The first Kurt Vonnegut novel I read was Breakfast of Champions when I was in 8th grade. After I read it, I developed this opinion: if you accept that the world is a stupid illogical place, then the world suddenly makes a lot more sense. This has always given me a strange comfort. I wrote this story for a group I perform with in the Twin Cities called The Rockstar Storytellers. Our assignment was to write in the style of our favorite author. Thanks, Mr. Vonnegut. Poo-tee-twoot?
Here is what I know:
Algernon Grimshank was a human being on the planet earth. Like most human beings on the planet earth he had the following problem:
He was very smart and yet most of the time he behaved like an absolute idiot. He knew for a fact that most people behaved like idiots, too, and he suspected most of them were smart enough to know he behaved like an idiot. And yet, he tried to pretend he didn’t, which was of course a very idiotic thing to do.
Algernon Grimshank’s personal idiocy manifested itself like this:
He told people he was a writer.
He would go to cocktail parties and high school reunions and say things like:
“Yes, writing is who I am!”
“Yes, writing isn’t about deadlines!”
“Yes, writing is about truth!”
Here was the truth:
On any given moment, on any given day Algernon would have vastly preferred to sit on his couch, eat pizza, and stare at a television than lift one finger to do anything even remotely productive.
Many of the idiots on planet earth felt this way. But they all thought it was very important to lie to one another about it.
And so Algernon Grimshank spent a ridiculous amount of his short life staring at things that were blank: pieces of paper, his computer screen, his friends’ faces when he told them his story ideas.
Blink blink blank.
Over the years, older wiser idiots had taught Algernon many glib, cliché catchphrases that would help him become a truthful writer.
One of those phrases was this:
Write what you know.
Here is what Algernon Grimshank knew:
Laziness. Horrible soul-crushing sloth. So, one day he decided to write about that. He did research on his subject by looking up sloth on a website called wikipedia.org.
Wikipedia was an online encyclopedia that any yahoo could edit. Many well-educated idiots doubted its truthfulness when compared to a real encyclopedia that could only be edited by a handful of highly trained yahoos.
This is what the ambiguously educated collective of yahoos knew about sloth:
It is a cardinal sin. Like murder, it merits damnation in hell without the possibility of forgiveness. Algernon found it odd that if you plan on killing another human being but don’t really get around to it—you are just as likely to go to hell as if you actually slit someone’s throat.
Blink blink blank.
Next the website told him sloth was sometimes associated with goats and the color light blue. He noted that a citation was needed.
Then the website told Algernon something so idiotic he doubted its truthfulness.
Each of the seven sins is paired with a patron demon. The patron demon of Sloth was Belphegor. A demon who was sent from Hell by Lucifer to find out if there really was such a thing on earth as married happiness.
The website also told Algernon that Belphegor was Hell’s ambassador to France.
Furthermore, the website told him that Belphegor tempted humans to be slothful by creating ingenious bits of technology which would waste their time.
Like all demons, Belphegor could only be summoned to earth by throwing a sacrifice of some kind on the floor of your home. The sacrifice required by Belphegor was this: shit.
This caused the following sentence to pop into Algernon’s brain against his will:
The mystical portal between Hell and France is poop.
Finally, the website told Algernon that Belphegor was traditionally pictured as an old man sitting on a toilet. Algernon Grimshank never knew that traditional Judeo-Christian demonological iconography could be this low-brow.
He was curious. He looked around his home for something akin to a big piece of shit.
He picked up a copy of his latest half-finished story and threw it on the floor.
POOF! A puff of acrid smoke filled the room and Algernon found himself in the company of an old man on a toilet.
The toilet-man said:
“Hey Buddy! I’m Belephegor! What can Belphegor get for you? Don’t just stare at Belphegor! Belpehgor is here to help you. You got any questions for Belphegor?”
Algernon threw open the wardrobe of his mind and desperately searched for a few words that might go well together. He said:
“Why are you sitting on a toilet?”
Belephegor responded: “It’s like sitting on the truth!”
Blink blink blank.
“Look, Belphegor made something for you, buddy!”
The demon reached a wrinkled hand into the toilet and threw something to Algernon.
It was this:
A light blue Nintendo 3DS portable video game system. Belpehgor pulled one out for himself. The game loaded in both devices was Tetris. They both began to play.
This is how you play Tetris:
You stare at a blank screen. Eventually different geometric shapes fall from the sky. You use your thumbs to jostle buttons so you can make the shapes connect with one another. Once the connected shapes form a complete line they disappear.
You can’t win at Tetris. It’s just a question of how long until you fail.
Hours passed. Belphegor yelled out things like:
“Yes, I just flipped the l-shape!”
“Yes, I just made six hundred and sixty-six lines disappear!”
Algernon was enjoying himself. His eyes burned and his thumbs ached. Pieces of half-digested pizza fell in his gut, piling up into a mass of twisted geometric spires. He felt like an idiot. He should be writing, creating. He wanted to make all his words connect and form lines so he could win his next high school reunion.
He was all conflict and no resolution. His story really should end there. Instead, I am going to do something glib and cliché. I am going to insert myself, as the author, into the story. It’s a lousy trick that reeks of post-modernism.
Here is what I know about post-modernism:
It’s an ambiguous term that educated idiots like to bicker about at cocktails parties. We are currently trying to look smart by debating whether or not post-modernism is dead. It’s difficult to decide since none of us can agree on what post-modern meant in the first place. Personally, I think it means to have the creator comment in a knowing way on his or her own narrative.
So with a poof of light blue smoke I enter the room with Algernon Grimshank and say this:
“Hey buddy, I’m your creator! How can I help you? What can I get for you? I’d like to resolve your problems as neatly and quickly as possible.”
Algernon stares. Blink blink blank.
Belphegor tries to throw me my very own Nintendo 3DS, but I’m ready for him. Wikipedia told me the secret to defeat the demon sloth: zeal.
Each of the seven deadly sins is opposed by one of the seven virtues: chastity, moderation, generosity, charity, humility, meekness, and zeal. Putting them all together, they don’t make a lot of sense. I would not want to be in a room with a generous, humble moderate zealot meekly offering to give their chastity to charity.
Eager to save my protagonist from himself, I launch into a zealous tirade! I say things like:
“Yes, you’ve got to write for yourself, not for anyone else!”
“Yes! Writing is like a fire in your soul and you must release it or you will get burned!”
“Yes! Writing isn’t about coming up with answers it’s about asking questions!”
“Yes! Yes! YES!”
A huge flushing sound fills the room and Belpehgor swirls into thin air–sucked back to Hell. Or France. Yes, let’s go with France. Yes.
Finally, Algernon and I are alone together.
He asks the question we idiots rarely ask one another.
“Did you mean all that or did you just say that because you thought it would impress me?”
Eventually, these words fall out of my mouth and form lines:
“I want to say whatever I have to to win this story.”
“So I can tell myself that I’ve done something today. Once I’ve done something I can go home. I can sit on my couch, drink whiskey, and watch hours of television while complaining about how shitty the writing is.”
“Will that really make you happy?”
I do my best to answer him truthfully.
Here is what I know.
Here is what I know.
Here is what I know.
A version of this story is also available in my book COMEDY OF DOOM.
Thanks for reading.