I think we’ve hit an impasse. First of all, I went to your party the other night, and you were the only one there. Yes, I got there late, and yes, JR had been there. But there was definitely no Sarah, your friend who’s a girl, the one you said I should meet. Maybe you could’ve explained that this was a party you were throwing while your wife was off at a women’s event, an event that required the attendance of every woman the two of you know.
Not that I had a bad time. I was glad to see you and to have a beer and sit in your overstuffed chair with the white canvas cover listening to you play the new song you wrote, “Mindy.” I’m impressed that at this stage in life, you’ve learned to play the guitar. It’s like, with other people, they turn thirty and say they’ve always wanted to play the guitar. Then they exhale, and then they go back to their not learning. But you managed to figure it out and I’m happy for you. Also, now, as I turn my head to the left and abandon my view of my socked feet on my coffee table, and I see on the shelf the Portuguese textbooks I bought when I was in regular contact with A Inquisadora, The Inquisitor, the literary theoretician named Grazi I know from the bus in the Amazon, I feel a little guilty: because I always wanted to know how to play the guitar. But lately I’ve always wanted to know how to speak Portuguese, too.
Remember when we were in Spanish class together? Remember when your name was “Salvador”? Remember when we were sixteen and went to Spain as the support squad for a rugby team? When we watched their skirmishes on chopped up fields and learned how to drink beer? Even though Spain isn’t even really a rugby-playing country? Remember how one night we were walking down the street to get ice cream and we ran into some of the players, and they were like, “What are you doing?” And we were like, “Getting ice cream.” And they were like, “No way.” And then they took us to the dance club at the end of the pier? I’m pretty sure you remember that, but just to jog your memory, you were wearing a long sleeve t-shirt that said “Geronimo,” and I had on a long sleeve t-shirt that had something to do with sports.
We had a lot to learn. What was that Geronimo shirt all about anyway? Was that from when your dad was on his Native American kick?
[John Teschner – I know you’re still reading these letters. I know you’re a man who’s never left Minneapolis, and doesn’t know what the sunny dreamscape called “My Fifth Floor East Hollywood Walk-Up” is all about. And yes, it’s filled with all kinds of promise that now, in late January, you can’t quite imagine, but mostly has to do with the bleached aspect of our sunlight. But John, let me explain a few things so you don’t think Jake’s just the son of a man with inappropriate Native American attitudes.
Jake grew up in Pennsylvania while his dad lived in Delaware. Yes: Jake, like me, is the son of a broken home.
But Jake made the best of it. He skipped a year when he was in grade school. Meaning that when we both showed up at the same high school, he was a year ahead of me. (I guess I have to explain, so that our bi-coastal origins don’t confuse anybody, he from the east, me from the west: it was a boarding school.)
Jake and I are yin and yang. Black and white. Two shades of gray. He’s got worms under the coffee table for eating his kitchen scraps, and his kitchen scraps all come from the massive salads he makes that always include hardboiled eggs. Meanwhile, I’ve got a freezer full of frozen meals from Trader Joe’s, including tempura shrimp to prepare for the possibility that someday I might host a small gathering. And it’s safe to say that, when we became friends, I felt important because I’d bridged the line between our class years. And then, I felt less important when I learned that Jake and I were in fact the same age. But then, I felt important because I had the same GPA as a guy who’d skipped a year in grade school. But then less important upon learning that he could beat me in basketball—easily.
Anyway. Jake and I are in a tooth and nail competition of world views. In his, all of life comes down to doing good. I, on the other hand, rely on the full scope of my voice, including its darker parts; meaning that I have to dote on my flaws rather than squash them. But John, that’s all skipping ahead—what I’m saying is that, if I were to try to “do good” like Jake, I would destroy my ability to write, and writing’s tough enough as it is. And this isn’t just about writing. For me, releasing my full voice is code for becoming fully alive. So I guess Jake and I live by two quite different codes.
Now that we know this, John, I think I’m going to resume the story of me going to Jake’s house to attend a party only comprised of the two of us. But first let’s exonerate his father. Jake’s Delaware dad loves three things in life: old school hip-hop, romance languages, and Native Americans. But he’s no fetishist. He loves those Native Americans through the guise of his cap and gown—they’re an academic pursuit. Which, at this point in the story, has just about nothing to do with anything. So let’s get back on track. Do I have any brackets to close? Or parentheses? Give me a second to scroll my way back to look.
Yes, I do.]
I drove down to Jake’s party. I’d been in Valencia, where I attend graduate school, all the way on LA’s northern peripheral fringe. I left around eight and I drove south. The road bucked into the mountains and the lights fell away. The hilly west in the dark has its own look—a jumble of bald contours, like doodled lines across the night. But then the road dropped back into the flats of the Valley, and I tried to hold the momentum of my downward plunge. I sped up.
Because I was going to Jake’s instead of down my usual chute on the 170, I stuck on the five, through the crease between the fickle LA River and Griffith Park, another dark-at-night, open mountain expanse. And I came around to Los Feliz Boulevard, and I turned down to Jake’s place. His building has a narrow driveway that runs to a lot behind it, and Jake lives on the first floor, and I stopped in front of his window. I like stopping in front of his window, rolling up and announcing myself. It makes me feel like a cop, maybe, idling there without any rush.
I looked inside. I didn’t see any Sarah, or any JR, or anyone else. But I saw that Jake was alone, playing guitar. He was singing and his windows were closed and even, his windows were steamed. And I listened to the muffled sounds through the panes, and I didn’t want to call out to interrupt him. So I idled, and I watched for a minute before I pulled around back and rapped on his door and he let me inside.
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.