Deadeye dick, p.3
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       Deadeye Dick, p.3

           Kurt Vonnegut
 
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  Almost all his opinions and information were cannibalized from the educations and miseducations of his roistering companions in Vienna before the First World War.

  And one of these pals was Hitler, of course.

  *

  The wedding and the reception took place in the Wetzel mansion, next door to the studio. The Wetzels and the Waltzes were proudly agnostic, so the ceremony was performed by a judge. Father's best man was John Fortune, the war hero and dairy farmer. Mother's attendants were friends from Oberlin.

  Father's immediate relatives, the uncles and cousins who earned his living for him, came with their mates to the wedding, but they stayed for only a few minutes of the reception, behaving correctly but coldly, and then they departed en masse. Father had given them every reason to loathe him.

  Father laughed. According to Mother, he announced to the rest of the guests that he was sorry, but that his relatives had to go back to the countinghouse.

  He was quite the bohemian!

  *

  So then he and Mother went on a six-month honeymoon in Europe. While they were away, the Waltz Brothers Drug Company was moved to Chicago, where it already had a cosmetics factory and three drugstores.

  When Mother and Father came home, they were the only Waltzes in town.

  *

  It was during the honeymoon that Father acquired his famous gun collection, or most of it--at a single whack. He and Mother visited what was left of the family of a friend from the good old days in Vienna, Rudolf von Furstenberg, outside of Salzburg, Austria. Rudolf had been killed in the war, and so had his father and two brothers, and I am named after him. His mother and his youngest brother survived, but they were bankrupt. Everything on the estate was for sale.

  So Father bought the collection of more than three hundred guns, which encompassed almost the entire history of firearms up until 1914 or so. Several of the weapons were American, including a Colt .45 revolver and a .30-06 Springfield rifle. As powerful as those two guns were, Father taught me how to fire them and handle their violent kicks, and to clean them, and to take them apart and put them back together again while blindfolded, when I was only ten years old.

  God bless him.

  *

  And Mother and Father bought a lot of the von Furstenbergs' furniture and linens and crystal, and some battle-axes and swords, chain maces, and helmets and shields.

  My brother and I were both conceived in a von Furstenberg bed, with a coat of arms on the headboard, and with "The Minorite Church of Vienna," by Adolf Hitler, on the wall over that.

  *

  Mother and Father went looking for Hitler, too, on their honeymoon. But he was in jail.

  He had risen to the rank of corporal in the war, and had won an Iron Cross for delivering messages under fire. So Father had close friends who had been heroes on both sides of the war.

  *

  Father and Mother also bought the enormous weather vane from the gatehouse of the von Furstenberg estate, and put it atop their cupola back home, making the studio taller than anything in the county, except for the dome of the county courthouse, a few silos, the Fortunes' dairy barn, and the Midland County National Bank.

  That weather vane was instantly the most famous work of art in Midland City. Its only competition was a statue of a Union soldier on foot in Fairchild Park. Its arrow alone was twelve feet long, and one hollow copper horseman chased another one down that awesome shaft. The one in back was an Austrian with a lance. The one in front, fleeing for his life, was a Turk with a scimitar.

  This engine, swinging now toward Detroit, now toward Louisville, and so on, commemorated the lifting of the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683.

  When I was little, I asked my brother Felix, who is seven years older than I am, and who used to lie to me every chance he got, to explain to me and a playmate the significance of the weather vane. He was in high school then. He already had the beautiful, deep purple voice which would prove to be his fortune in the communications industry.

  "If the Austrians hadn't won," he said in a solemn rumble, "Mother would be in a harem now. Father would be passing out towels in a steam bath, and you and I and your friend here would probably have our balls cut off."

  I believe him at the time.

  5

  ADOLF HITLER became chancellor of Germany in 1933, when I was one year old. Father, who had not seen him since 1914, sent his heartiest congratulations and a gift, Hitler's watercolor, "The Minorite Church of Vienna."

  Hitler was charmed. He had fond memories of Father, he said, and he invited him to come to Germany as his personal guest, to see the new social order he was building, which he expected to last a thousand years or more.

  Mother and Father and Felix, who was then nine, went to Germany for six months in 1934, leaving me behind and in the care of servants, all black people. Why should I have gone? I was only two. It was surely then that I formed the opinion that the servants were my closest relatives. I aspired to do what they did so well--to cook and bake and wash dishes, and to make the beds and wash and iron and spade the garden, and so on.

  It still makes me as happy as I can be to prepare a good meal in a house which, because of me, is sparkling clean.

  *

  I have no conscious memory of what my real relatives looked like when they came home from Germany. Perhaps a hypnotist could help me come up with one. But I have since seen photographs of them--in a scrapbook Mother kept of those exciting days, and also in old copies of the Midland City Bugle-Observer. Mother is wearing a dirndl. Father is wearing lederhosen and knee socks. Felix, although technically not entitled to do so, since he never joined the organization, was wearing the khaki uniform and Sam Browne belt, and the armband with swastika and ornamental dagger of the Hitler Youth. Even if Felix had been a German boy, he would have been too young to wear an outfit like that, but Father had a tailor in Berlin make it up for him anyway.

  Why not?

  *

  And as soon as those relatives of mine got home, according to the paper, Father flew his favorite gift from Hitler from the horizontal shaft of the weather vane. It was a Nazi flag as big as a bedsheet.

  Again: This was only 1934, and World War Two was still a long way off. It was a long way off, that is, if five years can be considered a long way off. So flying a Nazi flag in Midland City was no more offensive than flying a Greek or Irish or Confederate flag, or whatever. It was a playful, exuberant thing to do, and, according to Mother, the community was proud and envious of Father and her and Felix. Nobody else in Midland City was friendly with a head of state.

  I myself am in one picture in the paper. It is of our entire family in the street in front of the studio, looking up at the Nazi flag. I am in the arms of Mary Hoobler, our cook. She would teach me everything she knew about cooking and baking, by and by.

  *

  Mary Hoobler's corn bread: Mix together in a bowl half a cup of flour, one and a half cups of yellow corn-meal, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, and three teaspoons of baking powder. Add three beaten eggs, a cup of milk, a half cup of cream, and a half cup of melted butter.

  Pour it into a well-buttered pan and bake it at four hundred degrees for fifteen minutes.

  Cut it into squares while it is still hot. Bring the squares to the table while they are still hot, and folded in a napkin.

  *

  When we all posed in the street for our picture in the paper, Father was forty-two. According to Mother, he had undergone a profound spiritual change in Germany. He had a new sense of purpose in life. It was no longer enough to be an artist. He would become a teacher and political activist. He would become a spokesman in America for the new social order which was being born in Germany, but which in time would be the salvation of the world.

  This was quite a mistake.

  *

  How to make Mary Hoobler's barbecue sauce: Saute a cup of chopped onions and three chopped garlic cloves in a quarter of a pound of butter until tender. Add a half cup of
catsup, a quarter cup of brown sugar, a teaspoon of salt, two teaspoons of freshly ground pepper, a dash of Tabasco, a tablespoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of basil, and a tablespoon of chili powder.

  Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes.

  *

  So for two years and a little bit more, Father lectured and showed films and lantern slides of the new Germany all over the Middle West. He told heartwarming stories about his friend Hitler, and explained Hitler's theories about the variously superior and inferior human races as being simple chemistry. A pure Jew was this. A pure German was that. Cross a Pole with a Negro, you were certain to get an amusing laborer.

  It must have been terrible.

  I remember the Nazi flag hanging on the wall of our living room--or I think I do. I certainly heard about it. It used to be the first thing that visitors saw when they came in. It was so colorful. Everything else was so dull by comparison--the timbers and stone walls, the great tables made of carriage-house doors; Father's rustic easel, which looked like a guillotine, silhouetted against the north window; the medieval weapons and armor rusting here and there.

  *

  I close my eyes and I try to see the flag in my memory. I can't. I shiver, though--because our house, except for the kitchen, was always so cold in the wintertime.

  *

  That house was a perfect son of a bitch to heat. Father wanted to see the bare stones of the walls, and the bare boards that supported the slate roof over the gun room.

  Even at the end of his life, when my brother Felix was paying the heating bill, Father would not hear of insulation.

  "After I am dead," he said.

  *

  Mother and Father and Felix never used to complain about the cold. They wore lots of clothes in the house, and said everybody else's house in America was too warm, and that all that heat slowed the blood and made people lazy and stupid and so on.

  That, too, must have been part of the Nazi thing.

  They would make me come out of the little kitchen and into the vast draftiness of the rest of the ground floor, so that I would grow up hardy and vigorous, I suppose. But I was soon back in the kitchen again, where it was so hot and fragrant. It was comical in there, too, since it was the only room in the house where any meaningful work was going on, and yet it was as cramped as a ship's galley. The people who did nothing, who were merely waited on, had all the space.

  And on cold days, and even on days that weren't all that cold, the rest of the servants, the yardman and the upstairs maid and so on, all black, would crowd into the kitchen with the cook and me. They liked being crowded together. When they were little, they told me, they slept in beds with a whole lot of brothers and sisters. That sounded like a lot of fun to me. It still sounds like a lot of fun to me.

  There in the crowded kitchen, everybody would talk and talk and talk so easily, just blather and blather and laugh and laugh. I was included in the conversation. I was a nice little boy. Everybody liked me.

  "What you got to say about that, Mister Rudy?" a servant would ask me, and I would say something, anything, and everybody would pretend I had said something wise or intentionally funny.

  If I had died in childhood, I would have thought life was that little kitchen. I would have done anything to get back into that kitchen again--on the coldest day in the wintertime.

  Carry me back to old Virginny.

  *

  Somewhere in there the Nazi flag came down. Father stopped traveling. According to my brother Felix, who was an eighth-grader at the time, Father wouldn't even leave the house or talk on the telephone, or look at his mail for three months or more. He went into such a deep depression that it was feared that he might commit suicide, so that Mother took the gun-room key from his key ring. He never missed it. He had no inclination to visit his beloved firearms.

  Felix says that Father might have crashed like that, no matter what was really going on in the outside world. But the mail and telephone calls he was receiving were getting meaner all the time, and G-men had visited him, and suggested that he register as an agent for a foreign power, in order to comply with the law of the land. The man who had been his best man at his wedding, John Fortune, had stopped speaking to him, and had been going around town, to Father's certain knowledge, declaring Father to be a dangerous nincompoop.

  Which Father surely was.

  Fortune himself was of totally Germanic extraction. His last name was simply an Anglicization of the German word for luck, which is Gluck.

  Fortune would never give Father an opportunity to mend the rupture between them, for, in 1938, he suddenly took off for the Himalayas, in search of far higher happiness and wisdom than was available, evidently, in Midland City, Ohio. His wife had died of cancer. He was childless. There had been some defect in his or his wife's reproductive apparatus. The family dairy farm went bankrupt, and was taken over by the Midland County National Bank.

  And John Fortune is buried now in bib overalls--in the capital city of Nepal, which is Katmandu.

  6

  MIDLAND CITY has now been depopulated by a neutron bomb explosion. It was a big news story for about ten days or so. It might have been a bigger story, a signal for the start of World War Three, if the Government hadn't acknowledged at once that the bomb was made in America. One newscast I heard down here in Haiti called it "a friendly bomb."

  The official story is that an American truck was transporting this American bomb on the Interstate, and the bomb went off. There was this flash. It was an accident, supposedly. The truck, if there really was a truck, seems to have been right opposite the new Holiday Inn and Dwayne Hoover's Exit 11 Pontiac Village when the bomb went off.

  Everybody in the county was killed, including five people awaiting execution on death row in the Adult Correctional Institution at Shepherdstown. I certainly lost a lot of acquaintances all at once.

  But most of the structures are still left standing and furnished. I am told that every one of the television sets in the new Holiday Inn is still fully operable. So are all the telephones. So is the ice-cube maker behind the bar. All those sensitive devices were only a few hundred yards from the source of the flash.

  So nobody lives in Midland City, Ohio, anymore. About one hundred thousand people died. That was roughly the population of Athens during the Golden Age of Pericles. That is two-thirds of the population of Katmandu.

  And I do not see how I can get out of asking this question: Does it matter to anyone or anything that all those peepholes were closed so suddenly? Since all the property is undamaged, has the world lost anything it loved?

  *

  Midland City isn't radioactive. New people could move right in. There is talk now of turning it over to Haitian refugees.

  Good luck to them.

  *

  There is an arts center there. If the neutrons were going to knock over anything, you might think, it would have been the Mildred Barry Center for the Arts, since it looks so frail and exposed--a white sphere on four slender stilts in the middle of Sugar Creek.

  It has never been used. The walls of its galleries are bare. What a delightful opportunity it would represent to Haitians, who are the most prolific painters and sculptors in the history of the world.

  The most gifted Haitian could refurbish my father's studio. It is time a real artist lived there--with all that north light flooding in.

  *

  Haitians speak Creole, a French dialect which has only a present tense. I have lived in Haiti with my brother for the past six months, so I can speak it some. Felix and I are innkeepers now. We have bought the Grand Hotel Oloffson, a gingerbread palace at the base of a cliff in Port au Prince.

  Imagine a language with only a present tense. Our headwaiter, Hippolyte Paul De Mille, who claims to be eighty and have fifty-nine descendants, asked me about my father.

  "He is dead?" he said in Creole.

  "He is dead," I agreed. There could be no argument about that.

  "What does he do?" he said.


  "He paints," I said.

  "I like him," he said.

  *

  Haitian fresh fish in coconut cream: Put two cups of grated coconut in cheesecloth over a bowl. Pour a cup of hot milk over it, and squeeze it dry. Repeat this with two more cups of hot milk. The stuff in the bowl is the sauce.

  Mix a pound of sliced onions, a teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of black pepper, and a teaspoon of crushed pepper. Saute the mixture in butter until soft but not brown. Add four pounds of fresh fish chunks, and cook them for about a minute on each side.

  Pour the sauce over the fish, cover the pan, and simmer for ten minutes. Uncover the pan and baste the fish until it is done--and the sauce has become creamy.

  Serves eight vaguely disgruntled guests at the Grand Hotel Oloffson.

  *

  Imagine a language with only a present tense. Or imagine my father, who was wholly a creature of the past. To all practical purposes, he spent most of his adult life, except for the last fifteen years, at a table in a Viennese cafe before the First World War. He was forever twenty years old or so. He would paint wonderful pictures by and by. He would be a devil-may-care soldier by and by. He was already a lover and a philosopher and a nobleman.

  I don't think he even noticed Midland City before I became a murderer. It was as though he were in a space suit, with the atmosphere of prewar Vienna inside. He used to speak so inappropriately to my playmates, and to Felix's friends, whenever we were foolish enough to bring them home.

  At least I didn't go through what Felix went through when he was in junior high school. Back then, Father used to say "Heil Hitler" to Felix's guests, and they were expected to say "Heil Hitler" back, and it was all supposed to be such lusty fun.

  "My God," Felix said only the other afternoon, "--it was bad enough that we were the richest kids in town, and everybody else was having such a hard time, and there was all this rusty medieval shit hanging on the walls, as though it were a torture chamber. Couldn't we at least have had a father who didn't say 'Heil Hitler,' to everyone, including Izzy Finkelstein?"

  *

  About how much money we had, even though the Great Depression was going on: Father sold off all his Waltz Brothers Drug Company stock in the 1920s, so when the chain fell apart during the Depression, it meant nothing to him. He bought Coca-Cola stock, which acted the way he did, as though it didn't even know a depression was going on. And Mother still had all the bank stock she had inherited from her father. Because of all the prime farmland it had acquired through foreclosures, it was as good as gold.

 
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