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Tuesday, August 23, 2011



I have not one profound thing to say about Kurt Vonnegut.

True. I adore him, and I am as unashamed of my love for Vonnegut as Eva Braun was of her love for Adolf Hitler, as Vili Fualaau is for his love of Mary Kay Letourneau. There's no need for profundity. There's no need for justification.


Two weeks ago, Greg and I did a quick turn around town for our anniversary. Ten years. A decade spent with Greg, a decade Greg has spent with me. We saw a movie, then went to a restaurant. The restaurant was as wide as a library aisle, and as long. There was a bar in the front, and doors to the kitchen at the back.

In the middle, there was space for six tables in a row.

The restaurant was a combination of Das Boot and 'Picnic'. Very inviting, kind of sexy, but impossible to move through without bumping into others and begging pardons.

Greg said this after we'd hustled our way past the bar and negotiated our way to a table: "Is Vonnegut always so depressing?" He'd just finished Cat's Cradle.


More about the restaurant: It's a great space, if space is the right word, since space is the one thing the restaurant lacked.

Imagine this: Stretch yourself out on the nearest couch. Really stretch yourself out--let your feet hang over the arm if you need to, and by all means push your arms above your head so that they go out and over the end table (avoid the lamp and any framed pictures or candy dishes you may have resting on the table). Really get a feel for the couch, and get a feel for your own length.

Got that feel?

That was how the restaurant felt. It was both as comfortable as the couch, and about as narrow. Again: Das Boot. 'Picnic'.


Is Vonnegut always so depressing, Greg asked.

"Not if you're depressed already," I replied, buttering a roll. "If you're depressed, he's delighted to share in the misery."

"I've read two of his books. Both have been about the end of the world, and both are about how wonderful it is that the world ended." Greg.

The couple beside us--a young man and woman--grinned at one another with teeth so white one could ski across them.

"Vonnegut isn't a nihilist." Me.

"Don't you remember how Cat's Cradle ended?" Greg.

I thought about the question. I spread butter on bread.

"No." Me.


I ate the roll, butter and all.


"The harmoniums in the caves of Mercury were crazy about good music, too. They had been feeding on one sustained note in the song of Mercury for centuries. When Boaz gave them their first taste of music, which happened to be Le Sacre du Printemps, some of the creatures actually died in ecstasy." Vonnegut.



Greg told me--reminded me--of how Cat's Cradle ended. In a nutshell, it ends with the narrator killing himself while flipping off the Creator of the Universe. In a nutshell, Cat's Cradle ended with a big 'fuck you' to God, and a big 'up yours' to humanity.


It's been a while since I read the book. All I remember is that the characters press the soles of their feet together to remind one another of love, and that a cat's cradle is neither a cat nor a cradle.


Our server at the narrow restaurant was an enthusiastic young woman with scrubbed cheeks and a whirlwind pony-tail. Her voice was iceberg-sharp with the soft edges of melted ice. "The specials tonight..."

And everything was special. It was my tenth anniversary living with someone who could stand being with me, after all. Even the buttered bread was special.


"Why bother to live?" Greg.

No answer. Me.

"All I'm getting from these books is that we're better off dead. Or might as well be dead." Greg.

"But that's not. I mean. No." Me.

"Lemon poached halibut?" Server.

Greg leaned back from the table to indicate the dish was for him, and the dish was set before him.

"He hates humanity." Greg.

"Szzzzzzz." Halibut.

Our server deduced that the second dish was mine--duck breast--and set it before me.

"Uuuuu." Duck breast.

"He doesn't hate humanity." Me.


Here's the thing: It's very hard to explain Vonnegut to those who do not 'get' Vonnegut. Canadians must feel the same way when they try to explain hockey to Americans. Either you get it or you don't. Either you're a harmonium or you're not.


The couple with teeth as white as freshly-skied snow exchanged forks-full of mismatched food. She wiped the dribbled salmon-juice from his chin. He wiped the dribbled chicken-juice from her chin. They giggled. They flashed smiles. They asked for a dessert menu. And some time later, a dessert appeared before them--a slice of dense cheesecake equipped with two spoons.

The great thing is this: The white-teethed couple only used one spoon. They set the extra spoon aside, and that extra spoon, ignored, reflected the candlelight up at the couple, reflected candlelight into their eyes, into their obnoxiously white teeth.The extra spoon made the couple glow with happiness.


Greg. "I didn't say he hates humanity. But he's so bleak, and he's got a point. He's got a point--life is awful."

Me. "He's a writer. Do you think he'd take the time to write about how awful life was if he didn't hope to make a difference?"

Greg. "What?"

Me. "I don't know, I was just trying to be positive."

Both Greg and Me: "You suck at being positive."


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