We agreed on the Starbucks in Benaroya Symphony Hall, 4:30. I was going to buy him a coffee or something, since he balked at the idea of a beer. (Kids today! Of course, for all I know he might not even be legal.) I walked in, scanned the long line of tables running most of 3rd Avenue between Union and University, and though I had only the slightest clue of what he looks like from his daylogs, I was pretty sure I didn’t see him sitting there. Then I turned and looked outside at the bustop. There, leaning against the plate glass, smoking a cigarette was a neatly dressed, slim young man with a closely cropped shock of black hair. That’s my boy, I thought. I stepped outside. “Moon?”, I asked. I didn’t even remember his first name, as he was no longer listing it on his homenode. He smiled. We shook hands. His grip firmer than usual for a man his age. But if you’ve read his stuff, you know that the Mojo isn’t a man his age. How does one measure time spent in country as a Marine grunt? Dogface years? One of our math geeks should work on the equation.
It would be cliché for me to have been shocked by how young and slender and sweet-faced he appeared. Isn’t that how we always send them off to fight our wars? He told me he was here with friends from high school and nodded at a table inside. At it sat a gaggle of exuberant kids, oblivious to us.
“Any of them soldiers?” I asked, fairly certain of the answer.
“No,” he smiled. He seemed glad of it. Hell, I was glad of it, too: those kids looked like kids, just like I was at their age, bright and blissfully shallow, even in their eagerness to consider the “difficult issues.” On any day I’d rather talk to him.
And it’s not just that he writes compellingly about a war that, like all wars, I’m both horrified and fascinated by. It’s that he threads his experiences into the tapestry of himself, the universe. This from an episode when his buddies taunted him with a cuttlefish one of them caught off a pier on the Haditha Dam reservoir:
"Fuck you, I'll eat that shit raw," I told them.
So I stopped by the pier today and sure enough, K____ had managed to catch another cuttlefish, a weird striped one that had inked all over them and everything. As they watched in giddy excitement, I cut off one of the tentacles, washed it off with a bottle of water, bit off the little suction-cuppy end, chewed and swallowed.
It could've used a little cocktail sauce or something, but it was alright. Though they were kinda freaked out and scared, I eventually coaxed each of them to try it (by questioning his courage or calling him a 'pussy', you can pretty much get a Marine to do anything), and they agreed it wasn't bad.
I have a fond memory of when I was a young boy, in Korea, walking down the beach with my uncle. There was a little stand there, where these little octopi that were caught right off the beach were cleaned and gutted right in front of you and served chopped up, but still wriggling. I remember a sense of wonder and awe, not fear or disgust.
I guess I never did learn to be afraid or disgusted by little things like that, like so many people do, but I wish I could call back that sense of wonder, and hold it like I hold that memory, to recognize all the wondrous things that must happen all around me every day.
Tell me that’s not some of the most cleanly evocative prose you’ve read anywhere. Tell me you wrote that well when you were his age. If so, god bless ya. If not, join my club.
We talked for about 25 minutes out on that sidewalk in downtown Seattle. I asked him what he was reading these days. He said Sarah Vowell’s new book, and that he’d just saw her speak at Elliott Bay Bookstore. I told him I dug her stuff on NPR. He asked me what I was reading and I told him, embarrassed by the flamingly obscure headiness of it, though I have this place to blame for pointing me to it. I told him I was also reading a biography of Wallace Stevens. Told him he might dig Stevens, and that he should check out a poem called “The Snowman”. We talked about poetry. He said he was working his way through Leaves of Grass, which just about made my heart sing, since I got into Whitman around his age and happily never got out. I told him he might like William Carlos Williams, too. And that poetry was hard, and often crap, but necessary. I think now of Williams' famous quote, glad I didn’t spout it at him right then and there on the sidewalk, but hoping now that he runs across it some day. After mentioning Whitman, and going on to say he was digging Borges now, I new that there was genuine hope for this kid, this man, this soldier.
I told him to keep in touch, to keep writing, to be safe. I didn’t need or want to read about another E2 tragedy. I told him that writers look out for each other; that he could count on us to be here for him. He said he likes to get letters, actual physical ones. I told him I’d send him some. I mean to keep my word. I like writing letters, actual physical ones.
This electronic place is nice, but I’ve been blessed to put my actual physical hands on some very special people that write here, and let me tell you, that’s even nicer.
So write BadMojo a letter. And buy him a cup of coffee when he’s in your town. Or just chat with him on a sidewalk for a tiny slice of your life. You won’t regret it.