I’ve spent exactly one day in London in my life. It’s been a couple decades now. I was part of a group at my company attending a conference in Amsterdam (a story for another time). We had to connect through London so ended up taking a day there before continuing on. I believe it was a Saturday. We spent the entire afternoon walking the city, and at some point happened upon an outside street fair.
I only remember two things from that afternoon.
One, an older man playing violin in the square. His hair long, gray and wild, his beard shaggy. Wore a white, long sleeved buttoned shirt, open at the chest and a little grimy, deep burgandy pants that billowed and made his long legs seem longer. He played with passion, his eyes wide when they weren’t closed in communion with his instrument. I took him for a regular, if uninvited, character of the grounds. He was both oblivious and superior to the townspeople and tourists milling about. He danced as he played, in essence commandeering the entire square as his performance space. I was bewitched by his power and presence. He said not a word, yet the square was his.
The only other thing I recall from the street fair was a vendor standing behind a few really long tables of used books. Being a provincial kid from Uniontown on my first trip abroad, I remember being drawn to something familiar in this otherwise exotic place. While my colleagues explored elsewhere, I lost myself rooting through the tables. After a bit, my eye caught something by Kurt Vonnegut. I didn’t recognize the title. It looked to be some sort of television screenplay. I immediately thought of my friend, Bill, who was absolutely mad for all things Kurt. I forked over a couple pounds, put the treasure in my coat pocket, and went to find my colleagues.
When I got home, I wrapped up the book and sent it to Bill, along with a note of how I’d happened upon it.
A week or so later, he wrote me back. Evidently, he’d heard of the screenplay, but it had long been out of circulation. It was the one piece of Vonnegut he’d never been able to track down. He was absolutely over the moon and profuse in his gratitude.
Reading his thank you note was just the best feeling. To this day, I count it among the best gifts I’ve ever given, everything about it pure serendipity.Continue reading