Letters to Jake

Questions and Beliefs

Hey Jake

I threw ‘em down, Jake. I played my cards with the barista and we finally got out of Hollywood. It took a while. It took some effort. It took persistence. It took enduring an insane thicket of traffic. But what do you want to hear about, Jake? Do you want to hear about us? Do you want to hear about our guy/girl dynamic? Or do you want to hear about what clogged the road? Do you believe in metaphors? Because I do. I really, really do. I believe in hard work, open space preservation, and maybe God but definitely metaphors. So get ready, Jake, because the traffic between my place and Nevada was unbelievable.

You’ll recall from my last letter that Nevada is a metaphor for true love. If you don’t recall, you’ll infer from what you know about geography that Nevada is a metaphor for true love because Nevada robs its people of shadows, and without shadows, without obfuscation, men and women like me and the barista are free to collide at full strength. And Jake, if you say you can’t infer that on your own, I’ll say I don’t believe you, because I remember with my own eyes three separate times when we roamed Nevada, and during each of them, well, neither of us found any love prospects, but I do remember coming to believe in love prospects while on the highways with you and a massive stash of marijuana far more than I ever had growing up in suburban California. That, Jake, I do remember. I remember believing in love while driving with you in the desert, pulling over on the side of a road, firing up another joint, and climbing to the top of the hill to sit on the rocks and feel how warm they are.

Did you believe in love while we sat up there on those rocks? Which rocks, you ask? Does it matter? Didn’t we sit on dozens, if not hundreds? Didn’t we sit on the rock in Tonopah where the motel owner banned us from the property because he believed we were homosexuals because I said I was from San Francisco? Were we homosexuals? Not by any physical measure, Jake. I’ve never locked lips with you the way I locked lips with the barista, but it does seem like my story about a road trip that began with traffic is far more focused on you than it is on her.

The barista is a special woman, Jake. She believes in me. She heard me and JR sitting at the counter at her coffee shop talking with integrity, she got seduced, and she went all in, insofar as she got in the truck with me to drive east, but not insofar as physically speaking, meaning, she’s immune to sexual intercourse, meaning her version of the metaphor neglects to account for the radiance of the sand. That’s right, Jake. The Nevada metaphor has multiple parts—without shadows it’s a place where souls are free to collide; with the high heat stored in the radiant sand, it’s a place for intercourse, physically. Or at least, so I’d wagered.

Why the traffic, Jake? Why the static? Why’d the sand run cold? Was it nighttime? Have you felt cold sand before? Were you at the beach? Was I there? Can you jog my memory? Does cold sand have the same metaphorical clout as radiant sand? What about wet sand? How did sand get to Nevada to begin with? Was there an ocean there in the olden days? A lake? How big was it? How long ago? As a child, when boy-oriented cultural forces were forcing me to choose between trains, planes, boats, and cars, would it have been acceptable to choose Nevada? Is it ok that I chose nothing? When did you start exercising seriously? I was in seventh grade. That was the end of it though. But I’m not overweight now. I walk a lot. That’s not serious exercise, but I’m no Nevada. Is Nevada the Mississippi of the West? Is Nevada the best living example we have of modern western United States culture? On account of the looks in the eyes one finds in the faces of workers at the gas stations? It’s been too bright out there for too long. Eyes go bad. What would it take for you to cheat on your wife with a Nevada prostitute? Do I hope that happens? Is it ok if a small part of me does? Just so that it’d give me something to write about? Do you believe in radiance? How far can I go with this? Do you believe in prostitution even if you’re not going to make use of it? Are you aware of Nevada’s dramatic fluctuations in temperature? Do you believe in advice? Did you know the barista gave me advice? Did you know the barista believes in integrity, but she believes in integrity for me only? What does that mean she believes in for herself? Special powers, Jake. She believes in her own special powers. Is she wrong to believe this? Yes and no. No in that my integrity suffers in her presence—around her, I emerge from my own shadow of a body totally botched. Case in point, Jake? Do you need an example? Do you trust me? How scientific is all of this? Behind this curtain of questions, will there be a story? Is it possible to tell that story over the course of one or two sentences? Do you believe in efficiency? Why are we here? I mean, on planet earth? Do you think I won any money? I didn’t Jake. I didn’t. We got to the motel, I pulled out my cash, the barista claimed she had special powers, she selected a number, round and round the wheel spun, I lost everything, she pouted and said she felt sorry for me, she said she wanted a shower, she’d already taken a shower but what the hell, she got out of the shower, she got dressed completely in the most clothes she had, she pulled the synthetic bedspread off and piled it up on the floor, she said, “I’m not going to need this because I’m going to sleep in all my clothes,” I said, “guh guh guh guh,” she said, “Actually that’s a pretty fairly accurate sound for your integrity right now,” I said, “but but but but,” she said, “There, there,” and she piled the bedspread up on the floor and said, “Now, won’t you be comfortable on this nice little mat?”

I would very much like to ask some more questions of myself right now, Jake. I would like to ask, “Was I comfortable?” But that, Jake, would be one question too many, because we can’t move too fast here. You and I, old friend, we’re going to take it slow. Because as long as Nevada looms on the horizon, I’ve got something to talk about, so I don’t want it to bear down too fast. Let’s keep Nevada out there. Recall that, technically speaking, not counting for skipping ahead, my story of going to Nevada with the barista has not progressed beyond the traffic on the 101 at the foot of the ramp off Hollywood Boulevard, right below the purple First Adventist Church. Beliefs, Jake. We’ve all got ‘em, present company included.

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.