So it appears that someone I really dig has died.
I learned of his death this morning, pre-dawn, via an email from the DOG, entitled “Billy Pilgrim’s Dad is Dead”. Hazy-brained due to 4:40-a.m.-ness and caffeine having not yet made the pilgrimage from stomach to synapses, I wondered, pre-opening the email, “Who is this Pilgrim fellow and do I know his dad?” Also: “Is it Thanksgiving? Again?”
Alas, no. Kurt Vonnegut, the man whom I revere more than all other writers put together (and here you must imagine an amalgamation of authors, pressed together into a clump, like Play Doh or monkey bread), was, and by all accounts still is, dead.
This does not sit well with me. At all. This does not please me in the least. I can think of at least two dozen people, celebrities and regular “folk”, whose lives I would prefer to see removed from their bodies. Yes, at least 24 whose lives I would gladly offer/sacrifice in exchange for Kurt Vonnegut’s revival. (I will not name names.)
I had a near-experience with Kurt Vonnegut (and here you thought I was going to say -death-, didn’t you?) in the spring of 2002, when I went to an end-of-the-semester student production at Neighborhood Playhouse, in which several people I never considered friends but whose acquaintance I enjoyed were appearing. While sitting in the audience, I noticed a man with particularly fuzzy hair sitting in one of the front rows.
“Oh, please,” I said, semi-sotto voce, to the fellow seated next to me, who was, by dint of being a substitute instructor during my stint at that very playhouse, my default companion. “That guy in front thinks he’s Kurt Vonnegut.”
“Uhm, that’s because he is,” he said.
I barely watched the rest of the performance. All I could do was sit, transfixed, motionless like a cardboard cut-out, rows behind the fuzzy head of the real life Kurt Vonnegut. Acquaintances be damned. I was now in this theater for Kurt Vonnegut-related matters only. Warble, wiggle, emote all you like, kids. I’ve checked out.
Earlier, I had seen the name “Lily Vonnegut” in the program, but didn’t put 2 and 2 together to get 4 or even 22. So, as my companion pointed out, moments after informing me of the reality of Kurt Vonnegut, “Yes, he’s here because his daughter is in the show,” it all dawned on me. And within moments I was nervous as hell.
This meant I had to meet him. This meant I had to say something. This meant I had to go up to the venerated Vonnegut and let him know, without gushing if possible, that I thought he was not only the bee’s knees and cat’s pajamas, but the cream in my coffee as well. I had to let him know how he captivated me, inspired me, and was responsible in great part for the retention of my sanity throughout high school and beyond.
So, after the show, I stood out in the lobby, making tiny talk with one of the aforementioned acquaintances, whose blonde prettiness had done a lot in my mind to elevate the status of Marys everywhere. That is, until … he walked out. He equalling the aforementioned Kurt Vonnegut.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” I said to her. “There he is! Kurt Vonnegut!”
“Kurt Vonnegut!” I said.
“Kurt Vonnegut! You don’t know Kurt Vonnegut?” Marys everywhere were bemoaning their lapse into obscurity, as I turned to look into her vapid blondeness. “Breakfast of Champions, Cat’s Cradle, Player Piano Kurt Vonnegut?”
“He’s the ” and here I grasped for a reference she would understand “DeNiro of the writing world! He’s just oh!” I was at a loss for words. Which, if you know me in real or imagined life, is quite a feat.
He passed by us, and retreated toward the doors leading out into the street. I stood, transfixed again, and watched him become smaller and smaller, taking his fuzzy head with him. I should say something. I should say something. I should say something. And so on.
But did I?
A few years later, I wrote him a letter, detailing the experience. I sent it to his agent, via “snail mail” because, as I learned, and probably should have suspected, he did not use a computer and thus did not have an email address. I didn’t really expect him to respond, but of course entertained ridiculous fantasies that he would. That he would be so enchanted that he would invite me to his house, show me first-edition copies of his books, which I would handle more delicately than I ever handled any baby, and become my best friend. A jaunty montage, made up of the events of our adventure-packed day, passed before my eyes. Much like your life supposedly flashes before your eyes before you, you know, die.
Alas, he never wrote back.
This is where, if I were Oprah, I would say that there is a lesson to be learned here. That you should, like, seize the moment or the day, not hesitate, not let shyness or fear of looking silly prevent you from whatever you want. That I should have said “hello” to Mr. Vonnegut because, chances were, another opportunity so perfect would not present itself. But I am not a fan of simplistic (not to be confused with “simple”, by the way if you take away nothing else from this, take away that) connections or explanations, so I won’t disgust myself by making them.
I am, however, and always will be, an enormous fan of Kurt Vonnegut. And so I say to him now, “Goodbye.”
So it appears that someone I really dig has died.