Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Sammy and I were walking in the neighborhood a couple of days ago and we were talking about my birthday (I’ve started writing this in the waning minute of my very extra special 50th annual celebration of my natal day, but by the time I hit the ‘Send to weblog’ button in MarsEdit, it’ll be the 12th, for sure.)

Sam did a wonderful job of (first) listening and then facilitating and arranging and making sure that my day went just as I might possibly want. And indeed it did. I received wonderful birthday wishes in blog-comment, email, snail mail, and telephonic form…we had a great informal dinner of Doc Chey‘s takeout, capped by Sam’s Killer Brownies, or at least the incarnation of them she was inspired to make after coming across a feature on brownies in the April 11th New York Times. Lots of beautifully handmade cards, a two-page reminisce about, well, me written by my father (!), great gifts, just…wonderful.

Anyway, we were walking and I was talking in that way I have of making big pronouncements and sweeping observations about my life and our lives and where we are and where I’ve been and what being with Sam means to me and she drily noted “you’re in a reflective mood,” and I thought, well, true enough…but it’s familiar terrain, a place I spend a lot of time inhabiting.

And, indeed! I remain reflective in the wee hours of this day, after a great late-evening phone conversation with my friend Deb (I’d link to her blog, but no, it would be more of a stress generator than a stress reliever for her to have one, so you’ll have to be content with her occasional comments on Nancy’s site or once in a great while, here.) She pointed out that in addition to Helvetica, 1957 also spawned the International Geophysical Year, which, if nothing else, gave the world a nearly endless supply of Donald Fagen lyrics.

As we talked, I clicked to the front page of the NYT, and I was greeted by the world-weary face of Kurt Vonnegut, whose body apparently grew weary enough of this world to depart yesterday (late April 10th, according to the article.)

So, to quote Linda Ellerbee quoting him, it goes.

I am indeed one of the people who carried tattered copies of Mr. Vonnegut’s paperbacks with me in my denim jacket on long bus rides in my late teens, and I’ll never forget riding through upstate New York, bound for Vermont—through the towns inhabited by huge General Electric factories that inspired him to create fictionalized versions of those places in novels like 1952’s “Player Piano” (inexplicably one of my favorites) while the landscape about which he wrote unspooled outside the bus window. Amazing…he says it here and I see it there.

(It’s like reading Tony Hillerman while bumping along a dirt road in northwest New Mexico. There’s probably a ten-dollar word for that quality-of-experience, but it remains one of my favorite ways to connect with the written word. You’re soaking in it!)

One of the best attempts to get Vonnegut captured in the world of the moving image happened at WGBH in the early 1970s. “Between Time and Timbuktu” was produced on videotape by Fred Barzyk and a talent cast and crew, and I think it survives, barely, on deteriorating videotape. Boy, I’d love to have that on DVD, just as I treasure Ursula LeGuin’s “The Lathe Of Heaven” in its Barzyk/PBS video incarnation (on DVD!)

But Kurt Vonnegut was most at home wading deep in a stream of his own written words and narrated ideas, swirling them with his feet, getting lost and found along the way. I will of course take out the tattered paperbacks and put one of them in the pocket of the denim jacket I bought last week in Mason City, Iowa. But probably only during one of my more reflective moments.