Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Kurt Vonnegut Walks Into a Bar

I was on the corner of Third Avenue and Forty-eighth Street, and Kurt Vonnegut was coming toward me, walking his big, loose-boned walk. It was fall and turning cold and he looked a little unbalanced in his overcoat, handsome but tousled, with long curly hair and a heavy mustache that sometimes hid his grin. I could tell he saw me by his shrug, which he sometimes used as a greeting.

I was on my way to buy dinner for some Newsweek writers who were suspicious of me as their new assistant managing editor. I had been brought in from Rolling Stone, and no one at Newsweek had heard of me. I didn’t know them either, but I knew Kurt, who was one of the first people I met when I moved to New York. We were neighbors on Forty-eighth Street, where he lived in a big townhouse in the middle of the block, and he’d invite me over for drinks. I had gotten him to contribute to Rolling Stone by keeping an eye out for his speeches and radio appearances and then suggesting ways they could be retooled as essays.

“Come have dinner,” I said. “I’ve got some Newsweek writers who would love to meet you.”

“Not in the mood,” Kurt said.

“They’re fans,” I said. “It’s part of your job.”

Kurt lit a Pall Mall and gave me a look, one of his favorites, amused but somehow saddened by the situation. He could act, Kurt.

“Think of it as a favor to me,” I said. “They’re not sure about me, and I’ve edited you.”

“Sort of,” he said, and I knew he had already had a couple drinks.

He never got mean, but he got honest.

“What else are you doing for dinner?” I said, knowing he seldom made plans.

“The last thing I need is ass kissing,” Kurt said.

“That’s what I’m doing right now.”

“They’ll want to know which novel I like best.”

Cat’s Cradle,” I said.

“Wrong.” He flipped the Pall Mall into Forty-eighth Street, and we started walking together toward the restaurant.

The writers were already at the table, drinks in front of them. They looked up when we came in, surprised to see Kurt with me. There were six or eight of them, including the columnist Pete Axthelm, who was my only ally going into Newsweek because I knew him from Runyon’s, a bar in our neighborhood where everyone called him Ax.

I introduced Kurt around.

“Honored,” Ax said, or something like that, and the ass kissing began.

by Terry McDonell, Electric Lit | Read more:
Image: uncredited