Friday, April 20, 2007

Blue Martins and Vonnegut

The blue martins returned yesterday, near sunset, six days late. Today they are furnishing their tiny apartments. Also, just after sunset, three raccoons woke up from their long sleep and crawled out on my neighbor's roof. Sleepy and scratchy, they weren't moving very fast, and seemed to have forgotten how to be awake.

Kurt Vonnegut never forgot how to be awake. Being awake meant being human which meant witnessing the dull, the mundane, the humorous, the unforgettable, the abominable. Being awake meant being part of the greater machinations of the world, much of which he disapproved.

But he loved wicked humor. My friend Lara gave me the afternoon of a lifetime when she invited me to spend time with her and Vonnegut when he came to lecture in Cleveland a few years ago. My notes from that day are stashed in a box somewhere, but I remember laughing at his wry jokes as we drove around University Circle in a limo. Dodging his ever-present cigarette smoke, I moved forward and back, trying to catch every word. As we passed the Cleveland Clinic building titled "United Cerebral Palsy" he joked, "Why does cerebral palsy need to unite?" An easy joke for him, but it worked.

He didn't like meeting the press, and his demeanor changed when I pulled out a notebook. I put it away. We were with him until he walked onstage at Severance Hall, a creaky curmudgeon basking in late-life glory. The Hall was filled, standing room only, with many students for whom the word "Dresden" means little or nothing. Yet.

Thank you Lara. I treasure those moments.


sevnetus said...

So you touched the hem of greatness. I dig you for your Charon, your Erin, and I lived on 46th Street for a year where the urchin offered to shoot me for free (Between Storer and Clark.) So I was one of the few who thought of all the Ice Jokes as Ice 9. I can dig it. Humbly I recall rereading Slaughterhouse 5 in 5 hours. Today I offered my own hair clippings to the birds for nesting this late in the season. And I pilfered the pictures of the Newspaper Killer. Thank God he was not a poet, as you say. And I’ve got one man’s woman memories, too.

DeCapite said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DeCapite said...

On the last page of what he states is his last novel (and which turned out to be his last novel), Kurt Vonnegut recalls talking to a nurse who'd been present while Vonnegut's brother was dying. The nurse describes the brother's "manners in dying as 'courtly' and 'elegant.'"
Vonnegut says "What a brother!"
Then, "What a language."
Nice last words.

michael feigenbaum said...

thanks for all your support
loved vonnegut

lilith said...

I saw Vonnegut speak around a week before we went to war in Iraq. He made me love literature, love writing and stop being afraid of being great. With him went an era, a muse and a refreshing ray of cynicism.