A great thing happened to me last weekend. I had the opportunity to meet one of my idols, see him perform, shake his hand, blah, blah, blah. You know, “bucket list” stuff. My idol’s name is Lewis Black and I have been a fan for a long, long time. Looking forward to the event made me feel like a child and he didn’t disappoint me. But if he was just the cool, funny, smart guy I wanted him to be, it would have been just another check off of that must-meet list that so many of us have. Last Sunday was so much more than that for me.
The reason my idol was in town was because he wanted to participate in a vitally important memorial to one of his idols, Kurt Vonnegut. The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library had one of its two annual fundraising events at the Main Library in Indianapolis a few days ago. In the Indianapolis Library’s bafflingly monstrous grand hall, Vonnegut’s name is etched boldly in the limestone wall right in a row alongside Hemingway and Dr. Suess. Black performed one of his trademark rants for the crowd of 450 in attendance with wonderfully personal and tribute-laden remarks about one of his idols folded within it. Vonnegut matters to Black. And now Vonnegut matters to me.
I am a little embarrassed to admit that I read my first Vonnegut book last year. I read it mainly because of my shame, but also because one of my good friends, Kip Tew, is a fan and and active member of the library’s board. I quickly read my second one because the first one was so good. Shame gone. So, ok, the guy was a great writer. Big deal. Actually it is a huge deal around here. And while it was starting to sink in for me what a big deal it actually is, the event last week sealed it for me.
You see, Indianapolis is my home. I moved here in 1989, and no matter where I live for the rest of my life, Indy will always be my home. I raised my kids here. I finished school here. I met my wife here. Home.
But in all of that time, I never felt as proud of my hometown as I did last Sunday night. Like me, Kurt Vonnegut loved Indianapolis. And he made this place an enviable place for many. If someone like him could be from here and be proud of it, there must be something to it after all. And there is.
Lewis Black hated Indianapolis, for he was born and raised in Maryland. He described his original view of our city like this:
“I’ve got two problems with Indianapolis. First, I don’t sell a lot of tickets here, but mainly, you took my team. I had next to nothing…and you took my team.” As a diehard Colts fan, I know how I would feel if Baltimore had done it to us.
He since discovered the Vonnegut Memorial Library on a trip here a few years back and has bonded with it. The people who work to build and promote it are clearly happy they have a celebrity to help the cause. They should be. He has already helped and is committed to continuing to help the library raise money and its profile. The effect the event has had on me, however, has been profound.
Spending the evening with Vonnegut’s fans, learning some things about him I didn’t know and seeing one of my idols express his deep admiration for one of his own idols has made me proud to be from his town. I am convinced that Vonnegut is Indianapolis’ favorite son, our most prized connection to artistic relevance that we may ever have. Further, his lifelong love for our city is encouraging to those of us that love it the way he did. I am excited to be hooked by the library and its charge, and I am looking forward to seeing it grow.
Mr. Black made a great comment during his talk last Sunday. He said, “we are not what we eat, we are NOT what we eat. We are who we read. And I’m glad I read Kurt Vonnegut.”
While talking with some library members and Mr. Black later that night, I learned something new about Indy. The library folks pointed out the connection between Bluebeard (the relatively new restaurant in the near south side neighborhood Fletcher Place) and Vonnegut’s “Bluebeard.” Black is reading the famous book now. And I am torn—should I read the book first, or have dinner at the restaurant?
A uniquely Indianapolis dilemma.
Thank you Lewis. It was truly a pleasure to meet you. Hopefully we can meet again soon, because there’s a cool place in town we really need to try.