In this week’s episode we say goodbye to Kurt Vonnegut. So it goes.
The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 58: Rest well Kilgore Trout
by Steven C. Day
“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”
Kurt Vonnegut (But then who else would it be?)
I received the news of Vonnegut’s passing — and I say this as an act of confession — with one part sadness and one part envy. The envy wasn’t for the dying, of course: Why be jealous for a jewel you’re certain to receive yourself one day soon? No, the jealously was for his life — or maybe for the immortality that life engendered.
When you’ve just turned 52 — happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me — the idea of immortality of any sort takes on a significance notably lacking when you turn, say, 25.
There have been many times in my life when I’ve wanted to be Kurt Vonnegut, or more accurately, part of Kurt Vonnegut. I didn’t want the part where his mother committed suicide, of course, or where his beloved sister died young or even the part where he lived through being a prisoner of war and the firebombing of Dresden.
No, it was the successful writer part of Kurt Vonnegut I wanted to be.
Like at least 50 percent of all of the men, women and children who have ever roamed this increasingly warm planet, part of me has always wanted to be a writer. And not just any sort of writer — a writer of great fiction. And I will admit to a certain sense of awe for those who have managed to do it both successfully and well.
Kilgore Trout was, of course, not one of those people. His work was depressingly unpopular. In fact, the only place he was routinely published was in pornography, where his work was used to provide some “redeeming social importance,” in the hope of avoiding prosecution under obscenity laws. Vonnegut considered Trout’s lack of popularity unsurprising: ”His prose was frightful. Only his ideas were good.”
Yet, in the end, when, in Breakfast of Champions, Trout had the opportunity to confront his creator, he didn’t ask to be given better writing skills. He had something else in mind.
Here was what Kilgore Trout cried out to me in my father’s voice: “Make me young, make me young, make me young!”
(Kurt Vonnegut — Last line of the book Breakfast of Champions (1973))
* * *
Vonnegut entered my life when I was 19-years-old. Once hooked, I consumed pretty much everything he’d ever written in one helping — book after book after book. The satire, the liberal outlook, the fundamental decency of his leading characters and even the science fiction quality that played such a big role in the reluctance of “serious” critics to take his work seriously — they all appealed to me immensely.
But then how could any political liberal not love Kurt Vonnegut?
I was taught in the sixth grade that we had a standing army of just over a hundred thousand men and that the generals had nothing to say about what was done in Washington. I was taught to be proud of that and to pity Europe for having more than a million men under arms and spending all their money on airplanes and tanks. I simply never unlearned junior civics. I still believe in it. I got a very good grade.
(Kurt Vonnegut quoted by James Lundquist in Kurt Vonnegut (1971)
* * *
To be clear, though, my initial desire to be a successful writer predated exposure to Vonnegut. Here, in fact, was one of my earliest literary efforts (written when I was somewhere in the middle of my grade school years):
When I went fishing
The waves were swishing.
I threw out my hook
While my father read a book.
I felt a great tug
Much too big for a bug.
I yelled get the pail
I’ve got me a whale!
Clearly, I was destined for greatness.
Admittedly, this childhood poem has a fairly tangential connection to the subject of Vonnegut’s death, but back when I was a grade-schooler I really, really wanted to see it published. And so now at last it has been.
I’ve had to give up so many of my childhood dreams: would you deny me this one as well?
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.
(Kurt Vonnegut — Mother Night (1961))
Besides, I am confident that Vonnegut himself would have had no difficulty in seeing the connection between his passing and my long ago poem. He had that sort of mind.
Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules — and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress.
(Kurt Vonnegut — The Sirens of Titan (1959))
Speaking still of my own writing, such as it was (and is), in junior high school I came to the attention of a young English teacher — an extremely interesting woman, actually. She had large frizzy blonde hair, large breasts, a pleasant though far from beautiful face and long, long legs always prominently displayed in a miniskirt. She was also a dedicated feminist at a time when the modern women’s rights movement was only first beginning to emerge from the shadows of the antiwar and civil rights movements.
She believed in flying saucers, Bigfoot, reincarnation and ghosts (she conceded there might be a certain inconsistency between the last two, but it didn’t seem to bother her).
Like I said — an extremely interesting woman. She was also kind to her students. Vonnegut would have approved.
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’
(Kurt Vonnegut — God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965))
She (the long legged teacher) was the first educator ever to tell me that I had potential as a writer, enough potential, she thought, that I ought to try to do something with it. She actually went to the effort of researching my class schedule, advising that by changing gym classes I could arrange things so as to transfer from her general English class into her friend’s creative writing class. There, I would have more time for serious writing.
I wasn’t enthusiastic. For one thing, the creative writing teacher seemed a bit stern to me — not to mention strikingly deficient in the long legged, big breasted department (give me a break, I was in junior high, for criminy’s sake). Besides, no one was beating me up or otherwise terrorizing me in my current gym class. Why tempt fate?
I let the matter drop.
* * *
Here’s an interesting fun fact about the state of American culture: at 9:54 on Tuesday morning, April 17, 2007 the name “Kurt Vonnegut” returned 16,000,000 hits on Google. Britney Spears scored 16,100,000. I actually find this encouraging. I wouldn’t have expected it to be that close.
Kilgore Trout, by the way, came in at a very respectable 272,000. I hope he’ll find some comfort in this.
* * *
That small betrayal in junior high was pretty much the end of my writing until Vonnegut entered my life. Reading his books got me started again, a little anyway. But for years afterwards virtually every word I wrote was a cheap, if unconscious, attempt to copy him. That’s probably part of the reason I always ended up tearing up whatever it was I was writing and storming out of the room.
It’s like the advice someone famous, I don’t remember who, recently gave to contestants on American Idol: If you can possibly avoid it, this person said, don’t sing something Barbara Streisand made famous. There’s no way you’ll live up to the comparison.
It was only when I was much older and had stopped trying to write like Vonnegut that I reached the point where I could even begin to stomach my own work.
Is it possible that seemingly incredible geniuses like Bach and Shakespeare and Einstein were not in fact superhuman, but simply plagiarists, copying great stuff from the future?
(Kurt Vonnegut — A Man Without a Country (2005))
Still, his voice was always inside me somewhere. And God, what a voice:
I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.
So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.
What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.
And all music is.
(Kurt Vonnegut Breakfast of Champions (1973))
* * *
I have been more than passably lucky in my life. I have never known want. I got a good education, became a reasonably successful professional and, yes, not only opened The Last Chance Democracy Cafe, but have also managed to keep it out of receivership for several years — if barely. And I have been blessed in many ways in my personal life.
Yet that slight sense of regret for my life’s literary shortcomings still stalks me. I think it will stalk me all the way to the grave.
Kilgore Trout suffered his share of disappointments too, of course, in his various incarnations. Still, for the most part he remained courteous. I suppose I should try to do the same.
* * *
By his later years, Vonnegut probably had, as most critics insisted at the time, left behind his best work. But the spark was still there until the day he died, and he never stopped speaking out:
So let’s give another big tax cut to the super-rich. That’ll teach bin Laden a lesson he won’t soon forget.
Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.
(Kurt Vonnegut — two quotations from an essay, Cold Turkey, at In These Times (2004))
In case you haven’t noticed, we are now almost as feared and hated all over the world as the Nazis were.
Shrapnel was invented by an Englishman of the same name. Don’t you wish you could have something named after you?
My last words? “Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a mouse.”
(Kurt Vonnegut — three quotations from an essay, I Love You, Madame Librarian, at In These Times (2004))
And just one more . . .
The crucified planet Earth,
should it find a voice
and a sense of irony,
might now well say
of our abuse of it,
“Forgive them, Father,
They know not what they do.”
The irony would be
that we know what
we are doing.
When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
“It is done.”
People did not like it here.
(Kurt Vonnegut — A Man Without a Country (2005))
* * *
We held a wake for Vonnegut at The Last Chance Democracy Café. As I described in episode 27, we often do this when a prominent liberal dies. We come together to celebrate a life well spent.
Many people had many things to say at this one, but we gave Vonnegut himself the last word. Horace read these words from Slaughterhouse-Five:
The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is “So it goes.”
Then Winston made the only toast that could even conceivably have been appropriate to the event.
He held his glass up high. “So it goes.”
“So it goes,” came the chorus in response.
Postscript: This episode had already largely been written when news of the Virginia Tech shootings broke. Given the dimension of that tragedy, it may seem that the death of one 84-year-old writer hardly merits this much attention.
But don’t you wish we still had Kurt Vonnegut to help us, at least a little, in trying to understand?
* * *
Acknowledgment: Most of the quotations above were taken from Wikiquote, although I knew most of them before looking.
* * *
* * *
When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 27 years. Contact Steven at .
© Copyright 2004, Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001
xanax vs xanax xr
When cellular telecoms services were launched, phones and calls were very expensive and early mobile operators (carriers) decided to charge for all air time consumed by xanax vs xanax xr user.
diziness xanax treat
” This feature is also used for diziness xanax treat phone number assigned to the same physical line for roommates or teenagers, in which case it is sometimes marketed under the name teen line.
xanax panic attacks
check xanax electronic
An increasing number of countries, particularly in Europe, now have more check xanax electronic s than people.
c o d xanax
 Like other technologies of the time, it involved c o d xanax powerful base station covering a wide area, and each telephone would effectively monopolize a channel over that whole area while in use.
alcohol xanax interactions
In the United States and Canada, alcohol xanax interactions carriers are beginning to offer unlimited received phone calls.
xanax are what
Officials from these jurisdictions argue that using xanax are what while driving is an impediment to vehicle operation that can increase the risk of road traffic accidents.
pictures of doses xanax
These sites originally created large cells, and so had their antennae mounted atop high towers; pictures of doses xanax were designed so that as the system expanded—and cell sizes shrank—the antennae could be lowered on their original masts to reduce range.
lethal dose xanax
tests xanax drug and
Concepts covered in this patent (cited in at least 34 other patents) also were later extended to several satellite communication systems.
ringtone my and me gang
motorola c139 ringtones
Even with this information, the State of California recently passed motorola c139 ringtones phone law that requires drivers over the age of 18 to use a hands-free device while using the phone in the car.
India expects to reach 500 million subscribers by end of 2010.
cell phone ringtone
ringtones for phone download my cell
 The availability of prepaid or ‘pay-as-you-go’ services, where the subscriber is not committed to transformers ringtone term contract, has helped fuel this growth in Africa as well as in other continents.
free ringtones wildlife
Later updating of the cellular system to free ringtones wildlife system credits this patent.
for ringtones free samsung download
MORSE extension get converted into morse code songs.
potter harry free ringtone
He applied this patent to “cave radio” telephones and not directly to cellular telephony as potter harry free ringtone is currently understood.
All European, African and many Asian countries have adopted ringtone program system, GSM, which is the only technology available on all continents and in most countries and covers over 74% of all subscribers on mobile networks.