Kurt Vonnegut has left us. He passed away Wednesday night in Manhattan; the link in the title has the New York times report.
My first Vonnegut book was at the age of 12, when I read "Cat's Cradle". I was too young to understand it well then, but I was intrigued and entertained. Next at about 13, I read "Slaghterhouse Five", and it was then that I first fully appreciated his literary genius. I've since read all except (about three?) of his books, and still own some today. He has always been one of my few must-have authors, present on every bookshelf I have owned. Probably my favorite of his, what I consider his defining work, is "Hocus Pocus".
Listen: I was never lucky enough to go to a school that was open-minded enough to teach Vonnegut in class, but we junior high boys read him anyway, dodging the principal because of the naughty words. We would stand around in a circle and read "God Bless You Mr, Rosewater" to each other and laugh at the phone call dialogs. Amidst the other preoccupations of teenage boys, we still found time to do this. I can think of no other writer I could say this about.
There have been uncountable multitudes of writers that I have liked. There have been many of those that I admired. There have been a scant few that I have adored. Kurt Vonnegut was among those scant few.
You're all on your own today. I'm not going to be worth a God-damn thing for the rest of the day.
UPDATE: I had my Vonnegut day.
The formatting's funny, because I had to type this in the console in
Emacs. It's more real that way.
I had to go out in the world and do errands. The world had to keep
moving, even though I wanted it so badly to stop for a few hours.
At the store, Mrs. Penguin had to coax me out of the milk cooler,
where I'd sat because I was tired, drained, and feeling feverish. I
didn't know why. But she did. Even though she is a good Catholic girl
who would be prone to say "He's up in Heaven now" at any other
passing, she didn't this time, the one time when it would have been
funny. At the register, even though I haven't bought cigarettes in
years, I got a pack of Pall Mall Reds, the non-filter kind.
I sat up all night, chain-smoking Pall Malls and imbibing a few
varieties of alcohol we got today, and with a tome of Vonnegut
writings in my lap. I filled my head again with...
"He teaches people lies and lies and lies. Kill him and teach the
people the truth."
"You and Hoenikker, you teach them science."
"Yessir, we will," I promised.
"Science is magic that works."
"This is the Rosewater Foundation. How can we help you?"
Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at last: "Why me?"
"That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why
you? Why us for that matter? Why anything?
Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs
trapped in amber?"
"Yes." Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a
blob of polished amber with three ladybugs embedded in it.
"Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this
moment. There is no why."
Of course, some of you are probably asking, "Do we have to sit though
this every time an author dies?" No, you don't. Vonnegut was so much
more than an author.
He was a war hero. He was a Hoosier. He was a voice of the
counter-culture. He was a teacher, and father to seven children. He
was president of the American Humanist Society. He was an outspoken
political commentator. He was a public speaker at universities. And
most of all, was an ethical mentor to a whole generation of writers. A
third of his accomplishments would have sufficed as a noble legacy of
any of the rest of us.
We have seen the end of America's second Mark Twain. Who knows how
long we will have to wait, if we ever see a third?
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