Ain't it great when you meet famous people and they're exactly like you want them to be? I got to meet Kurt Vonnegut at a party at George Plimpton's house when I was an intern for Harper's magazine. When you work for Harper's, parties like that just seemed to happen. This one was a book-release event hosted by Plimpton for Harper's editor Lewis Lapham.
Plimpton's East Side apartment had hosted innumerable literary elites in its day-it also happened to be the offices of The Paris Review, which Plimpton edited, so any time someone wanted to meet Plimpton, they essentially just went to his house. The place had a classic New York feel to it-bookshelves built into the walls, photos of family mixed with photos of famous people, a mantle piece, hardwood floors, Plimpton's award from the year he tried out for the Detroit Lions in an early bit of gonzo journalism. Literary lions stood or sat everywhere, holding glasses of brandy or cold-stirred martinis.
Vonnegut, bushy hair, mustache and all, plunked himself down on a sofa on the west side of the apartment, near the mantle, and he held court, chatting with whomever approached him. He cracked jokes, made peculiar-yet-insightful pronouncements and casually referred to other famous writers as if they were drinking buddies (they were, actually). I myself was intimidated-a friend introduced me; I shook his hand, mumbled something about Slaughterhouse-Five, and shuffled off. But a young female colleague boldly walked up and sat down next to him. Vonnegut turned to her and promptly began to flirt outrageously.
Bear in mind, at the time he was already in his 80s, probably 81 or so. Tolerably spry, sure, but his hair was salted with white, and he had the many, many wrinkles earned from a long life well-lived. A statue of elderly virility he was not. She was the picture of New York City hipster youth-mid-20s, svelte, clad in black, stylishly coifed. Yet, there seemed some sort of current flowing between them. They'd been chatting for maybe 20 minutes, longer than anyone else talked to Vonnegut that night, and they were leaning into each other, bodies angled in that electric way that says, 'Oh yeah, it's on!” My fellow interns and I watched this woman flirt back, and we couldn't help but wonder if something would actually happen between them.
Alas, one of the old lions came over to retrieve Vonnegut for a toast, and that was the end of that.
But, I had to know. What could have been?
'You know,” she told me the next day, 'if he had wanted me to go home with him, I might have gone.'
Got something to say? E-mail us at email@example.com.