I was enjoying solitude during my nightly cleaning of the coffee shop when I stopped in front of the photo of William Saroyan and wondered what Saroyan would say about these days. I heard a big laugh and a voice said, “So imagine if two Armenians get together, what do they do?” and I knew that the ghost of William Saroyan was present.
“They would laugh and mock the big ideas of the world. Baron Saroyan, you’ve been dead thirty or thirty-five years now. Why are you here? What can you tell me about the afterlife? For that matter, what can you tell me about life?”
“Yeah, kid, the laugh gave me away. What I wrote in Sons Come and Go is still true. ‘I have always been a laugher, disturbing people who are not laughers. I laugh, that’s all. I love to laugh. Laughter to me is being alive.’”
“I seem to have inherited some of your laughing attitude. Maybe it’s in the Armenian DNA.”
“So what do you want to talk about, kid? I’m inside your head. Not out there.”
And I’m thinking, why does he call me “kid”? I’m not young.
“In Time of Your Life—you wrote about seeking goodness. To bring it out when found. What did you mean?”
“What I said. Let goodness be free and unashamed. People today want to limit goodness to certain behaviors or attitudes or philosophies. When we sense goodness, bring it into the open! Hide nothing! People are overwhelmed by headlines, negative thoughts, and doomsday nightmares. Be countercultural. Understand me, kid?”
“But do you understand how hard that is?”
“Look—I quote myself again because my writing was good, ‘Have no shame in being kindly or gentle.’ That’s in Time of Your Life, too. People put on these hard shells. They want to be tough. Hard. They like to think that war is good, that fighting is fine, that being tough is the only way to survive. How do I say in Armenian that needs to be flushed with the morning routine? People are meant to love.”
“Now I know you’re not real. Tell that last message to world leaders.”
“What I think of world leaders! ‘Three times in my life I have been captured: by the orphanage, by school, and by the Army.’ I wrote about that in Here Comes, There Goes. Everything in life is about becoming free from the hang-ups we inherited and free to be with people we like and love, free to do what feeds our spirits, and especially free from institutional capture.
“You know what I wrote in Chance Meetings—‘The people you hate, well, this is the question about such people: why do you hate them?’ Maybe if we put that to the people of every nation, we might move closer to love. But that’s never going to happen, kid. We humans have long memories. We remember too much. Hell, I’m guilty of that.”
“Yes, you were the one who remembered the genocide with these words: ‘Let us say that it is again 1915 there is war in the world. Destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them from their homes into the desert. Let them have neither bread nor water. Burn their houses and their churches. See if they will not live again. See if they will not laugh again. See if you can stop them from mocking the big ideas of the world.’”
“Glad you remember that, kid. And we are living again—two Armenians mocking the big ideas of the world and laughing.” And then Saroyan was gone and I was back to cleaning the coffee shop and setting up for the next day.