Happy Birthday, Mr. Vonnegut!

Many years ago, when I was in high school, I procured a copy of Slaughterhouse Five, and read it with interest. Apparently, not enough interest to actually finish the book, but I found it engaging. In all fairness, I rarely finish books. I blame it on ADD, but I have a hard time staying with a book until the bitter end, especially novels. I don’t remember anything about the book, and I don’t believe I ever read another Vonnegut novel. Sad for me. I’ve read about Vonnegut, and followed his career with interest, including his wonderful drawings.

A few years ago, when I was living in Northampton, Massachusetts, home of Smith College, Woodstar Café, and several people quite dear to me, I heard through the local ivy vine that Kurt Vonnegut had moved to Northampton to be near his daughter, who was enrolled at Smith. Come to think of it, I remember thinking, I had seen a guy who looked an awful lot like Kurt Vonnegut on the streets of Paradise City. I had fantasies of having coffee with him, hanging out, talking, shooting the breeze. Can you imagine anyone more interesting to chat with?

One day, as I boarded the small elevator in my apartment building, an old schoolhouse with huge walls of windows, I looked up to see, of all people, Kurt Vonnegut! I said, without hesitation, “Are you Kurt Vonnegut?” He smiled, thrust out his large hand, and said, “Yes. And you are?” I introduced myself. At that point, I ran out of things to say. Struggling to say something meaningful, I blurted out the following words, knowing, before they traveled the few feet from my mouth to his ear, that it was not good. “I haven’t read much of your work,” I needlessly confessed, “but I consider you a cultural icon.” OMG. I think by then I had left my body. Mr. Vonnegut looked down at his shoes. The few seconds of silence felt like an eternity. “Nice meeting you,” I said as we got off the elevator on the first floor. I never saw him again.

I’ve met a few famous people in my time, and have always managed to maintain a modicum of decorum, despite my excitement. Mr. Vonnegut, I’m sure, forgave and forgot me fairly quickly. But, I still want to have coffee with you, Mr. Vonnegut, wherever you are. And Happy Birthday!

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