So it goes I used to walk down the long road from my school to the smallish pond and wooden bench when I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. That day, I discovered after sitting down with my book that I was not to be alone with my thoughts, for there came a man of impressive, imposing size, about six-foot three with shaggy brown hair, who looked more like John Holmes than he did a writer, but none of that mattered for he came along and wouldn’t leave me to my thoughts. He asked if he could sit down on the bench and I said that he could and he sat down next to my book. I had wanted to be alone with my thoughts but I guess he didn’t want to be alone with his. He asked if he could smoke and I said that he could and he did, extracting with his long fingers one of his unfiltered Pall Malls, which were the kind my grandfather used to smoke when he had wanted to be alone. Canada geese walked up from the water, leaving their green pellets behind them in the brown grass, and the cars on Route 24 whizzed on by in the distance behind the curtain of trees. There were a few quiet minutes between us, when each of us was alone in his quiet thoughts, but people are people and one of us had to ruin the solitude with talk. The clouds were dead overhead as I read; the gray carcinogenic cloud between us as it shifted from right to left on that bench.
He saw the book and asked me whether I had read other books by the same author. I said that I had. He asked me what I had thought of them and I asked back, whether he was asking about the book next to me or about the other books the author had written. He answered, “The book there next to you.” I answered that I liked it because it was the author at his most honest. I didn’t know why I had told him that but that was what I had sensed. He had a long face and a smile that looked as if he hadn’t hung it up on the line for decades. He asked me if I thought the writer was a good writer and I said that I thought the book next to me was the one most people would remember most, unless the author continued writing, which I suspected he would because he could. He sucked in some more smoke and I asked him whether he thought the writer was a good writer and the question must have weighed on him because he didn’t answer right away. We sat there a few minutes more before he told me that there are nine rules to good writing. He explained eight of them to me and left me waiting for the last rule, which he gave to me just when I thought that I would be alone with my thoughts. He replied that he did think that the writer was a good writer, but only because of that ninth rule: “Be an asshole and care only about the story and not what people think.”
We sat there for a few minutes more. I think we both found ourselves alone in our thoughts. He finished another Pall Mall, picked up the book, and asked if he could sign it for me. I shrugged and said why not since he had written it. So it goes I used to have a copy of that famous book and on the inside flap where you should have been able to make out the author’s name but couldn’t, because all you saw was a large * .
Kurt Vonnegut: 11 November 1922 – 11 April 2007