William Saroyan stopped by the coffee house Saturday afternoon. He ignored Ms. Anne Thrope and came to my table. We greeted each other in Armenian. He told me a joke about one of his friends, and I told a story about Esh Mike, the old Armenian whose house was across the alley from our grocery store. Esh Mike’s garage was a place of mystery that housed a still from which he made the Armenian spirit known as raki.
“Was it good raki?” Saroyan asked.
“I don’t know. I was too young, but across the street lived old Khachik Topian who would buy pounds of sugar from our store to make wine. The most sour wine in the history of the world and Armenia, but perfect to marinate lamb for kebab.”
Saroyan laughed with me. We were two ebullient Armenians thumbing our noses at the world. Saroyan began to quote from his play The Time of Your Life.
“In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed.
“Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart….
“In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”
Saroyan said, “I understand that you’ve published a book. Is it as good as Sam, the Highest Jumper of Them All?”
“I have not read that one of your works, but I am not the writer that you are.”
“What did you write?”
“I wrote about Christian religion, and I wrote about being Armenian. I wrote about my father and how he helped settle some immigrants in this country, and I wrote about Methodist Church hymns and singing, which is bound to be better than the singing you heard in the Armenian Presbyterian church. The book is called A World Worth Saving. You should read the book.”
We laughed, drank Armenian coffee, and ate some lokoum. We talked about new Armenia and the changes in the United States, about family and friends and musicians, including his cousin Ross Bagdasarian and the great Komitas Vardapet. Our conversation had become louder and louder, but when we spoke of Komitas we became almost reverent. Then Saroyan held up his hand to signal quiet and quoted lines from The Armenian and the Armenians:
“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”
Just another day at Ms. Anne Thrope’s.