We lived in Iowa City and I taught two freshman rhetoric classes four mornings a week, then came home to eat lunch and write. I wrote in my den at the front of the house, a small room with large windows, and I looked out across the lawn at an intersection of streets shaded by tall trees. I was trying to learn to write stories, and was reading O’Hara and Hemingway as a carpenter might look at an excellent house someone else has built.
Kurt Vonnegut was our neighbor. We had adjacent lawns; he lived behind us, at the top of the hill. One day that summer he was outside on his lawn or on his front porch four times when I was outside, and we waved and called to each other. The first time I was walking home from teaching, wearing slacks and a shirt; the next time I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt I had put on to write; then I wore gym shorts without a shirt and drove to the track; in late afternoon wearing another pair of slacks and another shirt, I walked up to his house to drink. He was sitting on his front porch and, as I approached, he said: ‘Andre, you changed clothes more than a Barbie doll.’
Kurt did not have a telephone. That summer the English Department hosted a conference, and one afternoon a man from the department called me (to pick up) Mrs. Ellison at the train. She did not like to fly. I went up to Kurt’s house, and he came to the back door. I said: ‘They want us to pick up Ellison at the airport. Then his wife at the train.’
He said ‘Swell. I’ll drive.’