This is a partial transcription of a conversation I had with Conrad. He is the newest contributor to FKIN. It was supposed to be presented as a podcast. Unfortunately, the audio quality is terrible and I can’t fix it. Below are the most important bits.
Max: We’ve talked about how you found the website . . . the important question for me . . . What brought you back?
Conrad: You know, there’s a lot of people writing out there, and there’s not a lot of people writing real shit that actually matters, and kinda speaks to the heart of a person who has been to the places you and I have been to.
Y’know, for a man who has seen that side of humanity, a lot of the world loses its flavor. A lot of it loses its importance. There’s a certain dullness to everyday living back here in God’s country. You struggle to find reasons. Reasons to live a normal life like you used to, before you went over there to Satan’s shithole and got all fucked up.
When I read your material, it was legit. It was real. It wasn’t someone trying to pretend to be real. It was someone who had seen that stuff, who had come back from that stuff, that was living with . . . the life that someone who is a professionally violent person has to live. And, it spoke to me in a way that a lot of people I don’t think a whole lot of other people have, or probably ever will . . .
And then I think, what was it, about two months ago? You messaged me. Sent me a text in the middle of the night, when I was drinking whiskey and eating hash browns and getting divorced. Again . . . and it just kinda took off from there.
Max: Like you said, it’s not very often that you come upon someone that you can have that kind of dialogue with . . . Which is why so many of our “Brothers in Arms” have to self-medicate. Which is something we’re both more than a little familiar with.
Conrad: I think we’re both self-medicating as we speak, are we not? . . . Y’know, self-medication isn’t the worst of it, though. Right? Y’know I . . . like everybody who joints the Marine Corps, at a young age, discovered alcohol. Or, you discover serious alcohol. In the barracks. And that was all fine and dandy.
I remember checking in to my first command and everybody was tanked when I walked in. I was in my dress Alphas, which is what we used to have to wear to check in. And, the platoon sergeant was hanging out with everyone else. He handed me a bottle of, uh . . . remember Brass Monkey? Remember that shit?
Max: Oh God! What was that, it was like a fourty of O.E. mixed with Goldschlager, or something fucking ridiculous.
Conrad: It’s some fucking nasty shit. He gave me the bottle. My first command in the Marine Corps. He said, ‘Big troubles . . .’ he said ‘Big bubbles, little troubles!’ And up it went and down it went and I finished the bottle without taking it from my lips. And when I got unpacked the next morning I was a squad leader because that had obviously proved my Marine Corps virtue.
Now it’s come a long way. It’s kinda, you . . . You drink a lot. To be part of that cult. Having been there, for as long as I was . . . and leaving . . . I drink to turn the volume down even farther . . . It seems to give me those few moments in my life when I can come back to approaching some state of happiness. It’s an approach to happiness. It works.
Max: Zen in a bottle.
Conrad: Yeah . . . which is kinda pathetic. But it’s also universal . . .
Max: No. Let’s face it . . . It’s not pathetic because, if we’re all being honest, none of us asked for this.
Conrad: Well, that’s for truth. What we asked for was a pretty uniform and a shiny medal and a hero’s welcome.
Max: Whoa, no, no . . . Time out . . . I’m not talking about the ‘military thing’. I went in eyes wide open. I mean, yeah, of course . . . we never really know, but . . . I’m talkin’ being sucked from blissful non existence . . .
Max: I didn’t ask for this! And I came into this world so optimistic! I was so full of hope, and then . . . I was gonna go into the monologue from the Rum Diary, but you haven’t seen it so . . . no spoilers.
Conrad: Y’know my mother, when I was a baby, used to put me to sleep with a bottle of Michelob. She used to take the nipple off the bottle and fill it full of Michelob and give it to me, and that’s how she put me to sleep. When I was in diapers. So this has been a long time coming for me . . .
When I went into the military it was all the . . . God, Country, Corps bullshit. I shouldn’t say bullshit, because some of that stuff matters . . .
Max: A lot of it matters.
Conrad: It certainly is a changed picture after . . . For me it was ten years. Ten years and two wars. Y’know, a lot of people, I think, after they come out the other side, don’t talk a lot about the God and the Country part. The only thing that’s left is the Brotherhood . . . of service.
Max: What else is there?
Conrad: Well, y’know . . . the ideas of . . . There’s bravery. There’s courage. There’s less Honor, perhaps, than I thought or expected there to be. But there’s loyalty, and there’s courage. And I think that’s more virtue than most people ever get in a lifetime. No matter what you do.
Max: Which brings me to a question . . . so, you’d sent me some pieces of writing . . . I got the impression, and it was a very familiar feeling, that you were staring at the horizon, and waiting for something. I think it’s a feeling that we all share . . .
Conrad: A lot of people who have been through the grinder, so to speak, at least this is what I understand . . . Most of them, if you ask them how they see themselves dying, they would say they see themselves dying a violent death, untimely.
And most people who are like that are looking at the horizon for something . . . It’s because they expect it . . . They are expecting that horrible, violent fate. Maybe not so horrible, after a while. It’s the only kind they really appreciate.
It’s like you don’t want to be surprised by it. You’re staring out there, waiting for it. It’s not the death that you fear so much as the . . . being taken by surprise. And so, you’re looking for it . . . Thus all of the self-destructive behavior people like you and I tend to engage in.
Max: Y’know, it’s funny . . . I’ve never actually heard anyone name it, but the second you say it, they know exactly what you’re talking about . . .
Conrad: That’s not a place that I go. It’s a place that I leave . . . and come back to. Maybe other people, maybe regular people, fuck up their lives with the frequency and severity of people like you and me.
It’s been a long time since I considered myself a regular person.