When I came back to visit my old high School a year after my graduation in 1950, I confessed to one of my former teachers that I wanted to be a writer. “Well,” he said, stroking his chin, “One boy who went here did that – boy named Vonnegut.”
I learned that “the Vonnegut boy” had graduated from Shortridge High school in 1940, and was writing stories that were getting published in the popular weeklies of the era, like Colliers and The Saturday Evening Post. I was excited to learn that Vonnegut had written a column for The Shortridge Daily Echo, just as I had – and I hurried to the nearest barber shop to find a magazine with one of his stories – a story with a character a lot like our high school band leader. I became a fan, read his first novels, and sent him one of my own first books that drew a warm, funny letter of response. We found we had a bond – both of us were failed high school athletes!
In 1963 I met Kurt for the first time when I was on a Neiman Fellowship in Journalism at Harvard and he was on Cape Cod, supporting three children of his own and three of his late sister’s boys and his wife Jane, a high school sweetheart. He was a tall, shaggy, friendly guy, and we became friends – a friendship sealed when he was instrumental in getting my first novel published by his own publisher, Seymour Lawrence/Delacorte, and reviewed it in Life Magazine. He was “the Godfather” of that novel, Going All The Way. (He let me use his Life review as a Preface to the latest paperback edition, and it also appears in his collection Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons, with the title “Oversexed in Indianapolis.”
Vonnegut became The Godfather of my whole writing career, and was generous, helpful and supportive to the end. That was his character – generous, funny and truthful. “The truth often shocks,” he said, “because we hear it so seldom.” We know it when we hear it – and we always heard it from Kurt even in his graduation speeches, which he wrote fresh every time, rather than having a “canned speech” like most celebrities.
I want to write sometimes about Kurt, his life and works and jokes and wisdom, and the good things he did for me and many other writers and friends, from high school to the end of his life. I also want to write about other people who mean a lot me – not just writers but friends of all kinds who have helped me live this long – I will be 83 in this month of May – an age I never imagined reaching especially in my hard-drinking days in New York and Hollywood.
I will write about age and the misconceptions about it, often from “experts” – it’s not something you learn about in a book or by getting a degree in Gerentology. You have to just get old. In the meantime, please don’t call me “Young Man,” as if it’s some kind of sly put-on – I am an Old Guy and proud of it! When the great writer Irwin Shaw (now unhappily unknown to most younger readers) was asked by Time magazine on his 70th birthday if he was going to retire, he looked shocked and said “Writers don’t retire!” Thank God.
I also want to blog (I guess that’s a verb now – ugh) every two weeks or so about books that people have forgotten or never knew about – not only by once-famous and now neglected authors like Shaw but by new writers whose books you have never heard of in this over-glutted market –like Leaving Little Havana by Cecelia Fernandez, and The Hidden Passport, by Phyllis Pilgrim, my friend from Rancho La Puerta, the great health spa. I want to write about movies I love, and poets and basketball and sex and food and spirituality. All this can best be summed up by the line of Kurt’s that banners this blog – “Hold onto your hat – we may end up miles from here!”
**The title of the blog is cheating –there are two of Vonnegut’s friends older than I am! Don Farber, Kurt’s agent, lawyer, friend, and man-for- all-seasons since 1971; and Majie Failey, Kurt’s childhood friend and author of We Never Danced to Cheek, a memoir of her friendship with Kurt