Category Archives: Excerpts

Helpless and vile

Consider: We were at the center of the lives of those who cared for us.  They could be heroically Christian in their own eyes only if Eliza and I remained helpless and vile.  If we became openly wise and self-reliant, they would become our drab and inferior assistants.  If we became capable of going out into the world, they might lose their apartments, their color televisions, their illusions of being sorts of doctors and nurses, and their high-paying jobs.

So, from the very first, and without quite knowing what they were doing, I am sure, they begged us a thousand times a day to go on being helpless and vile.

There was only one small advancement they wished us to make up the ladder of human achievements.  They hoped with all their hearts that we would become toilet-trained.

– Dr. Wilbur Swain, Slapstick (Kurt Vonnegut)

Fall within my province

Lenny. Eh, Teddy, you haven’t told us much about your Doctorship of Philosophy. What do you teach?

Teddy. Philosophy.

Lenny. Well, I want to ask you something. Do you detect a certain logical incoherence in the central affirmation of Christian theism?

Teddy. That question doesn’t fall within my province.

Lenny. Well, look at it this way…you don’t mind my asking you some questions, do you?

Teddy. If they’re within my province.

Lenny. Well, look at it this way. How can the unknown merit reverence? In other words, how can you revere that of which you’re ignorant? At the same time, it would be ridiculous to propose that what we know merits reverence. What we know merits any one of a number of things, but it stands to reason reverence isn’t one of them. In other words, apart from the known and the unknown, what else is there?

– Harold Pinter, The Homecoming

He knew the gist of it

Greg, toned and tanned, his skin smoothed by lasers and obsessive waxing, a paradox of the natural world and humanity’s obsession with grooming away his links to it, began to preach. Calvin didn’t listen. He knew the gist of it. The new world was coming. Civilization would fall, replaced by something purer, more worthy. The strong would rule. The weak would perish. Glory, glory, something about beautiful chaos, blah, blah, blah, blah.

– A. Lee Martinez, Chasing the Moon

Because people did not take time to take tea

Margy and Izzy joined her at the table, and she drank another cup of tea and ate a cucumber sandwich, taking four bites out of a patch of bread so trim she could have swallowed it whole. She hardly heard what Margaret and Izzy were saying. She did not interrupt, and soon was listening, first out of politeness – for courtesy was the first of her senses to return – and then out of interest, genuine interest.

She looked around the room and saw the four children, Ethan, Noah, Nadia, and Julian sitting at a table on the far side of the room. They were talking among themselves and drinking tea. They did not interrupt one another, Mrs. Olinski thought, how unusual. There were nods and smiles and obvious pleasure in one another’s company. Mrs. Olinski thought, how unusual to find four sixth graders who listen to one another sympathetically, unselfishly. How curious. How courteous. Mrs. Olinski thought, when people come to tea, they are courteous. She thought, I believe in courtesy. It is the way we avoid hurting people’s feelings. She thought that maybe – just maybe – Western Civilization was in a decline because people did not take time to take tea at four o’clock.

– E. L. Konigsburg, The View From Saturday

His ballpark opinion

At Xanadu in 2001, I asked Kilgore Trout for his ballpark opinion of John Wilkes Booth. He said Booth’s performance in Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., on the night of Good Friday, April 14th, 1865, when he shot Lincoln and then jumped from a theater box to the stage, breaking his leg, was “the sort of thing which is bound to happen whenever an actor creates his own material.”

– Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake