Hocus pocus, p.1
Hocus Pocus, p.1Kurt Vonnegut
Table of Contents
"A classic."--Chicago Tribune
"Comic, absorbing ... one of the finest achievements of his career."--Philadelphia Inquirer
"A triumph. It is perhaps his best. Vonnegut is again on target, and this time he hits the bull's-eye."--Joseph Heller
"Great news ... Hocus Pocus is a really funny book. A wonderfully dark fable ... Vonnegut enters the '90s with a satire that has both the savage bite and the sympathetic heart that first drew us to him."--Milwaukee Journal
"Triumphant ... Vonnegut is back."--Denver Post
"Marvelous scathing satire. An exercise in spirited literature. He pokes and prods at the house of cards created by our recent society."--Pittsburgh Press
"Vonnegut's touch is light, but his satire weaves a web of black humor that almost startles you by the gathering force."
"Hilarious ... pure Vonnegut. Highly entertaining and provocative."--Houston Post
"Refreshing ... demented ... no one deflates the vanities of the human race like Vonnegut."--Arizona Republic
"Vonnegut conjures up a mad, future life ... He is a very public novelist, one who, God bless him, hopes to make the world a better place."--USA Today
"Plainspoken honesty and unpretentious charm."
Books by Kurt Vonnegut
THE SIRENS OF TITAN
GOD BLESS YOU, MR. ROSEWATER
WELCOME TO THE MONKEY HOUSE
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS
WAMPETERS, FOMA & GRANFALLOONS
FATES WORSE THAN DEATH
BAGOMBO SNUFF BOX
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over
and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright (c) 1990 by Kurt Vonnegut
eISBN : 978-1-44067325-2
The author of this book did not have access to writing paper of uniform size and quality. He wrote in a library housing some eight hundred thousand volumes of interest to no one else. Most had never been read and probably never would be read, so there was nothing to stop him from tearing out their blank endpapers for stationery. This he did not do. Why he did not do this is not known. Whatever the reason, he wrote this book in pencil on everything from brown wrapping paper to the backs of business cards. The unconventional lines separating passages within chapters indicate where one scrap ended and the next began. The shorter the passage, the smaller the scrap.
One can speculate that the author, fishing through trash for anything to write on, may have hoped to establish a reputation for humility or insanity, since he was facing trial. It is equally likely, though, that he began this book impulsively, having no idea it would become a book, scribbling words on a scrap which happened to be right at hand. It could be that he found it congenial, then, to continue on from scrap to scrap, as though each were a bottle for him to fill. When he filled one up, possibly, no matter what its size, he could satisfy himself that he had written everything there was to write about this or that.
He numbered all the pages so there could be no doubt about their being sequential, nor about his hope that someone, undaunted by their disreputable appearance, would read them as a book. He in fact says here and there, with increasing confidence as he nears the end, that what he is doing is writing a book.
There are several drawings of a tombstone. The author made only one such drawing. The others are tracings of the original, probably made by superimposing translucent pieces of paper and pressing them against a sunlit library windowpane. He wrote words on the face of each burial marker, and in one case simply a question mark. These did not reproduce well on a printed page. So they have been set in type instead.
The author himself is responsible for the capitalization of certain words whose initial letters a meticulous editor might prefer to see in lowercase. So, too, did Eugene Debs Hartke choose for reasons unexplained to let numbers stand for themselves, except at the heads of sentences, rather than put them into words: for example, "2" instead of "two." He may have felt that numbers lost much of their potency when diluted by an alphabet.
To virtually all of his idiosyncrasies I, after much thought, have applied what another author once told me was the most sacred word in a great editor's vocabulary. That word is "stet."
This work of pure fiction
is dedicated to the memory of
EUGENE VICTOR DEBS
While there is a lower class
I am in it.
While there is a criminal element
I am of it.
While there is a soul in prison
I am not free.
MY NAME IS Eu
Debs died in 1926, when I was a negative 14 years of age.
The year is 2001 now.
If all had gone the way a lot of people thought it would, Jesus Christ would have been among us again, and the American flag would have been planted on Venus and Mars.
No such luck!
AT LEAST THE World will end, an event anticipated with great joy by many. It will end very soon, but not in the year 2000, which has come and gone. From that I conclude that God Almighty is not heavily into Numerology.
GRANDFATHER BENJAMIN WILLS died in 1948, when I was a plus 8 years of age, but not before he made sure that I knew by heart the most famous words uttered by Debs, which are:
"While there is a lower class I am in it. While there is a criminal element I am of it. While there is a soul in prison I am not free."
I, DEBS' NAMESAKE, however, became anything but a bleeding heart. From the time I was 21 until I was 35 I was a professional soldier, a Commissioned Officer in the United States Army. During those 14 years I would have killed Jesus Christ Himself or Herself or Itself or Whatever, if ordered to do so by a superior officer. At the abrupt and humiliating and dishonorable end of the Vietnam War, I was a Lieutenant Colonel, with 1,000s and 1,000s of my own inferiors.
DURING THAT WAR, which was about nothing but the ammunition business, there was a microscopic possibility, I suppose, that I called in a white-phosphorus barrage or a napalm air strike on a returning Jesus Christ.
I NEVER WANTED to be a professional soldier, although I turned out to be a good one, if there can be such a thing. The idea that I should go to West Point came up as unexpectedly as the finale of the Vietnam War, near the end of my senior year in high school. I was all set to go to the University of Michigan, and take courses in English and History and Political Science, and work on the student daily paper there in preparation for a career as a journalist.
But all of a sudden my father, who was a chemical engineer involved in making plastics with a half-life of 50,000 years, and as full of excrement as a Christmas turkey, said I should go to West Point instead. He had never been in the military himself. During World War II, he was too valuable as a civilian deep-thinker about chemicals to be put in a soldier suit and turned into a suicidal, homicidal imbecile in 13 weeks.
I had already been accepted by the University of Michigan, when this offer to me of an appointment to the United States Military Academy came out of the blue. The offer arrived at a low point in my father's life, when he needed something to boast about which would impress our simple-minded neighbors. They would think an appointment to West Point was a great prize, like being picked for a professional baseball team.
So he said to me, as I used to say to infantry replacements fresh off the boat or plane in Vietnam, "This is a great opportunity."
WHAT I WOULD really like to have been, given a perfect world, is a jazz pianist. I mean jazz. I don't mean rock and roll. I mean the never-the-same-way-twice music the American black people gave the world. I played piano in my own all-white band in my all-white high school in Midland City, Ohio. We called ourselves "The Soul Merchants."
How good were we? We had to play white people's popular music, or nobody would have hired us. But every so often we would cut loose with jazz anyway. Nobody else seemed to notice the difference, but we sure did. We fell in love with ourselves. We were in ecstasy.
FATHER SHOULD NEVER have made me go to West Point.
Never mind what he did to the environment with his non-biodegradable plastics. Look what he did to me! What a boob he was! And my mother agreed with every decision he ever made, which makes her another blithering nincompoop.
They were both killed 20 years ago in a freak accident in a gift shop on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, which the Indians in this valley used to call "Thunder Beaver," when the roof fell in.
THERE ARE NO dirty words in this book, except for "hell" and "God," in case someone is fearing that an innocent child might see 1. The expression I will use here and there for the end of the Vietnam War, for example, will be: "when the excrement hit the air-conditioning."
Perhaps the only precept taught me by Grandfather Wills that I have honored all my adult life is that profanity and obscenity entitle people who don't want unpleasant information to close their ears and eyes to you.
THE MORE ALERT soldiers who served under me in Vietnam would comment in some amazement that I never used profanity, which made me unlike anybody else they had ever met in the Army. They might ask if this was because I was religious.
I would reply that religion had nothing to do with it. I am in fact pretty much an Atheist like my mother's father, although I kept that to myself. Why argue somebody else out of the expectation of some sort of an Afterlife?
"I don't use profanity," I would say, "because your life and the lives of those around you may depend on your understanding what I tell you. OK? OK?"
I RESIGNED MY commission in 1975, after the excrement hit the air-conditioning, not failing, however, to father a son on my way home, unknowingly, during a brief stopover in the Philippines. I thought surely that the subsequent mother, a young female war correspondent for The Des Moines Register, was using foolproof birth control.
Booby traps everywhere.
THE BIGGEST BOOBY trap Fate set for me, though, was a pretty and personable young woman named Margaret Patton, who allowed me to woo and marry her soon after my graduation from West Point, and then had 2 children by me without telling me that there was a powerful strain of insanity on her mother's side of her family.
So then her mother, who was living with us, went insane, and then she herself went insane. Our children, moreover, had every reason to suspect that they, too, might go crazy in middle age.
Our children, full-grown now, can never forgive us for reproducing. What a mess.
I REALIZE THAT my speaking of my first and only wife as something as inhuman as a booby trap risks my seeming to be yet another infernal device. But many other women have had no trouble relating to me as a person, and ardently, too, and my interest in them has gone well beyond the merely mechanical. Almost invariably, I have been as enchanted by their souls, their intellects, and the stories of their lives as by their amorous propensities.
But after I came home from the Vietnam War, and before either Margaret or her mother had shown me and the children and the neighbors great big symptoms of their inherited craziness, that mother-daughter team treated me like some sort of boring but necessary electrical appliance like a vacuum cleaner.
GOOD THINGS HAVE also happened unexpectedly, "manna from Heaven" you might want to call them, but not in such quantities as to make life a bowl of cherries or anything approaching that. Right after my war, when I had no idea what to do with the rest of my life, I ran into a former commanding officer of mine who had become President of Tarkington College, in Scipio, New York. I was then only 35, and my wife was still sane, and my mother-in-law was only slightly crazy. He offered me a teaching job, which I accepted.
I could accept that job with a clear conscience, despite my lack of academic credentials beyond a mere BS Degree from West Point, since all the students at Tarkington were learning-disabled in some way, or plain stupid or comatose or whatever. No matter what the subject, my old CO assured me, I would have little trouble keeping ahead of them.
The particular subject he wanted me to teach, what's more, was 1 in which I had excelled at the Academy, which was Physics.
THE GREATEST STROKE of luck for me, the bigges
I asked my old CO if the bells were swung by ropes.
He said they used to be, but that they had been electrified and were played by means of a keyboard now.
"What does the keyboard look like?" I said.
"Like a piano," he said.
I had never played bells. Very few people have that clanging opportunity. But I could play a piano. So I said, "Shake hands with your new carillonneur."
THE HAPPIEST MOMENTS in my life, without question, were when I played the Lutz Carillon at the start and end of every day.
I WENT TO work at Tarkington 25 years ago, and have lived in this beautiful valley ever since. This is home.
I have been a teacher here. I was a Warden for a little while, after Tarkington College officially became Tarkington State Reformatory in June of 1999, 20 months ago.
Now I myself am a prisoner here, but with pretty much the run of the place. I haven't been convicted of anything yet. I am awaiting trial, which I guess will take place in Rochester, for supposedly having masterminded the mass prison break at the New York State Maximum Security Adult Correctional Institution at Athena, across the lake from here.
It turns out that I also have tuberculosis, and my poor, addled wife Margaret and her mother have been put by court order into a lunatic asylum in Batavia, New York, something I had never had the guts to do.
I am so powerless and despised now that the man I am named after, Eugene Debs, if he were still alive, might at last be somewhat fond of me.
IN MORE OPTIMISTIC times, when it was not widely understood that human beings were killing the planet with the by-products of their own ingenuity and that a new Ice Age had begun in any case, the generic name for the sort of horse-drawn covered wagon that carried freight and settlers across the prairies of what was to become the United States of America, and eventually across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, was "Conestoga"--since the first of these were built in the Conestoga Valley of Pennsylvania.
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