Thursday, April 12, 2007

Rhymes with orange

When I was in junior high school, the hippie girl who lived next door (the one with the boyfriend who saw a lot of bad shit in 'Nam) gave my mother a copy of a very popular new book called Breakfast of Champions. Mom didn't care for it, but I was all over that shit since I had heard the hippie girl reading it and laughing out loud.

For me, the book was one of those artworks you encounter that seem to speak directly to you and tell you that you are not alone in whatever godforsaken shithole you are currently stuck in. (Marion, Indiana being one of the worst, of course.)

As remains my M.O., I slowly bought up every book he had published previously. They were all in paperback, so I could just afford to buy them by saving up my allowance.

I became obsessed, not only because the author was a cynical son of a bitch, but also because he was from Indiana. Indiana. Someone from Indiana who wrote about shit that wasn't farming, and corn crops, and bolts of gingham, and taking Bobby Sue to the dance.

A couple of years later, in my first year in high school, I had a great English Lit class. The teacher was actually sorta young, and well-spoken, and she knew a lot of the same authors I did, she wasn't just always going on about Beowulf. She made a bulletin board covered in paper, a sort of literary graffiti board, and told us to write bits from our favorite poems and books on it, so that other students could read them.

Well, it was an elective class, and thus full of geeks eager to impress each other, and of course the teacher, with their amazingly mature and hip literary taste. Vonnegut was very popular, and I knew it wouldn't be too long before a quote from one of his works appeared on the board, and then of course every subsequent quote of his would just seem unoriginal and old hat. With my encyclopedic knowledge of the works of Vonnegut, I was determined to write not only the first quote, but the definitive quote, the slightly obscure but still accessible quote, the coolest fucking quote ever.

Only the teacher didn't feel the same way about my contribution. She began the next class by announcing to everyone that she didn't know "who wrote that garbage on the board," but it was "not acceptable." Also that while she would not report the person who wrote it, or even ask to know who it was, that person should know that "he or she should never, ever, write anything that nasty and despicable on the classroom board ever again."

Some of the girls in the class sniggered, and a couple of my friends, suspecting me, watched me from the corners of their eyes. But I just sat there, without protest. I was crushed. Absolutely crushed to my soul. How could she not know, I thought. How could she not recognize the brilliance? We're all almost adults here, I thought. How could great literature be naughty?

What I chose was from one of my favorite short stories, Welcome to the Monkey House, from the collection of the same name. It's a science fiction story about a future society where the government has decided to tackle the planet's devastating overpopulation problem in two ways. The first is to require that all citizens take pills to numb them from the waist down, thus robbing them of sexual pleasure and the desire to procreate. The pills also have the side effect of turning the urine bright blue. The second way is to encourage citizens to visit purple-roofed Federal Ethical Suicide Parlors, conveniently situated next to Howard Johnson restaurants, and to allow one of the virgin parlor hostesses to put an end to their suffering.

Enter the rebel, who tries to take the whole system down by tossing his pills, and seducing all the virgin hostesses away from their parlors of nice, quiet death. He does this partly by writing poems to them, and thus, I give you my awesome English Lit graffiti board Vonnegut quote:

I did not sow, I did not spin,
And thanks to pills I did not sin.
I loved the crowds, the stink, the noise.
And when I peed, I peed turquoise.

I ate beneath a roof of orange;
Swung with progress like a door hinge.
'Neath purple roof I've come today
To piss my azure life away.

Virgin hostess, death's recruiter,
Life is cute, but you are cuter.

- Kurt Vonnegut, Hoosier, November 11, 1922 - April 11, 2007


Skylers Dad said...

Very good Vikki, a better tribute than anything I heard on the news today.

RandyLuvsPaiste said...

That quote rules!

Why did your teacher find it offensive?

Larry Jones said...

We all get on the train at different stops. She probably tells people now she was on to Vonnegut before any of her peers.

I don't know if "Welcome to the Monkey House" was first published in Playboy, but that's where I read it, and to do so I had to sneak it out of my uncle's closet. So for me it was naughty...

Bro said...

The 'Nam vet had "13/1%" tattooed on his arm from his unit. 13 was the 13th letter of the alphabet which was M for marijuana and 1% was the number of guys doing heroin in his unit.

He decided to stop going out on patrols which won his a spot in the brig. That guy knew more versions of solitair than anyone I have ever met.

Anon. Blogger said...

It is sad that a teacher would open up a forum, only to slam a door on it with censorship. Sad, really. Perhaps she learned something about how to open a forum with guidelines... I don't know. But it is a great story and wonderful tribute!

Johnny Yen said...

Nice rememberance. I posted as well today.

I had a feeling that despite the irreverence and disillusionment, there was a great love behind it.

I actually happened to read his son Mark's book about losing his marbles before I ever read any of Kurt's work-- I happened to pick it up at my school library because it looked interesting. It's pretty harrowing.

I'm sure you know that Slaughterhouse Five is one of the books people most frequently try to ban in high schools. The ostensible reason is usually the use of the word "motherfucker," but I think it's his healthy disrespect for authority that they really have a problem with.

Bless him. He was an original.

deadspot said...

Great story, Vikki.

Flannery Alden said...

Nice tribute. Thank you.

Spooney said...

Awesome story & a nice tribute. I'm kind of sad that he died on my birthday.

grooveva said...

I wrote about Breakfast of Champions today too! God I'll miss him kindred mid-western satirist. Moved mountains of apathy and indifference that surrounded me in the cultural void. For that I will forever be indebted.

"This has to be the asshole of the universe." said Rabo Karabekian, the minimal painter.

Beatrice Keedsler the gothic novelist, had grown up in midland." I was petrified about coming home after all these years," she said to Karabekian.

"Americans are always afraid of coming home," said Karabekian, "with good reason may I say."

"They used to have good reason," said Beatrice, "but not anymore. The past has been rendered harmless. I would tell any wandering American now. 'Of course you can go home again, and as often as you please. It's just a motel.'"

-Kurt Vonnegut "Breakfast of Champions or Goodbye Blue Monday"

Jess said...

Long Live Kilgore Trout!!

kiki said...

he died on spooney's birthday??

that's (probably) a bad omen (in some cultures)!

dad said...

Both births and deaths are a celebration of life.

GETkristiLOVE said...

That's Marion for you.

vikkitikkitavi said...

SkyDad: Hey thanks, but you know, you can't sum up Vonnegut in 30 seconds.

Randy: I know this is hard to believe, but in the 70s, you couldn't say "piss" in school.

Larry: I have trouble believing that teacher ever got into Vonnegut, somehow. Or maybe she was just afraid of getting into trouble.

Bro: Yeah, I think about that little family a lot.

AB: Um, I'm going to venture a guess that she probably learned squat from that incident.

JohnnyY: He may not have been a great writer of prose, but he was completely original and important.

DeadSpot & Flan: Hey, thanks. I'm really glad it came out coherently.

Spooney: Freddie Prinze (SR.!) shot himself on my birthday and it bummed me out for years.

GrooveVa: I'll never forget turning the page of BofC and seeing that drawing of an asshole. I don't think a book has ever surprised me so much since.

Jess: Sometimes when I put on mirrored shades, I still think of them as "leaks."

Kiki: If so, that's pretty harsh news for 1/365 of the world's population.

Dad: What, you just come from The Lion King or something?

GKL: Yeah, no shit that's Marion for you.