Everything Was Beautiful

. . . and nothing hurt.

I do feel that evolution is being controlled by some sort of divine engineer. I can’t help thinking that. And this engineer knows exactly what he or she is doing and why, and where evolution is headed. That’s why we’ve got giraffes and hippopotami and the clap.

Kurt Vonnegut on The Daily Show

I woke up this morning to learn that Kurt Vonnegut has died. This would have been a marvelous occasion to go back to bed.

Years ago (it’s either a short time or a long one, depending upon your chosen clock) I was a bookworm teenager with a long streak of perfect scores in science classes and a position copy-editing the high school literary magazine. One of the fund-raising events we ran for that magazine was a concert of the various garage bands the students of Virgil I. Grissom High had started. The concert happened in the school cafeteria, and in the teachers’ lounge next door, we had an open mic poetry night. In the open-mic room, I heard a female classmate of mine (smart and beautiful beyond compare) say, “If he weren’t seventy-something years old, I would totally marry Kurt Vonnegut.”

My first thought was, “Kurt, you don’t know how lucky you are.”

And, as it happens, though I often contemplated writing a fan letter, he never found out.

In college, over one Christmas break, I read through Vonnegut’s novels at about one point five books per day. Then I put every name, place and distinctive phrase into a database. I wrote a program which generated networks from this data: each person or place became a node, and two nodes were connected if they appeared in the same book. Jesus Christ and Indianapolis appeared everywhere.

And do you know what the funniest part is? From the sound of the New York Times announcement, it wasn’t the cigarettes which killed him. All those years of chain-smoking Pall Malls, attempting to make a classy exit, and they didn’t even work.

(There’s a mistake in the New York Times article, incidentally. “Philboyd Sludge” should be “Philboyd Studge,” and Studge is not the narrator of Breakfast of Champions; he’s just what Vonnegut feels like when he writes clumsily. Or, as he says, when he is programmed to write clumsily.)