4.13.2007

No Beer for Failure, No Beer for Success; or, God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut


Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Indianapolis native and cantankerous humanist author, died this past Wednesday after 84 years on this planet he prophesized that we'd be "too damn cheap and lazy" to save from our own destructive behavior (from fossil fuel consumption to horribly violent wars, you name it, Vonnegut pointed out and lamented the darker side of humanity).

Sure, this is a sports blog, and the most Kurt really had to do with sports was his short stint as a writer for Sports Illustrated way, way back. But it's also my blog, and with Gage's blessing, the only venue I've really got for rambling on about the man who meant so much to me that I sat here and cried when I heard about his death, that I'm sitting here crying now when I thought I'd gotten over it. Damn it, Kurt.

I won't waste space writing an obit that countless people have already written. There's a good one over at the New York Times, if you're interested. Dave Eggers wrote up a pithy survey of Vonnegut's published works over at Salon (which also has nice snippets on Vonnegut culled from other celebrities' published works) if that floats your boat. You should also check out one of Kurt's many interviews online; perhaps the last one before his death was conducted at the end of February and broadcast on Northeast Public Radio.

Along with Mark Twain (to whom Vonnegut is relentlessly compared), Kurt Vonnegut was--and is--easily the most influential literary presence in my own worldview and writing. So, really, FTG readers, every time you see a trout (itself an homage to Vonnegut's character Kilgore Trout) post, what you're getting, whether consciously or unconsciously, is writing that aspires to be derivative Vonnegut and Twain, mashed through a sports filter.

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting or even seeing Kurt, I still feel positively giddy to have gotten as close as I did. Nearly 8 years ago now, having just graduated from high school, I came home and saw, sitting along with the day's junk mail, a letter addressed to me with a Long Island postmark and an asterisk for a return address. Instantly it was like the universe had become unhinged. It was like when I got a Big Wheel for my birthday when I was a kid and I was convinced that the neighbor kid had forgotten and left his in our driveway; having a Big Wheel of my own was a bit too unimaginable for my mind to handle. Well, an asshole for a return address and a New York postmark meant Kurt Vonnegut. It had to. A letter from Kurt fucking Vonnegut was sitting in my parents' kitchen. From Kurt's brain to Kurt's hand to Kurt's paper to the post office to a suburban mailbox in Indiana to my parents' freaking kitchen. It was a bit too unimaginable for my mind to handle.

Of course, my mom made me wait to open it until my dad got home from work. I can't remember a potential situation of delayed gratification my parents didn't like. As it turned out, the only reason I had a letter from Kurt in the first place was due to my dad, who had sent Kurt a clipping of my last high school newspaper column--again, derivative Vonnegut, in which I had urged my readers to, among other things, read Vonnegut--and kindly asked him to write back to his son, a huge Vonnegut fan, and son of a Vonnegut fan dating from the '60s.

Not only did Kurt kindly comply with my dad's request, Kurt wrote to me thus: "I thank you for your support of my work, and congratulate you on the auspicious beginnings you yourself have made as a first rate writer. Cheers!" and signed with his standard self-portrait, Age 76 and an all-caps signature inscribed below the messy script (just in case I couldn't decipher just who, exactly, was writing me from Long Island, I guess). Talk about too unimaginable for my mind to handle.

That's as close as I ever got to Kurt, unable to catch him deliver a speech on two separate occasions, foiled first by illness and now by death. So it goes, Kurt, so it goes indeed. I suppose I should feel privileged enough to have gotten a letter from him, fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of discovering and reading his books, lucky enough to have imbibed some of his wisdom--all without feeling cheated by being denied the opportunity to genuflect in his presence. And, really, I do. Revisiting my ragged copy of Breakfast of Champions, smoking a couple Pall Malls, and drinking until I reek of mustard gas and roses will just have to do. God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.

But as monumental as Vonnegut is in my life, his life wasn't the only thing worthy of memorializing this week (OK, it's crass to compare one baseball series to the passing of my literary hero, but there you have it. Transition made). Thanks to a free MLB Extra Innings preview, I was able to catch the two White Sox victories in Oakland (my first two opportunities to see the Sox in action this season). The Sox won a series out there for the first time in seven years despite being denied the opportunity to celebrate (or drown sorrows after game 2) with a few beers (apparently this is something that really sticks in Ozzie's craw).

I was going to write more about the series--Black Jack McDowell (of Stick Figure fame) subbing in for Hawk Harrelson and doing a great job (I later caught Hawk with Jerry Remy on the Red Sox broadcast, in town to be honored as a member of the '67 BoSox--Hawk just stroked Yaz the whole time he was in the booth), how Jose Contreras looks like he has no control, blowing game 2 on a Pods blunder coming back in game 3 on a Dye blast, the idiocy of batting Brian Anderson 2nd and Iguchi 7th when Ozzie apparently refuses to play BA in the first place because he can't hit (where do you bat a guy you only see as a bench-warming, no-hit, defensive specialist? 2nd, of course!)--but most of this was covered, and covered well, over at South Side Sox and Sox Machine. I'll just keep it short by saying that getting out of Oakland with a series victory and getting back to .500 is more than anyone could've really hoped for. And being able to watch it made it all the sweeter.

As Kurt was fond of quoting his Uncle Alex, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

5 comments:

Tittle500 said...

I'll try not to write you any more e-mails that contain links to thing you have already linked to in your blog.

I remember reading Breakfast of Champions during Summer US History. That was an exciting time. I had just started working at the TCPL, my first job. I was DRIVING! to school in the morning. Sitting through class which was what, 3 hours long? I remember we had breaks each hour and I would come out and sit with you in the hallway.

It was then of course... that I drew the legendary "DNA KISS MY ASS" drawing that revolutionize medical science, or perhaps just your bedroom wall. Although, not nearly as much as Madame G's head being photoshopped on to Anna Kournakova's body.

Anyway... its really strange to look back at it all now... I was really wasting away in my ignorance... I mean... that life sounds SO good to me right now... I'd love to have 3 hours of US history each weekday morning... taught in such a way that it was not stressful... and I could actually spend the last 20 minutes of each session reading Vonnegut... and then go home to a full cubbard and fridge... then work 4-8 hours at the library... do you remember how fun the break room seemed? I thought it was a HUGE riot down there... and I thougt it was really cool to be able to go down there... weird...

I really regret spending so much of that summer on the Sporting News Website chatting with strangers... I can't for the life of me, understand how that happened... so so strange to think of now..

but I do also remember reading SH5 and Timequake in 3 days while listening to a casette tape of Simon & Garfunkel repeatedly...

I don't know what the point of all this is....

but yeah... so so strange to think where I would be had I spent that summer differently...

You ever listen to Hoosier Surf?

Gage said...

Thanks for writing this, hombre. Really well done.

trout said...

I remember reading Breakfast of Champions at my grandma's house when I was about 13 or 14 and being really embarrassed about the penis-size and wide-open beaver parts, hoping she wouldn't try to read over my shoulder or something.

Anyway, I'm glad both "DNA Kiss My Ass" and the Ms. Geyman Photoshop project are preserved in my personal archives. As are a lot of things from that weird library era. It's almost a given that we see ourselves as different people looking back, but man, who the hell were we and what did we think we were doing? Seriously.

No Hoosier Surf listening lately. No thinking of Mr. Worthington. And no fearing for my life because I think the 15-year-old driving the car is quite possibly drunk.

Mr. T said...

I was also impressed by the NYT article. I was sitting in Centennial Medical Center, Frisco, TX, waiting for new life when I read about Kurt's death. This may be odd, but I will always remember my daughter's birth as the day after Kurt's death. So it goes...

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