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.