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Chapter 42: In the Onion Cellar Notes from The Tin Drum

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The Tin Drum Chapter 42: In the Onion Cellar

The newly formed band practiced outside the city in the meadows. By chance, the nightclub owner Ferdinand Schmuh would go to those same meadows to shoot sparrows. He would make his wife drive to the country, then she would stay in the car while he hunted. In his left pocket he kept his ammunition, in his right he kept bird food. He would never shoot more than twelve sparrows in a day. One day, Schmuh addressed the trio, imploring them to not scare away the birds with their music. Klepp knew of Schmuh and said so; impressed, they began to talk. They played for him and Schmuh offered them a nightly gig playing at his club, the Onion Cellar.

The Onion Cellar was a new club that thought it was exclusive; there was a doorman who filtered out those who could not pay. Schmuh would greet each and every customer personally. The Onion cellar was an actual cellar, though the ceiling had been removed. The décor of the place was aimed at making it look "authentic." But there was neither a bar nor a menu in the Onion Cellar. There was only one thing served in the club. Schmuh would don a silk shawl, disappear, and reappear with a basket on his arm. He would hand out cutting boards, shaped like either pigs or fish, to the customers, then paring knives. Then, he would hand each person an ordinary onion. At the signal, the customers would peel, then cut into the onions. The onions would make their eyes begin to water.

"...it is not true that when the heart is full the eyes necessarily overflow, some people can never manage it, especially in our century, which in spite of all the suffering and sorrow will surely be known to posterity as the tearless century. It was this drought, this tearlessness that brought those who could afford it to Schmuh's Onion Cellar, where the host handed them a little cutting board - pig or fish - a pairing knife for eighty pfennigs, and for twelve marks an ordinary, field-, garden-, and kitchen-variety onion, and induced them to cut their onions smaller and smaller until the juice - what did the onion juice do? It did what the world and the sorrows of the world could not do: it brought forth a round, human tear. It made them cry. At last they were able to cry again. To cry properly, without restraint, to cry like mad. The tears flowed and washed everything away. The rain came. The dew. Oskar has a vision of floodgates opening. Of dams bursting in the spring floods. What is the name of that river that overflows every spring and the government does nothing to stop it?" Chapter 42, pg. 525

Topic Tracking: Individuality/Identity 18

The weeping customers would then pour their hearts out to each other; one Miss Pioch told of her lover Mr. Vollmer who only loved her when he could take care of her black and blue toenails, which he himself had stepped on. On Mondays the weeping was loudest; that was when the young students came. One couple, Gerhard and Gudrun, wept for each other's facial hair - he, Gerhard, had none and she, Gudrun, had to shave her beard in vain. Oskar saw them months later, and the Onion Cellar had cured them; he had a waving beard and she a slight fuzz over her lip.

Once the customers were done weeping, Oskar's band provided a transition back to normal life. Scholle was forever happy, Klepp laughed at the tears, and Oskar was one of the few in the world who could still cry without onions. Schmuh, for his part, never used his onions, but instead shot sparrows and gave his washroom attendant a tongue lashing once a week. Sometimes customers would take two onions in a row; on such occasions the Onion Cellar would degenerate into an orgy. Oskar and his band were responsible for playing music when this happened, in order to break it up. Once when Schmuh's wife came to the Onion Cellar, she began telling stories about her husband. Schmuh got angry and handed out a free round of onions and the room degenerated into a pitiful orgy. But Scholle and Klepp would not play; Oskar had to take up his drum, and becoming a three-year-old again, pounded on his drum. He led them out of the nightclub and around the city; he gave them permission to relieve themselves, and everyone in the procession wet themselves. Oskar turned them into a kindergarten class, then giggled and headed back to the Onion Cellar by himself.

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