By John Bear
Kurt Vonnegut Went Up to Heaven--I went to see the writer at Popejoy Hall a few years back and he asked those of us in the audience to point at the sky and say those words when he died.
I did just that on Apr. 12, the day after, and was somewhat dismayed when nine out of 10 people in my Alamogordo newsroom looked up and said, “Who is Kurt Vonnegut?”--the sole exception being the chief.
I immediately piled four of my coworkers into my car and drove to a nearby coffee shop. I figured Mr. Vonnegut deserve an hour of our day--on the clock, of course.
After imbibing a double shot of espresso I regaled them with tales about the great snark master who now lives in the sky and gave a bad retelling of the events transpiring in Slaughterhouse-Five, occasionally spiraling off into unrelated topics (espresso).
Only one person in the group, the Bernstein to my Woodward, seemed to care about Dresden, Billy Pilgrim watching war movies in reverse after becoming unstuck in time and the Tralfamadorians. Everyone else just nodded their heads, eyes glazed, and pretended to listen in between protests that leaving en masse at 2 p.m. would get them in trouble.
I vowed to take full responsibility for the editorial department Diaspora and continued.
I wasn’t offended (I’m lying) that they didn’t care because I subject my coworkers to at least 25 hours of unfocused tirading a week, sometimes more.
Nonetheless, I had to tell someone, for Mr. Vonnegut was the king, and though he was 84 years old, his death was saddening. I’ll admit I haven’t read all of his books, but I consider him a major influence. It was he who guided me away from the bastard stepchild of punctuation, the semicolon. That was his only writing advice.
Now I have no more influences, heroes, people I aspire to be like. They're all dead. At least he didn’t kill himself, because I was beginning to worry about my choice of idols. He did try once but, thankfully, did not succeed.
But enough bitterness from me. Here is what I always appreciated about the man’s writing:
One: He was the undisputed wiseass king of all time but did so in a completely non-bitter way. For example, Slaughterhouse-Five recounts, among other things, the horror of the Dresden firestorm. Thousands of people are dead and the guy tells the story with only the slightest of smirks gracing his sentences.
Two: He wrote in a simple, uncluttered manner. I just found out a few days ago that this more than likely originated from his days as a police reporter (hey, me too) in Chicago (well, Alamogordo is a start).
Finally: An essay he penned entitled “So You Want to Be a Writer?” (Don’t quote me on the title) where he refers to those of us in the trade as “Ink Stained Wretches.” If you haven’t read it, I strongly urge you to do so.
Well, it looks like the good people have lost one of the best. And the bad people, well, they just keep getting stronger. And the only way to defeat them is with snarkiness. We, the snarky people of the world, have lost our leader. Kurt Vonnegut is dead.
So it goes.
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