Author’s ‘ghost’ reminds students to floss, be kind

WESTWOOD – A college crowd that gathered to watch a late-night comedy film said the show included two appearances by the deceased writer Kurt Vonnegut, one of which greatly exceeded expectations.

Students present at the University of California Los Angeles student union for a Saturday airing of Back to School, in which Vonnegut provides an essay about himself to older returning student Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield), said that in addition to Vonnegut’s cameo role in the film, the famous author materialized as a ghost during the credit roll.

“My friend noticed a cloud of smoke by the projector screen as we were about to leave,” said Brianna Chung, a Vonnegut fan who plans on pursuing a career in stage production when she graduates. “First, she shouted, ‘fire!’ Then, ‘terrorist attack!’ I guess for a second she couldn’t make up her mind what she was seeing.”

Chung winked and said, “I think my friend was relieved when she realized it was only a ghost.”

Kurt Vonnegut makes a cameo appearance as himself during a recent campus showing of Back to School.

Kurt Vonnegut makes a cameo appearance during a recent college campus showing of Back to School. (Orion Pictures)

Witnesses described being spellbound as Vonnegut’s apparition proceeded to offer them its unique perspective on human affairs.

“Now that I have your attention, I thought we might test a theory of mine,” said the ghost. “Does anyone here believe in telekinetics – that is, the ability to move objects with your mind?”

One student raised his hand.

“Do me a favor, then,” said the ghost. “Raise my hand.”

Laughter followed, as the student admitted he was unable to do so.

“I guess telekinesis really is hocus pocus,” said the ghost. “Not that I’m one to talk. Since I’m here, however, I might as well try to share something helpful. If I could offer you one tip, ladies and gentlemen, sunscreen would be it. Wear it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the advice you are about to hear has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience …”

According to witnesses, Vonnegut’s ghost offered them humorous wisdom they might appreciate as they become older.

“Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth,” said the ghost. “Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way that you can’t grasp now just how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.”

“While I am at it, I might as well tell you to not even bother worrying about the future,” said the ghost. “Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. at an idle intersection on a Tuesday.”

In addition, Vonnegut’s ghost reminded students to ‘floss’ and ‘sing.’

“Remember, all persons, living and dead, are entirely coincidental,” said the ghost. “There’s only one rule I know while you’re alive on this planet – God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

Kurt Vonnegut, as he appeared during the credit roll of Saturday's showing of Back to School.

In addition to a cameo role, Kurt Vonnegut appeared as a ghost during a recent campus showing of Back to School. (Thibaud Baiguini)

Vonnegut was born Nov. 11, 1922 and died April 11, 2007 as a result of a head injury that occurred from a fall.

In a career that spanned over 50 years, Vonnegut published fourteen novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction. He was most famous for his darkly satirical, best-selling novel Slaughterhouse-Five, published in 1969.

Critics often described Vonnegut as a science fiction writer, a label with which he disagreed, because he said it meant he would not be taken seriously.

Witnesses of Saturday’s apparition said they appreciated the advice. With the pressures of post-secondary education mounting according to polls — debates regarding racism, sexism and even the place of ‘comfort animals’ raging on campuses nationwide — along with a spate of college shootings that have been making headlines in recent years, some students expressed the need for their peers to learn to better manage their stress, fears and expectations of the larger world they are entering, in which so many people already struggle.

“We live in a society that’s all about me, me, me,” said Dwayne Arsdale, a psychology major, who said he never read a Vonnegut novel but would be open to doing so after Saturday’s encounter. “It can be easy to lose sight of what really matters in this existence, which in my opinion is how we treat each other. I can think of a few people in my classes right now who need to take their existential dilemmas a little less seriously … the ‘ghost’ was right … we’re all in this life together.”

While many students said they believed Vonnegut’s ghost might have been a hoax, Chung said she was not discouraged.

“So it goes,” said Chung. “As far I’m concerned, tonight was special, and it will remain a fond memory.”

Tracy Edwards, Nov. 19, 2018

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