When Billy got back from his furlough, there were orders for him to go overseas. He was needed in the headquarters company of an infantry regiment fighting in Luxembourg. The regimental chaplain's assistant had been killed in action. So it goes.
When Billy joined the regiment, it was in the process of being destroyed by the Germans in the famous Battle of the Bulge. Billy never even got to meet the chaplain he was supposed to assist, was never issued a steel helmet and combat boots. This was in December of 1944, during the last mighty German attack of the war.
Billy survived, but he was a dazed wanderer far behind the new German lines. Three other wanderers, not quite so dazed, allowed Billy to tag along. Two of them were scouts, and one was an antitank gunner. They were without food or maps. Avoiding Germans, they were delivering themselves into rural silences ever more profound. They ate snow.
They went Indian file. First came the scouts, clever, graceful, quiet. They had rifles. Next came the antitank gunner, clumsy and dense, warning Germans away with a Colt .45 automatic in one hand and a trench knife in the other.
Last came Billy Pilgrim, empty-handed, bleakly ready for death. Billy was preposterous--six feet and three inches tall, with a chest and shoulders like a box of kitchen matches. He had no helmet, no overcoat, no weapon, and no boots. On his feet were cheap, low-cut civilian shoes which he had bought for his father's funeral. Billy had lost a heel, which made him bob up-and-down, up-and-down. The involuntary dancing, up-and-down, up-and-down, made his hip joints sore.
Billy was wearing a thick field jacket, a shirt and trousers of scratchy wool, and long underwear that was soaked with sweat. He was the only one of the four who had a beard. It was a random, bristly beard, and some of the bristles were white, even though Billy was only twenty-one years old. He was also going bald. Wind and cold and violent exercise had turned his face crimson.
He didn't look like a soldier at all. He looked like a filthy flamingo.
I know that is a fairly long passage. I've decided to try something different this year with the book I've chosen to use. Instead of searching for random passages that inspire me, I am typing out the entire novel, from start to finish, one day at a time. So, if you've never read Slaughterhouse Five before, by the end of this year (perhaps sooner), I will have transcribed the entire text into my blog, one section at a time.
I've had writer friends who have done this before with short stories and poems. I don't think that I know any person who's retyped an entire published novel before. There is something very satisfying in stringing together the words, just as Vonnegut did so many years ago. It makes me feel a little more connected to the creation of such an important work of literature. Those paragraphs spilling out of my tapping fingers.
I suppose that sounds crazy to any of my disciples who are not writers. It sounds a little crazy to me, and I'm the one doing it. Maybe I am a little bit like Billy Pilgrim, the filthy pink flamingo. Not really fitting in. Limping along, off-balance and lost. Sometimes, I think that my family and friends simply tolerate my eccentricities. When I decide to do something like retype Slaughterhouse Five, they probably roll their eyes, thinking, "He's nuts, but he's not a danger to himself or anybody else."
Of course, Billy's eccentricities become a little more pronounced when he starts talking about his little green friends from Tralfamadore. I'm not ready to talk about my alien abduction experiences yet. Still a little too fresh. Plus, I'm negotiating to get Donald Trump a one-way ticket to Tralfamadore.
Tonight, Saint Marty is grateful for weirdness and tolerance.