Next Door by Kurt Vonnegut – Selection 23 of Deal Me “IN” 2016


img_7504The Card: ♣J♣  Jack of Clubs

The Suit: For 2016, Clubs is my suit for “Legendary Indiana authors”

The Selection: “Next Door” from the short story collection “Welcome to the Monkey House”; it was originally published in the April, 1995 issue of Cosmopolitan. It was also made into a short film in 1975 – I was unaware of this prior to my “research” for this post.

The Author: Kurt Vonnegut. Hopefully he needs no introduction, but he is perhaps most famous for his novels Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle. Indianapolis was his home town, and today the city is home to the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, which has a book club. Yes, of course, I am a member. 🙂 Vonnegut was also a frequent contributor of short stories in the great era when “The Slicks” – several prominent national magazines – were still regularly publishing short fiction.

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storylegacy project seal of approval 2roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

Next Door

Young Paul Leonard, though only eight years old, is no longer “a baby” and is, the evening of this story, being evaluated by his parents to determine whether or not he’s old enough to be left “home alone” while they enjoy a brief night out to see a movie. Paul probably is old enough, if the night of being home alone would have stayed true to his original plan of “just looking through my microscope I guess.” Instead, his time gazing through a lens at “hair, sugar, pepper – stuff like that” is interrupted by an escalating domestic donnybrook between his neighbors next door, Mr. & Mrs. Harger.

The Hargers’ default strategy when domestically quarrelling is to just turn up the radio (coincidentally the same strategy I used to use when my car started making strange noises) to drown themselves out in consideration of the Leonards or anyone else who might be overhearing. This time the radio’s volume is insufficient to prevent Paul from hearing them shouting “awful, unbelievable” things. The radio, though, tuned to “All Night Sam’s” call-in request show, gives Paul an idea…

This also allows Vonnegut to introduce us to All Night Sam, one of those great characters you sometimes meet in a short story and wonder how, in such a brief time, you get such a complete and perfect image of them. Sam takes his job of dedicating songs from one lover to another quite seriously, and even waxes philosophic when Paul calls in and requests a dedication from “Mr. Lemuel Harger to Mrs. Harger: I love you. Let’s make up and start over again.” Sam is moved by the request and assumes Paul is the Hargers’ son. He goes into a whole spiel about love and marriage and how folks might better be able to stick together, etc. It almost had me getting a little misty-eyed for a minute too, but at the end we’re brought back to reality with “And here’s Eartha Kitt, and ‘Somebody Bad Stole the Wedding Bell!'”* (He is a disc jockey after all).

It wouldn’t be a great Vonnegut story, though, if Kurt didn’t spring a mousetrap on us by the end. All is not as young Paul assumes, you see, and he – and his parents – are in for quite a surprise before the night is over.

It was a real pleasure to revisit this story, which I first read back in 2011. In fact, the collection “Welcome to the Monkey House” ended up being one of my favorites of the books I read that year. I have one other Vonnegut story waiting to be drawn in this year’s Deal Me IN: the classic “Harrison Bergeron.” I hope I enjoy that re-read as much as I did this one. 🙂

*I had to look this one up, but want to hear Eartha Kitt “Somebody Bad Stole the Wedding Bell?”

The Embellished Movie Quote Challenge (name the film): Sally Kellerman “Whoever did write this blog post doesn’t know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut!”

In Indianapolis, we even have a Kurt Vonnegut mural!  Located, appropriately on Mass Ave downtown in the heart of the city’s Arts District.

Actually, just a couple weeks ago I was walking north (away from the mural) on Mass Ave, and passed a couple of young women who were walking south. One was saying to the other, “Is that Albert Einstein?” Her friend replied, “No. It’s Kurt Vonnegut. He’s an author.” The first one said,”Oh. He looks like Albert Einstein, though, right?” 🙂
Playing card image from

Vonnegut mural pic from