A Question of War and Peace, Chapter 1

     I met Jake Cross in an apartment in Rohnert Park, California, in September of 1975.  I had finished my second year and Mira Costa Community College in Southern California and was beginning my junior year at Sonoma State College.  The College View Apartments complex was a short walk away from the campus, cheaper than the dorms and populated almost exclusively by other students.  It was, in all respects, perfect.
     Jake had been the first to enquire about our particular unit and, for fifteen more dollars each month, had acquired the single-occupant bedroom.  I shared a slightly larger two-person bedroom with Dave Fisher.  Dave was also a junior college grad, a former linebacker on his school’s football team, and generally considered by all to be crazy as a loon.
     I didn’t see Jake for the first three days that I was ensconced in the apartment.  I knew that he was there because I sometimes heard him early in the morning stirring in the kitchen.  The door to his room was always closed, and when he had left his room I simply missed his going and coming.  David said that he saw Jake twice during that period, and that he had said little more than ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ to him.
     On the fourth day I finally met Jake.  It was Monday, classes had began, and I was seated on the sofa smoking a joint when the door opened.  I expected to see Dave and Kathy, the freshman from Redding, California, whom he had already hooked up with.  Instead, someone else came through the door.
     “Hello,” he said, and began to walk past me.
     “Hello,” I replied.  “You must be my mystery roommate.  My name’s Joe.”
     He stopped, appearing to be reluctant to do so, and then said, “My name’s Jake.”
     The man standing in front of me was about six feet tall.  He wore khaki pants and a blue work shirt, the kind that you could get at J C Penny’s.  He was clean shaven, unlike many of the students who lived in our apartments, and had brown hair trimmed high and tight; military style.  His shoulders were slightly more broad than most of the students and his waist was lean without looking thin.  He was a little older than most, and his overall appearance was that of a cop.  I stared at my joint and then back at him, and he laughed.
     “It’s no sweat,” he said as he pointed at my joint.  “Ain’t none of my business.”
     “Oh, well, you never know.  I’m glad to finally meet you.”
     I began to rise and extend my hand in greeting, but he said, “Nice to meet you Joe,” and walked back to his room and closed the door.
     I saw Jake more as the weeks dragged on.  We all found our individual rhythms as students and roommates; rhythms which overlapped from time to time.  Jake continued to say little, if anything at all, when our paths crossed.  My first impression was that he was rude and a snob.  Dave suggested that he might have to jack our standoffish roommate up before the semester was over.  I began to think that if this was going to be the atmosphere in my apartment, then perhaps I ought to see about moving somewhere else.
     It was the Friday of the third week that I finally said more than a few words at one time to Jake.  I was returning from a chemistry class at about 5 PM and my nose was assaulted the moment that I walked into the apartment by the not-unpleasant odor of something that was cooking.  Jake was standing in the kitchen stirring that something in a large pot, and I said “Hi Jake,” fully expecting the usual reply of two or three words.
     “Hello Joe,” he replied.  He tasted some of whatever he was cooking in the pot, chewed speculatively, and then a smile spread across his face.  “Dinner is served.  You hungry?” he asked.
     I was caught off guard by Jake’s friendly overture, but the fact was that I really was hungry and had nothing but some bread and deli meat in the fridge.  One more sandwich to go with my beer was all that I had to look forward to.  Almost without thinking I replied that I indeed was hungry and asked, “What’s on the menu?”
     “Beans,” he replied.
     “Yep.  Beans and ham hock.
     I put my book bag down on the sofa and walked into our tiny kitchen.  Jake stepped away from the pot to give me room to approach it.  The pot was about three quarters full of plump, brown beans.  Small bits of what I took to be onion floated among the beans, and right in the middle of the pot was a large bone with what appeared to be some sort of thick rind around it.
     “Help yourself to a bowl,” he said.  “Make sure that you dig some ham out of that hock, too.”
     Unsure of this strange food, I took about half a bowl and one small piece of the ham.  Jake filled a bowl for himself and we sat down at our small apartment-sized table.  As we waited for the beans to cool down he began to speak.  “Joe, I just want to make something clear before we go further into the semester.  I’m not a very social person.  It’s not that I don’t like people, or that I think that I’m superior to them or anything like that.  I’ve just been a loner for a lot of years, and usually try to keep to myself and mind my own business.  People sometimes think that I’m judging them because I’m usually silent and watching my surroundings, but that’s not what’s going on.  I really hope that you and Dave are okay with this.”
     “Sure,” I said.  “That’s cool, and I hope that our noise doesn’t bother you.”  In the short while that we had been living together in the apartment, there had already been one party in our unit and several in the pool area just outside of Jake’s window.
     “Yeah, no problem with noise,” he replied.  “I’m pretty used to noise, and I have ear protection anyway.  Try your beans.”
     I sensed that his invitation to eat was a way of saying that this conversation was over.  I put a spoonful of the beans into my mouth and was surprised at how tasty they were.  I started shoveling more into my mouth and asked rhetorically, “Where have these been all of my life?”
     “I grew up on them,” Jake said.  “Nineteen cents per pound for the beans, a quarter a pound for the hocks.  A little onion and garlic, salt and pepper, and your have several meals on the cheap.  That’s how I like it.  Help yourself to more if you’d like.  I’ll put the rest away when it cools.
     He then got up and washed his bowl and spoon while I refilled my own bowl.  I sat down and went at the beans with gusto.  Jake finished cleaning up and headed toward his room.  Before he disappeared through the door however he turned and said, “Just a couple more things.  Help yourself whenever there’s a pot in the fridge, only leave some pocket change in a bowl on the counter.  It’s cheap, like I said, but I’m not rich.  Tell Dave that he’s welcome to them too, with the same provision.  Also, apologize to Dave for me.”
     “Apologize?” I asked.  “For what?”
     “Those beans are a gift that keeps on giving.  You’ll find out what I mean in good time.  In fact, one of you might want to plan on sleeping on the sofa tonight.”

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