Area resident Calvin Kohl is stuck. He is investigating the meaning of the phrase “Catch-22” but can’t complete his investigation without being able to read. “I never learned to read, but that hasn’t stood in my way until now. I heard somebody say “Catch-22” one time and thought it sounded cool, but I don’t know what it means. I decided to include that into my job, which is figuring stuff out. I don’t get paid doin’ it yet, but I think that will change when I figure this one out.”
Flash back 5 years ago when Mr. Kohl was unemployed and seeking a purpose. His life changed when he saw the late Walter Cronkite deliver the commencement speech at the LaCucaracha High School 2004 graduation ceremony. “I don’t remember his exact words, but he said his life was devoted to telling people stuff they didn’t know. And he’s rich! I told myself I could do that. There’s lots of stuff I don’t know nothin’ about so I have a bunch to work with. I never considered myself an intellectual or smart, but figuring stuff out ain’t rocket surgery or nothin’, you just got to think about it real hard. Maybe do an experiment. Mr. Cronkite said for news to be credible, you have to prove it yourself or three other people can prove it for ya.“
“My first experiment was easy,” recalls Mr. Kohl. “Everyone in town says Billy Crawford is dumber than a bucket of rocks. So I got Billy and a bucket of rocks and asked them both some questions. Billy only got 3 out of 25 right, but the bucket couldn’t respond at all. Duh! While neither one could tell me how much wood a woodchuck could chuck, I did prove scientifically that Billy was smarter. Nobody was willing to pay for that research but it got me motivated to prove more stuff.”
The meaning of “Catch-22” is turning out to be more of a challenge for Mr. Kohl. The librarian at the LaCucaracha Public Library told him the phrase came from a book by Joseph Heller and refers to a contradictory, inescapable circle. Not being able to read or knowing what “contradictory” or “inescapable” mean, the librarian’s help wasn’t much help. He was still on his own to solve the mystery.
“I didn’t think a saying that sounded that cool could come from a book, so I started looking in other places. I talked to the Armadillo’s head football coach about receiving records but it turns out that back in 1912, players were banned from wearing numbers 22, 38, 45, and 30-06 because it sounded too violent, so that wasn’t it. I didn’t have any other theories so I told myself I had to learn to read. I got kicked out of school for being too old…and cursing…so I had to buy me one of them Rosetta Stones. It didn’t help ‘cause I could already say all them words; I needed to learn how to read ‘em.“
“The librarian offered to teach me to read, but I don’t have that much time. I have to pay my rent by the end of the month and I gotta solve this mystery to make the money to pay it because I spent all my money on that Rosetta Stone. It’s so frustrating. It’s like I’m stuck in a loop that I can’t get out of. I can’t solve the mystery because I can’t read, but I can’t learn to read because I have to solve the mystery. I don’t know how to express it. I wish there was a word for it. When I finish with Catch-22, I’m going to work on figuring out situations like this.”
Submitted by TCR contributor David Shellhorse