breakfast of champions

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:

  1. I’d like to read Vonnegut again.
  2. Some important events, those we remember longest, happen unplanned.
  3. We don’t really know how aliens, should they exist, will communicate.
  4. It’s remarkably easy for us to misunderstand each other.

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