As the month of October proceeded we dwellers of the two apartment buildings settled down into our own unique rhythms. Some units were all party, all of the time. Other units housed serious students who were rarely seen under the best of times and virtually unseen once the noise levels began to rise. A good many athletes resided in our midst too. Four wrestlers lived above my unit, A3, who never joined our parties because of their obsessive attention to their weight. The basketball players in a corner unit of my block - Block A - were notorious for their social appetites. Three or four members of the women’s volleyball team lived in a unit in Block B. We were never quite sure of their actual number because they kept themselves even more separate from the jungle than the serious students did.
Within our apartment, Jake and I were more quiet than most. Dave was more interested in studying Kathy Pierson than anything else, and was frequently somewhere else with her. Jake continued to be nearly invisible. He would either be in his room or at the library, or simply out of the unit and out of sight. I knew that he would take long runs throughout the county, but I hadn’t asked where else he went, and he didn’t volunteer that information.
I had buckled down and was taking my semester seriously, although I still jumped in when a party would erupt by the pool. The fall weather was plenty warm; warm enough to continue to sit with my back against the wall and smoke an occasional joint. When I did so I would often look north towards the cottonwoods that lined the creek. The sound of traffic being channeled through those trees, and the hawks that I would now notice as they circled in the sky in search of an unwary field mouse, would always remind me of Jake’s story of predators and prey. It made me think about where I fit into that spectrum. That was a mental exercise which I did not care for.
One weekend I was on the phone with my family in San Diego while Jake was making his breakfast. I had only recently gotten out of bed, while he had already been up for quite some time. That was a fact made clear by the sweat that soaked his tee shirt. He tried not to appear to be listening to our conversation - my end of the conversation at least - but the kitchen and living room were virtually one room. There was no way that he could avoid hearing what I was saying.
I get along well with my family, so our conversations are always filled with laughter as we poke fun at one another, and it was so on this day. My father is a pastor at the church that we attended when I was growing up, and although he was not entirely happy with some of the life choices that I was making - growing marijuana in the back yard and telling him that it was tomato plants had once marked a low point in our relationship - he was mostly supportive of me, and I had no reason to doubt his love.
My mother was the model of the mother hen. She was the disciplinary force in the house. She rarely went in for corporal punishment, but when she expressed her disappointment with us it was usually enough to gain our repentance for any transgressions. She observed the model of previous generations of mothers; cooking and cleaning and making the house warm and welcoming to all who came into it. When we were sick she was our nurse. When we were really sick or hurt, she was our doctor, unless and until she determined that we needed a real one. In a word, she was Mom.
Diane, my sister, was two years older than me. Her middle name was Davis, after my mother’s maiden name, so we called her Dee Dee. She had achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in History from San Diego State and was now in her second year of law at Berkeley. It was her description of Northern California that led me to choose Sonoma State for my four year degree in Biology.
After I hung up the phone with my parents I asked Jake if it would bother him if I called my sister. I don’t know why I thought that he would care, but Jake’s differentness was such that I found myself frequently unsure of how to act around him, and this morning he was acting more different than usual. What was particularly strange was that he was taking so long to eat and clean up the kitchen and return to his room. He seemed to be pointedly lingering, and this put me a little on edge, so I thought it best to ask.
“Sure,” he replied. “Don’t mind me. I’ll be done here pretty soon.”
I decided that he could stay or leave as suited his mood and put through the call. Dee Dee picked up on the third ring. We chatted for a while and she asked if I would like to visit her in Berkeley the next weekend. I told her that I would love to, but that I had a massively important paper to write and didn’t feel like I could afford to take the time.
“You’re a Biology major,” she said as she laughed. “You science guys don’t write papers.”
“Well, maybe you should explain that to Professor Johns,” I replied. “I don’t suppose it’s going to be a book like you History nerds have to write, but it seems big enough to me. It’s important, too. Thirty percent of my grade. I’m afraid that I couldn’t take off a whole weekend, at least not now, to come down there.
“Then what about me coming up to see you? Just for a couple of hours, then I’ll get out of your hair. I promise.”
I agreed to that, and after hanging up I sat in the sofa and played back in my mind the conversations that I had just had. I had completely forgotten that Jake was there and was startled when he sat down in a chair opposite from where I sat on the sofa. He had a cup of coffee, and stared at me for a moment before he spoke. “You’re close to your family, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, pretty close,” I answered. “We’ve had our ups and downs, but I guess that I think of them as friends as well as being Dad and Mom and Sis.”
“Hmm,” Jake murmured, and just stared at me as if he was looking through me. I got a little nervous after a while and to break the silence I added, “My sister is going to come up here next Saturday for a visit. Maybe you’ll get to meet here.”
“Hmm,” he said again, and after a second or two he continued, saying “Yeah, maybe I will. Is she older or younger than you?”
“Older. She graduated from San Diego State two years ago and is at Berkeley.”
“And you like each other enough to travel and visit?” Then he answered his own question, saying, “Well, that’s obvious I guess, or she wouldn’t be coming here to visit.”
“Yeah, we like each other. The whole family does, although my younger brother Dennis pushes a little hard sometimes. My sister never blew me off for being two years younger than her, although she was pretty popular and always had a lot of things to do with kids older than me. The cool thing was that a lot of her friends got used to me being around, and most of them were re-e-elly cute.”
“She must be pretty smart to be at Berkeley. What is she studying?”
“Law. Wants to be a lawyer. Smart? Yeah, she’s smart. Smarter than me, and that’s for sure. Don’t you dare tell her that I said so though. It kind of pisses me off, even though she doesn’t rub my nose in it. Yeah. We like each other.”
Jake returned to staring through me, and once again I asked a question to break the silence. “How about you? How do you get along with your family?”
He smiled and took a sip of his coffee. Then he put the cup down and said, “I get along with my family just fine. I don’t know where they are, and I don’t suppose that they know where I am. I don’t see how our relationship could get any better than that.” With that he arose from his chair and, without saying another word, went to his room and closed his door.
By Saturday I was truly struggling with the paper that was due the coming Friday. In the laboratory I was a natural at performing acts of chemistry, mixing this and diluting that and titrating out the other. In the classroom however, wrestling with the theory of chemical reactions and discussing competing theories and evaluating research protocols made my head spin. Building a framework to conduct biochemical experiments that could generate reliable and meaningful results was a challenge to me. I knew that I could do it, but it was work. Hard work. It didn’t come easy and natural, as it seemed to do for some other students.
When Dee Dee arrived at 11 in the morning I was ready to put my books down. She gave me a sisterly hug and we quickly fell to family topics, which was a break that I was grateful for. We chatted about everything and nothing for about an hour, and were about to go for lunch to a nearby bar and grill popular with students when Jake entered through the front door which we had left open for air circulation on this Indian summer day.
“Hello,” Jake said to Dee Dee.
“Hello,” she answered.
“Jake, I would like to introduce you to my sister, Diane. We call her Dee Dee.”
Dee Dee arose and extended her hand. Jake was carrying a bag of groceries in each arm, and Dee Dee quickly drew her hand back with a look of embarrassment on her face. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Jake. Do you call yourself Dee Dee, or do you prefer Diane?”
“I don’t much care,” she replied. “Everyone seems to prefer Dee Dee, so that’s all right with me. Just don’t call me late for dinner.”
Jake laughed as if that was the first time that he had heard that one. “Then Dee Dee it is,” he said. “And I don’t know about dinner, but could I interest you two in lunch?”
Dee Dee and I looked at each other for a moment before answering. I had already described Jake’s nearly sociopathic reserve and Dee Dee was a very perceptive person. The Jake who had just walked into the room was not the Jake that she had expected that she might see. He maintained the initiative and resumed speaking. “I’ll take that as a ….”
“Yes,” Dee Dee said. “I’d love to have some lunch. What’s on the menu?”
“Spaghetti Bolognese with garlic bread and salad,” he replied. We stared at him without speaking, and after a moment he smiled and said, “Well, maybe it’s more like Spaghetti a la Jake, but the salad and garlic bread are as advertised. Would either of you like a glass of burgundy? Or Riesling? I’ve got a cold bottle.”
Dee Dee and I looked at each other again. I shrugged my shoulders, having no words to explain this new and convivial version of Jake. “Riesling,” Dee Dee quickly said, and added, “Do you want some help in the kitchen?”
“No,” he replied. “I work best alone. You two go on with your visit. You can go out by the pool if you want some privacy. There was nobody out there a few minutes ago.”
“No, I think I’ll stay indoors,” she replied. “I burn too easily.”
“Wise woman,” Jake said. “Go on with your visit then. I’ll have this whipped up in no time.”
We sat on the sofa and tried to resume our visit, but words didn’t come easily at first. I was confused by this version of Jake, and Dee Dee was confused by the contradiction between what she saw and what she had heard from me. In a few moments he brought over a glass of cold Riesling for Dee Dee and one of burgundy for me, and then returned to his work in the kitchen.
We quickly recovered our composure, aided by the wine, and resumed our visit. Jake worked efficiently and soon the smells of a meat sauce and garlic bread filled the apartment. In a little over 45 minutes Jake asked, “Do you want to eat in here or out on the patio? The patio was shaded and cool, and we opted to eat there. Jake and I carried the table outside and set up the chairs, and then we took our plates loaded with lunch and sat down outside to eat.
Initially it was Dee Dee and I who spoke. Jake calmly ate his lunch and said a word here and a word there, but mostly he listened to us. When we were finished I pushed my chair back and put my legs up over the corner of the table. Dee Dee promptly popped me in the back of my head in response. “Cretin!” she cried. “Maybe you don’t care if you look like you were raised in a barn, but I do.”
“It’s not the first time he’s seen it,” I replied as I pointed at Jake.
“It’s the last time that he’ll see it while I’m sitting here,” she said, and then threw a soiled napkin at me. I swatted it back at her, but put my feet down.
Jake laughed as he poured another glass of white wine for Dee Dee, and then filled my glass and his with the red. “I can see that you guys really do like each other.” he said.
“Oh, I put up with him,” Dee Dee replied.
“I’m the best thing that ever happened to you,” I replied. “I’ve kept you from becoming a total nerd.” She threw the napkin again and this time hit me in the ear.
“Children, children. Play nice,” Jake said, and we all laughed again.
“So, Joe tells me that you are studying law,” Jake said as order returned to the table.
“Yes, that’s true,” she replied.
“Do you plan to practice criminal or some other law?”
“Prosecution or defense?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
“Really? I would think that a criminal law student would already be motivated by a desire to put the predators in jail or defend the prey from injustice.”
Dee Dee did not appear to be ruffled by this line of questioning, but I was a little uncomfortable with it after having heard his theory about predators and prey.
“I’m motivated by the law,” she replied, “which I understand to be compatible with both desires.”
Jake made a facial expression that suggested doubt. “But in the end, don’t most attorneys come to believe that either every accused person is guilty and needs only to be exposed, or that every accused person is an innocent victim of powerful forces and a corrupt system?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I am not acquainted with most attorneys, and in any case I don’t intend to allow myself to be informed by other people, including ‘most attorneys,’ as to how I should view my anticipated profession. My own thoughts on the matter should be sufficient for me.”
“Fair enough,” Jake replied.
“I think I’ll clear the table,” I said. The turn that this conversation had taken was uncomfortable for me, knowing that Dee Dee’s sharp mind would not back down to difficult questions, and not knowing where Jake intended to go with it. “This is all too heavy for me on a full stomach.” As I got to work they went back to their conversation.
“I don’t mean to be critical,” Jake said, “and forgive me if my social skills are underdeveloped. I’m sure that Joe told you that I’m not exactly a Toastmaster.”
“He said that you’re quiet.”
Jake chuckled and said, “That’s a diplomatic way to describe it. You may make a good lawyer after all. Anyway, perhaps you can tell me what has led you to pursue the practice of law and your unusual, if you will let me put it that way, view of that practice?
“I believe that I can. Growing up, we were taught that every person has worth. Our father is a pastor, and his interpretation of God’s word is that all men, and women, are created in His image. It’s that “All men are created equal” thing that’s in our Declaration of Independence, but so few of us actually believe. Well, my dad believes it and I believe it too.”
“Hmm. You get your even-handed opinion from a pastor. That’s interesting. I have often found it to be true that most pastors tend to have and teach a more black and white and less nuanced sort of outlook.”
“Once again, I wasn’t brought up by most pastors. I was brought up by my father, and he did teach us about black and white. Black and white certainly exist. He also pointed out that on a black and white television screen there are 256 shades of gray in between those extremes, and they are what make any picture seen there worth viewing. Among people there are shades of gray too, and a whole lot more than 256 of them. This leaves us with black and white as distinct possibilities among us imperfect human beings, but with the myriad shades of gray more likely to complete the picture of any particular person or situation. It’s in these shades of gray that we usually find the truth, and as an attorney it’s going to be among those shades of gray that I’ll spend most of my time searching for it.”
Jake sat back in his chair, stroked his chin with the fingers of his right hand, and stared silently at Dee Dee. I was familiar with that stare, but Dee Dee wasn’t. She didn’t seem to be unsettled by it however. Instead, she took a sip of her wine and sat still and equally silent, waiting for him to arrange whatever thoughts he was engaging. At last he spoke again.
“That’s impressive. I don’t think that I’ve ever heard anything like that. And, is that all that fuels your even-handed approach to the law?”
“It provides the foundation, but it’s also supported by a lot of reading and simply watching life.”
“Reading? What sort of reading do you do?”
“The list is nearly endless. Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Whitaker Chambers, Frank Norris; I read a lot, and it all leads me to see the law as being primarily about justice. The law can embrace punishment and restitution and a lot of other things, but it is about justice first and foremost, and justice can’t be done unless we get at the truth. I don’t suppose I’ll be a judge any time soon, if ever, and I can’t very well be a juror if I’m the attorney, but as an attorney I can work my butt off to make sure that truth comes out, the law is followed, and justice is served in every situation.”
“That’s admirable. Really, I do believe that it is. I have to disagree on one point however. I have seen instances when the law and justice are diametrically opposed realities, with truth serving the oppressor more than the victim. For instance, I remember a situation where . . . .”
At that moment we heard a cry come from the other side of the patio fence and a female voice saying “Paul, you bastard!” followed by a male laugh. Dee Dee arose and I joined her as she exited the patio through a gate and entered the pool area to see what was going on. Jake remained rooted to his chair as we left the patio. We quickly saw a guy who I only knew as Paul, and three of his friends were laughing and looking into the pool. Lisa Diggs had run over to the other side of the pool. We looked into the water and saw that Tom, a stray cat that lived in the vicinity of our dumpster, was paddling towards the side where Lisa was heading.
Paul wasted little time. He walked to where he could stand between Lisa and the edge of the pool, where the cat was attempting to climb out. He pushed the cat none too gently with his foot back into the water, and Lisa hit him on the shoulder. “Paul, you son of a bitch. You let that cat out of the water.”
“That cat’s a pain in everyone’s ass,” Paul retorted. “Let it drown.”
“I wish that you would drown!” Lisa shot back, and hit Paul on the shoulder again. He then put a hand on each of Lisa’s breasts and shoved her back forcefully, causing her to stumble and fall on her backside.
Dee Dee didn’t waste a second. She walked over to where Paul stood and looked up into his leering face. He was about 6 feet 2 or 3 inches and weighed at least 220 pounds, and he loomed menacingly over the slight figure of the young woman who faced him. “You will move out of the way this instant,” she said to him.
“Yeah? And why would I do that?” he asked with a punk sneer.
“Because you are already in violation of California Penal Code section 597, which addresses animal cruelty, and section 243.4 which covers sexual battery. You pushed that woman purposefully in her breasts, just like you’re thinking of doing to me right now. If you follow through with that idea you’ll add another charge to a growing list, and I promise you that I will press those charges. I suppose that you could 6 months to a year on each one.”
“Oh, so you’re a lawyer or something?” he replied with his sneer still in place.
“Not yet, but I know were to find a few, and I know enough about the law that you’ll land in stir if you don’t move your worthless ass, and move it soon.”
The large bully was beginning to lose the stare-down with Dee Dee when he heard a soft splash behind him. He turned to see what caused it and saw Jake stepping into the pool and swimming to where the cat was now crossing to the other side, away from Paul but toward his friends. Jake never looked at Paul. He caught up with Tom and secured the frightened feline, who seemed content to be cradled in Jake’s arms. He then returned to the shallow end and climbed up out of the water.
Still looking only forward, he walked to where Lisa was now standing with a red face filled with anger. “Is this your pet?” he asked, knowing that it wasn’t.
“It is now,” Lisa replied. She took Tom from Jake’s arms and glared at Paul one more time, then turned and left the pool area.
Dee Dee had nothing more to say, so she turned and walked back to where I was standing with a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face. Jake began to walk back as well but Paul stepped in front of him and blocked his path. “Is your girlfriend going to save you now too?” he asked.
Jake stared at him with that silent, searching look that I had become familiar with; a stare that might have been that of a hawk spying a field mouse from on high. Then he said, “I’ve heard that you played JC football. Defensive Back, right? Now you go to a school that doesn’t even have a football team. You had an injury, I suppose, or maybe you’re too stupid to keep your grades up. It’s no matter. Either way, if you’re stupid enough to make me have to defend myself, I’ll add to your list of injuries in ways that you don’t even want to think of. Now, the next thing that I’m going to do is go inside and dry myself off. If you would like to do something that would make me change my plans, now is the time to jump to it. Otherwise, get the fuck out of my way and think of yourself as lucky.