“I am eternally grateful…for my knack of finding in great books, some of them very funny books, reason enough to feel honored to be alive, no matter what else might be going on.” – Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007
You know, I actually met Kurt Vonnegut once. We were in the Syracuse airport and I walked past him as he was coming off a plane. I spun around and said, “Hey, you’re Kurt Vonnegut.”
He said, “Yup,” and kept walking. Yeah, we went way back, Vonnegut and me.
Considering the obvious intimacy of our relationship, you can imagine how devastated I was when I heard of his passing.
Yet I wasn’t upset about the fact that he had passed, as these things happen in life. I was, however, deeply saddened by the fact that during the week one of my literary heroes, a pioneer in anti-utopian wit and satire checked into that great Monkey House in the sky, I penned a nice low-brow piece about barroom flatulence. I think he would have wanted better from me, and now two weeks later I finally get a chance to give him the nod. I had big plans for Mr. Vonnegut, had we ever met again. My idea was to pitch a chain of Vonnegut-themed restaurants, called “Welcome to the Monkey House.”
There would be signature dishes, such as the “Slaughterhouse Five,” featuring beef, chicken, pork, turkey and lamb. Also, we’d have the “Harrison Bergeron a Kaiser Roll,” and of course the “Breakfast of Champions” -served anytime. There would even be a signature cocktail called “Ice Nine,” and each restaurant would have a Player Piano.
I figured the concept would be right up his alley, but unfortunately it’ll never be. So it goes.
In the weeks since Vonnegut’s passing, a lot has happened in the world, much of it is so numbing and disconnecting that we often attempt to insulate ourselves or try to overlook it all. Yet Vonnegut fought the urge to shut his eyes and spoke his mind when and where he felt the need.
And while I run the risk of coming off like some idealistic college kid who just cracked Cat’s Cradle for the first time, I certainly appreciate him for it.
Vonnegut was invigorating, he lit the fuse and poked his grubby, nicotine-stained fingers into that little part of your conscience that makes you want to stand on top of a chair and scream “bull****” when you see it. And if there’s ever a need for that attribute in our society, it’s now.
I’m sure Vonnegut recalled our meeting in the Syracuse airport with the same fondness and clarity as I do. And while my impact on his life may be slightly less, he certainly has had a major effect on me.
His words that day, or should I say word, still resonates deep within my psyche. The depth and eloquence of the man leaves nary a doubt of his brilliance.
“Hey, you’re Kurt Vonnegut.”
Genius, I tell you – absolute genius.
Christopher M. Halleron, freelance writer/bitter bartender, writes a biweekly humor column for The Hudson Current and websites in the New York Metro area. He spends a lot of his time either in front of or behind the bar in Hoboken, New Jersey where his tolerance for liquor grows stronger as his tolerance for society is eroded on a daily basis. Feel free to drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.