Sometime in High School, my brother introduced me to the wonderful world of Kurt Vonnegut. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until college that I finally got to experience his fantastic writing. He is gone now, and though I never knew him personally, I feel as though I could say that I will miss him.
Ride to Pittsburgh
If you’ve ever taken a train from New York to Pittsburgh, you know that it’s an extremely long ride – about eight hours. Eight long hours with not that many stops. In October of 1996, I wasn’t quite yet back into the fun world of handheld video games and I didn’t have a good portable tape player. Indeed, there was life before the ipod in the world of portable music world and in 1996 for me its name was cassette player. I was of the opinion that if I didn’t have a decent cassette player I may as well not have any at all – this philosophy has occasionally followed me as I have purchased what seemed to have been the best electronic options available to avoid having an obsolete brick within weeks. That being said, I had one of the more lovely things one can carry in ones backpack that weighs less than a pound and can entertain you for hours on end – naturally, I refer to a book. This was not just any book – it was Cat’s Cradle by none other than our dear Kurt Vonnegut.
I was, I suppose you could say, a little worried at first as I started reading the book. I have a curious problem while reading that I get distracted by the slightest thing and I start thinking about the thing that has distracted me while reading and I suddenly find myself about three or four paragraphs later without any clue of what I have read. I then have to go back and re-read the paragraphs and most often read them a third time because the second time, I am thinking about how annoyed I am that I was distracted and this ends up being a distraction. I therefore approached the reading with a touch of apprehension which was not helped by the fact that I was thinking about how my brother had suggested I read the book a few years beforehand, and it had taken me this long to finally pick up the book.
I started to read the book and right away, I was mesmerized. There were barely any distractions and suddenly I realized that I was already at the end of the book and a few hours had passed. This, I felt, was an excellent introduction to the writing of Kurt Vonnegut.
It wasn’t until the Spring of 1999, nearly three years later, that I was to read Kurt Vonnegut again. I was in a political science class with one of the best professors I had ever had the pleasure of listening to on a tri-weekly basis. He was a man who was very careful with his words and as a result on the rare occasion when he would use an expletive the class erupted into laughter. It was much more effective, I thought, than the sort of comedian that would sprinkle their routine by having every third or fourth word be some sort of an expletive. Another thing he once said which has for some reason stuck to me ever since was that the definition of Irish cooking was “boiling it until you’re pretty sure it’s dead.” I use this technique to some extent whenever I would make corned beef and cabbage.
As our final exams came up I was dealt with a crushing relationship blow – I was left for another man. I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake I had made three years earlier, which was to lose myself in television comedy and everything other than school – this was how I ended up failing nearly every class in the spring of 1997. Rather, I took the exact opposite approach – I immersed myself in my schoolwork. There was a period of time in which I did little else other than study for my exams. Amongst other thing, I had to read Player Piano for the political science course. Since I wasn’t exactly eating at all during this time period other than the occasional cracker or cup of water – if you’re looking to lose a lot of weight, getting left for someone else seems to work wonders – I had even more time to study and read.
I consequentially read Player Piano in the course of a couple of hours one morning. Unfortunately I was extremely distracted while reading because of the ending of the relationship – I couldn’t help but compare it to the previous relationship and how it had been so fantastic in the way it ended compared to this relationship. Of course, this meant that I re-read practically every paragraph a handful of times. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to have to read it and The Last Hurrah at least once more – I remember it being quite a well written book.
A Man Without A Country
In the last couple of years I have been developing a sort of “less is more” philosophy when it comes to things that I own. I have sold, donated, or gifted many of my belongings and have started making use of the public library – there’s surely an entire article in me about that – and it seems that the less I have, the better I feel. I almost envy the soap opera characters who get kicked out of their significant other’s residence and leave carrying only a couple of duffle bags. I was in a bookstore one evening when I noticed Vonnegut’s A Man Without A Country and sat down with it. I was about two-thirds of the way through the book when it occurred to me that I could very well have spent the money on the book but this too was a satisfying experience. It is definitely a good read and worth it.
The Airplane Incident
Around the middle of November last year I took a trip to California because that was just how much I missed Disneyland. An elder man got on the plane and sat down in the aisle one row ahead of mine and across from me. He looked somewhat familiar. It suddenly dawned on me that it must be Kurt Vonnegut. I asked a few of the passengers around me what they thought and much to my consternation, most of the people I asked didn’t even know who he was! Most remembered after I mentioned his novel Slaughterhouse Five. When I saw that book for the first time I remember thinking it must be the fifth book in a Slaughterhouse series of books. Naturally, I was wrong. I’m pretty sure I was also wrong about the man on the plane – but it was nice thinking that I had seen a fantastic author in person. Makes me wonder how many times I have walked right past Thomas Pynchon without realizing it – how many times have I been in a vegan restaurant at the same time as David Boles without realizing it.
The literary world has suffered a terrible loss with Kurt Vonnegut’s passing. It won’t be long until we will say that all of the great writers who experienced the second World War in person are no longer with us. Their words, fortunately, will remain with us for as long as we cherish them.