I would be hard pressed to call anyone else my favorite author. I still remember the elated feeling I felt when I read Harrison Bergeron for the first time. I was in tenth grade, in a stifling portable outside of Miami Beach Senior High. My English teacher was one of those soulless teachers. Even her hostile insipid joylessness couldn’t take away from the incredible literature we read that year, including Arthur Miller and Kurt Vonnegut.
I don’t remember ever discussing the work in class, but I remember reading it in our textbook and practically gasping with joy. I have read almost everything the man has written ever since, and I still come away from his books with a sense of optimism and hope, even though he is such a pessimist.
I vividly remember meeting him while I was in college. He was on an incredible speaking tour with Joseph Heller and William Styron. The topic of discussion was something about war as a result of the perpetuation of the military industrial complex. Yeah, I know, liberals aren’t good at soundbites.
I stood in line nervously, waiting to take a turn during the Q & A session after the three World War II veteran authors spoke. I told them a story. I told them that my father, also a World War II veteran, was part of the war machine. He told me about it when I was younger. He was a Naval officer and a presidential adviser at the time. He worked for the Hudson Institute, which was a conservative Washington think tank and a predecessor to the Heritage Foundation.
My dad told this story in his typical fashion. He didn’t tell it often, and was really just trying to show his daughter how smart he was. The head of the Hudson Institute, my father’s boss, attended a White House meeting deciding whether to enter the Vietnam conflict . I am sure I could find his name if I researched enough, but I would have trouble confirming it, since my father died a few years ago. He said this man was presumably the smartest man in the country at the time, and had just given an impassioned argument about why we needed to go into Vietnam. His reasons included Communism and the domino theory.
My father apparently spoke immediately after and said no, the real reason we needed to go into Vietnam was that the Korean conflict had been a decade before, and the country needed a good military build up. According to his version of the story, his reason was the deciding factor to go into Vietnam.
Since he died, I have interacted on message boards with others who loved him and his writing, and I am happy to read that he has interacted with many others on a personal level. I hated to hear that he struggled with depression when he has given so much to so many. I think we had the benefit of hearing his voice and having the bound messages that yes, there are people in this world as talented as he is. But Kurt didn’t have the excitement of starting a new Vonnegut novel as a fan, but only as an self critical writer.
I am happy that his attempt to commit suicide by Pall Malls backfired on him, and he died at the ripe old age of 84, even if he felt cheated. That is the same age my father was when he died.
Kurt is a patron saint to the Tinfoil Hat wearers. He wrote about aliens, and about ice-9, the super weapon. He wrote about a computer that can replace people, even Japanese flower arrangers. He spoke in public about global warming in the seventies…the SEVENTIES! He was suspicious of technology and preferred to walk to buy a typewriter ribbon than to learn how to use a computer. He was a humanist and a pacifist and a crude, funny old grump.
I would like to end this with my favorite quote from Kurt Vonnegut. It is from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. It is the prayer that will accompany ever birth that I witness.
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies &emdash; ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ “