Kurt Vonnegut Writes an Offbeat Contract Outlining His Chores Around the House, 1947

vonnegut lettersKurt Von­negut nev­er did things the con­ven­tion­al way. He did­n’t write par­tic­u­lar­ly con­ven­tion­al nov­els. He cer­tain­ly did­n’t make very con­ven­tion­al speech­es at uni­ver­si­ties. But he did make semi-con­ven­tion­al domes­tic agree­ments. Take, for exam­ple, this con­tract writ­ten on Jan­u­ary 26, 1947. Post­ed on the Harper’s web­site in full, this odd lit­tle doc­u­ment, dubbed “The Chore List of Cham­pi­ons,” finds Von­negut out­lin­ing all of the tasks he promised to do around the house — this while his young wife, Jane, pre­pared to give birth to their first child. The con­tract (the con­tent is con­ven­tion­al, the form is not) will be pub­lished in Kurt Von­negut: Let­ters next month. And it begins:

I, Kurt Von­negut, Jr., that is, do here­by swear that I will be faith­ful to the com­mit­ments here­un­der list­ed:

I. With the agree­ment that my wife will not nag, heck­le, or oth­er­wise dis­turb me on the sub­ject, I promise to scrub the bath­room and kitchen floors once a week, on a day and hour of my own choos­ing. Not only that, but I will do a good and thor­ough job, and by that she means that I will get under the bath­tub, behind the toi­let, under the sink, under the ice­box, into the cor­ners; and I will pick up and put in some oth­er loca­tion what­ev­er mov­able objects hap­pen to be on said floors at the time so as to get under them too, and not just around them. Fur­ther­more, while I am under­tak­ing these tasks I will refrain from indulging in such remarks as “Shit,” “God­damn sono­fabitch,” and sim­i­lar vul­gar­i­ties, as such lan­guage is nerve-wrack­ing to have around the house when noth­ing more dras­tic is tak­ing place than the fac­ing of Neces­si­ty. If I do not live up to this agree­ment, my wife is to feel free to nag, heck­le, and oth­er­wise dis­turb me until I am dri­ven to scrub the floors any­way—no mat­ter how busy I am.

And then lat­er con­tin­ues:

g. When smok­ing I will make every effort to keep the ash­tray I am using at the time upon a sur­face that does not slant, sag, slope, dip, wrin­kle, or give way upon the slight­est provo­ca­tion; such sur­faces may be under­stood to include stacks of books pre­car­i­ous­ly mount­ed on the edge of a chair, the arms of the chair that has arms, and my own knees;

h. I will not put out cig­a­rettes upon the sides of, or throw ash­es into, either the red leather waste­bas­ket or the stamp waste­bas­ket that my lov­ing wife made me for Christ­mas, 1945, as such prac­tice notice­ably impairs the beau­ty and ulti­mate prac­ti­ca­bil­i­ty of said waste­bas­kets;

j. An excep­tion to the above three-day time lim­it is the tak­ing out of the garbage, which, as any fool knows, had bet­ter not wait that long; I will take out the garbage with­in three hours after the need for dis­pos­al has been point­ed out to me by my wife. It would be nice, how­ev­er, if, upon observ­ing the need for dis­pos­al with my own two eyes, I should per­form this par­tic­u­lar task upon my own ini­tia­tive, and thus not make it nec­es­sary for my wife to bring up a sub­ject that is mod­er­ate­ly dis­taste­ful to her;

l. The terms of this con­tract are under­stood to be bind­ing up until that time after the arrival of our child (to be spec­i­fied by the doc­tor) when my wife will once again be in full pos­ses­sion of all her fac­ul­ties, and able to under­take more ardu­ous pur­suits than are now advis­able.

You can read the com­plete “Chore List of Cham­pi­ons” at Harper’s.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

22-Year-Old P.O.W. Kurt Von­negut Writes Home from World War II: “I’ll Be Damned If It Was Worth It”

Kurt Von­negut Reads from Slaugh­ter­house-Five

Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Tips on How to Write a Good Short Sto­ry


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