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The moment is structured that way

March 3, 2010

I just recently finished re-reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. I first read it when I was 20 years old, and I quickly adopted Vonnegut as my favourite author. Since then I’ve also read Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Bluebeard, Deadeye Dick, Hocus-Pocus and a few short stories; Slaughterhouse-Five is the first of his books that I have read for a second time.

It held up; it’s probably still my favourite Vonnegut book, although very much loved Cat’s Cradle and have immense respect for Bluebeard. But it was a different experience; when I first read it, it was my first experience with Vonnegut; I spent the first 20 pages or so wondering what the hell I was reading, before I began to come under it’s spell.

The second, I knew what was coming; I was much better able to appreciate how incredibly beautiful the first chapter is. It might now be my favourite opening chapter of any book, now that I’m better able to appreciate where Vonnegut was going.

As a complete coincidence, I dragged myself out to the theatre last night to see George F. Walker‘s new play, And So It Goes. There were many reasons to see it – it’s the first opportunity I’ve ever had to watch a first run of a Walker play, and a friend of mine was in the cast. And Kurt Vonnegut happens to be one of the main characters.

I won’t review the play – I’m not a theatre maven, and there are lots of other reviews out there, most of which are positive. Plus I feel a conflict of interest; but I enjoyed it.


“You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.”

A motion-picture camera was set up at the border – to record the fabulous victory. Two civilians in bearskin coats were leaning on the camera when Billy and Weary came by. They had run out of film hours ago.

One of them singled out Billy’s face for a moment, then focused at infinity again. There was a tiny plume of smoke at infinity. There was a battle there. People were dying there. So it goes.

Even though Billy’s train wasn’t moving, its boxcars were locked tight. Nobody was to get off until the final destination. To the guards who walked up and down outside, each car became a single organism which ate and drank and excreted through its ventilators. It talked or sometimes yelled through its ventilators, too. In went water and loaves of blackbread and sausage and cheese, and out came shit and piss and language.

So Billy uncorked it with his thumbs. It didn’t make a pop. The champagne was dead. So it goes.

Billy coughed when the door was opened, and when he coughed he shit thin gruel. This was in accordance with the Third Law of Motion according to Sir Isaac Newton. This tells us that for every action there is a reaction which is equal and opposite in direction.

This can be useful in rocketry.

The naked Americans took their places under many showerheads along a white-tiled wall. There were no faucets they could control. They could only wait for whatever was coming. Their penises were shriveled and their balls were retracted. Reproduction was not the main business of the evening.

The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read aloud again:

Oh, boy – they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!

And that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch. Who? People not well connected. So it goes.

“We know how the universe ends-” said the guide, “and Earth has nothing to do with it, except that it gets wiped out, too.”

“How – how does the universe end?” said Billy.

“We blow it up, experimenting with new fuels for our flying saucers. A Tralfamadorian test pilot presses a starter button, and the whole universe disappears.” So it goes.

“If you know this,” said Billy, “isn’t there some way you can prevent it? Can’t you keep the pilot from pressing the button?”

“He has always pressed it, and he always will. We always let him and we always will let him. The moment is structured that way.”

“I’m going to lose weight for you,” she said.


“I’m going to go on a diet. I’m going to become beautiful for you.”

“I like you just the way you are.”

“Do you really?”

“Really,” said Billy Pilgrim. He had already seen a lot of their marriage, thanks to time-travel, knew that it was going to be at least bearable all the way.

Echolalia is a mental disease which makes people immediately repeat things that well people around them say. But Billy didn’t really have it. Rumfoord simply insisted, for is own comfort, that Billy had it. Rumfoord was thinking in a military manner: that an inconvenient person, one whose death he wished for very much, for practical reasons, was suffering from a repulsive disease.

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