Cat’s Cradle

Since I’ve been ruminating on the time in my life when I was still not burdened with much responsibility and mostly got away with wandering from one job to the next, or one state to the next, or one book to the next, I thought I’d pull out a few of my Vonnegut books, because I worshiped them back then.  I was like a religious fanatic that lived and breathed whatever nonsense was contained in the tome of truth for that religion.  In that sense, reading Cat’s Cradle (over and over, as you can see in the accompanying pictures of my a couple Vonnegut books off my shelf) gave me my first vin-dit towards Vonnegut worship.  These books were a sort of life blood for me, validating my strongly held beliefs that the world was full of a bunch of idiot-robots without souls that were so preoccupied with their own existence that the rest of the world could just fall away and they wouldn’t really notice.  Let me say, I no longer view the whole of society that way, but I still sometimes miss the days when I did.  A chapter from Cat’s Cradle:

Bicycles for Afghanistan

   There was a small saloon in the rear of the plane and I repaired there for a drink.  It was there that I met another fellow American, H. Lowe Crosby, of Evanston, Illinois, and his wife, Hazel.
They were heavy people, in their fifties.  They spoke twanglingly.  Crosby told me that he owned a bicycle factory in Chicago, that he had had nothing but ingratitude from his employees.  He was going to move his business to grateful San Lorenzo.
“You know San Lorenzo well?” I asked.
“This’ll be the first time I’ve ever seen it, but everything I’ve heard about it, I like,” said H. Lowe Crosby.  “They’ve got discipline.  They’ve got something you can count on from one year to the next.  They don’t have the government encouraging everybody to be some kind of original pissant nobody ever heard of before.”
“Sir?”
“Christ, back in Chicago, we don’t make bicycles anymore.  The eggheads sit around trying to figure out new ways for everybody to be happy.  Nobody can get fired, no matter what; and if somebody does accidentally make a bicycle, the union accuses us of cruel and inhuman practices and the government confiscates the bicycle for back taxes and gives it to a blind man in Afghanistan.”
“And you think things will be better in San Lorenzo?”
“I know damn well they will be.  The people down there are poor enough and scared enough and ignorant enough to have some common sense!”
Crosby asked me what my name was and what my business was.  I told him, and his wife Hazel recognized my name as an Indiana name.  She was from Indiana, too.
“My God,” she said, “are you a Hoosier?”
I admitted I was.
“I’m a Hoosier, too,” she crowed.  “Nobody has to be ashamed of being a Hoosier.”
“I’m not,” I said.  “I never knew anybody who was.”
“Hoosiers do all right.  Lowe and I have been around the world twice, and everywhere we went we found Hoosiers in charge of everything.”
“That’s reassuring.”
“You know that manager of that new hotel in Istanbul?”
“No.”
“He’s a Hoosier.  And the military-whatever-he-is in Tokyo…”
“Attache,” said her husband.
“He’s a Hoosier,” said Hazel.  “And the new Ambassador to Yugoslavia…”
“A Hoosier?” I asked.
“Not only him but the Hollywood Editor of Life magazine, too.  And that man in Chile…”
“A Hoosier, too?”
“You can’t go anywhere a Hoosier hasn’t made his mark,” she said.
“The man who wrote Ben Hur was a Hoosier.”
“And James Whitcomb Riley.”
“Are you from Indiana, too?” I asked her husband.
“Nope. I’m a Prarie Stater.  ‘Land of Lincoln,’ as they say.”
“As far as that goes,” said Hazel triumphantly, “Lincoln was a Hoosier, too.  He grew up in Spencer County.”
“Sure,” I said.
“I don’t know what it is about Hoosiers,” said Hazel, “but they’ve sure got something.  If somebody was to make a list, they’d be amazed.”
“That’s true,” I said.
She grasped me firmly by the arm.  “We Hoosiers got to stick together.”
“Right.”
“You call me ‘Mom.'”
“What?”
“Whenever I meet a young Hoosier, I tell them, ‘You call me Mom.'”
“Uh huh.”
“Let me hear you say it,” she urged.
“Mom?”
She smiled and let go of my arm.  Some piece of clockwork had completed its cycle.  My calling Hazel “Mom” had shut it of, and now Hazel was rewinding it for the next Hoosier to come along.
Hazel’s obsession with Hoosiers around the world was a textbook example of a false karass, of a seeming team that was meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done, a textbook example of what Bokonon calls a granfalloon.  Other examples of granfalloons are the Communist party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows – and any nation, anytime, anywhere.
As Bokonon invites us to sing along with him:

If you wish to study a granfalloon,
Just remove the skin of a toy balloon.

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