In early 1974, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. granted me a then-rare interview, at his new townhouse on the East Side of Manhattan, where he'd just moved with photographer Jill Krementz. He was impressed with my recent exclusive interview, also for Crawdaddy, with Catch-22 author Joseph Heller.
But the Vonnegut sit-down was only so-so. He kept being interrupted by phone calls, his cigarette cough, and a visit by a student from his college writing class. So I decided to take a great risk and write an epic piece under the byline of Vonnegut's most famous fictional character, Kilgore Trout. No one else had done that to that point.
What I did was: combine actual quotes from the interview with a fanciful reunion of his most famous characters. Somehow I seemed to pull it off. Vonnegut told me it was the favorite piece ever written about him (to that point). Here's a very small part of it. The entire lengthy piece is in my new e-book, Vonnegut and Me: Conversations and Close Encounters of the Weird Kind.
by Kilgore Trout
I had to be at the Hilton for the symposium at 3 o'clock; the others wouldn't be arriving at Vonnegut's until 2:30. I welcomed the opportunity to spend some time alone with my Creator and didn't feel all that bad that I wouldn't get a chance to fool around with my fellow former slaves -- even though Eliot Rosewater, for instance, was one of my biggest fans.
What were we doing walking around with all that free will? Vonnegut had explained the motivation behind his dramatic Emancipation Proclamation in his latest book, Breakfast of Champions.
"As I approached my fiftieth birthday," he wrote, "I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books.
"Why were so many Americans treated by their government as though their lives were as disposable as paper facial tissues? Because that was the way authors customarily treated bit-part players in their made-up tales.
"Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life," Vonnegut continued, "I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life."
And he promised: "I'm not going to put on any more puppet shows."
So the Creator had cut the strings on his dancing dolls. "I won't be needing them anymore," he told one interviewer. "They can pursue their own destinies. I guess that means I'm free to pursue my destiny, too."
So there I was, sleeping in dirty movie houses and walking down East 48th Street, pursuing my own destiny.
Since Vonnegut no longer needed me, I was free to write for anyone: reputable publishers, publishers of beaver books -- anyone. At that moment, in fact, I was considering ways I could turn that afternoon's gathering into a big-deal magazine article for a certain national magazine.
I was only a half block from my Creator, and slowing down. I wondered if he would recognize me. Since our previous meeting, my hair had gotten thinner on top and greyer on the sides, and I had shaved my scraggly white beard. Still, there were these distinguishing features: I am snaggle-toothed and missing the top joint of my right ring finger.
Vonnegut did that to me, incidentally. He had me born snaggle-toothed, and had Dwayne Hoover bite off the top of my finger at the end of Breakfast of Champions. Hoover had done that because of something he had read in a book, Now It Can Be Told. I wrote that book.
Vonnegut had also given me a tremendous wang. You never know who'll get one.
There I was in front of his four-floor Victorian brownstone, where he had moved within the past month from another location ten blocks away, with his lady-friend, whom I shall call Ellen. West Barnstable, Cape Cod, where he had constructed me and most of his other puppets, was now four years in his distant past. I rang the bell and within seconds, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was at the door.
"Here I am," I offered.
"So glad you are," he said, taking my bag.
He spoke twangily and his smile went on and on. He's a sweet old poop, a big man, six-feet-three, broad shoulders, no hips, no belly, less of the bear of a man I had remembered from our previous, brief meeting on a dark night. His hair had been trimmed, also.
"Mr. Trout -- Kilgore," he began to say, ushering me into the apartment, when suddenly somewhere a big dog barked.
Vonnegut's diffident bloodhound Lope appeared at the entrance to the living room. I recoiled. I'm scared to death of dogs. Vonnegut shooed him away.
"I got him from my brother," he said, confidentially. "He has to fight all the time because he can't wag his tail."
He introduced me to Ellen, a pale, dark-haired woman in her early 30s who was busy unpacking boxes. They had just moved in.
"It's a nice cozy house you have here," I said, and it really was.
"It takes a heap of living," Vonnegut said, "to make a house a home."
The room was bare but for the black leather couch we sat on, a glass coffee table alongside and shelves of books against two walls. Vonnegut was dressed in terribly baggy but good tweed pants, a green V-neck sweater and brown hush puppies.
"What are you doing now, my old friend?" he asked, his dark eyebrows shooting up and his lips breaking into a really fine grin. He had left me in Cohoes, New York, installing aluminum storm windows and screens. Before that he had made me circulation man for the Ilium Gazette -- made me bully, and flatter and cheat little delivery boys.
I told him I was back at the job he'd made me leave a decade before at a stamp redemption center in Hyannis, Massachusetts. "Think of the sacrilege of a Jesus figure redeeming stamps," I said, softly....
Greg Mitchell has written over a dozen books, including Vonnegut and Me. He writes daily for The Nation.