Letters to Jake

Preoccupation

Hey Jake

The barista and I had faraway looks in our eyes. We stood on the top of the hill and lavished them on the landscape before us—the poppy preserve without poppies in Lancaster, CA, barely outside of Los Angeles, nowhere close to our goal of Nevada. I hung my eyes on the nubby-round hills that looked like knuckles. Then I hung them on the ridge-type hills with the spine-arisen-from-the-earth’s-crust aspect. I hung them on the eastern slope, the one that looks like it’s melting. Then I hung my eyes on the yellow patches of agriculture to the south, past 140th Street, down towards the actual city of Lancaster. I don’t know where the barista hung her faraway looks. I couldn’t look at nubby hills and melting slopes and look at her look at the same time. I’m guessing she saw the things I saw but saw them differently. I can’t know for sure. I’ve never been one to read a woman’s mind.

We sat down on a bench. The melting hills were brown and seemed free of vegetation but I know that’s not right. You see a hill like that and you think you could just bike up it because it’s so smooth. But that’s not right. You can’t just bike up a hill. Don’t trust what you see in the desert, Jake.

Jake let’s clarify a few things. Obviously I’m putting something off here. You’ll recall that I told the barista I loved her but she didn’t hear me because she was stuck in her faraway look. You’ll recall that she didn’t hear my words but sensed enough to know that I’d said something significant. You’ll recall that she advised me to take back what I’d spoken on impulse and say it again, but this time more deliberately, with the full premeditation of not only my mind and heart but my sexual organ as well. You’ll note that the barista has intuition. You’ll recall that, when she instructed me to funnel myself back through premeditation, she knew she was condemning me to a faraway look of my own. And that’s why I was looking at those hills, Jake. Because with faraway looks, even if you’re just looking out, out at the horizon, out at the end of whatever you’re able to see, the horizon has to be made of something.

But Jake. Before I meditate on how or whether to tell the barista I loved her in a way that would stick having survived various internal hurdles of my own premeditation, let’s consider the other factors at play.

Factor one: I said not to trust anything you see in the desert. I was referring to hills that look like they’re melting and look easy to ascend by bicycle. I said that because I know those hills aren’t really melting and because I know riding a bike up them would actually be extremely difficult.

But Jake—If you cannot trust what you see in the desert, is the Nevada metaphor cashed?

I wanted to go to Nevada with the barista because in the desert, free of shadows, free of variable weather, women and men can look each other in the eyes and see an unobstructed path between their two souls, and then, they can gamble on what they see, legally. But Jake here we introduce the idea of distortion in clarity. Let’s remember this: distortion in clarity. Don’t forget that. I’m reminding myself as much as I’m reminding you right now: Tom, let’s not talk about the pure Nevada metaphor anymore. You’ve tired it out. You’ve beaten into the ground. You’ve taken a place in the map and turned it into a black hole. You and the barista can’t get there. You’re stuck in Lancaster which is in the Mojave but nevertheless still California. So let’s ease up on Nevada. Let’s cut it some slack. Let’s let it evolve. From here on in, let’s forget about the unobscured views you thought were the key to love paths between spirits. Instead let’s talk about distortion in clarity.

Factor two: Here’s the other thing Jake: The barista told me that once I reconsidered the words I’d spoken on impulse over a longer period of time from the perspective of my brain, heart, and sexual organ, I would slip into preoccupation, and this preoccupation would manifest itself in the form of a faraway look. And she was right. The barista knows everything. I began to ponder whether or not I’d truly meant to tell her I loved her so soon into the trip, before we’d even crossed the state line, and I became preoccupied and the next thing I know I’m gazing into those pale blues and light browns and yellows that my home state does so well. California, Jake. I’ve got a tan because living here, I can’t help it. I can’t deny the positive effects sun has on my skin. But that’s just me. More importantly, check this out: Inside my faraway look, I did some thinking—the barista had a faraway look too, and working backwards through logic, that means she was preoccupied, and as we’ve established, preoccupation is the product of the brain, heart, and sexual organ working together. And you know what that means, Jake—the barista was aware of the existence of sexual intercourse.

It’s difficult to describe the way in which my preoccupation evolved when I realized that the barista was aware of the existence of sexual intercourse. Let’s just say this hadn’t occurred to me before. I mean, it had occurred to me. But also, it hadn’t really and truly “occurred” to me. I know that at the coffee shop other men with integrity and toned body physiques had passed through. But Jake—the point is that while I technically “knew” that all along, I didn’t technically “know” that she was aware of the existence of sexual intercourse until I realized that she must have at least some sex in her if she’s going to be as preoccupied and faraway as I was seeing her now. I just couldn’t imagine any other root cause.

What did I do Jake? Did I act? I did. Of course I did Jake. Men act. Men in stories act. Men in stories about themselves act. That’s what has to happen. If you build a dam and you’re a storyteller, then you have to break it. Storytellers are hammers. They let lakes loose. Remember to tell this to the next literary figure you meet. Usually people ask literary figures if literature can live any longer given the existence of television despite the fact that television is almost a hundred years old and this question is dated. But tell these literary figures that literature right now is a lake with a dam and they need to be hammers. Huge powerful hammers. Hammers that don’t fear the sound sploosh. The rushing sound sploosh. That don’t fear burying towns and civilizations in wetness. That don’t fear drowning their own families, that don’t fear soggy shoes. You sense, Jake, a new application of the dry Nevada metaphor. But, no Jake. Not this time. I won’t go down that road this time. It’s underwater and I’ve got a lake to burst.

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.