Jake is one of the few construction guys who never wears a ball cap, and that is probably because at 66 he has a full head of thick brown wavy hair he wouldn't dare hide from the ladies. Jake is short but has the kind of frame that lasts over years of pounding nails and crawling around under structures like a mole; and Jake, though a touch nefarious, is an esteemed and crucial personage in the Who's Who of Cayucos and the Schooner's Wharf. When in the Wharf, Jake and Charlotte schmooze with everybody else but never talk to each other—almost as if they are avoiding each other.
“Does he know anything?” I asked Charlotte, as both held their strong screw drivers.
“Very little,” Charlotte conceded as Morely listened in, elegant in his usual sport coat and imported
Italian leather shoes.
“Does he read?”
“Not even the newspaper?”
“Not even the local Tribune or the New Times, to find out what's going on around here?”
“What about television? Does he watch the news and the political programs?”
“What the hell does he do then, with his spare time?”
“I don't know,” Charlotte confessed. “I live upstairs and he's downstairs, in his part of the house, and I try and stay away from him as much as possible.”
Jake is starting to laugh. “Charlotte,” I said. “You read all the time, don't you?”
“All the time. Novels. Biographies. Technical books on cooking and nursing and diet, and on climate
change. You name it, I read it.”
“Charlotte, what's a mystery to me is how you can live with a so-called romantic partner and soul mate who basically knows absolutely nothing except how to pound nails and take care of the dogs, which I admit he's good at, but otherwise knows nothing about anything else.”
“Sometimes he fixes things around the house,” Charlotte conceded.
“Yeh, but does that make him good company?”
“No, it doesn't, but I don't worry about that, Dell, because I hardly see him.”
“Can he at least cook?”
“He thinks he can. I'm a better cook.”
“She's a gourmet cook,” Straw interjected. “She cooks for me every night.”
“I'm a pretty good cook.” I said. “When I lived with Miranda, before she moved out, I did the cooking and she raved about my chili.”
“I know. She told me. But she can't cook at all, Dell.”
“Jake,” I said, addressing him. “How does it feel living with a woman who is highly educated and knows so much about all things when you know nothing and are largely a buffoon and an ignoramus?”
“It's a perfect situation,” Jake said, finishing off his drink, signaling to the bartender to give both of us a refill. “I'm happy knowing what I know. You're never happy because you know too much and you're always disturbed.”
“Yeh, but what that means is that every time we have an argument, I win, because you don't know
anything and never know what you're talking about. And that's why I like arguing with you.”
Jake doubled over laughing, blissful in his stupendous ignorance. Morely, miffed that the conversation didn't center around him, drifted off. I turned to Charlotte, so cute in her tight jeans and matching V-necked sweater, small features linear, hair perfect, lipstick and make-up not overdone but nevertheless stylish, beside Jake who is in knee-high pleated shorts and over-sized blue T shirt.
“Charlotte, does Jake vote?”
“Of course not.”
“Do you know your local congressman and our two state senators?”
“Of course I do.”
“Of course not. He's never voted.”
“Who cares,” Jake said. “None of what they do applies to me. They're all crooks, so I don't wanna
know anything about 'em or what they're doing.”
“Jake,” I said. “Do you know who our President is?”
“You like him?”
Jake shrugged. “They're all the same—lying crooks. Who gives a fuck. I'm enjoying my drink. I'm
“Charlotte,” I said. “What kind of country would we have if everybody was like Jake?”
“We'd be in deep shit, Dell.”
“We're in deep shit anyway,” Jake said. “So who gives a shit?”
“No wonder we're in deep shit,” I said to Charlotte. “There's too many people around like Jake who
don't give a shit.” I bent forward and lowered my voice to her ear. “Charlotte, how does a classy,
refined, sophisticated woman like yourself end up with a puke like Jake Straw?”
“He takes good care of me, and my daughter, and everybody who means something to him.”
“I'm not disputing his good intentions, Charlotte, no, but the dude is willfully ignorant and proud of it, and you're the opposite. I mean, even my woman, Miranda, who largely despises me, and with good reason, regards me as good company and when we go to movies or music venues or dinner we have somewhat intellectual discussions, because, like you, she is educated and reads and has actual interests!”
“I never go to movies,” Jake said proudly as our drinks came.
“Charlotte,” I said. “Don't you like to go to the movies?”
“I'd like to, yes, and to plays.”
“But you'd have to go alone, because you're not only living with a person who knows nothing, but is
also a cultural bankrupt.”
“I know,” she said, leaning close to me, though she is very short. “Isn't it sad?”
“My God,” I exclaimed. “What kind of life is that? Stuck in this minute microcosm of America, cut off
from the real world, and content to not know anything outside of it?”
Charlotte sipped her drink. A couple friends of Jake finally horned in and shielded him from any more of my demeaning remarks. While doing so, they also distracted Charlotte, who is very conscientious about paying attention to people who seek her company, even if they are, in my opinion, rudely interrupting an important exchange between she and I for Jake's behest.
As I watched Jake partake in a new warm, civil conversation with the male member of this couple, I
thought: Jake could have easily parried my onslaught as to his ignorance and stupidity by bringing up the truth of my utter worthlessness as a human being in that I can fix nothing and Jake can fix almost anything, that I cannot build anything and Jake has been a supremely recognized builder for 40 years, that he is a hard worker at the same grueling trade and never been unemployed, while I have skittered from job to job and been fired or quit too many times to recall and am essentially lazy and been referred to face to face as a bum, and that if Jake had the sense to ask me what I'd accomplished in 76 years I'd have to admit that I've accomplished next to nothing and possibly less than nothing, and he could crow and hoot and try to embarrass me in front of the Who's Who gallery in the Schooner's Wharf, but I'm sure Charlotte would remind him this is an impossibility.
I watched Jake move through the crowd and partake in joyous drunken conversation with a fellow
contractor and concluded that his life, though pretty much a blotch on the history of mankind, was
more meaningful and productive than mine.