Tag Archives: Kurt Vonnegut

“What is the Purpose of Life?” or How a Small Bit of Character Info from Kurt Vonnegut Helped Put Getting Fired into Perspective

 

Getting fired from a job is one of those moments that make you stop and take stock of your life. Even if you’re not that big of a fan of the job, it’s still the basic idea that you were forced to stop performing when you weren’t ready because someone else said you weren’t doing a good job. It’s like having sex with someone who you’re not remotely attracted to, someone who you know you’re too good for, but still you keep pumping away sluggishly as you go through the motions. But then all the sudden, this person who should be thanking God that you’re giving them the time of day, taps you on the shoulder and says, “I think it’s best if we part ways.” Then you’re left fumbling to put your pants back on and wondering what you did wrong to upset this beast you previously loathed.

“We’ve decided to part ways,” is how they say it.

I walk into my office and there’s my General Manager standing with another GM from the market who was summoned for backup. The other GM knowing my shift’s start time and probably showing up fifteen minutes early to be there standing, posing as I walk through the door. I knew what was going on before they even began talking. At least it was a nice day out.

This is an asshole.

I can’t say I was very surprised by the termination. I had gotten some poor reviews, which although were never for anything substantial, I knew the procedure since I’d seen the same thing happen to other employees; I was aware they were getting the documentation they needed to ensure a legal termination. That’s how things are done in chain businesses that are run by home offices in other states by people who see you only a few times a year for a walk through, the only thing on their mind being to find something wrong with how you’re running the building. It’s really quite disturbing when I think about it too much.

But the great thing about being canned is I have a lot of time to do all the writing I claimed to be too busy to catch up on. Thankfully, I’ve actually been making good on it and writing daily. When I’m not writing I try to read. I’m reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, the humorous tale of beloved Vonnegut character Kilgore Trout, a recurring side character who this time gets to be the lead on the black comedy stage. Trout is a fictional science fiction writer who pens hundreds of novels and short stories which are usually sold in pornography stores with dirty pictures printed along with the text. His stories, which are unique and otherworldly, are merely vehicles to peddle smut.

In Breakfast of Champions, a small character description struck me. Trout walks into a porno movie house when they’re trying to close for the night. Vonnegut writes, “Nobody was there but the manager, who was also the ticket-taker and the bouncer and the janitor.”

It’s quite a small sentence which isn’t detrimental to the story. In fact, this theatre manager is only around for another few pages as he walks with Trout before being assaulted on the dark New York City streets. But it struck me as remarkably true and hit home, having just been fired from my position as a movie theatre manager, (unfortunately not of a porno theatre.) Being a manager in an AMC chain theatre consists of little glory or prestige. Working at a smaller multiplex as opposed to a megaplex leaves managers with less payroll and more tools needed on the belt. In one shift I would be needed as projectionist, usher, concession and box office cashier all while trying to fulfill my managerial assignments and ensure guests had a good visit. It is a thankless business. Long hours, weekends, and holidays are a requirement. And at the end of six and a half years I just get fired anyway at the ripe old age of 22.

Something about Vonnegut’s description of the poor, porno theatre manager having to clean up the dirty theatre at the end of the night in addition to all of his other jobs made me realize even more that it was probably for the best that me and the theatre “parted ways.”

Just before Kilgore Trout walked into the house he was in the bathroom of the porno theatre and read a question written on the tile wall. It said: “What is the purpose of life?”

To which Trout wanted to respond, but he had no pencil to write it, “To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe, you fool.”

With all the self reflection that comes along with getting fired from your job, the purpose of one’s existence is sure to poke its head up at some point. Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout made the valiant effort of trying to answer that question. And to him, it’s quite simple and a foolish thing to be questioning.

We are only here to retort this life to others. We are merely a vessel for which to comment on what life has in store, for each of us individually. For it always surprises me that each of our lives are so unique, so original, and yet so connected to the paths of everyone else on Earth.

Vonnegut would say that there is no superior answer to the purpose of life. We are simply here. For no other reason than that we are allowed to be here. And once you can accept something like that; that life is so vulnerable and that our individual lives are so minute to the great wide intertwining world, then you are truly living specially. You are seeing clearly.

In one of my favorite passages from Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle he says:

“God made mud.
God got lonesome.
So God said to some of the mud, “Sit up!”
“See all I’ve made,” said God, “the hills, the sea, the
sky, the stars.”
And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look
around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.
I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God.
Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly
couldn’t have.
I feel very unimportant compared to You.
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to
think of all the mud that didn’t even get to sit up and
look around.
I got so much, and most mud got so little.
Thank you for the honor!
Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
What memories for mud to have!
What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!
I loved everything I saw!
Good night.
I will go to heaven now.
I can hardly wait…
To find out for certain what my wampeter was…
And who was in my karass…
And all the good things our karass did for you.
Amen.”

What a lovely way to live if we all admit that we’re just mud that got up to look around. This applies to you, me, President Obama, millionaires, prostitutes, the Pope, your grandfather, cops, junkies, a collective universe of chaotic, flawed beings capable of nothing more than taking a breath and looking around.

 

 

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