Deadeye dick, p.10
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       Deadeye Dick, p.10

           Kurt Vonnegut
 
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  So Donna went through the windshield, and she didn't look anything like her sister anymore. And Felix married her after she got out of the hospital. She was only eighteen years old, but she had a full set of false teeth, uppers and lowers.

  Felix now refers to his first marriage as a "shotgun wedding." Her relatives and friends felt it was his duty to marry her, whether he loved her or not--and Felix says that he felt that way, too. Usually, when people talk about shotgun weddings, they have pregnancy in mind. A man has impregnated a woman, so he has to marry her.

  Felix didn't get his first wife pregnant before he married her, but he put her through a windshield. "I might as well have got her pregnant," he said the other night. "Putting her through a windshield came to very much the same sort of thing."

  *

  Very early on at Schramm's, long before I ran off to New York City to see my play produced, a drunk came in at about two A.M., maybe, and he squinted at the sign on the prescription counter which said, RUDOLPH WALTZ, R.PH.

  He evidently knew something of our family's distinguished history, although I don't think we had ever met before. And he was drunk enough to say to me, "Are you the one who shot the woman, or are you the one who put the woman through the windshield?"

  He wanted a chocolate malted milkshake, I remember. Schramm's hadn't had a soda fountain for at least five years. He wanted one anyway. "You just give me a little milk and ice cream and chocolate syrup, and I'll make it myself," he said. And then he fell down.

  *

  He didn't call me "Deadeye Dick." Very rarely did anybody do that to my face. But my nickname was said often enough behind my back in all sorts of crowds--in stores, at movies, in eating places. Or maybe somebody would shout it at me from a passing car. It was a thing for drunks or young people to do. No mature and respectable person ever called me "Deadeye Dick."

  But one unsettling aspect of the all-night job at Schramm's, one I hadn't anticipated, was the telephone there. Hardly a night passed that some young person, feeling wonderfully daring and witty, no doubt, would telephone to ask me if I was Deadeye Dick.

  I always was. I always will be.

  *

  There was plenty of time for reading on the job, and there were any number of magazines on the racks. And most of the business I did at night wasn't at all complicated, didn't have anything to do with pharmacy. Mainly, I sold cigarettes and, surprisingly, watches and the most expensive perfumes. The watches and perfumes were presents, of course, for birthdays and anniversaries which were remembered only after every other store in town had closed.

  So I was reading Writer's Digest one night, and I came across an announcement of the Caldwell Foundation's contest for playwrights. The next thing I knew, I was back in the stock room, pecking away on the rattletrap Corona portable typewriter we used for making labels. I was writing a new draft of Katmandu.

  And I won first prize.

  *

  Sauerbraten a la Rudolph Waltz, R.Ph.: Mix in a saucepan a cup of wine vinegar, half a cup of white wine, half a cup of cider vinegar, two sliced onions, two sliced carrots, a rib of celery, chopped, two bay leaves, six whole allspice, crushed, two cloves, two tablespoons of crushed peppercorns, and a tablespoon of salt. Bring just to a boil.

  Pour it hot over a four-pound rump roast, rolled and tied, in a deep bowl. Turn the meat around and around in the mixture. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for three days. Turn the meat in the mixture several times a day.

  Take the meat out of the marinade and dry it. Sear it on all sides in eight tablespoons of beef drippings in a braising pan. When it is nicely browned, take it out of the pan and pour out the drippings. Put the meat back in the pan, heat up the marinade, and pour it over the meat. Simmer for about three hours. Pour off the liquid, strain, and remove the excess fat. Keep the meat hot in the braising pan.

  Melt three tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, and blend in three tablespoons of flour and a tablespoon of sugar. Gradually pour in the marinade, and stir until you have a uniform sauce. Add one cup of crushed ginger-snaps, and simmer the sauce for about six minutes.

  That's it!

  *

  For three days I did not tell Mother and Father that I had won the contest. It takes that long to make sauerbraten. The sauerbraten was a complete surprise, since Mother and Father never went into the kitchen. They simply waited at the table like good little children, to see what was going to come out of there.

  When they had eaten all the sauerbraten they wanted, and said again and again how good it was, I spoke as follows to them: "I am now twenty-seven years old. I have been cooking for you for twelve years now, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. But now I have won a playwriting contest, and my play is going to be produced professionally in New York City three months from now. I will of course have to be there for six weeks of rehearsals.

  "Felix says I can stay with him and Genevieve," I went on. "I will sleep on their couch. Their apartment is only three blocks from the theater." Genevieve, incidentally, is the wife Felix now refers to as "Anyface." She had almost no eyebrows, and very thin lips, so that, if she wanted anything memorable in the way of features, she had to paint them on.

  I told Mother and Father that I had hired Cynthia Hoobler, the daughter-in-law of our old cook Mary Hoobler, to come in and care for them while I was gone. I would pay her from money I had saved.

  I expected no trouble, since the servant problem was all taken care of, and got none. These people, after all, were like characters at the end of a novel or a play, who have been wrong about all sorts of things throughout the action, and finally something has settled their hash.

  Mother spoke first. "Goodness," she said. "Good luck."

  "Yes," said Father. "Good luck."

  Little did I dream that Father had only a few more months to live then.

  19

  TIME FLEW. In a twinkling I was on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village at high noon, gazing up at a theater marquee as snowflakes kissed my face. It was February 14, 1960. My father was still in good health, as far as I knew. The words on the marquee were these:

  KATMANDU

  A NEW DRAMA

  BY RUDY WALTZ

  Rehearsals were over. We would open that night.

  Father had had his studio, with its dusty skylight and nude model in Vienna, where he had found out he couldn't paint. Now I had my name up on a theater marquee in New York City, where I had found out I couldn't write. The play was a catastrophe. The more the poor actors rehearsed it, the more stupid and depressing it became.

  The actors and the director, and the representatives of the Caldwell Foundation, which would never sponsor another play contest, had stopped speaking to me. I was barred from the theater. It wasn't that I had made impossible demands. My offense was that I seemed to know less about the play than anybody. I simply was not worth talking to.

  If I was asked about this line or that one, it was as though I had never heard it before. I was likely to say something like "My goodness--I wonder what I meant by that."

  Nor did I seem at all interested in rediscovering why I had said this or that.

  The thing was this: I was startled not to be Deadeye Dick anymore. Suddenly nobody knew that I was remarkable for having shot and killed a pregnant woman. I felt like a gas which had been confined in a labeled bottle for years, and which had now been released into the atmosphere.

  I no longer cooked. It was Deadeye Dick who was always trying to nourish back to health those he had injured so horribly.

  I no longer cared about the play. It was Deadeye Dick, tormented by guilt in Midland City, who had found old John Fortune's quite pointless death in Katmandu, as far away from his hometown as possible, somehow magnificent. He himself yearned for distance and death.

  So, there in Greenwich Village, looking up at my name on the marquee, I was nobody. My braincase might as well have been filled with stale ginger ale.

  Thus, when the actors were still talking to me, could I ha
ve had a conversation like this with poor Sheldon Woodcock, the actor who was playing John Fortune: "You've got to help me get a handle on this part," he said.

  "You're doing fine," I said.

  "I don't feel like I'm doing fine," he said. "The guy is so inarticulate."

  "He's a simple farmer," I said.

  "That's just it--he's too simple," he said. "I keep thinking he has to be an idiot, but he isn't an idiot, right?"

  "Anything but," I said.

  "He never says why he wants to get to Katmandu," he said. "All these people either try to help him get to Katmandu or keep him from getting to Katmandu, and I keep thinking, 'Why the hell should anybody care whether he gets to Katmandu or not?' Why not Tierra del Fuego? Why not Dubuque? He's such a lunk, does it make any difference where he is?"

  "He's looking for Shangri-La," I said. "He says that many times--that he wants to find Shangri-La."

  "Thirty-four times," he said.

  "I beg your pardon?" I said.

  "He says that thirty-four times: 'I am looking for Shangri-La.' "

  "You counted?" I said.

  "I thought somebody better," he said. "That's a lot of times to say anything in just two hours--especially if the person who says it says practically nothing else."

  "Cut some of them, if you want," I said.

  "Which ones?" he said.

  "Whichever ones seem excessive to you," I said.

  "And what do I say instead?" he said.

  "What would you like to say?" I said.

  So he swore under his breath, but then he pulled himself together. I would be barred from the theater soon after this. "Maybe you don't realize this," he said with bitter patience, "but actors don't make up what they say on the stage. They look like they've made it up, if they're any good, but actually a person called a 'playwright' has first written down every word."

  "Then just say what I've written," I said. The secret message in this advice was that I was so light-headed, being away from home for the first time in my life, that I didn't care what happened next. The play was going to be a big flop, but nobody in New York knew what I looked like anyway. I wasn't going to be arrested. I wasn't going to be displayed in a cage, all covered with ink.

  I wasn't going home again, either. I would get a job as a pharmacist somewhere in New York. Pharmacists can always find work. And I would do what my brother Felix did--send money home. And then, step by step, I would experiment with having a home of my own and a life of my own, maybe try pairing off with this kind of person or that one, to see how that went.

  "Tell me again about my great death scene in the arms of Dr. Brokenshire in Katmandu, with the sitar music," said Woodcock.

  "Okay," I said.

  "I think I'm in Shangri-La," he said.

  "That's right," I said.

  "And I know I'm dying," he said. "I don't just think I'm sick, and I'm going to get better again."

  "The doctor makes it clear you're dying," I said.

  "Then how can I believe I'm in Shangri-La?" he said.

  "Pardon me?" I said.

  "Another thing I say all through the play," he said, "is that nobody dies in Shangri-La. But here I'm dying, so how can I be in Shangri-La?"

  "I'll have to think about it," I said.

  "You mean this is the first time you've thought about it?" he said.

  And on and on like that.

  "Seventeen times," he said.

  "Pardon me?" I said.

  "Seventeen times I say that nobody dies in Shangri-La."

  *

  So, with opening night only a few hours away, I dawdled from the theater to my brother's duplex apartment, three blocks away. The snowflakes were few, and they melted when they landed. I had given up reading or listening to news since I had come to New York, and so did not know that the Ice Age was reclaiming southwestern Ohio with the most terrible blizzard in history there.

  At just about the time the curtain went up on Katmandu, that blizzard would come busting in the back door of the old carriage house back home, and then it would fling open the great front portals from the inside, just as Father had done for Celia Hildreth so long ago.

  People talk a lot about all the homosexuals there are to see in Greenwich Village, but it was all the neuters that caught my eye that day. These were my people--as used as I was to wanting love from nowhere, as certain as I was that almost anything desirable was likely to be booby-trapped.

  I had a fairly funny idea. Someday all we neuters would come out of our closets and form a parade. I even decided what banner our front rank should carry, as wide as Fifth Avenue. A single word would be printed on it in letters four feet high:

  EGREGIOUS.

  Most people think that word means terrible or unheard of or unforgivable. It has a much more interesting story than that to tell. It means "outside the herd."

  Imagine that--thousands of people, outside the herd.

  *

  I let myself into Felix's duplex. The place was faintly reminiscent of our childhood home, since the master bedroom was upstairs, and opened onto a balcony that overhung the living-dining room. Felix and I had already rearranged some of the furniture--to better accommodate the party we would be giving after the show. Caterers would bring the food. As I say, I didn't give a damn about food anymore.

  And nobody in his right mind was going to come to the party anyway.

  It wasn't my party anyway, any more than it was my stupid play. I had regressed to being the boy I used to be-- before I shot Mrs. Metzger. I was barely twelve years old.

  I supposed that I would have the place to myself all afternoon. Felix and his wife Genevieve, "Anyface," were at radio station WOR, I thought. She still had her job as a receptionist there, and Felix was cleaning out his desk there, preparing to move on to bigger things at Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn.

  They, in turn, had every reason to assume that I would be at the theater, making last-minute changes in the play. I had not told them that I had been barred from there.

  So I wandered up on the balcony, and I sat on a hard-backed chair there. It must have been something I used to do in the carriage house when I was genuinely innocent and twelve years old--to sit very still on the balcony, and to appreciate every sound that floated up to me. It wasn't eavesdropping. It was music appreciation.

  And thus it was that I overheard the final dissolution of my brother's second marriage, and some unkind character sketches of Felix and myself and our parents and Genevieve, and some others I did not know. Genevieve came bursting into the apartment first, so angry that she was spitting like a cat, and then, half a minute later, Felix entered. She had come in one cab, and he had chased her in another. And down below me, and out of my line of sight, an acrimonious, atonal duet for viola and string bass was improvised. They both had such noble voices. She was the viola, and he was the bass.

  Or maybe it was a comedy. Maybe it is amusing when physically attractive, well-to-do great apes in an urban setting hate each other so much:

  DUPLEX

  A NEW COMEDY

  BY RUDY WALTZ.

  The curtain rises on a Greenwich Village duplex, severely modern, expensive, white. There are fresh flowers. There is fresh fruit. There is impressive electronic apparatus for reproducing music. GENEVIEVE WALTZ, a beautiful young woman whose features must be painted on like those of a China doll, enters through the front door, terminally furious. Her young and successful husband, FELIX, wearing clothes made in London, follows almost at once. He is just as mad. On the balcony sits RUDY WALTZ, a neutered pharmacist from Ohio, FELIX'S kid brother. He is large and good-looking, but is so sexless and shy that he might as well be made out of canned tuna fish. Incredibly, he has written a play which is going to open in a few hours. He knows it is no good. He considers himself a big mistake. He considers life a big mistake. It probably shouldn't be going on. It is all he can do to give life the benefit of the doubt. There is a frightful secret in his past, which he and his brother have withheld fr
om GENEVIEVE, that he is a murderer. All three are products of public school systems in the Middle West, although GENEVIEVE now sounds vaguely British, and FELIX sounds like a Harvard-educated secretary of state. Only RUDY is still a twanging hick.

  GENEVIEVE: Leave me alone. Go back to work.

  FELIX: I'll help you pack.

  GENEVIEVE: I can pack all right.

  FELIX: Can you kick your own butt as you go out the door?

  GENEVIEVE: You're sick. You're from a very sick family. Thank God we never had a child.

  FELIX: There was a young man from Dundee, Who buggered an ape in a tree. The results were most horrid, All ass and no forehead, Three balls and a purple goatee.

  GENEVIEVE: I didn't know your father was from Dundee. (She opens a closet) Look at all the pretty suitcases in here.

  FELIX: Fill 'em up. I want every trace of you out of here.

  GENEVIEVE: Some of my perfume may have gotten into the draperies. You should probably burn them in the fireplace.

  FELIX: Just pack, baby. Just pack.

  GENEVIEVE: It's my house as much as it's your house. That's just a theory, of course.

  FELIX: I'll pay you off. I'll buy you out.

  GENEVIEVE: And I'll give your brother my clothes. He can have all my stuff here. I don't even have to pack. I'll just walk out of here, and start out new.

  FELIX: What is that supposed to mean?

  GENEVIEVE: Starting out new? Well, you go to Bendel's or Saks or Bloomingdale's, naked except for a credit card--

  FELIX: My brother and your clothes.

  GENEVIEVE: I think he would enjoy being a woman. I think that's what he was meant to be. That would be nice for you, too, since then you could marry him. I want you to be happy, as hard as that may be for you to believe.

  FELIX: That is the end.

  GENEVIEVE: We passed that long ago.

  FELIX: That is the very end.

  GENEVIEVE: And the very, very end is coming up. Just get out of here and let me pack.

  FELIX: I am to have no feelings of loyalty toward members of my own family?

  GENEVIEVE: I was part of your family. Don't you remember that ceremony we went through at City Hall? You probably thought it was an opera, where you were supposed to sing, "I do." If you're from such a close-knit family, why weren't any of its members there?

  FELIX: YOU were in such a hurry to get married.

  GENEVIEVE: Was I? I guess I was. I was glad to get married. There was going to be so much happiness. And there was happiness, too, wasn't there?

 
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