Letters to Jake

Zeke

Hey Jake

Well, we tried the love triangle. You and Zeke invited me to the Upright Citizens Brigade twice, and both times I couldn’t go. I wanted to go. In fact, when Zeke called, I picked up, even though I was about to back into my extremely difficult parking place on Franklin, a space that requires all kinds of aim while driving in reverse, and my answering meant I had to hold up traffic in uncomfortable ways, in full view of my neighbors, who happen to be immigrants—not that that means anything, except that my car stuck in the road so clumsily that I felt I was fulfilling whatever disappointment they’d first sensed upon touching down in Los Angeles. But I left my car in the road like that just because I was excited to see Zeke’s name on my caller ID for the first time since your wedding, when the two of us shared all kinds of long drives together, one on one, from Philly to Chadds Ford, from Chadds Ford to Philly.

Do you think Zeke feels a special bond with me? I mean, just because we went to Spain together, and then we spent all that time at your wedding driving together. During that time, it seemed like nothing had changed, like we were still sixteen and on our way to Madrid. But, at least one thing had changed, and neither of us could quite bring ourselves to acknowledge it. (That change was the fact that you’d positioned yourself to procreate and reminded us that we were now just about thirty and still having more or less the same relationship issues we were having when we were sixteen. Women say they have biological clocks. And I understand that. I recall science: the fetal pigs, electrons, the way water ascends the bark of tall trees. But men have psychological clocks, and those, while not really the ultimatum-imposing type of clocks, do impose something else, and that’s possibly, eh, how do I put it—a seat on the brink of total meltdown? Like, instead of living under a guillotine, we live on top of a powder keg.)

You’ll notice that the love triangle we started talking about in my last letter was between Zeke, Sarah, and me. And you’ll notice now that I’ve worded things in this letter so as to encourage you to believe that my love triangle would, in fact, be between you, me, and Zeke. Meaning—an even swap, Sarah for you, and this on the heels of last week’s inquiry into the metrics of my heterosexuality. But Jake—just know that I had to do this. I had to have a love triangle. I promised one last week, and I’m not equipped to fend off real life’s true events. The fact is that you and Zeke called me for the Upright Citizens Brigade twice. And Sarah called me exactly zero times, because I’ve still never met her, because you haven’t introduced us yet. Meaning you’ve called me re: Sarah exactly zero times, too. And I don’t even think she put up any new Instagrams. So forgive me for dealing with the hand I’ve been dealt.

Jake, it seems we might be heading into a quagmire. Unless Sarah calls me right this instant, in a phone call that would definitely qualify as unexpected, we’re going to sink into visions of us three men seated in a circle, cross-legged on a carpet, with you repeating over and over an answer that Zeke and I can’t possibly process: that you don’t want to drink beer with us as often as you used to.

(The good news is that next week, when I write you a letter, I’ll be deep in the Nevada desert, stoned on marijuana, rather than at the counter at the Bourgeois Pig, where I am now, a place I’m about to describe to John Teschner. And next week, live from Nevada, I’ll be able to say, “Jake! We’ve had a breakthrough! Maybe it’s not a love triangle, but at least it’s something, because it would be scientifically impossible to regress from this week, in which my romantic endeavors amounted to—nothing!” Or if not, at least I’ll be in Nevada, a state that’s a worthy enough subject of its own. And Tom—remember this line, and use it next week. Having reminders like this guarantees quality writing. Meaning when you sit down a week from now, if you fully believe you’re about to write something quality, as in, fully fully, believe believe, then you will. So congratulations in advance for atoning for this week’s meanderings.)

John Teschner, let’s come down for a second and describe a tiny slice of Los Angeles for the benefit of you, a cyclist who would never come here on account of the width and speed of our roads, because it seems that when I describe Los Angeles, you’re the one I address, because Jake already lives here, and he can describe this place on his own.

The Bourgeois Pig is a dimly lit coffee shop in Franklin Village, in East Hollywood. It’s across the street from the Scientology Celebrity Centre, and it’s next door to the aforementioned Upright Citizens Brigade, or UCB. Improv comedy is hot right now, and the UCB is the most highbrow of the improv theaters. Meaning they sometimes think that instead of running skits about cum and boobs and getting blown, they’re reading poetry. Or just… doing something more than they’re doing. Meaning that unlike the other improv theaters, they don’t use any intro music or outro music, and they don’t have any lasers or fancy lights. Instead, one of the improvisers gets up on the stage, small and black, in the theater, also small and black, and folds his hands together and tries to explain what’s about to happen while two of his friends rock on their heels behind him, waiting for opportunities to crack jokes at their own expense. While meanwhile, alums of the UCB, like Amy Poehler and that guy who’s her husband, sit in the front row wearing pretty nice sport coats, laughing more knowingly than everyone else.

This feeling though—that they’re doing more than they’re doing—is a standard Hollywood affliction. Did you know that I have a friend named La Lucy? Did you know that she felt sorry for me when I said I was writing a novel without a “writing partner?” What’s up with that? But everyone here asks who my writing partner is. And when I say, “Computer,” they all think I’m fiddling around.

Which might be true, John Teschner. But my rebuttal is: You guys are just fiddling too.

That would be a good place to end this letter, except that the Bourgeois Pig barista, from Madison, Wisconsin, likely a dancer, or maybe, a kickboxer, judging by the muscles that show through her tights, just told me about how the Armenians in our neighborhood feel ownership over the coffee shop and sometimes need to be regulated. Like when they try to cut the line for the pool table, or do blow in the bathroom, or even film a porno in the backroom “grotto.” Seriously. And this really is just a coffee shop. But. Wow. I spend all this time in my lifelong effort to forge something out of the nothing that resides in my chest, when really, there’s quite a bit going on right over my shoulder. Like the time, this barista has just related, “when these two stoner dudes from Colorado, totally harmless, are down at the 7-Eleven on Cahuenga. And I’m there the whole time, so I’m seeing all of this, and I recognized these guys from around the neighborhood, and they’re just getting like chips and stuff—munchies. But then they get in line, and they’re going like, ‘um’ and ‘uh,’ you know, trying to figure out cigarettes. And the cashier, he’s getting impatient. [Barista raps knuckles on counter.] And then these two Armenian guys, they get in line behind him…”

And so on, the type of story that can only end in a punch in the face.

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.