Happy Birthday, Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut was born on November 11, 1922. 1922 was a very long time ago. He would have been 89 this year but he is,as they say, no longer with the living. He was with the living until he was about 84 years old, which is a pretty old age. He himself was always constantly surprised that he continued to live. He was a smoker, a heavy one, and he smoked Pall Malls which he called cigarettes for the serious smoker or the suicidal. They are much longer than other cigarettes, and what’s more they are unfiltered. He never stopped wondering why his cigarettes didn’t kill him, like everybody else said they would. I think it’s because he had a lot to say.

He wrote a lot of books. Fourteen novels. Ten collections of short stories and essays. Two of those published posthumously. I think it’s weird that things can be published posthumously. Weird but wonderful. Some of his books are more well-known than others. Some of them, he felt, are much better written than others. He once gave Slaughterhouse Five an A. And then he gave Breakfast of Champions a C. He once said that he felt lousy about that book, but that he felt lousy about a lot of books he wrote. The first book by him I ever read was ‘Breakfast of Champions’ and I don’t think it should have gotten a C. For me, it is one of those great books that makes you wish you were friends with the author so you could call him up and just spend time with him. Above all, it made me wish I knew him so I could have called him up and told him that his book, Breakfast of Champions, was the only thing that kept me sane throughout high school. All of you who have been to high school know what I mean. It’s a terrible place and a terrible time. I think he would have appreciated that. I certainly hope it would have made him reconsider the C.

Breakfast of Champions also includes Vonnegut’s drawing of his own asshole. You can find it in the preface, where he tries to “clear his head”. When I first read it, I found it uproariously funny. I still do whenever I go back to read it. A lot of his stories tried to show us the things we had in common, despite how different we think we are. One of the most obvious things we have in common is that we all have assholes. There are a lot of other drawings in Breakfast of Champions, but probably none as well-known. You might’ve seen it before. This is what it looks like:

He was 51 years old when the book was published. 51 is not that old, especially not now. But 84 is still pretty old in our standards today. So I guess I can’t say that he was taken too soon or that we didn’t have him for long enough. We did. We are out of a considerable amount of Pall Malls because he was around long enough to smoke so many of them. He tried for a brief time to quit, but I guess you can’t keep a serious smoker down. He was around long enough to have written 24 books and to see 22 of them published. I still want more but that’s just me being selfish. He once wrote: “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.” There has been no other writer who has been able to make me laugh the way he did. I think that’s what helped keep me sane and why I always go back to many of his books.

In another one of them, Deadeye Dick, he wrote these words: “You want to know something? We are still in the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages — they haven’t ended yet.” That is how he ended that book. I think he would have been a great pessimist, maybe the greatest, except he believed too much in people. Despite the terrible things they did to each other he saw that they could do really great things for each other too. I think that is also why he kept on living for so long.

To celebrate his birthday, I thought smoking a Pall Mall cigarette might be appropriate, but I am not a smoker. I used to be but after a year I quit so I guess I was never serious about it. Neither am I suicidal. I don’t want to die because there are plenty of other things I’d still like to do. Not the least of them read more books. Whatever else happens in my life, I am certain that by the end of it I will be glad for these three things: that I got to know my sister, that I met a nice boy who likes plenty of the same food I like, and that I read all of Kurt Vonnegut’s books. Well almost all anyway. I’ve just managed to get my hands on the newest one. Published posthumously. I’m excited to read it.

So instead I propose we give tribute by drawing our assholes. Here I will go first.

Okay. Your turn.

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