Friday, April 13, 2007

that one time i was in Kurt Vonnegut's brownstone

About 12 years ago during one hot July summer, I was in NYC with a friend of mine.

We had a free afternoon and so we headed over to see one of her friends, a woman I'd never met before. She was a personal assistant to Jill Krementz. We were heading out for drinks when she said she had to stop and drop something off at her brownstone. Oh, and by the way, she shares it with her husband, Kurt Vonnegut.

Slaughterhouse Five was a pivotal book in my youth; the irony and the conspiracy both. Vonnegut, while not achieving a premier place of idolatry, was certainly nestled solidly somewhere in the middle of my angst and admiration.

As we walked inside I was silenced with a mixture of awe and discomfort. I was not supposed to be here. It might have been legitimate, if he walked in the door while we were there I am assuming I'd have been issued a brief introduction and we'd be on our way. But his absence made the silence louder.

I touched nothing. But I did walk through the halls and look at the photographs, so many photographs, both professional and personal and taken by his wife. And the books. Oh, the books. I peered into the office and saw a pen resting on the desk near a stack of them, a few were his. I had a strong urge to touch the pen, to pick it up and grip it as if I were going to write a note. I touched nothing.

I remember feeling anxious; that this was the personal space of a public figure and it was unfair somehow to allow for my voyeurism. We were probably only there for fifteen minutes or so; her friend was doing her job, checking voicemail and sorting the post. There were a lot of both.

There were several floors but we didn't go past the first. I felt that was the least we could do. And I've always remembered those few minutes that afternoon; visiting a nondescript brownstone that housed a legend.

And so it goes. Rest in peace.

30 comments:

slouching mom said...

Funny, the tie-ins here for me. Not only am I a big fan of Vonnegut's (though who isn't), but when I was a kid growing up in NYC, Jill Krementz was a big name, too. I was a gymnast, and Krementz took the photographs for a series of books very popular in NY (don't know if they were popular anywhere else?). They were called "A Day in the Life of a (Gymnast, Ice Skater, Dancer)," and the dancer profiled was a little boy in my school. Krementz is a terrific photographer.

I'm sorry for HER loss.

Thanks for sharing this.

cce said...

Oh damn, I was hoping you were going to tell us what was in his medicine cabinet or that he had soiled bed sheets.
Nice restraint though. It's best not to know these things about our heroes.

Blog Antagonist said...

How. Very. Cool.

I think I might have pilfered that pen. You are a saint.

RIP Kurt Vonnegut. Know that you've made an indelible mark on this world.

Tabba said...

Wow, Jen. Amazing story....as soon as you mentioned the pen...I knew what you were going to say.

And yes, rest in peace.

A great loss for sure.

QT said...

What a cool story! I am so impressed you didn't touch anything ~ I probably would have sat down at his desk, just to see how it felt. RIP, indeed.

Beck said...

Excellent story. And good for you for respecting his privacy, too - that must have been a hard temptation.

Pendullum said...

How many of us were not touched by Mr.Vonnegut...
Many many a night he had spent inside my head and did not know it...
Thank you for taking me on the walk through his home...
Amazing isn't it to be in someone you admire's home and feel the walls breath... The energy you must have felt just by seeing an innocent pen resting on the desk... Sends wonderful tingles down my spine...

Lucia said...

Sometimes life gives us the gift of amazing and unexpected experiences. This was truly one. RIP KV.

kristen said...

That's what is so incredible about NYC - everyday life mixing with people we admire in the public eye. And it was very NY of you to look but not touch. The thing I love best about NYer's is that celebrities mingle in the flow of day-to-day, ride the subway, shop at the Gap and yet no one (usually) bothers them, they are truly just another NYer going about their day.

kim said...

"As we walked inside I was silenced with a mixture of awe and discomfort." love this description

What a nice tribute.

meno said...

Oh, the conflicting emotions of being somewhere we really don't belong warring with raging curiousity. You have described it to a T. Great memory, thanks for sharing.

Mrs. Chicky said...

Cool!

I'm with BA, I might have not been able to resist the urge to steal that pen.

Bon said...

i'm impressed you didn't steal the pen. it makes - though i would never have known it when i was younger - a better story that way.

how odd it is to walk in the personal spaces of those you respect but never expect to really meet...never expect to really have personal spaces.

i was sad when i found out he was gone.

mamatulip said...

I think if I could come back and be someone in another life I'd be you. Your experiences are amazing.

Thailand Gal said...

Very interesting! Growing up where I did, it seemed there was always some opportunity to snarf something out of a famous person's yard ~ or watch to see them come and go. It sounds far more romantic in New York than Southern California.

:)

Peace,

~Chani

Julie Pippert said...

I just said to Alice, "It's a loss, but somehow I don't feel it's his loss, at all. KWIM?"

So I'll repeat that here.

What a cool story that morphed into a lovely tribute.

Storey Clayton said...

So it goes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atABhlMLYvU

Storey Clayton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
liv said...

what a nice memory to share. i can't imagine what it must have felt like--energetically speaking-- to be in such a space!

Hel said...

I love the way you casually drop these moments, frozen in time, into your blog. I get to sit very still and feel the ripples passing through time and into my world.

Jenny said...

Amazingly cool.

crazymumma said...

oh cool.

grade 12 memories of reading vonnegut and smoking a little weed at lunch time and talking about it out in the field with all the other arty stoners.

cool.

Deezee said...

passing into a creative person's personal space always feels delicious. love that you had this experience.

Denguy said...

I can't believe the things you've done, the places you've been.

urban-urchin said...

That is really cool Jen. "Breakfast of Champions" and "Cat's Cradle?" I would have at least tried to get a polaroid of me standing next to the desk with the pen. (see that's when the camera on your phone is REALLY useful).

The severe irreverisble brain damage he is said to have suffered, is the thing that made me think that death was more merciful in this instance.

Lawyer Mama said...

Oh yes, the pen. It would have been really hard not to touch the pen. I would have loved to have seen those photographs as well. How amazing.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments on my post. You're very perceptive. I wasn't really asking for advice, but I know sometimes people feel the need to try and fix it and I know they're well meaning.

I admire you from afar as well. You are such a great writer and you've had such an amazing and varied life. You're a bit intimidating! Anyway, I do hope to get to know you better. Thanks again, Jen.

wordgirl said...

Oh. My. God. Just the words "Kurt Vonnegut's Brownstone" were enough to give me pause. What a fantastic story. I started with "Palm Sunday" and worked my way backwards. I would also recommend a book by his son Mark Vonnegut titled, "Eden Express".

carrie said...

Just breathing the same air as someone like that is such a priviledge.

You were very lucky.

Carrie

Jurgen Nation said...

What a fantastic memory to hold. To be inside all that energy and artistic force...wow. I envy you.

I'm popping in from Indie Bloggers to say hi (Hi!) and I think this (or, really, so much of what you write) is perfect for the site if you're interested in submitting. I noticed you haven't posted, so I hope that means you've just forgotten and not because you decided you hated us. ;) I kid. I'd be honored if you posted some of your stuff, but I'm just as honored to have you as a member.

Paul said...

I have never read a book by Kurt Vonnegut, but I regret his passing.