Jerry has a problem, the biggest of which is not that he is about to become memorialized on the internet. First of all, an image is the primary means of capturing a moment. So, imagine this: The [redacted] coffeehouse has gone through many manifestations since existing in this small southwestern town. From a dark, gloomy den of beer and coffee and Mediterranean plates and a shiny espresso house with a wave-shaped red laptop counter, it’s become a down-at-heels remnant of its former glory. The bar stools at the laptop counter are ripped and shaky, the leather couches are worn and patched, the sage green paint has been rubbed from the walls. The black-painted acoustic ceiling tiles are gap-toothed in spots and sagging in others.
On entering, I’m hit with the smells of good espresso combined with acrid coffee and butter that has been baked and burned, baked and burned. Today, the tall bald man who is owner of an enormous wolfhound crosses the threshold at the same moment I do. He’s sans-dog, and that is unusual for this towering man who chooses to live with an equally towering beast. He is generally found around town with his dog on a lead, even inside the coffeehouse.
At the laptop counter, the man with the spiked grey hair and moustache is shrugged into a blue parka and is peering out his small oval glasses, as agitated as usual. Every Saturday, he brings his tobacco pouch and rolling machine to the coffeehouse. Today being Saturday, the litter of tobacco has spread in every direction. In addition, he has a laptop and numerous books, some of which contain chess strategies. The man is a wreck. He isn’t all there and, frankly, he reminds me of me if I were a man and twenty years older. Facing him across the red counter gives me a sense of seasickness, to be honest.
“The problem is, Jerry,” the man says, and runs his agitated hands through his hair. “The problem is I help you with your math, and then it opens you up to more problems with math, and it never ends.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard him mutter, “The problem is, Jerry…” What is exactly is Jerry’s problem? Is his problem–his state of being–related to the stapled packets of math work? Is Jerry’s problem inherent to his status as a student at [redacted]?
Let me tell you about Jerry, and then, perhaps, I can determine just what Jerry’s problem is. I don’t know Jerry; I know his name because the crazy man who sits across from me likes to repeat it as though it were a curse word. By contrast, Jerry is calm and quiet. Jerry, in fact, takes the abuse lobbed at him because he wants help with his math packets.
“The problem is you’ve been working on your math for seven hours, and you still don’t understand it,” the agitated abuser shouts.
Jerry has close-cropped ginger hair, and almost a full beard, if he weren’t missing those patches in between sideburns and chin that many men lack. He has broad shoulders, naturally large [rather than gym-built] biceps, covered in tattoos. He has tattoos on his back too; I can see them through the thin white t-shirt he wears. Now, here is where I decide whether Jerry’s dignity is worth preserving–whether I should describe him down to the last detail, such as the one that’s obvious due to his pants slipping down. I’ll save his dignity.
Jerry’s not a bad-looking man, and his pale eyes bear intelligence. There is nothing particularly wrong with Jerry from an external perspective, except that he’s chosen to consult the crazy, agitated professor–the archetypal mad scientist. Jerry’s slouched posture tells me he’s attempting to retain his solid sense of being while waiting for the oracle to answer the questions hidden in the numbers. And now he’s coming undone, just like his oracle.
Eventually, Jerry and his math tutor step out for cigarettes. But then they return. There is never an end to this process–to the vacuum or the black hole that is math. This is the problem with all knowledge. There’s no end to it. The more Jerry knows, the more he doesn’t know. He would no doubt be all right with that, as most people are, if his tutor didn’t continue to shout it at him. The agitation is a contagious disease. Jerry needs to step away, walk out–leave by the scuffed green backdoor and allow his tutor to bang out the front, with its jangling wind chimes made of cogs and wheels.
Thankfully, they both do just that. And now I’m faced with an empty laptop counter–empty except for the litter of tobacco. The coffeehouse has become a peaceful, albeit shabby haven. I have an open view of a man holding a newspaper and a couple laughing together and drinking syrupy beverages from colored straws.
The problem with Jerry comes to a close, as all problems will if you wait them out. Men made in the mold of the tutor don’t understand this; men like Jerry do. I’ve wondered, at times, who should be consulting whom.