Monday, November 15, 2010

Magic Portal Travelers

Magic Portal Travelers are people who grab freedom by the balls and have their way with it. They listen with a patient smile while everyone else in the world lists off all the rules and limitations of the universe, and then immediately turn around and prove that list wrong. They are the people who don't wait around for ten years deciding whether or not they should move to a new city, or whether or not they should leave a relationship they are miserable in. Magic Portal Travelers know there is no such thing as burning bridges...Instead, there is only the creation of wings...wings that allow one to fly across any chasm. If my meaning is not clear, click here. Katwise is a Magic Portal Traveler. You'll see what I mean.

Last Thursday, I met a Magic Portal Traveler. He says I can call him Uncle Jake. I met him at Sureshot, one of my favorite coffee shops in Seattle's U-District. He was sitting on the south wall's sofa, wearing a black beret, glasses, and a thick red coat, reading William S. Burroughs's Junky. I didn't notice him (or anyone) at first because I was absorbed in checking my email on one of Sureshot's computers. Then I heard him quoting Robert A. Heinlein to the barista. "Moderation is for monks!" he was saying. Those are the kind of words that get my attention. "Hey, you sound like my type of person!" I called to him. And thus began what turned into a two-hour conversation with one of the most vibrant, truly ALIVE people I've met in ages.

Uncle Jake's mind moves so fast that I can barely keep up. It's not so much that he talks fast. It's more that he has a thousand stories and dimensions filling his mind at any given moment, and you've got to listen Magic Portal style to catch it all. Traveling the regular earth way just will not do. I tried to gather up every detail he told me about his life, though I know I'm forgetting many things. In no coherent order, here's what I learned: Uncle Jake is in his early sixties. He was raised a Quaker. He has a degree (I think a master's) in ethnomusicology. He once was the frequent angelic gifter of extra Grateful Dead tickets to fans who were "looking for a miracle". He is certified in midwifery (as everyone should be, he says). His sister is a veterinarian in Kenya, and he once stayed with her while studying the African origin of modern American music influences. He once ran a coffee house in Amsterdam, where marijuana was sold like cookies over the counter. He travels often, and he works on his own terms, in various jobs, in various places. He mentioned New Orleans, Portland, New York, Bulgaria, Colorado, Boston. He never learned to drive, but has taken trains all over the world. He used to travel with bands, doing all kinds of different work for them, but not for the band culture. It was the crew culture that interested him. He once had a house in Portland, and when it burned down, he lost 10,000 books. He was in the Navy. He chose to have a vasectomy at the age of seventeen. He's a chef. He's been hired to come to Seattle and shape up a failing restaurant. It's a good deed he's doing, too, because there's not much in this world that could make Uncle Jake stay somewhere damp and cold for the winter. In fact, this is the first winter he'll have experienced in thirty-two years. (His home base is Hawaii, and that's where he prefers to winter!)

As he told me all this, he kept pausing to say hello to other customers coming into Sureshot. He seems to know everyone, even though I don't think he's been in Seattle that long.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Uncle Jake's stories:

"I stopped aging because I saw no future in it."

"The two most important words in the English language are 'pay attention'. If you pay attention, the universe will give you what you need."

"I'm dangerous because I plant ideas in peoples' heads that aren't there, but that should have been."

An hour into our conversation, I asked him, "Do you write?" It was more of a rhetorical question. All Magic Portal Travelers are storytellers, this goes without saying. "Sure, I write," he said. "I write pulp. Not bodice rippers. I write absolute garbage and sell it to mystery magazines." It seemed to me that there are actually two types of writing Uncle Jake does, one for money, and one for himself. The latter sounds much darker, much more powerful. "When I write, I'm not fit for human company," he said. "Just stick a feeding tube in and leave me alone!" I imagined him holed up in a lighthouse when he said this, lightning and waves crashing all around, pen like a sorcerer's wand in his hands.

As I left Sureshot, I felt like I was flying on a magic carpet. That's how you feel after spending two hours talking to a Magic Portal Traveler. I think everyone I walked past could see the magic carpet, too. I saw more smiles along the Ave. than I normally do. The thing about Magic Portal Travelers is that their magic spreads out from them like ripples around a pebble in a pond, concentric circles reaching out to touch everything. When the day began, I was feeling pretty terrible, struggling with a lot of conflict and chaos in my heart. But after talking to Uncle Jake, my thoughts had left that two-dimensional prison and were soaring through purple clouds, looking for magic portals of my own.


  1. Oh man, I hope when I'm in my early sixties I can be someone like Uncle Jake! This man sounds AMAZING. I love his quotes, and I love the image of him sitting in a lighthouse with a pen that is really a sorcerer's wand...