Algebra in the Hollywood Hills
By Rodger Jacobs
Before speaking to Karl, the scruffy coyote scratched behind his ear and then casually sniffed at a fallen pinnate-leaved branch from a jacaranda tree.
“Somebody pissed on it already,” the coyote complained. “I love the pure smell of jacaranda.”
The animal was blocking Karl’s path on the fire road that lead to the underground bunker two miles below the wandering bucolic splendor of Griffith Park. Every day, five days a week for the last thirty years, the old man had hiked this road, sack lunch in hand, and retired to the underground installation where he worked on The Equation for eight straight hours.
Karl came across many strange and mysterious things in his daily hike to the bunker – evidence of Santeria rituals, orgies, a discarded Bible with the entire Book of Revelation torn from the binding, even a five-legged rabbit once – but he had never encountered a talking coyote before.
“How’s it going down there?” the coyote asked Karl. “The equation, I mean.”
Karl licked his cracked lips before answering. It was a dry and humid day, with the hint of a Santa Ana in the air, and he was parched. His wife had put a can of grape juice in with his meat loaf sandwich but he didn’t want to startle the coyote by suddenly rustling the greasy paper sack.
“This isn’t happening,” Karl said, his voice crackling like brittle paper. “I’m home, in bed, having a bad dream.”
The coyote snarled. “Want me to bite you to prove that you’re wide awake, Karl?”
Karl flinched when the coyote addressed him by name. He quickly thought of a possibility: mind control drugs. The agency had grown weary of his thirty-year quest to solve The Equation. He was getting no closer to an answer than the day he first accepted the assignment.
“I don’t think I can do it,” Karl suddenly blurted, “not anymore. I’m tired.”
“You can’t solve a simple mathematical riddle?”
“It’s not simple. The solution, if it can be found, supposedly, theoretically, would prove the existence of -- ” He bit down on the rest of the sentence and stared at the coyote with an almost manic fervor in his watery gray eyes.
“You,” Karl pointed a trembling finger at the coyote. “It’s you. I’ve solved it. Finally.”
“Well, here’s the real bummer of it all, Karl: there’s nothing useful you can do with the information. It’s abstract. It’s locked in that brilliant mind of yours and there’s no way you can equip the average person with the kind of mental faculty capable of understanding what you accomplished. Most people can’t even balance their check books without a calculator. Is that a meat loaf sandwich you have in that bag?”
Karl perched himself on the edge of a large boulder and observed admiringly as the coyote ravenously tore into the sandwich.
“Let’s say that a man came to a lush, pastoral setting like this every day for thirty years of his life,” the coyote said between bites. “No contact with other humans, nothing but nature and an underground bunker full of chalk boards littered with numbers. Do you know what would happen to such a man after a period of time, Karl?”
Karl shrugged his shoulders and shook his head wearily. “I suppose he would start to see talking coyotes.”
“Or talking jack rabbits or talking deer. It’s all the same difference.”
The coyote licked the last vestige of ketchup from his lips.
“Tell your wife she puts too much onion in her meat loaf.”