Jason Offutt: Pen in vase my way of saying thanks

By Jason Offutt

Editor’s note: As you know, Jason Offutt spent three and a half weeks teaching in London and has been sharing some of the interesting things he discovered. Want to discuss the adventure with him? Send an email to

Highgate Cemetery is at the top of a ridiculously steep hill in the London borough of Islington. A red telephone box, one of only 2,000 traditional boxes left in the country, sits on a stretch of pavement that takes pedestrians up that hill, past pubs that offer a friendly door (I stopped at one on the way home; the inside was friendly, too), and into quiet Waterlow Park.
Across the park, black metal gates mark the beginning of Highgate Cemetery, the resting place of physicist Michael Faraday, political philosopher Karl Marx, and many British artists, entertainers, architects, and military heroes. It’s also home to the legend of the Highgate Vampire.
I wasn’t there to see any of them, although I did, except for the vampire. Well, one guy was pretty pale, but I think he was just from Finland.
I was at the cemetery to get as close as I ever could to one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams.
Adams, born in Cambridge in March 1952, wrote “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” “Hitchhiker’s Guide” began as a BBC radio series, and became a TV series, computer game, stage play, and finally a really bad Hollywood movie, but I first came to know it as a novel that I picked up in college simply because the jacket cover looked ridiculous. The book didn’t disappoint. The inside was ridiculous as well, brilliantly so.
Adams sold more than 15 million books in the English-speaking world, and at least two or three everywhere else. Adams died of a heart attack while working out at the gym in 2001. He was only 49 years old. Lesson here? Never go to the gym.
Adams’ grave is unassuming (fitting for the atheist he was), not like that braggart Karl Marx. Marx’s tombstone is at least 12 feet tall, and topped with a head that looks like a really angry Santa Claus.
Marx, the revolutionary socialist who wrote “The Communist Manifesto,” lived 15 years longer than Adams, and his book wasn’t nearly as funny as Adams’ book. Nope. Not even close.
Adams’ stone, a slight piece of granite, simply says, “Douglas Adams, Writer, 1952-2001.” A vase rests at the foot of the headstone, and is filled with ballpoint pens. There’s a reason for that. In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” a student named Veet Voogajig “became increasingly obsessed with what happened to all the ballpoint pens he’d bought over the years.” He claimed to find the planet at the end of a wormhole where all pens went to find “the good life.”
I took the best pen from my pocket (it wasn’t a great pen. I buy them in in big bags) and placed it in the vase. Thanks for all the laughs, Douglas.

Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in publicationss across the country. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt

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