I have been stealing a line here and there from Kurt Vonnegut as long as I can recall, and the only consolation was that he knew it and found it a bit amusing.
Somewhere in college he burst into my consciousness as a writer with a vivid style, a man who used humor and punctuation in ways I’d never seen them used.
One of the first books of his I read was Slaughterhouse Five, and Vonnegut opened a chapter with this line: Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
I was hooked.
Years later, I met him at a lecture and, because I working news then, not sports, interviewed him afterward. The interview became a conversation and somewhere in there I admitted to having coveted that one sentence – and promised that sooner or later, I’d find a way to get it into a story.
He said he was honored, unless I planned on following that by lifting whole chapters.
Ironically, last month I finally stole a good chunk of that one line from Slaughterhouse Five. It was a story about Felix Hernandez, and how all the hype about him in 2006 was out of sync – it should have come this spring, not last.
The story began: Felix Hernandez was unstuck in time last spring …
It wasn’t a great lead. It made me smile, however, because after all these years I’d put a little Vonnegut into a baseball story – call it a bit of a tribute on my part to someone who’s work made me want to write.
Vonnegut died the other day, and will be remembered as long as good books are read. There are a dozen other lines I’ve stolen from him over the years, and I never did it without thinking about him, his good nature or his ability to use words.
God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut. And thanks.