I was at the Red Cross today, feeling a little lightheaded as the blood ran out of my right arm, when I read the following passage in Kurt Vonnegut’s Happy Birthday, Wanda June:
HAROLD: America’s days of greatness are over. It has drunk the blue soup.
PENELOPE: Blue soup?
HAROLD: An Indian narcotic we were forced to drink. It put us in a haze — a honey-colored haze which was lavender around the edge. We laughed, we sang, we snoozed. When a bird called, we answered back. Every living thing was our brother or sister, we thought. Looseleaf stepped on a cockroach six inches long, and we cried. We had a funeral that went on for five days — for the cockroach. I sang “Oh Promise Me.” Can you imagine? Where the hell did I ever learn the words to “Oh Promise Me”? Looseleaf delivered a lecture on maintenance procedures for the hydraulic system of a B-36. All the time we were drinking more blue soup, more blue soup! Never stopped drinking blue soup. Blue soup all the time. We’d go out after food in that honey-colored haze, and everything that was edible had a penumbra of lavender.
PENELOPE: Sounds quite beautiful.
HAROLD: [Angered] Beautiful, you say? It wasn’t life, it wasn’t death, it wasn’t anything! Beautiful? Seven years gone — like that, like that! Seven years of silliness and random dreams! Seven years of nothingness, when there could have been so much!
And because one corner of my brain is devoted to the Beatles 24-7 these days, I thought immediately of Mr. Lennon:
Everybody seems to think I’m lazy
I don’t mind, I think they’re crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
Till they find, there’s no need
Please don’t spoil my day
I’m miles away
And after all
I’m only sleeping
Yes, yes, the eternal question…drink the blue soup or face reality head-on. Lennon was a blue soup guy; Vonnegut’s character Harold Ryan is not, though it must be noted that he is more or less the villain of the piece. It’s a question most of us face every day, save those courageous few who have sworn off the stuff for good. The blue soup, mind you, isn’t necessarily a substance; it could be a comforting delusion or an unquestioned ideology. To see with clarity and deal with the consequences, this is no easy thing. In the future, I’d like to do more of it; at the moment, however, dreamland beckons.