Locked Up with Vonnegut, Day Two

Of banned books and tattoo tributes

September 29, 2015

The Banned Books Week "prison" inside the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. Photo: Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.
The Banned Books Week "prison" inside the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. Photo: Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.

I was once introduced as “one of the new wave of gonzo librarians.” I was so thin back then.

Now that we have the internet, I think the definition of “gonzo librarian” has changed. Hipsters with cute clothes and beards (on some) are crawling out of the woodwork. How does an aging librarian compete?

I got a tattoo.

My wife turned 50 last year and decided to mark the milestone with a tattoo. She is also a librarian, and so she came up with a clever combination of a cat and a book (no stereotypes here). As a show of unity, this became a family event, with my daughter and I getting tattoos at the same time. Sadly, my son was absent, but there are already plans in the works for a follow up.

I gave mine a lot of thought. Tattoos are permanent. What do I really care that much about to etch it into my skin? Serious? Ironic? Whimsical? And where on myself should I get it?

In concert with the local public library, DePauw University puts on an event each semester known as “Books That Made a Difference.” We ask someone from town and someone from the university to speak about books that really matters to them. I was invited to participate, and I chose Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut.

As a longtime fan, admirer, and all-around groupie for Kurt, my tattoo suddenly occurred to me as I reread the book.

If you are not acquainted with the work (and I hope you will remedy this if you are not), there are lots of little illustrations to help make the points and just to liven things up (Kurt may address this differently). I always found them to be whimsical, interesting, and a great addition to my enjoyment. Kurt later turned many of these into art (check them out—visit the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library and Vonnegut.com).

One in particular just spoke to me. Kurt used it as an addition to his signature when signing books, and in a variety of other ways. It’s a sphincter. It looks like this:

Rick Provine's tattoo tribute to Kurt Vonnegut.

So, yes. I have an asshole on my arm.

The best part was at the tattoo parlor (a great place in Richmond, Virginia). A gentleman there was getting work done on a very large and elaborate piece—a tiger on his shoulder or something like that. But he couldn’t wait to tell his friends that while he was there, some guy got an asshole tattooed on his arm.

I live to entertain.

So now, there it is. Permanent, perfect, a ready reminder that I do care deeply about some things. It’s also convenient. When supremely annoyed, I can just raise my arm in silent comment.



Books challenged or banned in 2015

Banned Books Week Roundup 2015

Recently banned and challenged books in US libraries and elsewhere

11,300 books challenged since 1982

By the Numbers: Banned Books Week

Stats to celebrate the most frequently challenged and banned books