Archive for April, 2007

Episode 58: Rest well Kilgore Trout

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

In this week’s episode we say goodbye to Kurt Vonnegut.  So it goes.

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 58: Rest well Kilgore Trout
by Steven C. Day

“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”

Kurt Vonnegut (But then who else would it be?)

Kilgore Trout is dead at last.  It must be a relief to him.  Being the principal character growing out of the mind of Kurt Vonnegut must have been exhausting work.

I received the news of Vonnegut’s passing — and I say this as an act of confession — with one part sadness and one part envy.  The envy wasn’t for the dying, of course: Why be jealous for a jewel you’re certain to receive yourself one day soon?  No, the jealously was for his life — or maybe for the immortality that life engendered.

When you’ve just turned 52 — happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me — the idea of immortality of any sort takes on a significance notably lacking when you turn, say, 25.

There have been many times in my life when I’ve wanted to be Kurt Vonnegut, or more accurately, part of Kurt Vonnegut.  I didn’t want the part where his mother committed suicide, of course, or where his beloved sister died young or even the part where he lived through being a prisoner of war and the firebombing of Dresden.

No, it was the successful writer part of Kurt Vonnegut I wanted to be.

Like at least 50 percent of all of the men, women and children who have ever roamed this increasingly warm planet, part of me has always wanted to be a writer.  And not just any sort of writer — a writer of great fiction.  And I will admit to a certain sense of awe for those who have managed to do it both successfully and well. 

Kilgore Trout was, of course, not one of those people.  His work was depressingly unpopular.  In fact, the only place he was routinely published was in pornography, where his work was used to provide some “redeeming social importance,” in the hope of avoiding prosecution under obscenity laws.  Vonnegut considered Trout’s lack of popularity unsurprising: ”His prose was frightful. Only his ideas were good.”

Yet, in the end, when, in Breakfast of Champions, Trout had the opportunity to confront his creator, he didn’t ask to be given better writing skills.  He had something else in mind.

Here was what Kilgore Trout cried out to me in my father’s voice: “Make me young, make me young, make me young!”

(Kurt Vonnegut — Last line of the book Breakfast of Champions (1973))


Dear Winston, fifth edition

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

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Episode 57: Cocktails with Franklin

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

We have had some fascinating visitors at The Last Chance Democracy Café.  But this may take the cake.

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 57: Cocktails with Franklin
by Steven C. Day

Have you ever awakened feeling wonderful because of something terrific that just happened, only to be crushed when you realized it had all been a dream?  Then afterwards, have you ever found yourself wondering whether, by the grace of some magic in the moonlight, at least a little of that dream may somehow actually have been true?

*  *  *

You would think I would learn.  I mean, how many times does a man have to get burned before he figures out that sticking his hand into a pot full of boiling water isn’t such a swell idea?  Every time — every single time — I violate my personal rule against drinking in my own cafe I get into trouble.

The first time I made this mistake was the evening we played “Lie George,” as described back in episode 8.  That one, of course, almost got us closed down.

But that didn’t stop me from repeating the same sin 11 months later.  My wife took the kids out of town to visit her mother and, given that I was batching it, I figured what the hell. So, I joined some of the dart players in an Irish whisky taste test; the idea was to sample each brand we stock.

Let’s just say we have a fine selection.

My next memory is of standing up and stumbling a few feet, nearly falling in the process, as I tried to make my way to the bathroom (don’t worry, Samuel, the bartender, had already taken my car keys).  After regaining my footing, I noticed the blurry but familiar image of a woman standing directly in front of me.  She was about 60-years-old, wearing a fashionable pink pantsuit and a scowl that ran deeper than the salt mines of Kansas.

She was my sister-in-law, Charlene.

The same sister-in-law who has never completely forgiven me for endangering her sister’s financial security by leaving the practice of law to open The Last Chance Democracy Cafe.

“You’re drunk!” she said in voice dripping with contempt.

As for what came next, there’s really not a whole lot I can say.  I was drunk, okay, real drunk — and something about the way she had spoken reminded me of Winston Churchill’s famous response to a woman who accused him of being drunk at a party.  And before I knew it, I was repeating Churchill’s words to Charlene:

“And you, madam, are ugly. But in the morning, I shall be sober.”

And, no, it didn’t go over all that well at home.

Duly chastened, I followed my no booze at work rule religiously for well over a year.  But then last night after closing, all alone in my tiny closet-office on the second floor of the café, trying to catch up on paperwork, the urge for libation started to rear its ugly head.  I hate paperwork.  And I figured what harm could one little drink do –

Or two little drinks –

Or three – 

When the numbers on the balance sheet started dancing a jig — actually, I’m not sure exactly what a jig is, but they did start dancing — I knew I was in trouble.  My wife, who was not expecting me home for several more hours and no doubt was already long to bed, has always told me that if I ever find myself drunk to call her and she’ll come get me (she doesn’t want me driving drunk, which I would never do anyway).

I don’t doubt her sincerity, but there are some offers in life that you should only take up under the direst of circumstances.  I decided to call a cab.  But before I got around to it, I leaned back in my chair to rest my eyes for just a moment and –