When I was a kid, I lived in a wooden lake house with my Mom and my stepfather. My stepfather was a surly guy who worked late nights. He was a pretty good photographer, an excellent mechanic and obsessed with his tractor to the point of threatening physical violence if I ever got on it or left something lying around that could screw up its blades, which were apparently made of motherfucking pure gold that you had to wrestle a genie to get.
One day he gave me a book. He said, “This book has everything I think about life in it.”
I had seen it around. It was a totem in a sprawling pastoral city of totems, another strange symbol along with my stepfather’s poorly concealed naked lady magazines and the snake that lived at the edge of the yard and the faceless neighbor who always seemed to be burning stacks and stacks of trees in his yard across the water. A paperback book has to work pretty hard to get my attention when it is competing with reptiles, nude women and mysterious smoke.
Its cover was missing, revealing the first page underneath, on which was a drawing of a cow with a comic word balloon above his head. Inside the word balloon: “Goodbye, Blue Monday.”
So the title of the book became, to me: “Goodbye, Blue Monday.”
I refused to read it, because my stepdad was such a son of a bitch.
But the cow followed me around. It was always laying around, face up or out, looking out from next to the shelf with my stepfather’s albums or the head of my bed, where I carried it and laid it down without opening it. The image of the Blue Monday cow, like a pair of twins determined to trick me by seeming to appear in two places at once, was everywhere I looked.
I eventually read the book as an adult, a different copy with an actual cover and discovered my stepfather had been right to feel the way he had about the book.
In my life, the cow is no longer a presence, and today the man, who wrote the book, Kurt Vonnegut, has died and himself turned into mysterious smoke, so to speak.
But through his work he was able to do something to my stepfather that his fussing over his expensive BMW and his temper and his overall combative temperament almost made impossible: he humanized and softened my view of him.
Looking back, I have to wonder if the persistence of that torn covered paperback in my life was a sort of omen and insistence, that my stepfather wasn’t such a bad guy, at least he had enough sense to like Vonnegut.
For that I recommend all of Kurt Vonnegut’s books, even Timequake, which some people say they do not like but I feel is worth a read.