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Septic Memories of Vonnegut


Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday. When I think of Kurt Vonnegut I think back on the summer of 1989 when I had just graduated from Purdue. I got a temporary job working for a county health department and I spent most of that summer reading everything by Kurt Vonnegut I could get my hands on. It was a perfect fit in many ways.

My first job for the department was to get their database up and running. Personal computers were still pretty new then and everything was on paper file. I was asked to get the database ready to receive information and teach the secretary how to do it. My supervisor gave me two weeks and then I could move on to a field assignment. Well, it was the summer and I didn't really want to spend two weeks in the office when I could be outside, so I got the job done in 2 days. When I reported this to my supervisor he was thrilled, but since I still had a week and a half left, he had me do data entry for the remainder of the time.

This is what expediency gets you.

When I finally got out in the field my job was to go around the county and inspect tile fields, a kind of off-grid septic system, to see if they were working properly. If not I was supposed to note that and try to find a connection between failures. There were a lot of tile fields in the county and I was supposed to check most of them before the summer was out. I jumped right to it and, after a couple weeks, I realized if I kept this up I would be done long before the deadline.

Now, I'm not stupid. I had already learned what beauracracies do to the efficient. So I found lots of time to read Kurt Vonnegut during long lunch breaks and found myself enjoying many of the city and state parks around the area on sunny summer afternoons.

One of the things I learned from that summer was that no matter how well manicured the lawn or how many cars are on the lawn, no matter how nice or surly the person is when answering the door, when I lifted the inspection portal, sewage always smells the same.

I think Kurt would agree.

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