Kurt Vonnegut’s “The Manned Missiles”

One of the books I enjoyed the most during my first year of blogging (2010) was Kurt Vonnegut’s short story collection, “Welcome to the Monkey House.” It’s only natural, then, that when I was planning my 2012 short story reading project, I would include at least one of the stories from that collection.

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As many already know, the year 1957 marked a turning point in the new space age. Unexpectedly – to the United States anyway – the Soviet Union launched the satellite, Sputnik, into orbit, which became a visible, public (it was visible to the naked american eye as it hurtled over our continent) reminder that we weren’t “in the lead.” It served to shock the United States out of a complacent delusion of technological superiority and was an event that sparked the “space race” which led t0 the July 20, 1969 moon landing.

It was in this climate that Vonnegut’s story “The Manned Missiles” was published in the July 1958 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. (see cover picture below, which trumpets “five stories and a complete mystery novel!”)

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***Spoiler Alert!***
This story is unique among Vonnegut’s work because it was the only thing he wrote in “epistolary” form. It consists entirely of an exchange of letters between the fathers of a pair of astronauts, one American and one Russian (I guess I should’ve said an astronaut and a cosmonaut?). Anyway, we learn that both sons are dead and their deaths are somehow related (Vonnegut withholds the details, portioning them out gradually). The Russian son, Stephan Ivankov, is the first man in space and the American son, Bryant Ashland is sent up immediately after Ivankov in a kind of reckless technological one-upmanship between the nations. An “accident” has occurred, however, and both sons were killed.

The letters between the fathers seem intent on convincing the other that, in spite of what has happened, the sons were “good men” and not the villains that the governments and media involved seem to want to paint them. Ivankov’s father, a stone mason, had long struggled with why his son wanted to be a pilot and later a cosmonaut. Having eventually figured him out, he shares with Ashland’s father that “It was not for the Soviet Union but for the truth and beauty of space, Mr. Ashland, that Stephan worked and died.”

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Ashland, who runs a gasoline station, concludes his letter to Ivankov by admitting that he’s “crying now” and that, “I hope some good comes now from the death of our two boys. I guess that’s what millions of fathers have hoped for as long as there have been people.”

The story is made even more poignant by the fact we learn near the end that the two “baby moons” (that’s how Vonnegut refers to satellites and spacecraft in the story) have, after the accident, split into a bunch of baby moons, drifting apart, two of which are… Ivankov and Ashland.

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This story interested me mainly because of the time in which it was written. What must it have been like to be in America in the late fifties, seeing Sputnik fly over head and know the U.S.A.was “behind…”

This weekend also marked the passing of American Astronaut, Neil Armstrong, who became the first human to walk on the moon eleven years after this story was published. A few years back, I read a good biography of Armstrong, “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong” by James R. Hansen. It’s well worth reading, if you’d like to learn more about the remarkable life of an inspiring man.

Just Finished: Bagombo Snuff Box

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Over the past couple weeks, I’ve truly enjoyed devouring this collection of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut. Short story anthologies or collections, by their very nature, are somewhat difficult to rate or review, even when all the stories are by the same author. While contemplating this post, I found myself reminded of a batch of favorite cookies, you know the kind, “Like Mom Used to Make.” When they come out of the oven, your anticipation heightens as the aroma and diffusing heat of the oven trigger a textbook Pavlovian response. They’re all the same kind of cookies, so you know you’ll like any individual one of them, but they’re not all exactly the same, depending on their placement on the cookie sheet, the possible vagaries of the oven, or – as in the case of something like chocolate chip cookies – the “local chip concentration” in the batter used for that particular cookie. In spite of these variables, though, when you eat one, there is little doubt you are eating a chocolate chip (or oatmeal butterscotch (Hi,Kim!), or whatever type) cookie.

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So I savored the chance to read this new “batch” of Vonnegut stories, and though some I enjoyed more (or less) than others due to their “crunchiness” or “chip volume,” there was no doubt when I finished one that I had just read a Vonnegut short story, and I was not a little sad when I realized that the entire batch had been consumed. Okay, this labored analogy is starting to make me hungry, so on to the stories…

Though sometimes labelled as a “Science Fiction” writer, Vonnegut wasn’t really one, though two of the stories could be fit into that mold, the lead off story, “Thanasphere,” and later in the book “2BR02B” (the “0” in the title should be taken as “naught” – get it?). Both were quite good, the former – written way before man’s first orbital flight – speculating on what we would encounter, and the latter envisioning a somewhat grim future with a Federal Bureau of Termination and Ethical Suicide Studios that call to mind the 1973 sci-fi classic film, Soylent Green, released eleven years after this story was first published.

(below: Edwin G. Robinson as Sol Roth in Soylent Green’s version of an “Ethical Suicide Studio”)

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Three of the stories – “The No-Talent Kid,” “The Ambitious Sophomore,” and “The Boy Who Hated Girls” – all featured the recurring character, George M. Helmholtz, the “band director of Lincoln High School,” who I first encountered in the superior story, “The Kid Nobody Could Handle” from Vonnegut’s other collection of short stories, “Welcome to the Monkey House.” I was also among those treated to a great “live” reading of this story (by fellow KVML book club member, Janet) this spring at Bookmama’s Bookstore’s “Vonnegut Day” here in Indianapolis. (below: treats for ‘Vonnegut Day’ at Bookmama’s.  Why, yes, of course that’s “monkeybread” 🙂 )

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The three Helmholtz stories in this collection were not among my favorites, however, and I wondered who the real-life inspiration for this Helmholtz character that “keeps showing up” might have been, or whether he could be a conglomerate of various teachers Vonnegut remembered from his days at Shortridge High School. Maybe one of my fellow book club members will have the scoop for me on this next week…

As you might expect from Vonnegut, there were a couple stories clearly influenced by his experience in the war, the somewhat comic “Der Arme Dolmetscher,” where a hapless protagonist is recruited to be a translator because in high school he had memorized, and was still fond of repeating, the first stanza of Heine’s “Die Lorelei” – without even understanding the meaning. The poignant “The Cruise of the Jolly Roger” is much deeper and thought-provoking, however.

If I had to come up with a “common theme” throughout this collection, it would probably be that most of the stories deal with the “struggle to find happiness” if you want to call it that. Happiness in one’s job, one’s relationships, and one’s place in society are all covered,often more than once. I was reminded of Thoreau’s observation about most men leading “lives of quiet desperation” during many of these stories. (Below: an illustration from The Saturday Evening Post from the story, Custom-Made Bride)

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Stories of this type were also my favorites in this collection. I’ve already posted about one of them, “The Package” earlier this month, but here I’d also like to recommend “Lover’s Anonymous,” “Custom-Made Bride,” “The Powder-Blue Dragon” and “This Son of Mine.” The last of these, which my friend Dale also just posted about on his blog Mirror with Clouds, came up by coincidence in my reading order just the day after Father’s Day. The story deals with two fathers and sons and their relationships, which have been sabotaged and crippled by misunderstanding. In fact, I’d argue that misunderstanding (during the search for happiness) is another common theme in this collection, perhaps best illustrated in the “Lovers Anonymous” story already mentioned.

Well, I’ve done it again and rambled on far longer than I like to in a blog post, but Vonnegut is one of my favorites, and it’s hard for me to stop sometimes. 🙂 By my count I’ve now read over sixty of his short stories, and the well will soon run dry since there will be no more forthcoming. I am not happy about this.

So, what about you? Are you a Vonnegut fan or have you read any of his short fiction? What are your favorites?

Orphan Stories from the Monkey House

It’s been almost a week since the meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library book club (or KVMLBC I’m going to call it from now on), and I’ve never commented on how the meeting went – until now. Once again, there were ten attendees. Nine were repeats from last month, and we had one new attendee to make up for the one person from last month who didn’t show this time. One poor member had read Mother Night by mistake – that’s the book we’re reading for this month (meeting Thursday, November 18th at 11:30 am). He stayed and listened in anyway, though.

Of course, it’s hard to talk about 25 different stories in just about an hour of meeting time and, after I left, I began to think “Hmm… let’s see… which ones did we not talk about at all?”. As near as I can tell, we “left out” seven of the stories, which I’m calling The Orphans of the Monkey House.

For a couple of the stories, I didn’t find it particularly surprising. “Where I Live” and “New Dictionary” were not too deep compared to the others, though there was some worthy humor in both. Another that was left out that I didn’t care about was “Adam” – a story about contrasting expectant fathers. There were a couple more that were decent enough stories, but perhaps not worthy of discussion at the expense of the other stories in the book. In that group, I’d put the stories “The Kid Nobody Could Handle” and “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.” The latter of those two, however, was a tough call. It’s about a future where life expectancy has been drastically extended, and the consequences thereof. This would be considered more typical Vonnegut fare, but it didn’t “make the cut” either.

Now, however, we come to two stories that I really enjoyed but were still orphaned by our group. First, there was “The Foster Portfolio.” This was a tale that dealt with a kind of financial advisor and his newest client who, on the surface at least, seemed rather poor and “a waste of effort” for the advisor. This turns out not to be the case at all, however, as the man (Foster) is so much more than meets the eye. I really enjoyed how, as the reader, I was introduced to the multiple layers of this character. Sadly, though, this story didn’t make the cut either.

The last “orphan” was one of my favorite stories in the book, “Deer in the Works” (which I’ve already blogged about in an earlier post). I don’t know why we didn’t get to this one. It may have just been a victim of the number of stories there were to cover. I certainly hope it’s not due to a perceived lack of merit by my fellow members.

For my part, I always seem to pick a few stories out of any collection to designate as “favorites” or at least standing out among the rest. If I pick up any short story anthology from my bookshelf at home and look at the table of contents, there will always be few stories marked with an asterisk (sometimes two!) which I know are worthy of reading again.

Have you read Welcome to the Monkey House? Which were your favorites? If any of my fellow KVMLBC members are reading this, how did you feel about which stories were discussed and which were not?

-Jay

“EPICAC” (no, not “ipecac”)

This is the title of yet another of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story collection, Welcome to the Monkey House. It’s the story of an operator for some behemoth-ic government-owned computer called EPICAC. I’m sure this name is intentionally similar to both “UNIVAC” (an actual early generation computing machine) and ipecac – as in the well known emetic, “syrup of ipecac.” The computer operator apparently has the hots for one of his co-workers (described as a “crackerjack mathematician”) who won’t give him the time of day because he’s unromantic and boring. Imagine that – not too different from a current stereotype, huh?

By the way, If this story sounds somewhat familiar to you, it may be because it was in part appropriated by Rod Serling and Bernard Schoenfeld for a 1964 episode of the tv series “The Twilight Zone” titled “From Agnes – with Love.” (***Spoiler Alert***) In that story, however, the computer actually falls for the operator, not the girl.

In the Vonnegut story, however, the computer innocently asks of the operator (never named in the story) “what’s the trouble?” and the hapless guy explains about the girl, Pat. After getting some background information (“what’s girl?”, “what’s love?”) EPICAC helps the operator by writing a long, wonderful poem which the operator passes off to her as his own. Pat is predictably impressed and begins to see the operator in a new light. They share a kiss and later he asks the computer to write another poem about the kiss. This time it’s a short and beautiful, “immaculate sonnet”

“Love is a hawk with velvet claws
Love is a rock with heart and veins;
Love is a lion with satin jaws,
Love is a storm with silken reins.”

I have to say that’s pretty good for a computer, eh? I wonder what Ray Kurzweil’s cyber poet would think of that? Would it give up and unplug itself?

Anyway, things proceed swimmingly and the operator begins to think about marriage. After talking with EPICAC and explaining the situation (“what’s marriage?”), the machine agrees that Pat is a worthy candidate for matrimony and says “I’m ready whenever she is.” The operator is taken aback and tries to explain to the computer the impossibility of such a marriage (sprinkling in a few lies to make his case more palatable to his “friend” the machine – he says he is made out of protoplasm and will last forever, and says a woman cannot love a machine – that it’s fate, which he also has to define) In the end, the machine “can’t go on” (“I don’t want to be a machine. I don’t want to think about war.” – the latter is his primary function) and sort of burns itself out when “left on” overnight by the operator (nothing like that tight government security, huh?). The operator is fired from his job for his neglect, but also cleans up many rolls of printed tape (this is how EPICAC communicated with its users) from the room. He discovers that it contains a going away present from the computer: 500 years of anniversary poems for him to give his wife. How sad. I felt a pity for the machine not too dissimilar to that which I felt for Frankenstein’s monster when reading that classic a couple months ago.

Have you read this story? Do you remember the “classic” Twilight Zone episode?

(below: actor Wally Cox in “From Agnes – with Love” 1964)

16 down, 25 to go… “Welcome to the Monkey House” by Kurt Vonnegut

(I love this book cover too, by the way.  What is that – a 54-long!?)

I’ve settled into an enjoyable little routine of late. As fate would have it, I live on the opposite side of town from where I work. I have a 20+ mile commute each day, most of it on Indianapolis’s encircling I-465 interstate. Now, if I leave the house to get to work close to my normal hour (8 a.m.) traffic is heavy and thus the commute tedious and stressful (not to mention more time consuming). So, my normal custom is to drive up early, then enjoy a cup of coffee at a shop near my office while reading the paper, checking emails, etc. Lately though, I’ve started my day even earlier, and added reading a Vonnegut short story and maybe a few favorite blogs as well.

Somedays I even have time to write a blog post, something I’m trying to be more consistent about doing. Anyway, this morning I knocked off the 16th of Vonnegut’s 25 stories in this collection. Today’s treat was “The Euphio Question” in which three men “discover peace of mind.” Apparently through some vague, unknown process, the hissing static sound emanating from regions of space where there are no known celestial objects (maybe this is the CBR? Cosmic Background Radiation being described?) had, when amplified, an euphoric effect on those who heard it. One of the three men is an unapologetic capitalist and immediately begins thinking of ways to cash in on this effect, many of which involve using the effect to dull the senses and reason of those he is selling something to.

An experiment is performed (one of the three men is a scientist) after a consumer-sized box unit is created – with the idea of eventual wholesale. (Vonnegut has to be lampooning television a bit here; the story was written in 1951) Of course the experiment goes wrong (although I guess that depends on one’s viewpoint) and the machine stays on for days, leaving those within range dull and senseless ( but also euphoric!). This is enough to convince all but the unscrupulous capitalist to give up the idea, and one of the men smashes the device with a poker from the fireplace.

All in all a great little story. Has anyone else “out there” read it? What did you think of it?

“It was the narcotic of generalship. It was the essence of war.” Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, “All the King’s Horses”

I just finished this great little short story by Kurt Vonnegut. An American military plane, transporting a Colonel Kelly and his family and various other personnel, is blown off course and crash lands “somewhere in Asia” where the pilot and passengers (sixteen people in all – a number with unfortunate consequences) are taken prisoner by a local communist leader, Pi Ying. I was wondering where the story would go, and then was shocked to discover that Pi Ying plans to force the American Colonel to contest a game of chess with him, using the sixteen prisoners as live chess pieces! Of course, at stake in the game are the lives of the prisoners.

Now my interest was piqued, as I have spent more than 20 years of my life as a regular participant in chess tournaments, mostly in Indiana, but also in many other locations around the country and even once in Bermuda. I “retired” in 2005, but still follow news of the game via several excellent chess blogs and news websites. So, I was looking forward to finding out how the game was described and depicted.

Also, in his mental preparation for the game, Colonel Kelly finds a strange calm overtaking him, just as it habitually did in real battle. This is where the quotation in the title of the post comes from. This calm detachment is what allows him – and other military leaders – to function effectively amid the “insanity” of war. This called to mind some of my Civil War reading of this year, like the Stonewall Jackson biography, Killer Angels, and The Red Badge of Courage. Voonegut describes Kelly as recognizing “the eerie calm – an old wartime friend- that left only the cold machinery of his wits and senses alive.” (this is the ‘narcotic of generalship’ in the quotation above). A probably overlong review follows, but I’d suggest investing 20 minutes in reading this story before I “ruin it” for you…

Anyway, back to the game *Spoiler Alert* (and *Nerd Alert!*): After some discussion on who will be the king’s pawn (accurately described as one of the more hazardous outposts) the game begins with Kelly’s wife taking the role of queen and his twin sons as the white knights. Our hero begins the game in normal fashion with “pawn to king four” (e4 in modern chess notation) and his captor replies with pawn to queen four, putting the pawns into conflict with each other. (this opening is known today as the Scandinavian Defense, or in some quarters the “Center Counter Game.” It’s a viable reply to pawn to king four, but not the most popular one today. Kelly can either take the black pawn or push forward with his king’s pawn OR simply defend the pawn, which he is described as doing by pushing a pawn up one square. This latter is what he does, although only two moves accomplish this: 2. d3 or 2. f3, both of which are NEVER played at the serious level – even though Kelly has described himself earlier in the story as ‘above average.’

Pi Ying, bloodthirsty for action decides to trade pawns and captures Kelly’s king pawn (captured “live” pieces are immediately taken away and shot). The game goes on and Kelly finds himself in a losing position, realizing the only way to divert his opponent’s forthcoming coup de grace is to sacrifice one of his own pieces – in this case a knight i.e., one of his twin sons. Realizing that NOT doing so will result in all of their deaths, he proceeds with the plan. Pi Ying laughs and taunts Kelly for his oversight, while Kelly tries to “sell it” with some forehead-slapping type histrionics: “Oh, my God! What have I done?” etc. Pi Ying accepts the sacrifice, at which point his consort, disgusted by Ying’s sadism, stabs him to death. At this point, Ying’s advisor, a Russian Major Barzov (unaware of the consequences of Ying’s having accepted the sacrifice) takes the reins of the game and is quickly defeated.

So, on the chess front, I’d have to say the story isn’t too accurate. No good player would play as Kelly does, and Ying once advises a soldier chosen to be a bishop that it is worth “a knight and a pawn.” Not so. A bishop IS worth slightly more than a knight, but by no means a whole pawn’s worth. Vonnegut also says that “a game of chess can very rarely be won – any more than a battle can be won – without sacrifices.” This isn’t quite true either. I knew many players who “made a living” by only not making serious mistakes and letting their opponents simply “beat themselves.” Perhaps it is true, however, in games between strong players of similar strength.

The theme of the story is also not unique (do you suppose J.K. Rowling was familiar with this story when she describes a live game of Wizard’s Chess in one of the Harry Potter books? Wasn’t it Ron Weasley who says, “You have to sacrifice me, Harry! It’s the only way!”) I also remember a tv show or movie with a similar theme: commandant of a POW camp plays the leader of the prisoners, etc. There was even a great TRUE story in an issue of Chess Life magazine (Yes, there really is a magazine with that name!) about a chess playing relationship of an American POW in the Pacific theater and his chess-playing Japanese commandant. I’ll do some research and try to find that and maybe update later.

Below: Starting position of the Scandinavian Defense:

Just Finished: “The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents” by H.G. Wells

I’ve spent a rather pleasant afternoon with two great writers – H.G. Wells and Kurt Vonnegut. As coincidence would have it, my two “main” book clubs are reading short story collections this month. I had already started the H.G. Wells collection several days ago, and today I was kind of alternating between the two, finishing the last five Wells stories and reading the first four of Vonnegut’s collection, “Welcome to the Monkey House.”

I think Wells is a splendid writer, and went through a “Wells Phase” in the late 90s, reading “tons” of work by him. Many of the stories in this book I had read before, in a used paperback collection (one of those non-standard sized oddities that wreak havoc with the symmetry of one’s bookshelves), but there were a few unknown nuggets for me here as well.

I was struck once again by Wells’s capacity for placing ordinary people – or maybe more accurately, people with ordinary points of view – in extraordinary situations, and seeing where that takes them. He also has a great skill, in my opinion, in giving brief physical descriptions of characters which convey a whole lot of information – a handy talent in a short story writer I suppose. The engineer in the story “Lord of the Dynamos” comes to mind as an example.

Which stories were my favorites? that’s a tough one. Of the fifteen stories in the book, I’ll pick four: “In the Avu Observatory,” “Aepyornis Island,” (and a shiny nickel prize to the first reader who can tell me how to pronounce that!) “The Lord of the Dynamos,” and “The Diamond Maker.” I’ve already commented on “The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes,” which is also quite good. There were only a couple that I didn’t like: “Triumph of a Taxidermist” and “The Temptation of Harringjay.”

My book club is discussing these stories in a couple weeks and I’ll probably share some of the others’ impressions here later.

Below: Aepyornis Maximus. This was a real creature (!) though extinct. I had no idea!

Now reading: “The Stolen Bacillus and other Incidents” by H.G. Wells

This collection of short stories is the October selection of my book club, The Indy Reading Coalition. Usually, in October we have a seasonal theme of ghost stories, or – last year – we read a collection of Edgar Allan Poe works. We struggled to decide on something this year but finally went with H.G. Wells who, though not a writer of the horror genre per se, did write a lot of off-beat, unusual stories. Plus, our club had read and enjoyed one of his other stories (“The Flowering of the Strange Orchid”) as part of our “Short Story Month III” in July of this year.

In addition to this collection, I’m looking forward to a busy reading month in October. I plan to finish Mockingjay (the final installment in Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” trilogy) and also read “Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier to count toward my personal Project: Civil War reading. Then, late in the month I have another meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Book Club, which is reading “Welcome to the Monkey House” – another short story collection. That’ll be a lot of short stories to read in a month, but Im looking forward to it. That would make four “books” in October, which is kind of my “par score,” but if I read anything else this month it might by The Sparrow, or A Prayer for Owen Meany, which I’ve wanted to get started on for a long time.

That’s me. What’s on your agenda…?

“Why? Because of the Sermon on the Mount, sir.” — Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut

(above: the Emelie Building – home of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library)

We had a really great meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Book Club yesterday in downtown Indianapolis.  The club meets the last Thursday of the month at the future home of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. There were ten people in attendance – double the last meeting – from all walks of life and including one of the directors of the library, and a woman who as I understand it is the driving force in its creation.  We also had retired persons, representatives from an audio books company here in town, Taped Editions, Inc., someone from the corporate library of the Eli Lilly Company, a former teacher of English Literature.  A great eclectic group.  I am already looking forward to next month’s meeting, where we will be reading Welcome to the Monkey House, a collection of Vonnegut’s short stories.

The quotation in the title of this post comes from a story in the prologue where a young Vonnegut went to lunch with his father and uncle to meet labor organizer Powers Hapgood (above), who uttered the words in answer to a judge’s question of  “Why would a man from such a distinguished family and with such a fine education choose to live as you do?”  “Why, Because of the Sermon on the Mount, sir.” Vonnegut goes on to explain “what, exactly is the Sermon on the Mount” – basically it’s the “meek shall inherit the earth” part.

The main character in this book, Walter F. Starbuck, though poor, is mentored from an early age by a scion of one of those rich, dynastic families, Alexander Hamilton McCone.  Starbuck is ’trained’ to play chess with McCone in return for his sending him to Harvard someday.  At Harvard, Starbuck becomes an idealist and is caught up in the communist movement and ends up going to jail in addition to inadvertently informing on a friend.  After his original hitch in prison, he goes on to become a minor employee of the government who is caught up in the Watergate scandal and goes to prison yet again.  Starbuck has the Forrest Gump-like quality of having history “happen to him” by way of which we get a great story which allows the author to comment on society and its ills.

We talked a lot at the meeting about the ‘deeper meaning’ of much of the book, but I also pointed out that just based on the ‘face value’ of the writing itself, the book has great value as well.

One of my favorite, not as ‘deep’ parts of the book was in chapter twelve, when the recently released Starbuck is wandering Manhattan and spots the Coffee Shop of the Hotel Royalton:

“I believed that I was the ugliest, dirtiest little old bum in Manhattan.  If I went into the coffee shop, everybody would be nauseated.  They would throw me out and tell me to go to the Bowery, where I belonged.

“But I somehow found the courage to go in anyway – and imagine my surprise! It was as though I had died and gone to heaven! A waitress said to me, ‘Honeybunch, you sit right down, and I’ll bring you your coffee right away.’ I hadn’t said anything to her.

“So I did sit down, and everywhere I looked I saw customers of every description being received with love.  To the waitress everybody was ‘honeybunch’ and ‘darling’ and ‘dear.’ It was like an emergency ward after a great catastrophe. It did not matter what race or class the victims belonged to. They were all given the same miracle drug, which was coffee.  The catastrophe in this case, of course, was that the sun had come up again.”

Great stuff.


(above: Vonnegut puffing away – no doubt on a Pall Mall…) I recommend this book, although I wouldn’t suggest making it your first Vonnegut book.  One thing we talked about at the meeting yesterday was that the more Vonnegut one reads, the easier it becomes.  The reader becomes acclimated to the author’s, quirky, tangential writing style.

Have you read any Kurt Vonnegut?  What are some of your favorite books of his?

I also found on the internet a great old review of Jailbird from the NY Times in 1979.