Deadeye Dick
Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

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Deadeye Dick


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Deadeye Dick

“Deadeye Dick,” like “Barnacle Bill,” is a nickname for a sailor. A deadeye is a rounded wooden block, usually bound with rope or iron, and pierced with holes. The holes receive a multiplicity of lines, usually shrouds or stays, on an old-fashioned sailing ship. But in the American Middle West of my youth, “Deadeye Dick” was an honorific often accorded to a person who was a virtuoso with firearms.

So it is a sort of lungfish of a nickname. It was born in the ocean, but it adapted to life ashore.


To the as-yet-unborn, to all innocent wisps of undifferentiated nothingness: Watch out for life.

I have caught life. I have come down with life. I was a wisp of undifferentiated nothingness, and then a little peephole opened quite suddenly. Light and sound poured in. Voices began to describe me and my surroundings. Nothing they said could be appealed. They said I was a boy named Rudolph Waltz, and that was that. They said the year was 1932, and that was that. They said I was in Midland City, Ohio, and that was that.

They never shut up. Year after year they piled detail upon detail. They do it still.

6 It might have been a bigger story, a signal for the start of World War Three, if the Government hadn’t acknowledged at once that the bomb was made in America. One newscast I heard down here in Haiti called it “a friendly bomb.”




I hadn’t aimed at anything. If I thought of the bullet’s hitting anything, I don’t remember now. I was the great marksman, anyway. If I aimed at nothing, then nothing is what I would hit.

The bullet was a symbol, and nobody was ever hurt by a symbol. It was a farewell to my childhood and a confirmation of my manhood.

Why didn’t I use a blank cartridge? What kind of a symbol would that have been?




Now that I have known Haiti, with its voodooism, with its curses and charms and zombies and good and bad spirits which can inhabit anybody or anything, and so on, I wonder if it mattered much that it was I who was in the cage in the basement of the old courthouse so long ago. A curiously carved bone or stick, or a dried mud doll with straw hair would have served as well as I did, there on the bench, as long as the community believed, as Midland City believed of me, that it was a package of evil magic.

Everybody could feel safe for a while. Bad luck was caged. There was bad luck, cringing on the bench in there.




“What did Odysseus do in order to sail by the sirens safely?” he asked me.

“I forget,” I said.

“He did what you must do now, whenever anybody tells you that you have an artistic gift of any kind,” he said. “I only wish my father had told me what I tell you now.”

“Sir?” I said.

“Plug your ears with wax, my boy—and lash yourself to the mast,” he said.



[...] I concluded that the best thing for me and for those around me was to want nothing, to be enthusiastic about nothing, to be as unmotivated as possible, in fact, so that I would never again hurt anyone.

Bernard Ketchum, our resident shyster here at the Grand Hotel Oloffson, says that Haitian refugees should follow the precedent set by white people, and simply discover Florida or Virginia or Massachusetts or whatever. They could come ashore, and start converting people to voodooism.

“It’s a widely accepted principle,” he says, “that you can claim a piece of land which has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, if only you will repeat this mantra endlessly: ‘We discovered it, we discovered it, we discovered it. . . .’ ”


I tinkered, too, with the idea of having the voice of God coming from the back of the theater. [...]

The actress playing Celia could ask why God had ever put her on earth.

And then the voice from the back of the theater could rumble: “To reproduce. Nothing else really interests Me. All the rest is frippery.”




We all see our lives as stories, it seems to me, and I am convinced that psychologists and sociologists and historians and so on would find it useful to acknowledge that. If a person survives an ordinary span of sixty years or more, there is every chance that his or her life as a shapely story has ended, and all that remains to be experienced is epilogue. Life is not over, but the story is.



It may be a bad thing that so many people try to make good stories out of their lives. A story, after all, is as artificial as a mechanical bucking bronco in a drinking establishment.

And it may be even worse for nations to try to be characters in stories.

Perhaps these words should be carved over doorways of the United Nations and all sorts of parliaments, big and small: LEAVE YOUR STORY OUTSIDE.


The reason everything had to be left exactly where it was, of course, was so that camera crews could document, without the least bit of fakery, the fundamental harmlessness of a neutron bomb.



You want to know something? We are still in the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages—they haven’t ended yet.

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