When I was 14, and about 2 months after Dave and my step-dad got me all into Kurt Vonnegut Jr., we got worried. Everyone else, all these older people, got to have a Vonnegut throughout their lives. They got to grow up, get married, and get jobs while being presented with the opportunity of new Vonnegut books every few years. The new book we got from him was Timequake in 2000, but he was so old, we knew it would be the last major novel. The hard drive of Dave’s computer was named Vonnegut, and one time while we waited for it to boot up, and the little cursor blinked next to the words “Verifying Vonnegut,” Dave asked me what we should do when he dies. We struggled for years to conceive an appropriate action, but the backs of our minds failed to conjure any sort of tribute to this guy we adored.
I wrote him a letter once, morbidly asking him if he had an idea of what he wanted us to do when he died. I never received an answer, but I never really expected one. In his unflinching gaze into the abyss, he had already published numerous idea starters. When he spoke of Asimov’s death on my birthday, he delivered what he felt was one of his best jokes stating, “he is in heaven now.” Slapstick depicts the afterlife as a awfully boring place nicknamed “the Turkey Farm,” of which the main character mentions, “the life that awaits us after death is infinitely more tiresome than this one.” In the Sirens of Titan he wrote of an afterlife where the dead simply review their entire lives independent of time; the way Tralfamadorians live.
The key, then, is to focus on the good parts. Thus as a humanist, he felt it was necessary to increase the amount of these good parts in everyone’s life. However, the lack of humanity’s interest in following his and his sister’s simple command of “be nice” left him rather bitter and distraught towards the end.
When Dave called, he had to leave a voicemail that Vonnegut was dead. I didn’t get back to him for about 20 minutes because I was in a review session for an exam I had the next day. It sucked. Our time finally ran out to think of something great to do. I don’t know what Dave did, but I had to study Fluid Dynamics. Did you know that there are helicopters in development which have no need of a back stabilizing rotor? Instead to counteract the torque of the top propeller, a fluid is pumped through the core of the blades like a lawn sprinkler. I told Dave we would come up with something over the next weekend.
So here it is: Nothing great, but with your help we can try to fill that extra pocket of loneliness since Vonnegut left. The only one of Vonnegut’s characters (that I know of) to become President ran on a platform of combating loneliness. He said that, “all the damaging excesses of Americans in the past were motivated by loneliness rather than a fondness for sin.” His campaign buttons looked something like this:
The proposed solution worked like this:
Every person would be assigned artificial relatives; 10,000 siblings, and 190,000 cousins. To identify these, every person would be issued a new middle name, assigned at random, consisting of, “a noun, the name of a flower or fruit or nut or vegetable or legume, or a bird or a reptile or a fish, or a mollusk, or a gem or a mineral or a chemical element- connected by a hyphen to a number between one and twenty.” Everyone with matching nouns would be cousins, and everyone with matching nouns and numbers would be siblings. This will eliminate many of the troubling moral decisions one has to make. For example Vonnegut writes,
“When a beggar comes up to you and asks for money…you say to that beggar, ‘What’s your middle name?’ And he will say ‘Oyster-19’ or ‘Chickadee-1,’ or ‘Hollyhock-13,’ or some such thing…And you can say to him, ‘Buster-I happen to be a Uranium-3. You have one hundred and ninety thousand cousins and ten thousand brothers and sisters. You’re not exactly alone in this world. I have relatives of my own to look after. So why don’t you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut?”
Of course you can use what ever language you want.
So, we could have plastered a building with a sign saying ‘So it goes,’ or some other Vonnegut catch phrase, but we don’t have the capacity or fame to cause any sort of impact with those types of actions. If anything, have fun with your new name, and be nice.
-Andrew Quitmeyer aa (firstname.lastname@example.org)