Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

43. The Demonstrator

H. Lowe Crosby was of the opinion that dictatorships were often very good things. He wasn’t a terrible person and he wasn’t a fool. It suited him to confront the world with a certain barn-yard clownishness, but many of the things he had to say about undisciplined mankind were not only funny but true.

The major point at which his reason and his sense of humor left him was when he approached the question of what people were really supposed to do with their time on Earth.

He believed firmly that they were meant to build bicycles for him.

“I hope San Lorenzo is every bit as good as you’ve heard it is,” I said.

“I only have to talk to one man to find out if it is or not,” he said. “When ‘Papa’ Monzano gives his word of honor about anything on that little island, that’s it. That’s how it is; that’s how it’ll be.”

“The thing I like,” said Hazel, “is they all speak English and they’re all Christians. That makes things so much easier.”

“You know how they deal with crime down there?” Crosby asked me.


“They just don’t have any crime down there. ‘Papa’ Monzano’s made crime so damn unattractive, nobody even thinks about it without getting sick. I heard you can lay a billfold in the middle of a sidewalk and you can come back a week later and it’ll be right there, with everything still in it.”


“You know what the punishment is for stealing something?”


“The hook,” he said. “No fines, no probation, no thirty days in jail. It’s the hook. The hook for stealing, for murder, for arson, for treason, for rape, for being a peeping Tom. Break a law—any damn law at all—and it’s the hook. Everybody can understand that, and San Lorenzo is the best-behaved country in the world.”

“What is the hook?”

“They put up a gallows, see? Two posts and a cross beam. And then they take a great big kind of iron fishhook and they hang it down from the cross beam. Then they take somebody who’s dumb enough to break the law, and they put the point of the hook in through one side of his belly and out the other and they let him go—and there he hangs, by God, one damn sorry law-breaker.”

“Good God!”

“I don’t say it’s good,” said Crosby, “but I don’t say it’s bad either. I sometimes wonder if something like that wouldn’t clear up juvenile delinquency. Maybe the hook’s a little extreme for a democracy. Public hanging’s more like it. String up a few teenage car thieves on lampposts in front of their houses with signs around their necks saying, ‘Mama, here’s your boy.’ Do that a few times and I think ignition locks would go the way of the rumble seat and the running board.”

“We saw that thing in the basement of the waxworks in London,” said Hazel.

“What thing?” I asked her.

“The hook. Down in the Chamber of Horrors in the basement; they had a wax person hanging from the hook. It looked so real I wanted to throw up.”

“Harry Truman didn’t look anything like Harry Truman,” said Crosby.

“Pardon me?”

“In the waxworks,” said Crosby. “The statue of Truman didn’t really look like him.”

“Most of them did, though,” said Hazel.

“Was it anybody in particular hanging from the hook?” I asked her.

“I don’t think so. It was just somebody.”

“Just a demonstrator?” I asked.

“Yeah. There was a black velvet curtain in front of it and you had to pull the curtain back to see. And there was a note pinned to the curtain that said children weren’t supposed to look.”

“But kids did,” said Crosby. “There were kids down there, and they all looked.”

“A sign like that is just catnip to kids,” said Hazel.

“How did the kids react when they saw the person on the hook?” I asked.

“Oh,” said Hazel, “they reacted just about the way the grownups did. They just looked at it and didn’t say anything, just moved on to see what the next thing was.”

“What was the next thing?”

“It was an iron chair a man had been roasted alive in,” said Crosby. “He was roasted for murdering his son.”

“Only, after they roasted him,” Hazel recalled blandly, “they found out he hadn’t murdered his son after all.”

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