Unwittingly, I've been following one of Vonnegut's eight rules for writing a short story (Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction). Rule #7, to be exact, "Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia." The one person is not me. I had the, well I can't call it pleasure, but I had the experience of seeing the man in person twice in my life. Once, while attending a mental health conference as required by a suicide hotline I volunteered for, Vonnegut was the keynote speaker for the mostly medical professionals in attendance. I felt out of place. He warmed up the large audience with a small dose of charm, then talked mainly about his son Mark's bad experiences with the medical community, (The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity by Mark Vonnegut, 1975) in what could be described as quite hostile and crowd silencing. He wasn't aiming for applause and laughter.
He actually asked how many doctors in the audience had ever taken any of the medications for mental illness that they prescribed. Not one hand was raised. He said, "as far as I'm concerned, you may all leave now." I felt a bit more comfortable since I wasn't a doctor so later when he sat down to sign books, I brought him a napkin to sign, not having the money to buy a book. He looked up, and I said, "I'm not a doctor." He signed the paper napkin, then stopped and said, "bully for you." Which, given his mood, I took as a compliment.
The second time I saw Vonnegut was in a restaurant in Manhattan, surrounded by noisy children and a few good-looking women. It was in the mid-eighties, perhaps after his own suicide attempt. They were seated by the window, his back was to the wall, and all the surrounding tables were conspicuously empty. I was there, eating dinner with a man I should have broken up with much sooner. We were arguing. I got up to use the rest room and on the way back to my table, Kurt and his clan were putting on coats and hats and mittens, getting ready to leave the restaurant for the wintery night.
I nodded, in silent deference to him; he asked me how my dinner was. I wish I had something clever to have said, but I blurted out the truth, "I ordered the angel hair pasta special and it arrived lukewarm, with a long black hair in it."