Billy and the rest were wooed through gate after gate, and Billy saw his first Russian. The man was all alone in the night--a ragbag with a round, flat face that glowed like a radium dial.
Billy passed within a year of him. There was barbed wire between them. The Russian did not wave or speak, but he looked directly into Billy's soul with sweet hopefulness, as though Billy might have good news for him--news he might be too stupid to understand, but good news all the same.
Billy blacked out as he walked through gate after gate. He came to in what he thought might be a building on Tralfamadore. It was shrilly lit and lined with white tiles. It was on Earth, though. It was a delousing station through which all new prisoners had to pass.
Billy did as he was told, took off his clothes. That was the first thing they told him to do on Tralfamadore, too.
A German measured Billy's upper right arm with his thumb and forefinger, asked a companion what sort of an army would send a weakling like that to the front. They looked at the other American bodies now, pointed out a lot more that were nearly as bad as Billy's.
Another lengthy section from Slaughterhouse. Billy being herded through the prison camp with other American prisoners, toward a delousing station. Now, Billy knows he's going to survive. In fact, he has already survived, gotten married, become a father, and been abducted by aliens. Certainly, he also has knowledge of concentration camps and the Holocaust. Yet, this delousing station is frightening. It could be a gas chamber. In description, it certainly fits the bill. The shadow of genocide looms in this passage.
I have written about Billy's unique perspective on time before. The fact that the past, present, and future are fairly liquid states for him. Yesterday he was born. This morning, he's a German POW. This afternoon, he may die. Tomorrow morning, he'll be seeing patients in his office. Billy doesn't fear death or tragedy. He's not going to die in a German gas chamber. Billy already knows what has, is, and will happen.
I have never been a big fan of uncertainty, as many of my faithful disciples know. I am a creature of habit, embrace daily sameness. When a new school semester starts, I quickly work to establish a schedule for my days and weeks. Having two full-time jobs sort of requires ruts, tire tracks that I can follow easily for a few months. And it's comforting to know where I have to be next Monday morning at 6 a.m., when I have to teach on Wednesday, what my office hours are on Tuesday.
Soon, I will be establishing a new daily schedule for myself. The winter semester is coming to an end, and I'll be transitioning into summer mode. No teaching. Early work days. Afternoons of relative freedom. Time to read what I want, without having to grade it for grammar and organization. And, of course, the loss of a teaching income for four months. Tight times for this saint's household.
However I will enjoy the warmth and sun and relative calm. Sure, about mid-July, the money worries will be piling up, and I will start counting down to that first paycheck from the university in August.
Right now, though, Saint Marty is thankful for the prospect of his summer rut, with all its hidden secrets in unlikely places.