I have had some experiences with love, or think I have, anyway, although the ones I have liked best could easily be described as “common decency.” I treated somebody well for a little while, or maybe even for a tremendously long time, and that person treated me well in turn. Love need not have had anything to do with it.
Also: I cannot distinguish between the love I have for people and the love I have for dogs.
When a child, and not watching comedians on film or listening to comedians on the radio, I used to spend a lot of time rolling around on rugs with uncritically affectionate dogs we had.
And I still do a lot of that. The dogs become tired and confused and embarrassed long before I do. I could go on forever.
One time, on his twenty-first birthday, one of my three adopted sons, who was about to leave for the Peace Corps in the Amazon Rain Forest, said to me, “You know - you’ve never hugged me.”
So I hugged him. We hugged each other. It was very nice. It was like rolling around on a rug with a Great Dane we used to have.
Love is where you find it. I think it is foolish to go looking for it, and I think it can often be poisonous.
I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, “Please - a little less love, and a little more common decency.”
There in the cocktail lounge, Dwayne Hoover’s bad chemicals suddenly decided that it was time for Dwayne to demand from Kilgore Trout the secrets of life.
“Give me the message,” cried Dwayne. He tottered up from his own banquette, crashed down again next to Trout, throwing off heat like a steam radiator. “The message, please.”
And here Dwayne did something extraordinarily unnatural. He did it because I wanted him to. It was something I had ached to have a character do for years and years. Dwayne did to Trout what the Duchess did to Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He rested his chin on poor Trout’s shoulder, dug in with his chin.
“The message?” he said, digging in his chin, digging in his chin.
Trout made no reply. He had hoped to get through what little remained of his life without ever having to touch another human being again. Dwayne’s chin on his shoulder was as shattering as buggery to Trout.
“Is this it? Is this it?” said Dwayne, snatching up Trout’s novel, Now It Can Be Told.
“Yes—that’s it,” croaked Trout. To his tremendous relief, Dwayne removed his chin from his shoulder.
Dwayne now began to read hungrily, as though starved for print. And the speed-reading course he had taken at the Young Men’s Christian Association allowed him to make a perfect pig of himself with pages and words.
“Dear Sir, poor sir, brave sir:” he read, “You are an experiment by the Creator of the Universe. You are the only creature in the entire Universe who has free will. You are the only one who has to figure out what to do next—and why. Everybody else is a robot, a machine.
“Some persons seem to like you, and others seem to hate you, and you must wonder why. They are simply liking machines and hating machines.
“You are pooped and demoralized,” read Dwayne. “Why wouldn’t you be? Of course it is exhausting, having to reason all the time in a universe which wasn’t meant to be reasonable.”
Dwayne Hoover read on: “You are surrounded by loving machines, hating machines, greedy machines, unselfish machines, brave machines, cowardly machines, truthful machines, lying machines, funny machines, solemn machines,” he read. “Their only purpose is to stir you up in every conceivable way, so the Creator of the Universe can watch your reactions. They can no more feel or reason than grandfather clocks.
“The Creator of the Universe would now like to apologize not only for the capricious, jostling companionship he provided during the test, but for the trashy, stinking condition of the planet itself. The Creator programmed robots to abuse it for millions of years, so it would be a poisonous, festering cheese when you got here. Also, He made sure it would be desperately crowded by programming robots, regardless of their living conditions, to crave sexual intercourse and adore infants more than almost anything.”
And Dwayne read on about himself and the Creator of the Universe, to wit: “He also programmed robots to write books and magazines and newspapers for you, and television and radio shows, and stage shows, and films. They wrote songs for you. The Creator of the Universe had them invent hundreds of religions, so you would have plenty to choose among. He had them kill each other by the millions, for this purpose only: that you be amazed. They have committed every possible atrocity and every possible kindness unfeelingly, automatically, inevitably, to get a reaction from Y-O-U.”
“Every time you went into the library,” said the book, “the Creator of the Universe held His breath. With such a higgledy-piggledy cultural smorgasbord before you, what would you, with your free will, choose?” “Your parents were fighting machines and self-pitying machines,” said the book. “Your mother was programmed to bawl out your father for being a defective moneymaking machine, and your father was programmed to bawl her out for being a defective housekeeping machine. They were programmed to bawl each other out for being defective loving machines. “Then your father was programmed to stomp out of the house and slam the door. This automatically turned your mother into a weeping machine. And your father would go down to a tavern where he would get drunk with some other drinking machines. Then all the drinking machines would go to a whorehouse and rent fucking machines. And then your father would drag himself home to become an apologizing machine. And your mother would become a very slow forgiving machine.”
The novel in question, incidentally, was The Smart Bunny. The leading character was a rabbit who lived like all the other wild rabbits, but who was as intelligent as Albert Einstein or William Shakespeare. It was a female rabbit. She was the only female leading character in any novel
or story by Kilgore Trout.
She led a normal female rabbit’s life, despite her ballooning intellect. She concluded that her mind was useless, that it was a sort of tumor, that it had no usefulness within the rabbit scheme of things.
So she went hippity-hop, hippity-hop toward the city, to have the tumor removed. But a hunter named Dudley Farrow shot and killed her before she got there. Farrow skinned her and took out her guts, but then he and his wife Grace decided that they had better not eat her because of her unusually large head. They thought what she had thought when she was alive—that she must be diseased.
And so on.
As for the story itself, it was entitled “The Dancing Fool.” Like so many Trout stories, it was about a tragic failure to communicate.
Here was the plot: A flying saucer creature named Zog arrived on Earth to explain how wars could be prevented and how cancer could be cured. He brought the information from Margo, a planet where the natives conversed by means of farts and tap dancing.
Zog landed at night in Connecticut. He had no sooner touched down than he saw a house on fire. He rushed into the house, farting and tap dancing, warning the people about the terrible danger they were in. The head of the house brained Zog with a golfclub.
The movie theater where Trout sat with all his parcels in his lap showed nothing but dirty movies. The music was soothing. Phantasms of a young man and a young woman sucked harmlessly on one another’s soft apertures on the silver screen.
And Trout made up a new novel while he sat there. It was about an Earthling astronaut who arrived on a planet where all the animal and plant life had been killed by pollution, except for humanoids. The humanoids ate food made from petroleum and coal.
They gave a feast for the astronaut, whose name was Don. The food was terrible. The big topic of conversation was censorship. The cities were blighted with motion picture theaters which showed nothing but dirty movies. The humanoids wished they could put them out of business somehow, but without interfering with free speech.
They asked Don if dirty movies were a problem on Earth, too, and Don said, “Yes.” They asked him if the movies were really dirty, and Don replied, “As dirty as movies could get.”
This was a challenge to the humanoids, who were sure their dirty movies could beat anything on Earth. So everybody piled into aircushion vehicles, and they floated to a dirty movie house downtown.
It was intermission time when they got there, so Don had some time to think about what could possibly be dirtier than what he had already seen on Earth. He became sexually excited even before the house lights went down. The women in his party were all twittery and squirmy.
So the theater went dark and the curtains opened. At first there wasn’t any picture. There were slurps and moans from loudspeakers. Then the picture itself appeared. It was a high quality film of a male humanoid eating what looked like a pear. The camera zoomed in on his lips and tongue and teeth, which glistened with saliva. He took his time about eating the pear. When the last of it had disappeared into his slurpy mouth, the camera focussed on his Adam’s apple. His Adam’s apple bobbed obscenely. He belched contentedly, and then these words appeared on the screen, but in the language of the planet:
It was all faked, of course. There weren’t any pears anymore. And the eating of a pear wasn’t the main event of the evening anyway. It was a short subject, which gave the members of the audience time to settle down.
Then the main feature began. It was about a male and a female and their two children, and their dog and their cat. They ate steadily for an hour and a half—soup, meat, biscuits, butter, vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy, fruit, candy, cake, pie. The camera rarely strayed more than a foot from their glistening lips and their bobbing Adam’s apples. And then the father put the cat and dog on the table, so they could take part in the orgy, too.
After a while, the actors couldn’t eat any more. They were so stuffed that they were goggle-eyed. They could hardly move. They said they didn’t think they could eat again for a week, and so on. They cleared the table slowly. They went waddling out into the kitchen, and they dumped about thirty pounds of leftovers into a garbage can.
The audience went wild.
When Don and his friends left the theater, they were accosted by humanoid whores, who offered them eggs and oranges and milk and butter and peanuts and so on. The whores couldn’t actually deliver these goodies, of course.
The humanoids told Don that if he went home with a whore, she would cook him a meal of petroleum and coal products at fancy prices.
And then, while he ate them, she would talk dirty about how fresh and full of natural juices the food was, even though the food was fake.
I think that could go back to the time when people had to live in small groups of relatives—maybe fifty or a hundred people at most. And evolution or God or whatever arranged things genetically, to keep the little families going, to cheer them up, so that they could all have somebody to tell stories around the campfire at night, and somebody else to pain pictures on the walls of the caves, and somebody else who wasn’t afraid of anything and so on.
That’s what I think. And of course a scheme like that doesn’t make sense anymore, because simply moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world’s champions.
The entire planet can get along nicely now with maybe a dozen champion performers in each area of human giftedness. A moderately gifted person has to keep his or her gifts all bottled up until, in a manner of speaking, he or she gets drunk at a wedding and tap-dances on the coffee table like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. We have a name for him or her. We call him or her an “exhibitionist.”
How do we reward such an exhibitionist? We say to him or her the next morning, “Wow! Were you ever drunk last night!”
Tom Wolfe and Kurt Vonnegut
(submitted by Robin)