Thursday, April 12, 2007

Vonnegut RIP

A couple of years ago, I worked across from Kurt Vonnegut’s home on 48th Street. I would see him every once and a while on the block, instantly recognizable with his Mark Twain mustache, curly moptop, and slumpy suit. Once I was eating lunch in one of the local vest-pocket parks and he sat down next to me to light up a cigarette. Instantly a park minder swooped down on him and politely told him he couldn’t smoke there. He grumbled and left. About my father’s age, also a veteran of WWII, and likewise contemptuous of the phrase “greatest generation.”

At the time I was working for a wealthy madwoman who burned millions of dollars on a vanity website. It was a farcical situation, shot through with elements of surrealism, paranoia, and even cruelty (the arrogance and capriciousness of some members of the ruling class is something to see up close). A more appropriate neighbor than Vonnegut could not have been imaged.

The Times’ obit headlines him as “counterculture’s novelist.” That counterculture is still the better America, a dream of America. His books, along with Mad Magazine, gave me the tools to see through the thick spackling of bullshit.

“There’s only one rule I know of, babies -- ‘God damn it you’ve got to be kind.’”

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