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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Goodbye Blue Monday

As I drove to work today, I heard on the radio that Kurt Vonnegut, a titan of American literature, had died.

My introduction to Vonnegut's writing came via coffee. During my senior year at Carleton College, a friend who had just graduated, John P., and a friend of his from high school, Chad S., opened a coffeehouse across the street from my apartment on Division Street. They named it Goodbye Blue Monday. I learned from Chad that this was an homage to the alternate title of his favorite Vonnegut novel, Breakfast of Champions. I had heard of Vonnegut, but had never read his work.

I was a regular at the coffeehouse, stopping there each day after I picked up my fledgling publishing company's mail from its box in the post office on the opposite side of Northfield's town square. As I made my living in the solitary pursuits of freelance writing and editing, with this new publishing venture on the side, the coffeehouse was a place where I could mix work (reading my mail, proofing a manuscript, or dreaming up ideas for a new project) with a modest daily allowance of human interaction.

Every day, the mugs of the coffeehouse were a reminder that I really should read some Vonnegut sometime. While I suspect most people are introduced to Vonnegut with Slaughterhouse 5 (my wife, Michelle, loved to use it when she taught college English — which, as an aside, is just one of the many reasons I have been madly in love with her since we first met), my first exposure to the author was thus Breakfast of Champions, the story of the lonely science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, an automobile dealer, and the author himself. Actually, it's a little hard to describe. It delighted me, in any case, and launched a minor binge of buying and reading Vonnegut novels.

So I'd like to offer a virtual coffee toast to the memory and work of Kurt Vonnegut. Let me quote the epitaph he wrote for his imaginary science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout, in Breakfast of Champions: "We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane."


I, too, found myself thinking of Goodbye Blue Monday as I browsed the Vonnegut tributes today.

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