As an undergraduate at Cornell about thirty-five years ago, I heard Kurt Vonnegut relate how he wrote this passage in the novel Breakfast of Champions:
As for the story itself, it was entitled “The Dancing Fool.” Like so many Kilgore 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 golf club.
As I recall, Vonnegut said that when he was young, growing up during the Great Depression, some families were desperate for one of their children to become the next Shirley Temple. He witnessed a young girl, farting from nervousness as she tap-danced through her number.
Some things I’d like to remember:
- I’d like to read Vonnegut again.
- Some important events, those we remember longest, happen unplanned.
- We don’t really know how aliens, should they exist, will communicate.
- It’s remarkably easy for us to misunderstand each other.