Good as Gold
Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller

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Good as Gold

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The chapter numbers in the second column below are not from the text; I counted Heller’s unnumbered chapter breaks because it helps to point up sets of closely related quotations. In many cases, these are excerpts from the same conversation.

Good as Gold

Copyright © 1976, 1979 by Joseph Heller


The Jewish Experience


“I can make it racy and light enough to appeal to the mass market. There’d be a strong tilt toward sexuality.”

“I’ll want a scholarly, accurate work that will be useful to colleges and libraries. With the strong tilt toward the psychological and sociological.”

Gold was deflated. “There’s no money in that.”


My Year in the White House

[1] Whatever expectations he had aroused, he had apparently fulfilled.They shimmered with love whenever they looked at him, and he wished they would stop.
[3] Two of these collections each contained four or five fairly perceptive pieces in which he had been able to say something original effectively; and a third included a long essay on the symbiotic relationship between cultural advance and social decay that had been reprinted widely and was still made reference to by commentators on both sides of the matter—those in favor of social decay and those opposed.
A problem with his stories and poems, Gold knew, was that they tended to be derivative, and mainly derivative, unfortunately, of works of his own. His novel, a work he had wrestled with, on and off, for almost three years, he had finally abandoned after one page.



Gold was a moderate now in just about everything, advocating, in Pomoroy’s description, fiery caution and crusading inertia. Inwardly he simmered often with envy, frustration, indignation, and confusion. Gold was opposed to segregation and equally opposed to integration. Certainly he did not believe that women, or homosexuals, should suffer persecution or discrimination. On the other hand, he was privately opposed to all equal rights amendments, for he certainly did not want members of either group associating with him on levels of equality or familiarity. And for the soundest reasons: his reasons were emotional, and emotions, he was concluding, particularly his own, could constitute the highest form of rationality. Problems were increasing in all areas to which he could no longer find uncomplicated solutions, but he kept these embarrassing dilemmas to himself and continued to manifest in public an aspect of cordial poise and balanced judgment that made him acceptable to almost everyone.

“Wasn’t the marriage working?”

“Oh, yes.” Ralph was emphatic. “We had a perfect marriage.”

“Then why did you get a divorce?”

“Well, Bruce, to put it plainly, I couldn’t see much point in tying myself down to a middle-aged woman with four children, even though the woman was my wife and the children were my own. Can you?”



“What would I have to do?”

“Anything you want, as long as it’s everything we tell you to say and do in support of our policies, whether you agree with them or not. You’ll have complete freedom.”

Gold was confused. He said delicately, “I can’t be bought, Ralph.”

“We wouldn’t want you if you could be, Bruce,” Ralph responded. “This President doesn’t want yes-men. What we want are independent men of integrity who will agree with all our decisions after we make them.”




Nothing Succeeds as Planned


“Wouldn’t I have to know anything?”

“Absolutely not,” Ralph answered, and appeared astounded that Gold even should ask. “In government, Bruce, experience doesn’t count and knowledge isn’t important. If there’s one lesson of value to be learned from the past, Bruce, it’s to grab what you want when the chance comes to get it.”

Gold asked with distress, “Is that good for the world?”

“Nothing’s good for the world, Bruce. I thought you knew that.”



“Ralph,” Gold had to ask, “don’t people here laugh or smile when you talk that way?”

“What way, Bruce?”

“You seem to qualify or contradict all your statements.”

“Do I?” Ralph considered the matter intently. “Maybe I do seem a bit oxymoronic at times. I think everyone here talks that way. Maybe we’re all oxymoronic. One time, though, at a high-level meeting, I did say something everyone thought was funny. ‘Let’s build some death camps,’ I said. And everyone laughed. I still can’t figure out why. I was being serious.”

“What kind of job do you have?”

“A good one, Bruce.”

“What do you do?”

“What I’m supposed to.”

“Well, what’s your position exactly?”

“I’m in the inner circle, Bruce.”

“Does that mean you can’t talk about it?”

“Oh, no. I can tell you everything. What would you like to know?”

“Well, who do you work for?”

“My superiors.”

“Do you have any authority?”

“Oh, yes. A great deal.”

“Over who?”

“My subordinates. I can do whatever I want once I get permission from my superiors. I’m my own boss.”

[6] Business conditions were the same, he saw in the financial section, the verities of the free marketplace eternally unchanged, although he had to read the key sentence a second time to be sure:
Now, however, some analysts believe that the Federal Reserve Bank has stiffened its credit posture because of the growing danger of an economic recovery.



He wrote:
Education is the third greatest cause of human misery in the world. The first, of course, is life.
Here he had to pause. He had no idea of the second. Death was tempting. Death after life was either very good or very bad. It was glib, and might be mistaken for wit. He decided to chance it.


Education and Truth or Truth in Education


“If we can keep our educational systems just as bad while lowering the cost, we would be improving our educational systems a good deal, wouldn’t we? Bruce, you won’t have to say anything you don’t believe when you talk to Congress. Just tell the truth.”

“The truth?”

“Even if you have to lie.”




“You’ll have to show me some work.”

“I’ll show you copies of the books I’m going to steal from.”

“Don’t you believe in original research any more?” Pomoroy’s tone was only faintly caustic.

“Unmistakably,” Gold answered. “That’s why I’m always so willing to use other people’s.”



“Look, Bruce, I’m willing to pay to give you an opportunity to try for something true and honest with real merit and distinction.”

“What’s my incentive?”

“I don’t think they appreciate how loyal I can be. I can switch positions overnight on any issue they want me to.”

“Where in the Bible does it say that?”

“Three things have no answer for me,” Sid sang out resonantly as a cantor. “The way of a bird with its prey, the way of a corn on its cob, and the way of a man with a maid. Right?”

Note (Hal’s):
If “a corn on its cob” sounds okay to you, don’t bother checking Proverbs 30:18-19.

— end note


You Will Hurt Your Foot

[1] “My momma, bless her heart, instructed me, ‘Don’t make personal remarks, never tell a hostess you enjoyed yourself, don’t force anything mechanical, never kick anything inanimate, and don’t fart around with the inevitable.’ ”




“This Administration has decided to fight inflation by raising prices to lower demand to reduce prices to increase demand and bring back the inflationary high prices we want to lower by reducing demand to increase demand and raise prices. Isn’t that pretty much all your present economic policy amounts to?”

“I don’t know.”

“Ron, are you sure you don’t know or are you merely guessing?”

“I’m absolutely sure I don’t know.”

“What are you willing to predict will happen to unemployment and the economy in the short-term period ahead?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know what you would predict?”

“That is correct.”

“Is there anyone in government who does know?”

“What I would predict?”

“I withdraw the question.”

[2] “I doubt there’s a problem in government you won’t be able to solve with ease. All that remains is for you to leave Belle and marry Andrea. It would be so much better, Bruce, if you did that before your confirmation hearings begin. It’s always bad for the country when someone waits until after he’s made it big in government before dumping his old wife for a better one. That may be acceptable ethics for a Senator or Congressman, but you’re much bigger than that now.”
[8] “I doubt there’s a creature walking the earth who loves money more than I do. I don’t crave it greedily, because I’ve always had plenty, but I value money much more than health. I am ailing and I’m old, no matter what lies I tell. Let the Fates propose, ‘Take perfect health for many more years, but we’ll give you nothing,’ I would turn it down in the blinking of an eye. If an angel appeared on my deathbed to beg, ‘Forsake your wealth while you still have time and you can live for decades as a pauper and in eternal Paradise afterward,’ I would answer, ‘Be off, you feathery fool. Spend at least a million on my tomb and each of my cenotaphs.’ I’d much rather die in splendor. After all, Mr. Goldfedder, health won’t buy money, will it?”




Invite a Jew to the White House (and You Make Him Your Slave)


“Imagine the absurdity of a social order in which the overproduction of food becomes an economic catastrophe. How much easier things would be if we nationalized all our basic resources. And how lucky we are that most of the country doesn’t know that.”

“You talk,” said Gold with eyes narrowing warily, “almost as though you believed in socialism.”

“Oh, I do,” said Ralph, “with all my heart. And every day I thank my stars that others don’t and allow people like you and me to live in such extraordinary privilege.”

“With so many people doing so much pontificating these days, it’s become just about impossible for anyone to say anything new that doesn’t immediately sound trite and dishonest.”



“It just boggles my mind how you keep boggling my mind. Incidentally, Bruce, what does boggle mean? I’ve been looking it up everywhere but can’t seem to find it in any dictionary in the world, and no one I ask is sure.”

Gold said, “There’s no such word.”

“Really?” Ralph found this curious. “How are we able to use it if it doesn’t exist as a word?”

“Because that,” said Gold, “is how people are.”

Note (Hal’s):
He should have tried the Oxford English Dictionary. Or Webster’s, for that matter.

— end note



“You’re vulnerable to blackmail in the interests of a foreign power by anyone who knows all the facts.”

“Who knows all the facts?”

“The FBI knows all the facts.”

“Is the FBI likely to blackmail me in the interests of a foreign power?”


“How’s business? Good?”

“Great,” answered Weinrock. “If I had a better cash flow I could probably pull out now with over a million bucks clear.”

“What does that mean?” asked Gold, who had no head for business.

“I’m in terrible trouble,” said Weinrock.

[...] Gold knew that the most advanced and penultimate stage of a civilization was attained when chaos masqueraded as order, and he knew we were already there.
No society worth its salt would watch itself perishing without some serious attempt to avert its own destruction. Therefore, Gold concluded, we are not a society. Or we are not worth our salt. Or both.

His lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams, gave exemplary display throughout of that special probity and that commitment to justice and light for which the members of his profession have historically been famed:

In the courtroom, Mr. Williams had told Judge Parker that Mr. Helms would “bear the scar of a conviction for the rest of his life.” Outside, however, he told reporters that contrary to what Judge Parker had said, Mr. Helms would “wear his conviction like a badge of honor.”




We Are Not a Society or We Are Not Worth Our Salt


“Would the Senate confirm me?” asked Gold. “Most of them don’t even know who I am.”

“That would work strongly to your advantage,” said Ralph. “As you state so eloquently in your article, Bruce, the more we know about any candidate for public office the less deserving he is of our support, and the ideal nominee for President is always someone about whom everybody in the country knows absolutely nothing.”

“Ralph,” Gold cried, “that was a joke, a sarcasm, a piece of satirical whimsy.”

“We see it,” said Ralph with a look of grave reproof, “as the absolute truth and are already taking it into our calculations for the future. It’s a pity you’ve had your name in the papers, Bruce, or you might have been our next Presidential nominee.”

“This President is much too busy to spend time on life-and-death responsibilities in which he’s lost interest. [...] If you’re beside him when he’s drifting off, you can get his authorization for just about any policy you want.”

“Suppose,” said Gold, “it’s a bad policy. Suppose I made a mistake.”

“In government,” Ralph answered, “there’s no such thing as a mistake, since nobody really knows what’s going to happen.”

“Ralph,” he began after a moment of inhibition, “there’s a kind of cynicism and selfishness there that I’m not sure I can be comfortable with.”

“I know that feeling of good conscience, Bruce,” Ralph answered with a jovial air of patronage, “and I assure you it will fade without a trace when you’ve been working here a minute or two.”




“I have to watch my cholesterol.”

“Is there cholesterol in bacon?”

“There’s fat. I have to watch my weight too. And I don’t think I can have mushrooms. I have to watch my uric acid.”

“Are you sick?” Belle studied him with veiled concern.

“No, I’m in perfect health. I have to watch my blood pressure too.”

“How do you do that?”

“He didn’t say. Cut down on my salt, I guess.”

“It seems to me,” said Belle, “that you’d be better off if you were sick. You wouldn’t have so much watching to do.”




“Ain’t I as good as some of the other people who’ll be going?”

“Better,” said Ralph. “But this is the social world, Bruce, where competence doesn’t count.”

“American democracy is the most rigid aristocracy on earth, Bruce, and every social climber needs at least one unscrupulous marriage to succeed.”

“What about Eisenhower and Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and Gerald Ford?”

“Presidents?” Ralph sniffed. “Presidents never make it into good society. They’re helpful but gauche. And when they’re no longer helpful they’re merely gauche. Just look who their closest companions are while in office and after.”

“Kennedy?” asked Gold.

“Oh, no,” said Ralph in gentle admonition. “The Kennedys were always déclassé. That was part of their charm and much of their pleasure. No Irish Catholic male can ever do it on his own, Bruce. Not here. The Irish can’t make it and neither can native-born Italians, although wealthy Arabs may if they mind their manners, so you see, it’s not just Jews who are ostracized and excluded. As I believe I’ve told you, Bruce, there is no anti-Semitism any more.”



“There’s a definition of a friend I once heard expressed by my Swedish publisher. He’s Jewish, Ralph, and he lived in Germany under Hitler as a child until his family escaped. He has only one test of a friend now, he told me. “Would he hide me?’ is the question he asks.”



There are men who place their hand on the shoulder of another in friendly greeting. There are others who do so to assert possession over whoever or whatever comes within their grasp.

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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Background graphic copyright © 2005 by Hal Keen
[It’s based on the dust cover of the book.]