My connection to Kurt Vonnegut (November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) began most innocently.
My father and I were doing a classic road trip in a VW Microbus in the spring of 1972 when we happened upon a drive-in theater featuring the recently released movie Slaughterhouse Five. What a beautiful accident!
“I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all” – Sirens of Titan
From there, I commenced to read everything that Vonnegut wrote. He became an essential element in my life. I was (and still am) an avid reader, but I connected with his writing and thought process better than with any other author.
“This is my principal objection to life, I think: It is too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes” – Deadeye Dick
His curiosity, humor, sense of irony and tragedy, and even his joy affected me deeply. No other writer could make me laugh at life’s follies while at the same time crying over them.
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be” – Mother Night
Curiously enough, I came close to Vonnegut without realizing it during 1974-76. The parents of the drummer of the band that I was in were post-hippie secular humanists that hung with a very interesting crowd. Vonnegut turned out to be an element of this group though I missed that completely.
The next Vonnegut miss was in March of 1988 when he premiered his humanist requiem in my town. I have chatted with a guy who conversed with Vonnegut in the bedroom at the post-premier house party while Vonnegut was looking for his coat…can you imagine that?
His impact upon American culture has not yet been fully realized.
I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out some way. I am a fool – Jailbird
Around the millennium I began thinking. If I could meet any one individual currently living on this planet, who would it be? Musicians are certainly my most admired group, but for me it is a one way relationship: what would I say to David Bowie…I really like your music? There are a lot of philosophers and statesmen that I would love to meet, but none presently living. Current Politicos didn’t merit consideration. I soon knew who it would be.
Somewhere later, in the ensuing years, my best friend and wife says, “You know, I am getting tired hearing about if you could meet any single individual on this planet that you would choose Kurt Vonnegut.” She went on to say that I should either meet with him or stop talking about it. I thanked her for understanding and arranged the meeting.
It was a lunch in Manhattan at a little French restaurant that he enjoyed, with a few other people.
It was September 13, 2005, the day that his last work, “A Man Without a Country” was released.
It doesn’t really matter, but he ordered the salmon. I have no memory of what I ordered.
The conversation was incredibly delightful. He read us a poem that he had just composed. After our lunch, Vonnegut went to appear on the taping of the Daily Show with John Stewart.
I took a picture of Kurt as he walked away down Lexington Avenue, but I missed the picture completely, photographed my own finger on the lens, and only got his feet. Kurt Vonnegut walking away down the street and all I got was his feet. And yet, in ways I am still feeling, that picture is perfect.
I remember watching the show that evening – Stewart introduced Vonnegut, “as an adolescent, he made my life bearable.”
I could not possibly put it any better.
So it goes.
P.S. It was some years later that I connected the dots to another story involving Vonnegut that made me realize even more how close we are all:
P.P.S Here’s Vonnegut’s appearance on the Daily Show:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|