In a series of 90-second stories on WNYC, Kurt Vonnegut imagines a series of near-death experiences. Aided by Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Vonnegut is brought to a place where he is three-fourths dead in a lethal execution facility in Huntsville, Texas. In his series of trips, Vonnegut meets 21 people, some famous, some ordinary, at the pearly gates, where he speaks briefly with them about their lives, their afterlives, and the place that they know as Heaven.
In true Vonnegut form, the interviews are extremely short, and filled with dark, subtle humor. He interviews all sorts of people–from Shakespeare and Adolf Hitler to James Earl Ray (Martin Luther King’s assassin) and a man who died trying to rescue his schnauzer from the jaws of a disgruntled pitt bull. Each interviewee has his own interests–obsessions maybe–that guide their conversations with Vonnegut. Sir Isaac Newton is obsessed with learning what the “tunnel” between life and heaven is made out of. One man, a hot air balloon enthusiast in life, encourages Vonnegut to experience a hot air balloon ride before he dies because he swears it’s better than heaven.
Interestingly, there is no hell in Vonnegut’s imagined afterlife. Even Adolf Hitler makes it to the heaven of Vonnegut’s imagination. Hitler asks, almost sheepishly, “for a small cross to be erected in the United Nations Headquarters” that bore the words “1889-1945 Entschuldigen Sie” which translates roughly to mean “I beg your pardon” or “excuse me.”
Most (regrettably, not all) of these recordings are available here at WNYC’s website. You can, of course, also read them in book form. I did both, and I strongly suggest listening!
7. God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut