a failure of character or morals, this subtle, sneaky, almost enslaving instinct to be like just about anyone I happen to find myself with.



The words spear through my consciousness and slam to a stop against bone, the inside of my skull. I can restrain myself from saying them, but I cannot suppress the need to want to.


[14] Reference:

The file room was a cage of cyclone fence that rose from floor to ceiling.



Another name for chain-link.


I miss her. I love her. I want her back. (…) She laughed and smiled a lot. I miss that gaiety. Now I would know what to do with her. I want another chance. Then I remember who I am; I remember that she would still be four years older than I am now, short, overweight, and dumpy, probably, and perhaps something of a talkative bore, which is not the girl I’m yearning for at all. (That person isn’t here anymore.) Then I remember she’s dead.

(p.86 – 87)

[16] Reference:

So that was where the tin lizzie had already carried us to by then, this industrial revolution, to the third largest automobile casualty insurance company in the whole world.



Tin Lizzie

noun – (North American; informal, dated) – a cheap, old, or run-down automobile (originally used as a nickname for early Ford cars, especially the Model T).

[17] Vocabulary:

That musky, estrous, overpowering, inexhaustibly marvelous and voluptuous blond married Viking.



adjective – 1. of, relating to, or characteristic of estrus (a state of sexual receptivity during which the female of most mammals will accept the male and is capable of conceiving).

2. being in heat.

[18] Reference:

“ ‘Oooooooh, come on baby. Do it to me, like you did to Marie, on Saturday night, Saturd-’ ”



I can’t find the song being referenced (though it reminds me of the Bay City Rollers’ “Saturday Night” from 1974).


“Why do you talk like that?” I demanded indignantly, afraid that something fateful I did not understand and could not cope with was already taking place.



I say nothing to anybody about anything bad once I see it’s already too late for anyone to help.

(p.104 – 105)

My daughter’s unhappy 


I like finding out I’m better off than somebody else. There are things going on inside me I cannot control and do not admire.



There are times now when it seems to me that I may not have been any place at all for long periods of time. What ever happened to all those truly important parts of my past that no longer exist in my memory and have been ignored or forgotten by everyone else? No one will ever recall them. It is too late to gather me all up and put me together again. My life, therefore, is not entirely credible. I have trouble believing it.


[23] Reference:

I must have seemed inhuman, gigantic, like that monstrous, dark, hairy, splayfoot tyrant (that flying cock elsewhere is not the only fur-bearing blot) on that ugly father-card in the Rorschach test.



Card IV (of the Rorschach test) is often called “The Father Card.” It is notable for its dark color and its shading (posing difficulties for depressed subjects), and is generally perceived as a big and sometimes threatening figure; compounded with the common impression of the subject being in an inferior position (“looking up”) to it, this serves to elicit a sense of authority. (Here’s a photo of “The Father Card“.)


[My daughter] will go wild for a while [at college] (and think she is free), have all-night revels and bull sessions, complain about her teachers and curriculum requirements, have no interest in any of her academic subjects but get passing grades in all with very little work, if she doesn’t drop out altogether because of sheer dejection and torpor (which she will eulogize into something mystic and exalted, like superior intelligence).



There are really so few things that can happen to people in this lifetime of ours, so few alternatives, so little any of us can become, although neither my wife nor daughter realizes that yet.



What the fuck makes anyone think I am in control, that I can be any different from what I am? I can’t even control my reveries. Virginia’s tit is as meaningful to me now as my mother’s whole life and death. Both of them are dead. The rest of us are on the way.


[27] Reference:

“Then there was Peter and the Wolf and Siegfried – I once read you the whole story of Siegfried, and you were so soft-hearted then that you even began to cry in sympathy for that dumb blockhead Siegfried, so I never read it to you again.”



Siegfried is the main character of the Nibelungenlied (see The Monkey’s Wedding, note [41]). The story tells of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, how he was murdered, and of his wife Kriemhild’s revenge.

My little boy is having difficulties 

[28] Reference/Fact Check:

How far is the horizon?”

“Eighteen miles at sea level,” I answer rapidly. “Or only fourteen. I forget which.”

“Why sea level?”

“I don’t know. Maybe if you’re higher you can see farther.”



For an observer standing on the ground with height above ground at 1.7 meters, the horizon is at a distance of 2.9 miles.

For an observer standing on a hill or tower of 100 meters in height, the horizon is at a distance of 22 miles.

For an observer atop Mount Everest (8,848 meters), the horizon is at a distance of 209 miles.

[29] Reference:

“This is a hell of a conversation to be having with a handsome boy who’s all dressed up in a tattersall shirt, tie, and blazer.”



A woolen fabric with a pattern of colored checks and intersecting lines, resembling a tartan.

[30] A good example of Heller’s style in Something Happened (and the difficulty of it):

[My daughter] does not yield so readily to emotion when my fight is with her. When my fight is with her, she tries (with fortitude, perversity, with face-saving spite) not to let me make her cry (not to give me the satisfaction of seeing I can affect her even remotely. I am a matter of “supreme indifference” to her), as though that is what I want to do. (It often is.) I always desist as soon as I see I can, curbing my own spiteful intentions and drawing back from her mercifully.

(Nothing is suppressed in our family.)

(Everything is suppressed in our family.)


[31] References:

I have no models to give him. James [sic] Pierpont Morgan II? August Belmont, Jr. III? Clara Bow? At least I had people like Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Joe Louis, and Cordell Hull I could want to be when I grew up.



John Pierpont “Jack” Morgan Jr. was J.P. Morgan Jr. (1867 – 1943).

August Belmont Jr. (1853 – 1924) was an American financier, the builder of New York’s Belmont Park racetrack, and a major owner/breeder of thoroughbred racehorses. I can’t find information on his son, August Belmont III (1882 – 1919).

Cordell Hull (1871 – 1955) was an American politician from Tennessee. He is known as the longest-serving Secretary of State, holding the position for 11 years (1933 – 1944) in the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt during most of World War II. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his role in establishing the United Nations.

[32] Vocabulary:

I wanted to be a jockey in a cerise and white cap.



noun – a bright or deep red color.

[33] Vocabulary:

[She was] too young and still too reserved herself then to object vituperatively.




adjective – bitter and abusive.

Heller used this word (and I had to look it up) in Catch-22, as well (note 59).


With my wife by now, I think it no longer matters very much either way to either one of us whether I make her happy or unhappy; the difference is not so great nor the effect lasting; by now, I think we have learned how to get through the rest of our lives with each other and are both already more than halfway there.


[35] This book has the ability to destroy me. These lines stopped me dead in my tracks to cry.

“You’re nice, Daddy,” he exclaims to me frequently. He hugs me a lot.



“I love you, Daddy,” he said, and rested his head against my belly to hug me peacefully. “You’re the best daddy in the whole world.”

I am the worst daddy in the whole world.


[36] The first of several scenes I don’t believe:

“Hey, slut, come here,” he calls out excitedly to my daughter with a grin of incredulous wonderment. His eyes gleam. “Do you know what Daddy just said?” His eyes gleam. “He said that when he dies we might not even care because all of us will be all grown up and able to take care of ourselves. We might even be glad.”

My daughter’s mood is dour and unresponsive.


It’s completely out of character for Slocum’s nine-year-old boy (who is shy of saying the word “ass” around his parents) to refer to his older sister as “slut.” The repetition of “his eyes gleam” and the delight he gets out of speaking of his father’s death is also totally out of sorts with the boy that has been presented to us. I think this is one of Slocum’s imagined conversations (see Post 3, note [48]).

[37] Between the previous note and this one, Slocum’s behavior is becoming flat-out strange. He hasn’t been good about any ethnicity but he jumps from using “negro” and “colored” to this – out of nowhere:

He sneaks into my dreams occasionally too, along with niggers and other menacing strangers.


His sentences are becoming longer and no longer sticking to one subject, let alone one theme. Heller is pushing Slocum closer to the panicked free-form his narrative will soon become.

Post 3/3


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