Today, Facebook treated me to an odd gift, a little movie about my “Faceversary.” Seems I’ve been on the thing for a solid decade, more than making good on my membership in (if this group even still exists) Creepy Old Guys On Facebook. It was an odd present to receive on the occasion of Daughtergirl’s 27th birthday and reminded me, with clattering suddenness, of one Mr. John Nordlinger.

John and I did a ton of smoke sessions, specializing in push-ups and mountain climbers, at the Robert C. Byrd Regional Training Institute in West Virginia where we were earnestly trying – and repeatedly failing – to take our nephew-aged instructors seriously. We left there ranked second and third in our PSYOP re-class course, drunk as lords when we staggered onto our flight.

“Do you have any weapons or sharp objects in your luggage?,” asked the fat security droid in white latex gloves as he unclipped the opening on my A-bag.

“Fixed blade, two folding knives, Leatherman, uh… make that two Leathermans…”

He called for assistance, then eased his hand carefully back into my bag while I continued my recitation.

“Um, EMT shears, cable snips, utility knife, Swiss army knife, a boot dagger…”

John just looked at his guy and deadpanned, “Nothing in my bag has been washed for two weeks.” He sailed straight through, uninspected, acing what was by all rights was a PSYOP finishing exercise.

Two low-ranked, retread Reservists with grad school under our belts, we became occasional buddies who played video games on John’s living room wall, wheelied motorcycles through his quiet suburban neighborhood, joined S.F. just for fun, and added a note of cheerful subversion to a unit that should have known better than to take itself so seriously.

One drill weekend, we got epically lost on a night land nav course and wandered Ft. Lewis for hours in the pouring rain with a tiny Chinese private in tow, gabbing about martial arts and mountaineering, both injured and laughing about it. He got treated for a torn calf (second time) and I nearly lost my right arm to compartment syndrome from cellulitis, but first we squared our vehicle away and turned it in with paperwork, just like the Gambler would have done: “If you’re gonna play the game, son, you gotta learn to play it right.”

John was a bigwig at Microsoft, fought muy thai professionally, summited God knows how many peaks, and went on to bail out of Redmond and pick up a masters degree at USC film school, coincidentally (or not) the same school that issued my second sheepskin. I was 30 when I matriculated, and felt like the program’s Methuselah. John went through at 50.

We were never colleagues, though. We were just middle-aged army buddies, bemused by the circumstances of our times. The last time we had lunch was in Lynnwood, at a grocery store cafe that served searingly hot kung pao. He asked if I had any screenplays in mind; I lied about something I was “considering.” He looked at me for a moment, then we went back to reminiscing with funny stories about Sarn’t Mac. Just army buddies, far enough past our prime to enjoy a different angle of view.

Besides an 0-5 chaplain who was phoning it in, John was the first guy who sat me down after deployment to ask about Iraq. He actually listened, and that’s how we got to be occasional lunch buddies. At some point, he emailed me this:

“Hey, we still need to get together! In the meantime. Are you on facebook yet? If so I am. If not I am.”

I just mined my Gmail archives to dig up that note, sent precisely ten years ago, the very day my Daughtergirl turned 17. Today is her first day of being 27. She’s smart and compassionate and well-established on her career path (wherever it may take her). Moreover, it looks like my little girl’s gonna become a mom right around tax day of next year. Parenthood is always a night land nav course in the rain, but I know damn well she’ll laugh and keep going, just like she did the day she broke her arm jumping into shallow water. Much more than her mom or I could claim at her conception, Daughtergirl has learned to play it right.

Still miss you, big John. We didn’t have much time, but we had good times and you were just weird enough to put up with me. Last month, practically in the same week, I got carded at a tavern (it was dark) and found out I’m fixin’ to be a grandpa. Sure would like to sit down with you at that little pad thai joint on 148th and yak about that, maybe put Daughtergirl on speakerphone and wish her a happy, but you did your John thing again and abruptly moved on to something new. Leveled up without asking permission, like that time you decided to switch to an 18-series MOS and nearly caused our operations NCO to throw a clot.

I’ll join you there one day, wherever “there” is and even if it’s just wandering around in the dark with nothing to keep us going but bad jokes and boot blisters, but I’m not ready yet. Much as I could use new lessons, I’ve got a few old ones to pass along first.

Because I’m gonna have a grandchild, man! One more chance to know a person living in this world that I care about but have never lied to, not even once. That’s a lesson I learned as much from you as from anyone – to give it to ‘em straight.

So here it is, brother, right between the eyes: we’re leaving here faster than we used to, fraying the skeins of our attachment to this tired, limited planet well before we’ve sussed all its secrets. I’m too old to be who we were and you’re too dead, but this millennium and its bright new people will do fine without us.

You always were a step ahead of me, bud. Soon enough I’ll follow your example and subvert this conventional paradigm of respiration, perspiration, agitation and peregrination, but by then – God willin’ and a tailwind – I’ll have met the new planetkeepers and blessed them with all the power I have left.

Veritas vos liberabit.


  1. Ren Doughty says

    Our relationships are everything.
    We build each other.
    I love your collection of recollections.

  2. Thank you, brother. I love that you and Julia are a part of our memory album.

  3. We are a collection of history and stories and tales from around this tiny globe. Sharing them without lies is the best gift we can live behind, and you constantly give us that gift, Jack.

    • It’s a gift stolen from good friends and mentors. I can’t pay them back, so I have to keep finding other friends and passing it along.

      Just like you do.

      • You never stole anything, Bro; you are a very gifted writer who has kept us entranced & entertained since Pullman to now (I remember your headers in the “Never-read” which we always read when you were writing for this inglorious university rag YOU made glorious!) Rustynne and I are thrilled you’ve always kept this gift close, and not let the world warp or destroy it, as is so common with great writers who love their craft and don’t give a shit about fame or fortune.

  4. Mazel Tov, Pops! 😀

  5. Hey, Jack! Been too long, brother, but congrats on everything, especially being a grandpa! My rabbit son and daughter-in-law have made me so FIVE times!
    Say Hi to Shasta for me, love ya

  6. Lyle Gunderson says

    Being Grandpa is a pretty sweet gig, isn’t it?

  7. Donn Christianson says

    Welcome to the grandpa club. Maybe I’ll run into you at one of the meetings.

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