Before sending my first letter to Jake, I ought to provide the reader with some details about this person I’ve chosen to be the sole beneficiary of my wisdom and experiences. Because the reader might wonder how exactly Jake earned this position and became the one to whom I devote the spoils of my every endeavor.
I could start in the past, over a decade ago, when Jake enlisted me to go to our high school infirmary to get him free condoms. I, for my part, didn’t mind the assignment, as I took pleasure in the fact that the nurses assumed I was having actual sex.
Or I could start in the present. Jake lives a mile from my place, across the critical line between disheveled East Hollywood and tony Los Feliz. Jake lives in the latter, and Jake lives on one of those LA streets where, thanks to the imposition of hill, the grid melts away in favor of sweeping turns. He lives right in the pocket of this transition, the grid not yet completely gone, but the curves and hills not yet too severe, and here, he and his new wife live in a building with arched white ceilings and old-fashioned tiles in the bathroom and kitchen. This building, with its compact lawn and prim, tightly pruned shrubbery, is a mature one, and so has that commodity we value so much, that being character.
So let’s start with the present. The present has character, the past has condom runs, and I doubt the reader wants to dwell on those. Because Jake, at least, has crossed over the line. He no longer needs me to run to the infirmary—he’s found domesticity—and he’s crossed into a whole category of life concerns against which I can’t help but measure myself.
In Jake’s living room, under the table in the corner, the table draped with an Andean shawl, Jake has a box of worms. He feeds these worms his kitchen scraps, and then, after the worms have turned these scraps into manure, he drives across town to his aunt’s place in Hancock Park and spreads the compost over her garden. Jake designed this garden. Here in the arid west, lawns guzzle water, so Jake ripped his aunt’s up and planted it with more sustainable groundcover.
While there, Jake does his laundry, because in his aunt’s yard he can hang it up rather than use the dryer in his Los Feliz basement. And while his laundry hangs in the sun, he eats all his aunt’s leftovers, because his aunt lives alone, entertains frequently, and likes to cook, but can’t possibly eat everything she puts in her fridge. Jake doesn’t buy meat, but he eats it when his aunt would otherwise throw it out, and so, isn’t so much of a vegetarian as he is waste-averse. This, I suppose, makes sense to me, though sometimes I bristle when Jake and I go to the Salvadorean place for dinner and he, not wanting to eat any chicken or beef, asks the waitress in plodding Spanish if they could make him an omelet.
It might seem that in refusing to throw food away, Jake might eat too much. At the Salvadorean place, I rarely finish my rice and beans, but Jake eats them for me, and at his aunt’s place sometimes there are leftovers that, when combined, would make enough for three separate dinners. But Jake has an answer to this, and after eating, and after digesting, he goes on a long run, up into Griffith Park, that dusty butte presiding over our city, or down the LA River, which, in the face of resistance from skeptical locals, Jake insists is an actual waterway, and one that they ought to appreciate.
Jake, then, is goodness, and in a town often accused of moral vacancy, his goodness makes him a good friend to have. And friends, if they’re good ones, must correspond.
So, Jake, here are my letters. Interpret them how you will. Except, try not to interpret them as cries for help. Because that would be a bit pathetic. Because I’m almost thirty, and I think I’m past the point where I’m supposed to be crying for help. I think I’m at the point where I’m supposed to be finished crying for help, and busy coming to terms with my new composure. Which I guess I’m doing. You’ve seen the two rugs I have in my apartment. I definitely never had rugs before. I’m not all the way sure what they symbolize, except that, by becoming steward for them (they were my parents’), I cast a vote of confidence for myself as a person who is able not to spill dark colored fluids and food, and, able to own and maintain a vacuum cleaner. So there we go. Basic functionality, I’ve covered, so now I just need truth and beauty. So you be my truth. Or goodness. Whatever I said, you be that, because my stepmom always asks if I’ve put anything up on my walls yet. Meaning she wants to know if I’ve equipped myself to have a girlfriend. So there’s beauty. I’ve got somebody leaning on me in that department. Art and women. Consider that button well and pushed. But truth, Jake. That’s where you come in.
Tom Dibblee is Trop’s editor. His fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train and his nonfiction has appeared in Pacific Standard, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Point. He lives in Los Angeles.