What did Kurt Vonnegut draw with six quick strokes of a felt-tip marker— a little black snowflake?
That would’ve been about par for a comic novelist, yes? A black snowflake.
Or maybe it was a large asterisk. Because he would often draw it beside his signature or autograph, which suggested some kind of exegesis would follow about his name or identity.
But no… glancing below, you never saw any further explanation of what the mark meant.
When the dark starburst first appeared, it was in Breakfast of Champions (1973), and Vonnegut wrote, “here is a picture of an asshole.”
He also included drawings of “a wide-open beaver,” little girls’ underpants, headstones, and a number of other things. He said he felt a need to “clear his head of all the junk in there.” And some it landed on the page.
Keep in mind that when Breakfast was published, Vonnegut was hugely famous as the author of Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). It was risky to interrupt the text of his next novel with slapdash drawings, some of them scatological.
Why did he do it, then? What may have been the real reason— the deeper one?
Jerome Klinkowitz, the foremost Vonnegut scholar in the country says Vonnegut was offering a “doggedly simplistic recitation of American history, stripped clean of its enhancing mythology….There it is, says the text, in a manner detached from the relativity of language and shown so plainly that we are forced to see what rhetoric and myth obscure.
Huh! Who knew? Little girls’ underpants and headstones, marching bravely, so to speak, in the parade of our republic.
But that still leaves the ubiquitous asshole. As to why Vonnegut drew it again and again, we have this: his daughter, Edie told me that her father believed, “being an asshole was a human condition.”
And if you read his novels, he recommended that we just accept the situation, forgive ourselves, and go our merry way. Because we live on a planet where no one knows what’s going on.
See? No one.
So we screw-up, and look ridiculous, and maybe wear a red shirt with a big asshole on the front that says, “Yeah, sometimes I act like an asshole. Deal with it.”
Go on then—make a statement. Don one of these. Or if your name isn’t Don, then make a present of one of these beauties to somebody who needs to be cheered up. It’s your way of saying, “I understand. You’re human— welcome aboard, asshole.”
For as Vonnegut said, in keeping with his theme, “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.”