Thomm Quackenbush, author

04.12.07 7:00 p.m.

God made mud.
God got lonesome.
So God said to some of the mud, "Sit up!"
"See all I've made," said God, "the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars."
And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.
I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God.
Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly couldn't have.
I feel very unimportant compared to You.
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud that didn't even get to sit up and look around.
I got so much, and most mud got so little.
Thank you for the honor!
Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
What memories for mud to have!
What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!
I loved everything I saw!
Good night.
I will go to heaven now.
I can hardly wait...
To find out for certain what my wampeter was...
And who was in my karass...
And all the good things our karass did for you.
Amen.
 

-Kurt Vonnegut

 




Kurt Vonnegut Jr. 1922-2007

So it goes. Kurt Vonnegut has died at the age of 84. It happened last night according to the news sites, of complications from a fall. I think he would have been amused at that. Hi ho

I never met him, which already feels like something I will regret decades from now. It was a life's goal that will just have to be scratched off, unfulfilled, more through lack of opportunity than lack of effort.

I first discovered him in the dingy attic of an old firehouse during a tag sale, a setting I imagine he would have liked. It was a dog-eared copy of Slapstick with its cover half torn off and it was on sale for a quarter. I'm not certain why I bought it - I had never heard of him and was only a year out of my Goosebumps stage - but felt immediately drawn to the clown on the cover. I finished it in a few days and promptly found others. I didn't read all of his books with the next month or even year, much as I wish I could claim otherwise. I did read them steadily, however, a necessarily and ubiquitous supplement to my literary diet.

I read Slaughterhouse Five as my father drove me to my second year of Summer Scholars. His old, red truck smelled of copper and I sat hunched to avoid the towel on the passenger's side floor. Much earlier that morning, my mother had stepped barefoot on a piece of broken beer bottle left in the front yard after one of my older brother's parties. She severed an artery and that truck had been soaked in her blood as my father drove her to the hospital. I already felt so lonely to be going on this adventure, having left my first real girlfriend Jen and my best friend Nick back in Beacon (she would leave me for him before I returned, though I wouldn't know for a week), and the knowledge of my mother's blood around me made my escape into the book all the easier and more necessary. Even now the opening line, "Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time," brings it all rushing back.

In high school, I had an associate named Julia who, in the midst of having a crush on me, tried to compliment me by saying that I was the wampeter of her karass, nonsense words taken from Cat's Cradle roughly meaning that I was the center of what she had been put on this Earth to do. I disproved his conjecture a year later, politely telling her that I couldn't be her friend given that she prolifically insulted Jen and Nick in my presence but was actually great friends with them when I wasn't around, instead insulting me just as extensively to them. Such hypocrisy should earn people the Hook, but is really just the providence of teenagers.

I used to take the train to see Katie, usually with a Vonnegut book in my bag. I remember looking out at the Hudson River glittering past, a copy of Timequake on my lap, the fear of living these days again lapping at my consciousness as the chilly waters did the rocky shore.

On the way home from my first vacation with Katie, I read Vonnegut's autobiography Fates Worse Than Death. It had not been an ideal vacation, though through no direct fault of Katie's. I had been grumpy and adolescent for much of the week-long camping trip, discovering a dark side to my personality that troubles me even now that I've processed it. It soothed me to know that he was just as odd as the characters he created. Indeed, he had to be.

I have always shuddered against any authority who feels they have something to teach me. I'll endure classroom lessons and will learn prodigiously, but will experience active irritation that someone is wasting my time when singled out for "mentoring". I petulantly feel that any lesson worth giving me can be written down. I'll handle living my own life.

Vonnegut, however, was one of the few writers I looked to for lessons. It was from his short story Harrison Bergeron that I first accepted that the good guys don't always win. His books were my templates for humanizing characters, interweaving commentary, infusing with humor. Though he had taught at a few colleges, he never met even one percent of his true students.

I've already taken to half joking that I need to stop revering writers, as it invariably leads to their death. Douglas Adams kicked off of a heart attack on the treadmill at his gym, resolving to get healthy. Had he not gone that day, he might have lived to see the atrocity of the newest Hitchhiker's movie. Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide after a long, hard life. Depending on who you ask and their respective level of sanity, he did it because he was being pursued by the government or simply because he knew he was deteriorating and didn't ever want to become anything but a hellfire. Now Kurt Vonnegut, who survived the firebombing of Dresden and innumerable packs of Pall Malls, is dead of a fall. On the other hand, that leaves few living writers I would wish to idolize to that extent. I may need to write letter warning JD Salinger and Richard Bach (though he started writing about flying ferrets and I lost interest in him). Orson Scott Card is likewise fine. The Ender's series was brilliant, but he personally is an adamant homophobe, so I don't think too highly of him outside that limited context.

There is the obvious temptation to load this entry with even more quotes and references than I already have, to say that Kurt Vonnegut is up in heaven now to amuse the three of you that you get it, but that feels too cheap. I will simply leave you with one question.

Po-tee-weet?

Soon in Xenology: Masters. Locations.

last watched: Back to School
reading: Welcome to the Monkey House
listening: My Better Self

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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