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The Paris Review – Kurt Vonnegut’s House Is Not Haunted

Kurt Vonnegut’s house. Photograph by Sophie Kemp.

In my earliest childhood memories—the big blur we will call the gear shift between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—Schenectady, the city I was born in, is a distant star. Fuzzy, soft, a blurred edge that feels so far away in the way that childhood always feels so far away. Schenectady, the city I was born in, is a small upstate city between the rivers Mohawk and Hudson. Home of the perfect 12345 zip code. The location of the General Electric Power headquarters. Girls wearing low-rise jeans to rent VHS tapes at the Hollywood Video on Balltown Road. Street names: Brandywine, McClellan, Union, Glenwood Boulevard, Nott, Van Vranken. A white clapboard church hovering atop a hill on a rural route—I used to take modern dance classes there. An ice-skating rink next to an Air Force base where the pilots flew to Antarctica, always flying so low when they went over my house. NXIVM ladies planning their volleyball trips to Lake George. My parents knew the exact address of where the Unabomber’s mother and brother lived, in a historic district called the Stockade. And as for me, I do not remember when I first registered that Kurt Vonnegut lived in Alplaus, a small hamlet in Schenectady County, named after the Dutch expression aal plaats, which means “a place of eels.” (There were no eels that I am aware of.) I think it was in high school. I think my hair was cut short. I think it was when I was a virgin. I think it was when I got a job as a bookseller at the Open Door on Jay. I think I was probably sixteen.

I already loved Kurt when I found out that for a few years after World War II he

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