Thursday, April 12, 2007
Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt
when i was 16, i was allowed to borrow a first edition of Breakfast of Champions by my friend mark. i was going on a trip to colorado from new york and he chucked it at me saying, 'read it. it's great. just bring it back.' and i did, and it was, and i did.
that was my first glimpse of the author who would become my literary hero, and i wanted more. so i read more, and i have to say it changed the way i thought about literature, which changed the way i thought about life, which changed the way i thought about love and loss and god and government and robots and time and war and all the things Kurt Vonnegut wrote about, even shetland ponies.
i remember a remarkable feeling, a thought really, that occurred to me when reading Breakfast of Champions, and later Slaughterhouse Five: this guy knows all the answers. and i still believe that.
when you're 16, you have questions. you have questions you don't even know you have and if you could stop being a spaz for more than ten minutes you'd have a clear enough mind to ask them. but you never do, you're too busy worrying about girls and zits and school and masturbating too much and listening to dead men on the radio. but then you read a book that changes your life and you say to yourself, i want to change lives, too.
when i was in college, in boulder, i wrote a gushing letter to Kurt Vonnegut. i tried to be civil, but couldn't help offering to buy him dinner if he was in town, or if i was in town [new york] and a few months later i received the last page of my letter with a hand-written note on it from his agent, DC Farber, that read: 'If Mr. Vonnegut had dinner with all his fans, he wouldn't have time to write!'
attached was an index card with Kurt Vonnegut's signature.
years later i sent him a birthday card with another letter. i doubt he read them.
my fanaticism is well-known to my friends, as i speak and probably write about him often, as i am doing now. i had seen all the film adaptations of his work, even watched the Rodney Dangerfield movie, 'Back to School' because of his cameo appearance. and a bit of trivia: the guy who plays the son in that movie, went on to direct a very fine film adaptation of Mother Night, another of my favorite Vonnegut books. (possibly the best love story ever told). and Kurt Vonnegut has a cameo in that as well.
i got a bit teary this morning reading his obituary in the Times, because, i guess, i knew him, Horatio. i think a lot of us did, in our own way, and i was even lucky enough, this time last year, to have met him and shaken his hand at an interview he gave for the BBC at the WNYC studios on centre street.
i held his hand. i looked in his eyes and said, 'thank you.'
'ok' he said. and he left.
i was so happy.
i paraphrased Kurt Vonnegut to a friend in a condolence letter once. her father had died and i tried to tell her that Vonnegut says that every moment in our lives is always happening, there was no beginning and there is no end. we are like bugs trapped in amber, living only the moment. and if that IS true, he said, be glad that so many of our moments were good.
this means that i will always be a 16-year-old spaz wondering if masturbation is a sin, and if so, if i'm going straight to hell. it means i will always be a depressed college kid, so bent on being alone despite my friends. it means, too, i will always be in love with heather, and that she will always be my home.
it also means that Kurt Vonnegut is still alive somewhere in amber: in a slaughterhouse in Dresden, in Cape Cod writing books that make us happy, in New York City shaking my hand.
So it goes.
at 11:59 PM
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