In Memorium: James A. Boa
Board: Martini Club
I don't suppose that many are around anymore to note that James A. Boa passed ten years ago today. I don't know that I knew Boa well, but I think I did--I corresponded with him often and met him once, and he cut an astonishing figure--short, dressed like a madcap English spy in cheap flannel, and yes, when we met, sickly. The day was a blustery one, November 1, 2000, and we met at the seawall in Gloucester, Mass. He was, for some reason, very anxious to meet me at the seawall, and only in his death could I speculate why: he felt death himself encroaching on life, and wished to point out to me the sacrifice of the fishermen who have over the years perished while sailing out of Gloucester Harbor, whose names are etched on the wall. These are the first words he said to me, in person: "They're all here!" He was filled with enthusiasm at the sight of the wall. And it is an awe-inspiring sight, a kind of fisherman's Vietnam Memorial.
Over the past decade, I've taken time to think of Boa often--mostly because of David Forrest's generosity. The year James died, at Christmas, Forrest sent me a cocktail shaker with the following etched onto it: "Martini Club 2001 Jim Boa." Can't tell you how many drinks I've poured from it, but certainly they've been enough to do us all in.
I also have considered Jim's gentle persona quite a lot over the past decade. In our memorable meeting, he said, as might a Le Carre figure, "I have had two half-careers which when taken together have amounted to nothing." It was laughable--indeed, I knew he was preparing telemetry data on missiles in one career, and doing increasingly angry academic research in mathematics in the other. These figures live in our shadows yet make the world spin, and their lives are dramatic enough that they only let on how so to a select few, who may or may not celebrate them someday. I have and I do.
There is a lot to show in Boa's life but something I came across recently I think I should show as an exhibit of his mind. I recently discovered the only book review he ever wrote, on a poetry anthology, just six weeks before he died. It's at Amazon, and it's his only contribution there. Boa says, in part:
I noted with considerable awe how immanently charitable Boa was! For An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, likely his favorite poem of all, which he used to post here and elsewhere every Armistice Day, was cut in the more recent edition of this anthology: yet there is James, hastily adding, "So, if you care about poetry, you need both books."
What we need is more James. This particular week of the year, we were also predisposed to predicting which horses might run the Kentucky Derby well. And we've lost more than James, of course--FourStarDave at this board also comes to mind, another taken long ago and far too soon.
Those arriving recently may not know what this site once was--and I feel obliged to add that of the proprietors here, in fact, Boa sneered to me, "I would give them B's," and the letter-grade was sneered with such contempt that you had a feeling that even an F would be better. And this professor's pronouncements were those with which one would not be inclined to argue, ever. But never mind that; for me, the very best of possibilities online was to be found in the discovery of people like James A. Boa, and I am glad to have had the chance to meet him once in my own life. For that privilege, B's have been good enough.
Best to you, and to you Jim,