Redwood Summer Part II Chapter 6

Jason put on a T-shirt and combed his hair in front of his bedroom mirror.  He then grabbed his keys, wallet, and change and left his room for the kitchen.  The morning sun shone through the windows and the remains of breakfast were on the kitchen counter.  Jason’s mother was sitting at the table reading the newspaper.
“You’re up early for a weekend,” mother observed.
“Can’t sleep in too late,” Jason replied.  “Got to go to Christine’s nephew’s little league game.”  He picked up a pancake from a plate on the counter and took a bite.  “Where’s dad?”
“He took David to the flea market,” mother said.  “He’s looking for a record player.”
“What’s he doing buying other people’s junk?” Jason asked.
“He calls them bargains.”
“Didn’t anyone tell him they stopped making vinyl?”
“You know your father,” mother said, “thinks everything made these days is crap.”
“I don’t know about that,” Jason said as he finished eating.  He opened the refrigerator and got out a pitcher of orange juice.  “Technology isn’t all bad, computers are just about everywhere now, can’t imagine life without them anymore.  Plus you got V.C.R.’s, cordless phones, fax machines, and C.D.’s are a definite improvement on L.P.’s.  No scratches or warping, and they take up less space,” Jason said as he poured himself a glass of orange juice.
Mother looked up from the newspaper, “Oh sure, they’re an improvement, but you know, everything moves a little too fast now.  You buy a stereo or a computer or anything electronic, and before you know it, it goes obsolete and you have to buy a new one.”
“Well, that’s progress,” Jason said.  “Out with the old, in with the new and improved.”
“Yeah, and prices sure aren’t going down,” mother observed.
“But at least wages are higher than they used to be.  I remember Dad saying how he used to get paid just a buck an hour when he started working.”
“More money to buy more stuff, and everyone has to buy the newest and latest thing or fad just to keep up with the Joneses.  All these new things are supposed to make life simpler, but I don’t know.”
“But that’s what makes everything go,” Jason pointed out.  “Supply and demand, that’s what keeps people working.”
“It feels like we’re being supplied with things we’re not demanding.”
Jason thought for a moment.  “People like to buy things,” he shrugged.
“Shopping, the latest drug,” mother declared.  “Whatever happened to just being happy for what you have?  You know, I was at least ten when we got our first T.V., before that people actually talked to each other instead of vegging in front of the tube.  If you wanted to see a movie, you had to leave your home, go out, be amongst other people, and it didn’t cost a fortune.  For twenty-five cents you could see a double feature, a cartoon, and a newsreel.”
“Did you also have to ride around on horseback?” Jason kidded.
“I tell you what,” mother said, “there was enough open space back then that you could ride around on a horse, now look at this place.”
Jason thought about what his mother said.  “Yeah, maybe people are more materialistic these days, but you know what it is, capitalism won out over communism, so now everyone’s living it up.”
“I like to think that it was things like freedom and democracy that won.”
“Aren’t they the same thing?”
Mother laughed amusedly.  “I don’t mean to sound old, but there was a time when there was more to life than just material stuff.  There used to be issues, civil rights, war, protests, Watergate, cultural changes, a lot was happening, and people used to talk and argue about these things.  Now all anybody seems to care about is how much they’re making and what car they’re driving.  I guess you were too young to remember any of that.”
“I suppose things are kind of shallow right now,” Jason admitted as he finished his orange juice, “but I think people just want to relax and enjoy life now,” he said as he placed the empty glass in the sink and rinsed it out.  “People have been stressing for too long, but I’m sure it’s just a phase.  Someday we’ll go back to arguing with each other and everything will be fine.”
“We’ll see,” mother said cautiously.  “So you’ll be home tonight?”
“For what?”
“Your sister is going to be home for dinner.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right,” Jason recalled.  “I was wondering when she was going to come and see us, school’s been out long enough.”
“She took a charter bus trip with her friends to the Grand Canyon.”
“Chartered bus?  Fancy.”
“It’s called Green Turtle, or something like that. The way she described it it sounded kind of hippie-ish.”
“What is it, a Deadhead bus?”
“Just as long as there are no crazy people on board,” mother said.  “I told Kathy that if she wants to travel and see the world she should do it while she’s still young.”
“Well she better stay out of trouble,” Jason said authoritatively.  “When’s she going to be home?”
“She said by three or four.  I’m making chicken enchiladas, she says she’s taking a break from red meat.”
“Uh oh, she’s getting weird on us.”
“I hope I’m not going to have play referee again,” mother said sharply.  “I did enough of that when you two were growing up.”
“I’ll be on my best behavior, I promise,” Jason said half seriously.
“I’ve heard that before,” mother said with a laugh.
“But this time I mean it.”
“Of course you do,” mother replied incredulously.  “But you know, Jason, there is something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” she said as she folded the newspaper.  “Now maybe I should have noticed this sooner, but lately I’ve been wondering if you might be feeling a little envious about Kathy going off to college because you didn’t have the same opportunity.”
“No, no, I’m not jealous.” Jason felt a change in mood as he sat at the table next to mother. “I’m happy for Kathy, and I’m very proud of her. She worked for it, she deserves it, and we all know she’s the brains of the family.”
“Yes, she is quite clever,” mother remarked.  “It’s just that I see you’ve been going to junior college and trying to get ahead.  And looking back, I realized that your father and I never pushed you toward college, and I think we denied you.”
“You didn’t deny me anything,” Jason reassured.
“Well, neither of us went to college, and we did all right, so I guess we never thought about it when you were growing up.  You were a happy kid.”
“Yeah I was.”
“Then when Kathy started going to school, all her teachers raved about her, how she was a good student and college material, and so it went.  It didn’t occur to me until lately that she got the support and some of the breaks that you didn’t get, and that wasn’t fair to you.”
“Mom, I wasn’t into school the way Kathy was, so nobody pushed me in that direction.  I didn’t even think about college until I was done with high school.  It seemed like everyone else was going to college, or at least De Anza, West Valley or City.  I just didn’t want to fall behind.”
“That seems to be the trend. When I was young, lots of people dropped out of high school so they could work.  Now it’s a stigma not to have a diploma.”
“Growing up I was just looking to have fun, I never really looked ahead.  Now everyone says these days you need a degree or you won’t get ahead.”
“Which I suppose means that the next generation are all going to need master’s degrees,” mother concluded.  “And who knows what tuition will cost then.”
“Too much,” Jason responded.  He then leaned closer to mother and put his arm around her.  “But you know what, I had a whole lot of fun growing up, a ton of great memories, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything.”
“Yes, you were quite the bundle of energy,” mother reminisced as she put her hand on Jason’s and held it for a moment.  They smiled at each other affectionately.
“Thanks for letting me move back in,” Jason said.
“It’s all right.”
“Didn’t know I was going to have money problems so early.”
“See? Progress,” mother reminded as she looked back at the newspaper.  Jason got up to leave, looked around the kitchen for one last thing to eat, and grabbed a plum from a bowl of fruit.  “So which one of Christine’s nephews is playing today, Eric?”
“No, Tommy.”
“Well have fun.”
“Bye, Mom.” Jason kissed mother before he left.
“Oh, could you pick up some ice on the way home?”

©2016 Robert Kirkendall

Pacific Avenue Theater – Last Call

Here it is!  The debut episode of Pacific Avenue Theater, a live televised drama anthology show, recorded from a live performance at Community Television of Santa Cruz on June 25, 2016.  Episode 1, Last Call, is a one act play that takes place in a neighborhood on a slow Tuesday night.  It is an ensemble piece about people who are pursuing what they want before last call is announced.

And if you enjoyed this little play please consider a small donation to help cover costs, and to help fund future episodes.  Thank you!                                             https://www.gofundme.com/PacificAveTheater

Next episode, a pair of short comedies; Gateway, and Reunion.

 

Redwood Summer Chapter 5

Jason’s eyes slowly opened in the diminishing darkness of early dawn.  He saw Christine asleep and huddled up against him on the living room couch, then he felt the weight of a hangover and his eyes fell shut.  His consciousness was blunted by alcohol as he drifted in and out of a dream like state.  He was tired but still cheerful in the hazy aftermath of the party.

Jason finally awakened and slowly looked around.  Silhouettes of furniture and sleeping people gradually materialized out of the dimness and the image of the living room came into focus.  People were passed out and sleeping soundly on other furniture and the floor, some with blankets or sleeping bags, others covered by their jackets while the approaching morning light bordered the curtains.

Jason looked upon Christine as she slept.  Her hair was strewn about her face, and he gently brushed it back.  She moved a little but remained asleep. He kissed her, and her eyes slowly opened.  She looked back at him and smiled sleepily.  “How you feelin’?” he asked quietly.

Tired,” she said just as quiet.

Jason kissed her.  “Even hungover you’re beautiful.”

Thanks.”

We need to go somewhere alone,” he said as he kissed her some more.

Not now.”  Christine tried to sleep.

Jason then looked down on the floor and saw Randy sleeping next to the couch.  He was breathing coarsely through his mouth and a small blanket lay across him.  Jason marveled at how calm and peaceful he looked while remembering his drunken, belligerent behavior the night before.

The orange glow of the rising sun permeated the room with increasing light.  Sometime after midmorning people finally began to awaken.  They stretched and shifted around on the furniture and floor.  A couple of people got up and began to walk around.  Brian went into the kitchen and Jason could hear him looking through the cabinets, find something, then move around the collection of empty bottles and cups which covered the kitchen counter.  He then heard the sound of the water being poured into the coffee maker, and the steady flow of the water dripping into coffee.

Man,” Stu said tiredly, “that was some party.”

Oh, my head,” Mike said as his head sank into his hands in fatigue.  “Feels like it’s been beaten like a drum.”

Someone opened the curtains and the living the room was flooded with a shock of light.  People cursed the sudden brightness as they tossed aside their covers and slowly picked themselves up from couches, chairs and off the floor until everyone was up and slowly moving around except Randy.  He crawled up off the floor and onto the couch vacated by Jason and Christine.

Afraid of the light?” Jason said jokingly to Randy then wandered into the kitchen.  Brian and Dwayne were looking through the cupboards, pulling out coffee cups and setting them on the counter amongst the clutter.  “Some party,” Jason said to them.

I’ll say,” Dwayne said while he poured a cup of coffee.  “Did you see the way Drew was hitting on that high school chick?  Still going after the jail bait.”  He put the pot back on its burner and made room for Brian and Jason.

That’s gonna get him in trouble some day,” Jason said as Brian poured himself a coffee.

He’s got to work on his approach,” Brian remarked.

I know,” Dwayne agreed.  “His approach causes women to depart.”

They laughed as Jason poured himself a coffee.  He took a sip and felt the hot liquid hit his stomach and wake him up a bit more.

Stu entered the kitchen.  “We made coffee,” Brian said to him.

Tomato juice for me,” Stu said as he went to the refrigerator.

Whatever cures you,” Brian said.

Another beer might help,” Jason said.

Yeah,” Dwayne said, “hair of the dog.”

No fuckin’ way,” Stu said as he poured himself a glass of tomato juice.  “Alcohol is the last thing I need right now.  I need a break from it.”

“Sure, and this time you mean it,” Dwayne said. Everyone laughed as Jason wandered back into the living room.  People were slowly moving about, straightening up the room, and talking about the previous night.

Man, that party was insane,” Mike said.

Did you see Eric?” Alex said.  “What a mess.”

“How about Jim,” Terry said, “stumbling around all over the place.”

“As usual,” Mike said.

Everyone was trashed,” Stu said as he returned from the kitchen, “even Greg.”

Man, I can’t remember shit,” Curtis said.

Weren’t you on keg duty?” Jason asked.

Oh yeah,” Curtis recalled.  “Must be why I can’t remember.”

Todd emerged from the hallway and appeared a little more awake than everyone else.  “Morning, everyone,” he said.

Well you’re looking chipper,” Mike said.

Best birthday party ever I ever had,” Todd said then walked over to Randy on the couch and shoved him with his foot.  “Wake up, you maniac!” he said.

In a sec,” Randy said sleepily and turned into the couch.

You’re lucky the neighbors didn’t call the cops on your ass,” Todd said to Randy.

I think most of the neighbors were here,” Dwayne pointed out.

See?” Randy said.  “I wasn’t the only one being loud.”

But you were the loudest,” Cheryl said.

Yeah, what a night,” Randy said as he slowly moved himself upright until he sat up.

And then you got into a screaming match with Gina,” Cheryl accused.

Huh?”

“You and Gina got into a very loud argument,” Rachel added.  “Don’t you remember?”

Really?” Randy said.

Yeah, really!” Cheryl said angrily.  “How fucking drunk were you?”

No more than anyone else,” Randy said.

She was in tears!”

Damn.”  Randy flopped back down on the couch.  “All we were doing was talking, and then out of nowhere she started tearing me a new one.”

Talking?” Todd said.  “You two were louder than the party, which was pretty loud.”

Our quarters game was interrupted,” Terry said.

And Gina was really hurt,” Rachel added.

Well I’m hurt, too,” Randy said.

Please!” Cheryl said loudly.  “Can’t you think of anyone besides yourself?”

Seriously,” Randy said defensively.  “She yelled at me first.”

What did you say to her?” Mike asked.

Randy appeared to search his memory.  “You know what, I just don’t remember,” he said.  “I think I blacked out when she started yelling.  Maybe she’s on the rag.”

What can she possibly see in you?” Liz said contemptuously.

You too?  Damn,” Randy said.  “Look, no need to stress.  Gina and I will make up, we’ve been through this before.”  He looked around.  “So where’d she go anyways?”

She left with Tina,” Cheryl said, “bawling her head off, as if you cared.”

Jeez, of course I care, I’m not all bad.  Speaking of balling,” Randy said to Todd, “did you get your birthday gift from Lena?”

Of course,” Todd said, “which is more than I can say for you.”

You guys are awful,” Cheryl said angrily.

Yeah,” Liz agreed.  “What would Lena say?”

I think we could all use a bonghit,” Dwayne said.

Amen,” Brian said, “take the edge off these hangovers,” he said as Dwayne pulled a worn cellophane bag from his pocket, unfolded it, and pulled out a chunk of cannabis.  Brian pushed the bong in front of Dwayne on the coffee table, Dwayne placed the green substance into the bowl, and then handed the bong to Cheryl.

Who has a lighter?” Cheryl asked, then Stu handed her a lighter.  She lit it, held the flame to the bowl, inhaled for a few seconds, then pulled the bong away while holding her breath.  She passed the bong to Liz.  She inhaled, then passed it to Brian.  He inhaled until the bowl was finished then passed the bong back to Dwayne.  Dwayne pinched off another chunk, placed it in the bowl, passed it to Alex, he took a hit, then passed it to Randy.  Everyone began to gather in the living room around the bong smoking circle and chatted about the party.  Some were drinking coffee, a couple of others were sipping beers. Brian pulled out another bag of cannabis and contributed to the circle of smoking.  Person after person inhaled from the bong and created a haze of smoke that settled over the living room.

So what’s for breakfast,” someone finally asked.

Is there any of that cake left?”

All gone.”

Well,” Todd began, “we might have a couple eggs in the fridge and some month old danishes. Otherwise I know of this excellent breakfast place where we can go, it’s just up the street from Andy’s Pet Shop.  They make the the killer Bloody Marys.”

Hope they can kill hangovers,” Randy said.

Well let’s go,” Mike said.  They finished smoking, put on their shoes, straightened themselves as best they could, and piled into their cars.  They drove to a nondescript, rectangular building with a band of windows around the middle and parked in the front lot.  Hungover and stoned, they slowly got out of their cars and trudged into the restaurant.  They waited at the cash register next to a front counter where people were eating and reading newspapers.  A staircase led to an upstairs lounge.

A middle aged waitress approached them.  “And how y’all doin’ this morning,” she drawled.

Oh, all right, could be better, what a night, you know,” they all said.

I’ll bet it was,” the waitress kidded.  “How many?”

Todd tried to count everyone.  “A lot,” he said.  The waitress grabbed a pile of menus, and led them through the semi crowded restaurant to a large, round, smooth table surrounded by a wraparound Naugahyde seat.  Everyone slid onto the seat until they were all sitting around the table.  Randy placed himself in the middle.  The waitress handed everyone a menu.

And what would you all like to drink?” she asked.

Bloody Marys all around,” Randy said.

Damn, Randy, what do you got, a cast iron liver?” Mike said.

I’ll have coffee,” Rachel said.

Same here,” Christine said.  Jason turned over the upside down coffee cup in front of him as did others.  A busboy came over and placed a glass of water in front of everyone.

And who all is having a Bloody Mary?” the waitress asked.

Me,” Randy said.

Me, too,” Todd said.

Anyone want to split one with me?” Mike asked.

I will,” Dwayne said.

I was talking to the ladies,” Mike said. “Get your own.”

Fine, I will,” Dwayne said.  “I’ll have a Bloody Mary,” he said to the waitress.

I’ll have an iced tea,” Cheryl said.

“Me, too,” Liz said.

All right.” The waitress wrote onto her order pad.  “I’ll be right back.”  The waitress left and everyone began to look at their menus. Jason and Christine looked at the same menu.

Sounds like she’s from Texas,” Randy said.

Ask her,” Todd said as he opened his menu.  “Let’s see, what do we want.”

Something fried and greasy to soak up the alcohol,” Randy said.

Oh, that’s healthy,” Cheryl said.

Anything with protein,” Christine said. Randy gave Jason a knowing smile.  Jason looked back at the menu in front of him and tried not to laugh.

The waitress returned with a pot of coffee and filled all the empty cups.  “I’ll be back with the drinks,” she said then left.

The corned beef hash is really good here,” Todd said.

That sounds tasty,” Curtis said.

Anything with hash sounds good,” Brian said.

Did you ever notice how everything on the menu looks good when your hungover,” Alex said.  A few minutes later the waitress came with the drinks the took their orders.

Are you from Texas?” Randy asked her.

No, Georgia.”

Georgia,” Randy said, “so how come you moved out here?”

Why, to be a movie star, hon,” the waitress said.

See, you were way off,” Todd said.

Yeah, but they’re close to each other, aren’t they?” Randy said.

Young man, there are four states and about a thousand miles between Georgia and Texas,” the waitress said.

Yeah, Randy,” Mike said, “don’t you know your geography?”

Farthest east I’ve been is Nevada,” Randy said.

That’s because Utah won’t let you in,” Todd responded and everyone laughed.

“You’re just too wild for them,” the waitress said to Randy and everyone laughed some more.  She took the rest of their orders then sauntered away.

You’re in rare form this weekend, Randy,” Alex said.

This is nothing,” Randy said.  “Remember that Day On The Green?” he said to Todd.  “We sneaked in a bottle and got so fucked up at that show it took us hours just to find our van.”

I thought we took BART to that,” Todd said.  “You must have crashed in some complete stranger’s van.”

Really,” Randy said.  “I think I scored that night.”

What was the lucky guy’s name,” Mike said and everyone laughed.

You know what,” Randy said as he picked up his Bloody Mary, “I’m always happy.”  He took a long drink.

They talked more then after a while the waitress returned with their orders and covered the table with plates of eggs, potatoes, bacon, toast, pancakes, and other fried foods.  Jason devoured his breakfast as everyone ate, drank and traded recollections of the previous night.  Jason felt his strength returning as he nourished himself, and everyone else became less tired and more lively.  Someone said how they were going to have to do it again, and everyone agreed.

                *                     *                     *                     *                     *                     *                     *

After they ate, gathered together their cash, paid and left, they said their goodbyes out in the parking lot and drove off to their own, separate ways.  Jason and Christine left together.  “Let’s go to my place,” Christine said, “my roommates are gone so we’ll have the whole place to ourselves.”

Jason was feeling more awake as they drove to Christine’s apartment.  He put his arm around her and held her close as he drove.  She rested her head on his shoulder then softly traced her hand up and down his thigh.  He felt a rush of anticipation and drove a little faster.

They arrived at Christine’s, parked, and went inside.  He quickly grabbed her and amorously kissed her all over.  She slid out of his grip, took his hand, and led him into her bedroom.  They embraced and kissed each other deeply as tugged at each other’s clothes.  They fell onto her bed and writhed around passionately.  He reached under her blouse, ran his hand up her back, and pulled her closer.  She gently pushed away from his hold.  He looked upon her with puzzlement.  She looked keenly into his eyes, and he was mesmerized into stillness.

You know what I was thinking about,” Christine said softly, then looked away serenely.  “Last night, seeing all our friends, everyone together having a really good time, everything just felt so right, almost perfect.  It was like no other feeling I ever had before.” She looked back at Jason.  “And I thought about us, and how lucky we are to have each other.”  She pulled him a little closer.  “We are so incredibly lucky, to be here in this time and in this place, with all our friends, our families, living together in the most free time ever in history, and with our whole lives ahead of us.”

They looked into each other’s eyes with complete trust and an unending openness that joined them into one.  They were then drawn back to each other into a passionate and heated entanglement.

©2016 Robert Kirkendall

 

Live Televised Drama Project Update

For my Santa Cruz CTV live drama project I’m also fundraising with GoFundMe.  Here’s the link:

https://www.gofundme.com/264u7g4

Pacific Avenue Theater is an exciting project.  The drama and the continuity of performance of live theatre amplified by the electronic visual medium, and a harkening back to the Golden Age of Television which featured some of the best actors, directors, and writers of its day.

The first 30 minute play for the Pacific Avenue Theater is named Last Call, a drama that takes place in a neighborhood pub on a Tuesday night.  I have my cast of six (pictured above) and we’ve begun rehearsals.  Now I have to find props and sets.

WE GO LIVE ON JUNE 25TH AT 8:00PM PDT!

The broadcast will be on Community Television of Santa Cruz, Comcast 27 and Charter 72, but I’m also going to try to live webcast it so anyone outside the Santa Cruz area can watch it.

Hope this works.:-)

 

 

 

Live Televised Drama Project

Hello folks!  I am currently developing a live televised drama anthology show for Community TV of Santa Cruz.  This was inspired by the live TV dramas from the Golden Age of Television, and is a revival of that fabled medium.

The name of my show is Pacific Avenue Theater, and the first drama we’ll be presenting is a 30 minute play named Last Call.  I have my cast of six actors (in the picture above, from our read through, last Sunday May 22nd), and I’m putting together a crew.

We’ll be going live on Saturday June 25th, at 8PM PDT

I’m also gathering funds to help with the costs.  Please visit this project’s Kickstarter page for more information and please consider a donation, any amount is most welcome.  Thank you!

Redwood Summer Chapter 4

Everybody at work is optimistic,” Jason said to Christine as they drove to Todd’s house. “At our last company meeting, upper management said that we were going to make the transition through the current world situation so easily nobody would notice. They’re smart, they know what they are doing. They wouldn’t jeopardize the company.” They cruised through the mid evening and drove past a lit up strip mall.

I’m sure they come off that way,” Christine replied, “but you don’t know what they’re saying behind closed doors. High end business people can be pretty ruthless, and I should know.”

“Right, because you work for lawyers. But you know what, you can’t be a chump if you want to make it in the business world.”

“God forbid they should have any ethics.”

“The guys I work for are all right.”

Are they all guys?”

Jason thought for a second. “Pretty much.”

Of course,” Christine said.

Check it out, once I pay off my debt, I’ll be freed up to take more classes. If I commit myself to more permanent work, it’ll be harder to go to school.” Jason turned onto another avenue. “I’m not just stumbling along, I’ve got a plan.”

And that’s good. All I’m saying is don’t trust them too much, they’re only going to tell you what they want you to know. You never know what’s going to happen, even engineers lose their jobs these days.”

Chris, the reason why engineers lose their jobs is because they stay in one place for too long and get a bunch of raises, so they get replaced by someone younger who’ll work for half the pay. And right now, I’ve got youth on my side.”

Yes, we both do,” Christine reminded. “Just make sure they don’t take advantage of you.”

They won’t. That’s your job,” Jason kidded. He turned off the avenue and into another suburban neighborhood. “You know, what we do has lots of uses, not just military, so there’ll be plenty of work for us,” he said. “Plus, I’m learning some skills, and with some more computer classes, I can get into programming, operations, all kinds of possibilities. I got a good thing going where I’m at, and if I stick with it as things get better, I can grow with the company.”

“Is the company growing?” Christine asked.

“It isn’t shrinking,” Jason answered. “If you jump from job to job, you never get a raise or seniority, so you never get ahead. Sure, they should be paying me more, but ten an hour ain’t bad, and I can work it around my school schedule. And my coworkers are all right, some real interesting people. I know you’re just trying to help with your uncle’s job, and I appreciate it, but technology is everything, that’s where the future is at. Hell, it’s already here.”

Well, sounds like you know what you are doing,” Christine relented. “It’s just that everyone is saying these days that the average American is going to work at least four or five careers over their lifetime. I just don’t want to see you left behind, that’s all.”

I don’t plan on spending the rest of my life there,” Jason reassured. He began to think more about the party the closer they got to Todd’s house. “It only has to last until I’m done with school.” Jason looked at the hastily gift wrapped bottle next to him. “There is one thing I’m sure of, I know Todd will like this,” he said as he pointed to the gift.

Oh, I bet he will.”

They rounded another corner and Jason saw Todd’s house at the middle of the block with people gathered out in front. Cars were parked bumper to bumper along both sides of the street and Jason parked five houses down. “Looks huge,” he said. He grabbed the gift as they got out of the car and they walked to Todd’s. Jason saw a bright hive of noisy activity contrasting against the other quiet, unlit houses. Music emanated from Todd’s as other people were gathering to the party and Jason felt a rush of anticipation. Small groups were standing around on the front lawn talking and laughing with drinks in their hands. Some had cigarettes.

Oh look, there’s Cheryl,” Christine said.

Is she still with Roger?”

Not anymore,” Christine said. “They’re not the long term types,” she added as they were approaching. “Is she’s talking to Rachel? Guess they’re not fighting anymore.” They arrived and entered into its surrounding aura.

Hey, look who’s here!” someone announced from the group of party goers. Everyone in the front yard loudly greeted them.

Cheryl! Rachel!” Christine said cheerfully as she embraced them. “How are you?”

Christine! So good to see you!” they responded excitedly. Jason and Christine blended into the familiar mix of the people, talked a little louder, and turned their attention outward as they went around and said their hellos to the everybody.

Jason! What’s up?” one of the party goers called out as he stumbled over to Jason and clapped him on the shoulder.

Hey, Brian!” Jason replied.

Heard about your game yesterday,” Brian said.

From who, Randy?”

No, Tim.”

What?”

Yeah, and he was going on and on about how you and Randy cheated him and his boy, Ronnie.”

Jason laughed. “That is bullshit. Those two play so bad the Clippers wouldn’t take them.”

Someone else stumbled in with a plastic cup of beer. “What’s up, Jason!”

Careful, Jim, you’re spilling,” Jason said to him. “So what’s on tap?”

Jim looked at his beer. “I’m not sure, but this is my third one.”

Well I better get one before you drink it all.” Jason touched Christine on the arm. “I’m going to get us a beer.”

Okay,” Christine said. Jason entered the open front door into the low lit house and was enveloped by an aggressive rhythm blaring from the stereo. People were scattered about the front room in groups of three and four and preoccupied with their own conversations. Many colored balloons and streamers were tacked to the walls and ceiling and brightened the ordinary house. Some of the party guests called out to Jason and said hi as he made his way through the front room. Some shook hands with him while others slapped him on the back or raised their drink to him. He loudly said hi to everyone and was brightened by the familiar faces and was feeling at home. Cut out letters that read HAPPY BIRTHDAY TODD were glued to string and hung across the entrance to the kitchen. He crossed under the bow of letters and saw Todd leaning back on the kitchen counter and talking with a group of friends.

Todd!” Jason shouted across the kitchen. “Happy birthday!”

Jason!” Todd answered. They came to each other and embraced happily. “Good to see you, my man!”

Wouldn’t miss this for anything!” Jason gave Todd the gift. “Sorry about the hasty gift wrapping.”

“Hey, it’s the though that counts.”

“Alex, Dwayne, Michael!” Jason called out to the group of friends around Todd.

Hey, Jason! What’s up?” they all said.

“Now this party is going to get started!” Alex said.

“Hey, at least he brought something,” Dwayne chided Alex.

Well let’s see what we have here,” Todd said as he opened the wrapping and looked at the gift. “Old Number Seven! You shouldn’t have.”

Hey, how often do you turn twenty five,” Jason reminded.

I wouldn’t mind stopping at this age,” Todd said.

As long as you keep your good looks you’ll be fine,” Alex said and everyone laughed.

So where’s your better half?” Todd asked Jason.

Just about to get her and myself a beer.”

Keg’s in the usual place,” Todd said as he indicated the door to the garage. “We got to do some shots of this later,” he said to Jason as he held up the bottle of Scotch.

Can’t wait!” Jason headed to the garage and opened the door. A blaring gust of music from a boom box blew past him. He entered and encountered more people partying and drinking. Some colored streamers and other decorations were randomly placed on the bare drywall. A group of people stood around the keg which sat in the center of the concrete floor in a tub of ice water. Jason smelled cannabis and saw a pipe being passed around as he joined the circle of people around the keg and they all said hi to him. “What are we drinking tonight, Curtis,” Jason said loudly to one of the keg people.

Moosehead!” Curtis yelled over the music.

That’s better than usual,” Jason said loudly. He got two plastic cups from a tubular plastic bag laying on top of the keg. “So how you doing?”

Not bad. We’re collecting for a keg fund,” Curtis reminded. “You can pay me or Todd.”

I got him a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.”

I guess that counts,” Curtis nodded. “I’ll have to try some of that later.”

“Why don’t you now?”

“On keg duty right now,” Curtis yelled. “Yeah, it was a fuckin’ ordeal getting this keg.”

Really.” Jason pumped the tap a couple of times then took the hose, angled the cup up to it, and pressed the little plastic lever which released golden, foamy fluid.

Oh, yeah,” Curtis began. “First, we had to reserve the keg ahead of time, and we never had to do that before, then the greedy fuckin’ bastard wants a fifty dollar deposit.”

What for?” Jason asked as he finished filling the cup. He set it on a nearby washing machine and began filling a second cup.

They say said it was for the keg and the tap in case we lose them, and he was going to gauge for some more if I didn’t give him my driver’s license.”

You had to give those bastards your license?” Jason said over the noise as he finished filling the second cup. “That’s fucked up.”

Actually, it worked out all right,” Curtis answered, “Todd talked to him a little more and he settled on writing down our address, phone number, license numbers, all that shit. He said there was nothing he could do about it, some new bullshit state law. We even got a backup for when this one runs out,” Curtis said as he pointed to a corner. Jason looked and saw another silver keg.

The pipe and lighter came around to Jason. He set the full beer next to the other one, took the pipe and lighter, held the flame to the bowl and inhaled deeply. He felt a hot rush of smoke go into his lungs and held it for a few seconds before he exhaled. He passed the pipe and lighter to the next person.

We’re regular customers!” the next person yelled over the aggresively loud background music before he inhaled from the pipe. “He shouldn’t be giving us a hard time,” he said as he exhaled smoke.

I heard it was ABC,” Jim said as he refilled his cup. “They’re cracking down on keggers because of all the underage punks who can’t handle their alcohol. They fuck it up for the rest of us.”

ABC?” Curtis asked. “You mean like Channel 11?”

No, dummy, Alcohol Beverage Control.”

I thought the ATF handled that shit.”

You guys figure it out,” Jason said. “Got more people to see.” He grabbed his beers and went back into the house. He could feel the cannabis affect his body and slightly distort his sense of reality as he entered the fog of music and maneuvered through the sea of people which had multiplied since his arrival. He said hi to a few more people while keeping his beers from spilling. He found Christine in the living room talking to some friends an he gave her one of the beers.

Thanks, hon,” Christine said to Jason while she was listening to Rachel.

And you’ll never believe what happened next to Marcy,” Rachel said. “After her latest boyfriend moved in he fell off the wagon in record time, then he lost his job, and he isn’t even looking for a new one. She is totally supporting that loser.”

She is way too nice,” Cheryl said above the clamor, “letting him walk all over her.”

And that lazy piece of shit doesn’t cook, clean, or do anything,” Rachel said.

He must be good for something,” Cheryl said.

Him? I doubt it,” Eva called out from another conversation circle and everyone laughed.

I mean, come on! Where is your self respect?” Rachel said.

At least she’s still in beauty school,” Liz said, “she’s going to need something stable to fall back onto.”

I don’t know,” Rachel said. “She doesn’t seem to stick with anything except for guys who drag her down.”

That poor girl is so lost,” Heather said and everyone agreed.

You know,” Cheryl said to Christine, “I’ve been thinking that I should try doing what you do.”

It can be a lot of work sometimes, but it’s not bad,” Christine said. “I guess it’s more high end than being a mere secretary.”

And maybe I can meet a rich, single lawyer,” Cheryl said slyly.

And you know it’s a secure because there’s always going to be people suing each other,” Terry said and everyone laughed. Jason eased into the flow of the party as the house filled with more people and became louder. Friends and acquaintances milled around, talked, joked, laughed, and carried on through waves of music as everyone mixed into the gathering energy.

You’re going to school, aren’t you?” Cheryl said to Jason.

Yeah, I’m taking a summer night class right now.” Jason answered. “Pretty soon I’ll have enough units to transfer to State.”

Good, then you can get out of junior college purgatory,” Rachel said.

Sure is easy to fall into that trap,” Jason said.

I work with a guy that went to West Valley for ten years,” Terry said unbelievably.

“Whoa, that’s got to be a record,” Rachel said.

“I’ll bet it isn’t,” Cheryl countered.

“How the hell do you go to school that long without graduating?” Jason wondered.

Take only one or two classes a semester and milk it,” Terry said.

“That’s getting ahead,” Rachel said facetiously.

You know what,” heather began, “I’m seriously thinking about moving away and getting a new start somewhere else. It’s getting too expensive here. I know I can get ahead better somewhere else.”

Ah, we’d miss you,” everyone said caringly.

I’d miss you guys too,” Heather said, “but I’m getting tired of trying to keep up here.”

So where would you go?” Liz asked.

I have a cousin who lives up in Seattle,” Heather said, “she tells me to move up there, says I can stay at her place, even says she’ll help me find a job.”

Seattle’s a cool city,” Rachel said.

Sure, if you like rain,” Terry pointed out.

“I wouldn’t mind the rain if I didn’t have to scrape by,” Heather said.

My dad wants me and Terry to move out to Houston,” Rachel said, “and he says it’s more affordable out there and easier to get started and all that. Plus he thinks California is too fruity.”

Not everywhere,” Mike added as he wandered into the conversation.

I wouldn’t move there anyways,” Rachel said, “way too hot and humid, and they got all these ugly oil refineries all over the place.”

Sounds like L.A,” Jason said.

Yeah, and who’d want to live there,” Terry added. Everyone nodded in agreement.

My mom would feel abandoned if we moved out there anyways,” Rachel said, “then I’d be on the receiving end of her guilt trips.”

Mike edged into the middle of the conversation. “If you do leave, if you really wanna get out of the valley and head to greener pastures, you might as well go where the real action is.”

“Where’s that?” Terry said.

“Prague, Romania, Eastern Europe!” Mike said emphatically. “Those places that have no idea what business is or how to make a profit or any of that,” he added excitably. “You can go there, make a fortune, come back home in ten or fifteen years and retire, easy. Some guy at work told me all about it, says it’ll be the next big thing, all you need is a passport and airfare.”

Damn, that’s what we should be doing,” Terry said. “I bet we could do that!”

Yeah, right!” someone said sarcastically, and everyone laughed in agreement and joked some more about the idea. A warmth came over Jason as he further dissolved into the party. People were talking excitably to be heard over the loud music, some dominated the conversation until someone else talked louder and led the conversation in another direction. Some people talked louder than the previous person before they could finish their story which led to joking arguments and some roughhousing. Others listened, laughed out loud at punchlines, and waited for a pause to jump into the stream of conversation. Occasionally someone raised a drink and tried to start a group toast. The pleasantly loud hum of many people speaking combined with the pulsating rhythms of music to induce a happy delirium, and a loose, optimistic feeling charged the entire gathering.

An arm grabbed Jason around the shoulder. He looked around and saw it was Todd. “Hey, Christine,” Todd said to her, “I hate to break this up here but I need to borrow your boyfriend for a little while, if it’s okay.”

Okay, just bring him back when you’re done,” Christine said. Jason let himself be pulled away by Todd.

“Hey, I’ll join you guys later,” Terry shouted after them.

“Of course,” Todd replied. “Whipped,” he said to Jason.

Excellent party,” Jason said. “Where are we going?”

Time to do some shots.” Todd grabbed Jason’s cup and looked inside of it. “But first, we need to get a refill.” He led Jason past the sea of party goers through the kitchen and into the garage. The garage was filling up and more people were circled around the keg. “Out of the way, keg magnets!” Todd ordered as he pushed his way through the crowd and began to fill his cup.

Hey, Todd,” Curtis said, “I think this is the biggest party we’ve ever had.”

It’s the raginest, bitchinest party ever!” Jim added drunkenly.

And the night is still young,” Todd said as he finished filling his beer. “Someone already hit the bottle,” Todd said under his breath to Jason as he nodded toward to Jim.

Can’t wait until the drinking games begin,” Jason said as took the tap from Todd and filled his empty beer cup.

That’s right,” Todd said, “and tonight, I’m feeling lucky.” When Jason was finished he passed the tap to the next person and then followed Todd back into the house. They pushed their way through and down the hallway into Todd’s room. Eight or ten guys were gathered around a collection of liquor bottles with some shot glasses set up on top of a chest of drawers.

Hey, what’s going on,” one of the new party goers said to Jason.

Stu!” Jason yelled out. “Long time, no see!” He cheerfully shook hands with Stu, then saw Randy in the group. “Hey, there you are!”

Of course I’m here!” Randy called out to Jason. “Where you think I’d be?” He bustled through the crowd to Jason and roughly embraced him. They greeted each other with drunken affection then Randy tried to pick up Jason. Jason felt his feet leave the floor for a couple of seconds as Randy screamed then drop back down. Jason was immersed in an aroma of alcohol. “I was just telling everyone how we took it to Tim and Ronnie.”

Yeah, yeah, we heard you the first time,” Brian said.

And you should’ve been there!” Randy chided. “When was the last time your ass was on the court?”

Any time, any place,” Brian answered.

All right, settle down,” Todd said. “First, let’s take a shot of Jason’s present.” He twisted off the cap of the squared, black labeled bottle and filled up some shot glasses with the light brown whiskey.

That’s the third bottle someone got you for your birthday,” Stu said.

You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Todd said as he was pouring. Jason and everyone else picked up a full shot glass, Randy raised his glass and tried to make a toast, then Todd stopped him. “Wait, Jason’s turn, he just got here.”

Jason raised his shot glass and tried to think of something to say. “To Todd,” He said, “a whole quarter of a century.”

I’m getting old,” Todd joked and touched his shot glass to Jason’s and everyone else’s raised shot glasses.

Over the hill!” Alex said and everyone laughed in agreement. They all downed their shots and Jason felt the smooth hard liquor go down and warm him from the inside out. He relaxed into the camaraderie and was contented.

House is neater than usual,” Jason said to Todd. “Looks good.”

Thanks,” Todd said. “I bet you weren’t sure if you were in the right place.”

I’m in the right place now.”

And it can’t get any righter!” Randy added.

Seriously, this place was a sty,” Todd said. “We spent all day yesterday and today cleaning, scrubbing, vacuuming, we spent about thirty bucks on cleaning supplies, and we had to take care of the neighbors, too, tell them about the party so they could take precautions.”

I think I saw a couple of them here,” Brian said.

Good,” Todd said. “And getting the keg was a bigger than usual nightmare.”

Yeah, Curtis was telling me,” Jason said.

Right, and you can’t rely on him because he has warrants,” Todd said, “but somehow we did it. I just hope we have enough alcohol.”

You need to catch up,” Randy said to Jason as he grabbed the bottle of Jack Daniel’s and poured more shots. He picked up one of the filled shot glasses and pushed it onto Jason. Jason drank it one gulp and felt the initial burn, then the alcohol coursed through him and inebriated him further. Randy grabbed a bottle of tequila. “One more.”

You’re killing me,” Jason protested.

C’mon, you can take it,” Randy coaxed as he filled up some tall shot glasses and handed them out. They were filled to the rim and drops of tequila spilled over.

Any lime and salt?” Jason asked as he took a shot glass.

Right here.” Todd pulled out a salt shaker and a small plate of lime wedges from amongst the bottles and glasses. Jason licked his hand then sprinkled some salt on it. Randy held up his shot of tequila.

What are we drinking to this time?” Dwayne asked.

Randy raised his shot glass then everyone else raised theirs. “For the host of this awesome party, and a keg of decent beer.”

“And to growing old without growing up!” Stu butted in.

“Don’t fucking interrupt me when I’m toasting!” Randy said irritably to Stu. “But yeah, like Stu was saying.”

Jason licked the salt off his hand and drank the smooth, fiery liquid with everyone else. He then picked up a lime wedge, bit the fruit from the rind, and the bitter juice overpowered the strong tequila flavor. He took a long drink of his beer and his consciousness blissfully diminished further.

Hey, I want to make another toast,” Todd said with a sweep of his drink hand, then staggered a bit and grabbed onto Alex for support. “Boy am I fucked up, forgot how to walk.”

Man, I’m so wasted I can’t walk or see straight,” Alex said.

“Ain’t nothing straight about you, Alex,” Randy joked and everyone laughed out loud for awhile as they fell on each other and jostled around.

Dude, there are so many broads here!” Brian said excitedly. “I’m going to have to pry one of them away and get her into my van.”

That ugly ass Econoline of yours?” Alex said. “What a turn on.”

“Fucking thing should be condemned,” Dwayne asserted.

You just stay away from Amy,” Stu said to Brian. “She’s mine!”

Not until I’m done with her,” Mike chimed in.

I claimed her first!”

“What’d you do, brand her?” Mike said to Stu.

Guys, don’t fight,” Todd admonished, “plenty of women to be had.”

“Where the fuck did you come from?” Randy said to Mike.

“I heard shots being poured,” Mike said

Well step right up!” Randy said as he grabbed a bottle and poured more shots. Everyone continued partying as the conversation meandered from women to the party to sports and sometimes erupted into uninhibited laughter. A pipe load of cannabis was passed around and a cloud of smoke filled the room. Jason’s senses dulled further and was blissfully forgetting himself.

After a while, Jason and some of the other guys stumbled out of Todd’s room, passed the line of people waiting to use the bathroom, and mixed into the noise and commotion of the party. More people had arrived and were adding to the gathering positive energy. As Jason walked he barely felt his legs and thought he was floating as his sense of time warped into a random sensation.

Hey, Jason,” someone yelled.

Jason looked around and saw a figure emerge from the mass of people. He didn’t recognize him at first, then saw who he was. “Hey, Drew” Jason answered loudly, “how you been?” Jason sensed that Drew was as drunk as he was.

Never better,” Drew answered. “Hey, you remember, you know, what’s his name, played linebacker for us? Big motherfucker.”

Yeah.”

I ran into him the other day.”

Really,” Jason said not sure if he was remembering the right person, “how’s he doing?”

Dude, you don’t know who I’m talking about,” Drew said.

Of course I know,” Jason said defensively. “You saying I’m an idiot?”

Aw, you’re just fucking with me.” Drew laughed until he lost his balance and fell toward Jason. He grabbed onto Jason and tried to hold himself up and Jason tilted back. They both leaned onto Stu and they all fell forward clumsily but were supported by a mass of people, remained upright and were able to stand back up.

Hey, is this jerk bothering you?” Stu asked Jason.

We’re trying to have a conversation here!” Drew yelled through the noise.

Yeah, that’s right,” Jason said, “we were just talking about…you know, what’s his name,” Jason said to Drew.

So where’s the keg?” Drew asked as he held up an empty beer cup. “I need a refill.”

Looking dry myself,” Stu said as he peered into his empty cup.

Well let’s go!” Jason said. He pushed Stu ahead and they navigated through the horde while picking up more followers as they went. The merry crowd gave way to the train of party goers as they burrowed through the kitchen, into the garage and hooked onto the line of people that were already lined up at the keg. The garage had become even more crowded and festive as everyone was talking, joking, laughing and carrying on while the music boomed and the line inched forward.

Jason got to the keg, filled his beer half way, drank it, then filled it again to the top. “I think it might be time to tap the second keg!”

“This is the the second keg!” Curtis replied.

“Awesome!” Jason hung out in the garage for a bit then wandered with another group of people back into the house and careened into the living room while trying not to spill his beer.

The party was noisy and rollicking and chaotic joy reigned over everyone in the early fun stages of drunken exuberance. Barriers dissolved around the separate cliques and everyone joined in a shared euphoria of youth and abandonment. Uncontrolled voices and laughter everywhere intertwined with the music and coalesced into a rising, kaleidescopic exhilaration.

*         *             *          *          *            *

As the evening progressed a pair of couples that were standing near the stereo began to move and dance to the music. Some others pushed the coffee table and chairs aside and danced with one another on the cleared living room floor as the crowd gave way and overflowed into the rest of the house and out into the front and back yards. More people joined in the dancing while others watched and moved to the music.

Jason was at the edge of the living room, talking with Alex, Dwayne and a couple of others, then felt a tug on his sleeve. He looked around and saw it was Christine. “C’mon, let’s dance,” she said while smiling tipsily. She took his hand and pulled him onto the dance floor. He placed his beer cup on top of a speaker crowded with other drinks, then their hands met as he became more aware of the music through his inebriation. The rhythm infused into him and moved him as he subconsciously swayed one way then another. The two of them mixed into the up tempo of the music and commingled with the other dancing people in the dim light of the living room. They danced serenely and carefree, then Christine pulled Jason closer and held on to him for support as they danced a little slower. “I think I’m drunk,” she admitted.

From one beer?” Jason asked.

Cheryl brought a bottle of schnapps.”

Jason kissed Christine deeply and tasted peppermint. “I can tell.”

What have you been drinking?” Christine asked.

Jason tried to think for a moment. “Don’t remember.”

Must have been a lot, whatever it was.” They danced some more as everyone in the living room moved joyously and rhythmically in a loose, gyrating symmetry. The shared social euphoria continued to lift the spirit of the party ever higher as it took off into a new phase. More party goers and some new arrivals crowded into the living room and joined in the dancing.

*     *     *      *     *     *

At midnight, Lena and some of her friends brought a homemade, rectangular birthday cake from the kitchen and out into the living room. They set the cake on a table and Jason got a better look. It had some decorative frosting, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TODD written in icing, and a 2 candle next to a 5 candle. One of the women lit the candles and people slowed their dancing as they noticed the birthday cake. Someone turned down the volume of the stereo and everyone stopped moving in the sudden silence then gathered around the cake. “Where’s the birthday boy?” Lena asked.

Right here,” Todd said as he bored through the crowd and moved into the center amongst the women. He looked at the cake and laughed. “You know you’re getting older when they stop putting on the number of candles that matches how old you are.”

That would be too many candles to light!” someone shouted from across the room.

Okay, everybody,” Lena began to sing. “Happy birthday to you,” everyone else joined in the singing, “happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear To-odd, happy birthday tooo yoou!” Todd blew out the two candles and everyone clapped and cheered. A few shouted out some drunken, funny, well wishing comments.

Thank you, thank you everybody,” Todd said after the cheering subsided. “Well,” he began, “now that it’s past midnight, I am officially twenty five years old.” A few more cheers and claps erupted and a couple of people whistled. “Wow, a whole quarter of a century. Damn that sounds old.”

You’re getting better with age, Todd,” Alex said followed by a chorus of comical agreement.

Yeah, yeah,” Todd said as everyone focused on him in the dim light. The buoyant mood gave way to somber reflection and everyone became expectant for Todd to say something. “Twenty five years,” he said almost to himself. “Time sure does go by. I may not have learned much in all that time, but I do know one thing, I am very lucky to have this girl right here.” He hugged Lena and kissed her and everyone aaahed exaggeratedly. “Thanks for the cake, sure looks good, the women here did an excellent job. And I want to thank everybody for coming, especially those that brought me gifts.” Everyone laughed. “Well,” Todd said, then thought for a moment. “Half way to fifty, some ups, some downs, but so far so good. It sure has been a lot of fun, and now, after all this time, I think I’m finally starting to grow up a little.” Everyone groaned. “No, don’t worry, I’ll be the same old Todd, I’m not growing up completely, but I feel…I feel like I’m starting to have more appreciation for the things in life that I usually take for granted. And I think that the most important thing of all are the people in your life.” Lena hugged him and held onto him as he talked. “Everybody here, all my friends, you’re like a family to me. Honest to god, you guys are the best, I love you all.” Todd gave a toast with his beer cup, and everyone raised their drinks. “All right, now everybody dig in!” Lena handed Todd a knife and he began to slice the cake into squares. Cheryl brought out paper plates and plastic forks and handed them to everyone as they gathered around the cake. Two to three hands at a time reached in with plastic forks and scooped up the pieces of cake. Someone turned up the music and the party continued as everyone ate.

Good cake,” Todd said,” glad one of us knows how to cook,” he said teasingly to Lena.

Lucky you,” Jason kidded while he ate, then he felt Christine smack him. Everyone devoured the cake while the music played and then trickled back onto the dance floor or elsewhere throughout the house. Jason and Christine wandered back into the living room and slow danced to a mellow tune. She laid her head on his chest and he embraced her as they moved easily with other couples. People rotated in and out of the living room, mingled, drank, toked, caroused, and chatted in clusters as the party continued at a steady energy.

At about half past midnight Jason and Christine wandered out of the living room and into the kitchen where a ring of party goers were standing around the kitchen table. They moved in closer and Jason saw Todd sitting at the head of the table holding a quarter sideways with two fingers and a thumb and aiming it at the table. People were sitting around the table with drinks in front of them while others stood around and watched while aimlessly talking to one person or another.

Jump in,” Todd said to Jason. He then bounced the quarter off the table and it made an arc toward an empty glass. It glanced off the rim and landed on the table. “Shit! That was close.” The door to the garage was propped open and people went in and out to refill their beers in a steady stream. Intoxicated laughter echoed from the garage and created a noisy racket that drifted into the kitchen.

Jason found an empty chair and pulled it up to the table. “Save this,” he said to Christine, “I’ll get a couple more beers.”

I don’t know if I want another,” Christine said as she sat down.

It’ll dilute the schnapps,” Jason said.

Can’t I just sip on yours?”

Have a seat,” Todd said to Jason, “I got people to fetch drinks for me, I’m the birthday boy!” He picked up an empty pitcher from the table and held it up. “Somebody fill this.” A hand reached in and took the pitcher away. Jason looked around for another seat, found an empty plastic crate, brought it to the table and sat by Christine. He pushed aside the empty bottles and plastic cups from in front of them and made a small path to the empty center where the quarter and the empty glass were. He noticed Tim sitting on the other side of the table.

Hey, how’s the shooting arm,” he said to Tim sarcastically.

Tim gave Jason a disinterested look and then picked up the quarter. He held it over the table, steadied his hand, then bounced it off the table and landed it into the glass. “Yes!”

Too bad you can’t make baskets that easy,” Jason said.

Have one on me, smart ass.”

Jason looked around then saw a full pitcher of beer get set down on the table. He filled his cup, passed the pitcher to the next person, and took a drink. Time seemingly slowed down to Jason as his senses warped into a pleasantly surreal semi awareness. He looked around the house and saw friends and new people, talking, joking, and laughing spontaneously, drunk with happiness as well as alcohol. “Todd, this might be the best party that’s ever been,” he stated.

Fuckin’ A it is,” Brian added loudly from Jason’s left.

Better than the one Alex and I threw last month,” Dwayne said as he picked the quarter out of the glass. “And that one was raging.”

Must have been,” Alex said, “my memory is a real blur that night.”

This party has taken over where that one left off,” Todd said.

May it never end,” Dwayne said then bounced the quarter. It clinked against the glass and landed on the table. “Damn, I don’t think I got one in yet.”

Are we going in order?” Mike asked. “I think I was skipped.”

Just go with it,” Todd said as he grabbed the quarter. He bounced it off the table and it fell into the glass. “Yes! Life is good. Drink up, Mike.”

You know,” Brian began, “my old man was talking to me the other day, and he said, ‘Brian, you’re young, you got your whole life ahead of you in the greatest country on earth, and the 90’s will be the best decade ever. And now’s the time to make your mark.’”

At least we finally have a president who knows what he’s doing,” Alex said.

Yeah,” Stu added, “so what if he’s a prick.”

You know what I think,” Dwayne said, “we should all get rid of all our governments. Seriously, they just get in the way.”

All people need to do is get together like this all the time,” Jason said.

“That’s right,” Alex agreed, “when you don’t, it just leads to trouble.” The quarter bounced and clanged around on the kitchen table as everything settled into an easy groove.

Speaking of trouble,” Todd said, “I think I saw Gina show up.

I wonder if she and Randy are at it yet,” Jason said.

I saw them outside talking,” Brian said.

Just talking?” Dwayne said.

They were starting to get loud,” Brian said.

Let’s see if they can control themselves,” Todd said. He bounced the quarter bounced off the table and hit off the glass. “Shit! Who thought of this fuckin’ game?”

That would be you, birthday boy,” Alex said.

Ah, quit your bitchin’” Mike said as he grabbed the quarter. He bounced it off the table and it clinked into the glass. “That’s how it’s done!” He pointed to Brian. “You, drink up. You’re not drunk enough.”

Stu wandered over to the window and looked outside. “There they go,” he said. The unruly voices in the backyard grew louder and escalated into a shrill melee of back and forth shouting and swearing.

Can’t they just get along,” Dwayne said. The noise of Randy and Gina’s screaming match carried into the house and affected the buzz of the party. People in the kitchen area looked out the window as the fight grew louder. Gina’s voice rose higher until it cracked and she erupted into a wail. She threw open the sliding glass door, stomped into the house her eyes wet from tears, then slammed the door shut behind her.

Fucking bastard!” Gina cried. “I hate him! I fucking hate him!” she sobbed as she stormed through the house. Christine got up and went after Gina along with Lena, Cheryl, Rachel, Liz and others. They followed her into the living room and were calling after her.

That was sudden,” Brian said.

Wonder what they were fighting about this time,” Alex said.

Jason slid onto the chair left by Christine and glanced into the living room. More people tried to intercept Gina and calm her down as she was barging to the front door. “Fucking son of a bitch!” she hollered as she exited. “I never want to see him again!” A few more people followed her out to the front yard and kept trying to calm her down.

Looks like Gina’s taking off,” Jason said.

She’s going to miss out on this quarters game,” Mike said.

So whose turn is it?” Todd asked.

Wonder if she dumps him this time,” Tim said.

Why, so you can make your move?” Dwayne accused.

No, I’m just saying.”

She’ll be all right,” Todd said, “she just needs some time away from Randy.”

Yeah,” Alex agreed, “like the rest of her life.”

Todd looked around the table. “Where’s the quarter?”

The glass door slowly slid open, and Randy appeared in the doorway. He held onto the door for support then stumbled into the house. He noticed everyone was looking at him. “Anything happen while I was gone?” he asked drunkenly. No one answered, then he obliviously advanced toward the quarters game, grabbed onto a chair, dropped into it, and scooted up to the table. “Well there goes the woman of my dreams,” he joked as he settled in comfortably with everyone around the table. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them, am I right or what?” He looked around at everyone.

No, you can’t live without them,” Todd said, “but you can always trade them in for a newer model.” Todd looked around real quick. “Good thing Lena didn’t hear that.”

Looks like all the women left us,” Dwayne said as he looked around.

Yeah, thanks Randy,” Mike said.

Who, me? Shit, they left because you’re all a bunch of fuckin’ queers,” Randy said.

“Not all of us,” Todd said. “But you two did make a scene, kind of disrupted everything.”

“Okay, so I lost my cool, but she made me do it. We were just having a regular discussion, then out of nowhere she gets all pissed off and starts tearing me new one! What was I supposed to do?” Randy looked around the table. “Whose turn is it?”

“So what were you discussing?” Jason asked.

It was nothing,” Randy said dismissively. “She was getting on my case, telling me what to do with my life, so I told her what to do,” he said with a laugh. “She’s just got to stop bitching at me to do shit that I don’t wanna do, I don’t need to change.”

A winner like you?” Mike joked. “What’s she thinking.”

The women just have to grab onto the Randy express and hold on for dear life,” Alex said.

Fuck, dude, I need a beer,” Randy said as he grabbed the pitcher and poured the rest of the beer into an empty glass.

Hey, we’re using that glass for our quarters game,” Dwayne chided.

Relax,” Randy said. He began to drink from the glass.

I think the quarter’s in there,” Jason said.

Let’s see if Randy swallows,” Todd suggested.

Randy drank the beer as everyone watched. The glass slowly emptied leaving the silvery coin laying at the bottom. He finished, then slid the quarter out of the glass and into the palm of his hand. “Fuck it. Let’s play.”

©2016 Robert Kirkendall

From The Archives – The A.P. P.R. Firm – A 10 Minute Play

(I first wrote this play seven years ago and presented it at a Santa Cruz Actors’ Theatre workshop on July 21, 2009. The events and topical references are from that time and may appear dated, but the underlying theme of disinformation from high places is still relevant.)

CAST OF CHARACTERS

CHAIRMAN

MR. CARNEY

MR. GRAMM

MS. HURTZ

MR. PHELPS

NEIL HOLTON

LEONARD (OR LEONA)

OTHER BOARD MEMBERS (OPTIONAL)

Scene: A corporate boardroom

Time: Beginning of workday

(A board of directors are sitting around the table and appear agitated. The chairman is standing at the middle of the table.)

CHAIRMAN

Now I don’t think I have to tell you that the situation is dire. Our public image has taken a severe beating since the toxic toy crisis, and because of that debacle the parents will inevitably sue us for damages, hospital bills and skin graft surgeries. Other customer complaints have piled up to the point that we had to hire more than the usual amount of temps to wade through them all. Sales are wavering to the point that the upcoming layoffs will claim people higher up than the usual drones. The masses are so up in arms over the Gulf oil spill that it could lead to the worst catastrophe possible, government regulation of corporations.

(Everyone gasps)

CHAIRMAN

Yes, I was just as shocked when I found out. And now my sources tell me that 60 Minutes wants to do an expose about us. So as you can all see, and we have to act fast or we’ll hit rock bottom.

MR. PHELPS

(Stands up)

I know! We can improve productivity, take deferred payments to allow for recovery, and tighten our belts for the good of the company.

(Everyone laughs.)

CHAIRMAN

(Chuckling at Phelps as he makes him sit back down)

My, your are precious.

(To rest of board)

What we’re going to do is hire the best public relations firm in the country to improve our image and reshape the way the public thinks of us.

MR. GRAMM

Genius!

MS. HURTZ

Anything to pacify the rabble.

CHAIRMAN

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Neil Holton of the A.P. P.R. Firm.

(Neil Holton enters and is followed by his assistant Leonard.)

NEIL

Thank you, chairman, thank you everybody. Now let’s get down to business. Your chairman tells me that you have the kind of problem that only the likes of our firm can remedy.

MS. HURTZ

Yes, we’ve heard of you, but what are your credentials?

NEIL

Credentials?

(Leonard laughs out loud.)

NEIL

Who do you think put off enormous liability costs for tobacco companies for decades with a carefully orchestrated campaign of denial and misinformation, which we’d still be continuing if it weren’t for all those weaklings dying of heart disease and lung cancer?

MS. HURTZ

So you’re no longer working for big T?

LEONARD

Au contraire.

NEIL

We rose to the challenge by engineering the new program of false piety and some very strategic T.V. name placement.

MR. GRAMM

Clever way to get around the law.

CHAIRMAN

Did I tell you these guys are good?

MR. PHELPS

(Naively)

Well their new anti-smoking campaign sure has me hooked. Who knew that the tobacco industry really is concerned about people’s health.

MR. CARNEY

That’s why they got into the food business.

NEIL

And when Shady Energy ran into interference after their privatization plan of the western power grid pissed off a few hand wringers, who saw to it that the good people of S.E. got their side of the story into the public and on every major and minor television network? And nobody went to prison.

LEONARD

And nobody important lost their fortune.

MR. GRAMM

Yes, the trickle up theory.

CHAIRMAN

And with the collapse of Building 7 and all the records contained therein, the paper trail has disappeared.

MR. PHELPS

Yeah, that sure was a stroke of luck.

NEIL

And when it came time to once again marshal America back into military warfare, who concocted the perfect story to convince the majority of Americans that it was the right thing to do?

LEONARD

And believe you me, convincing the public that a dictator we supported for years had suddenly become the enemy was no easy task.

NEIL

But we pulled it off.

LEONARD

With our most audacious campaign up to that point.

CHAIRMAN

Yes, the part about enemy soldiers setting fire to a hospital maternity ward was a nice touch.

NEIL

And now I’ve been told that you have a problem which requires the expertise of someone such as myself and my firm.

MR. CARNEY

This is where things stand. For years we were able to keep a lid on some of our more creative business practices, but now some nosy, ambulance chasing prick is making a documentary about us.

MS. HURTZ

He’s talking to a lot of our former disgruntled employees, and you know once they tell their teary eyed hard luck story that’s going to tug on some heart strings.

NEIL

Now, unlike most media, we don’t have control over what shows inside of a movie house, but we have a way to counter act that, with our “special” news releases.

LEONARD

Interviews of select members of your organization will be sent to T.V. stations all over the country and will also be broadcast internationally.

MR. CARNEY

But what’s going to happen if the reporters ask some probing questions?

NEIL

Who said anything about reporters?

(The board of directors all look around to each other quizically.)

NEIL

The interviews will be conducted by our own staff. They will look like real reporters, talk like real reporters, and ask questions like real reporters.

LEONARD

And as long it’s made to look like a real news report, that’ll be enough to fool most anybody.

MR. GRAMM

My god, that’s brilliant!

MR. CARNEY

I don’t know, sounds like a pretty bold scheme. Isn’t anybody on to it?

NEIL

Nobody who can cause us damage.

MS. HURTZ

Just the late night television clowns.

MR. GRAMM

I’d love to see all those jabbering fools in a gulag.

MR. PHELPS

Or a prison.

(Everyone stares at Phelps for a moment.)

CHAIRMAN

All things in good time, but first we must deal with the problem at hand.

MR. CARNEY

What we need are more tactics. I was thinking of an infomercial, or maybe QVC. It’s longer than a regular commercial so you can really get the word out.

MS. HURTZ

But the only people who watch that stuff are shut-ins and oddballs.

MR. PHELPS

I love those infomercials! I’m only six pieces away from a complete War of 1812 chess set.

(Awkward silence.)

CHAIRMAN

(Quietly to Neil)

Legacy.

NEIL

Infomercials and the like are not a bad idea, but not everybody believes what they see on television.

MR. GRAMM

That’s a minority.

NEIL

Perhaps, but something that is more official looking will be more convincing.

LEONARD

We can get a congressional subcommittee hearing with press coverage, send in some well rehearsed people, and use it as a vehicle to get your side of the story out.

MS. HURTZ

(Alarmed)

Washington? That’s the lion’s den!

NEIL

Never fear. The key is that our people do not testify under oath, that way nothing that is said can come back and bite you. And it’s free, official looking publicity.

MR. GRAMM

I like it.

CHAIRMAN

That all sounds very promising, Neil, but before we get to that crisis point, we were thinking about concentrating on mass advertising and some strategically placed press releases.

NEIL

Ah yes, plan A. We can plaster your logo on billboards, buses, and every public space where we’re allowed to advertise, basic but effective.

LEONARD

The public will be inundated and have no choice but to be held captive to your relentless efforts to woo them over.

MR. PHELPS

(Wistfully)

We can really be a part of people’s lives.

LEONARD

And don’t forget about the well placed campaign contributions.

MR. GRAMM

Hey, what do you think we are, amateurs?

MS. HURTZ

Despite everything we still have our fair share of paid servants who are quite reliant on us.

LEONARD

Of course you do, but we had something else in mind.

NEIL

Now, who needs money more than our schools and children?

MR. CARNEY

I don’t think I like where this is heading.

NEIL

Just bear with me. As we all know, and as we’re constantly being reminded by all the bleeding hearts, most of our public institutions are quite underfunded, and nothing makes a business look better than making a highly visible contribution to such an institution. And who needs it more than schools and children?

MR. CARNEY

(Looking around the room)

I think I know some people.

NEIL

Yes, of course, but what we had in mind is a donation program to public schools that not only looks good in the media, but it indoctrinates the youth to your brand name.

MS. HURTZ

Of course, during the crucial formative years.

LEONARD

You can become their world.

MR. PHELPS

Wow!

MR. GRAMM

They can carry around their books in our backpacks, wearing clothes their parents bought from us. You can’t beat that kind of marketing.

MR. CARNEY

We could get control of the cafeterias and our food division can feed them.

MS. HURTZ

We can give them teaching supplies with our logos. Our brand name will be everywhere.

CHAIRMAN

Glee clubs all across the nation will be singing our jingles.

MR. PHELPS

Yes!

NEIL

So as you can see, an all encompassing campaign can be quite effective.

MR. CARNEY

But what do we say to the inevitable critics? What’s our defense?

NEIL

Two words.

LEONARD

Blame game.

NEIL

Accuse your accusers, put the light back on them, and never stop. That will win you a certain amount of sympathy, and you’ll need all you can get.

MS. HURTZ

But what about 60 Minutes?

NEIL

Dan Rather tried to expose the lack a military record for our president, and now he’s finished. Nuff said.

MR. GRAMM

True, but there are other media sources.

NEIL

So what if some fringe muckraker does a story on you? Only commies and people who live in trees follows that stuff, and they have a very limited audience.

MR. CARNEY

But enough to be bothersome.

NEIL

Look, we may not be able to pull all the strings, but we still have control over the important strings, and that’s what’s important in this battle. And make no mistake, this is a battle. We at the Amalgamated Propagandists Public Relations Firm have a sacred responsibility to make sure that those in power stay in power.

LEONARD

And at a comparatively reasonable price.

CHAIRMAN

Excellent presentation, gentleman.

(To baoard)

So are we all in agreement?

MR. GRAMM

Before I say yes, I need to have some more assurances that this will work. We don’t need another fiasco like the old Howard Cosell Signature Brand Hairpiece sweatshop scandal.

LEONARD

Never fear, we do our operations in U.S. protectorates that have the best of both worlds.

NEIL

U.S. protection without U.S. standards.

MR. GRAMM

Well they’re not exactly high these days either, but I think it’s worth a chance. Count me in.

NEIL

That’s one. Who else is on board?

MS. HURTZ

Drastic times call for drastic measures. We can not fall behind in the battle for hearts and minds, and we can not be afraid to say the things that need to be said. We must now pull out all the stops because our very survival is at stake.

CHAIRMAN

Well said, Ms. Hurtz.

(To Neil)

I think you’ll find all of us here “get it” and that it won’t take much convincing to get us to do what is necessary.

MR. CARNEY

Now, before I can come on board, I have a few concerns. Let me just say that there isn’t a doubt in my mind we can pull this caper off, but there are still a couple of loose ends that need to be tied. I agree with everyone’s concerns, but with all due respect, if we put A.P. P.R. in charge of our public face, I get the uneasy feeling that we’re giving away a little too much of our power. I know we need your help and we’re all appreciative, but I do not want to give up our position on the inside track. What assurances do we have that we will not be relegated to second class status?

NEIL

Ladies and gentleman, this is the best part. As your chairman knows we have connections, very important connections, and certain people in high places want to bring certain corporate high rollers into the executive fold. Open up the case, Leonard.

(Leonard holds case in one hand and opens it with the other revealing a series of badges.)

NEIL

On behalf of the United States government as an officer of the organization Intergard I hear by deputize all of of you junior members of Intergard.

(He hands out badges to everyone.)

NEIL

As officers of Intergard you will receive advance notices of classified intelligence reports, be consulted about major policy decisions that directly affect you, and in the event of any unforeseen catastrophes that require the administration of martial law, membership entitles you to exercise the power of policing.

MR. CARNEY

You mean like law enforcement?

LEONARD

Armed and dangerous.

MR. CARNEY

Well count me in!

CHAIRMAN

Excellent.

(Looks toward Phelps)

But I’m still not sure if we all agree with your proposition.

MR. PHELPS

A cop! At last, Simon Phelps will get the respect that he deserves!

CHAIRMAN

Sounds like we’re all on board.

MS. HURTZ

(Raises glass)

A toast to Mr. Holton and his lackey! The saviors of our people!

EVERYONE

(Raising glasses)

Hooray!

NEIL

(Smiles sentimentally and graciously)

I love this job.

©2009, 2016 Robert Kirkendall

Subsequently published in The Wagon Magazine, Volume 1 – Issue 2

Redwood Summer Chapter 3

Jason grabbed the coffee pot from the maker, filled up his cup, and returned to the circle of conversation with his coworkers at the break room table.

No way we’re having another Bay Bridge Series this year,” Kevin said.  “Really, that was just luck.”

“Oakland, possibly, but not the Giants,” Larry said.  “And that’s too bad because I liked all the attention we got.  Even with the East Coast bias we couldn’t be ignored.”

“I don’t know if it’s bias,” Phil added.  “They’re going to sleep over there when our night games are still playing.”

“I think it was the earthquake that got us most of the attention,” Kevin observed.

“It was both events,” Larry asserted.  “The Fall Classic and a natural disaster happening at the same time, and right in the first inning!  What are the odds?”

“I don’t know, I’m not a bookie,” Kevin said.

“Point is,” Larry began, “no Bay Bridge Series, no earthquake, god forbid.”

“Makes sense,” Jason added.

You just wait until the Sharks start playing next year,” Laura said, “then you’ll see some real athletes.”

“You think it’s easy hitting a ninety five mile per hour projectile?” Phil asked.

I didn’t know you were a hockey fan,” Kevin said to Laura.

I’m from Michigan,” Laura said.  “Hockey’s very popular back home.”

I’m just happy that we finally got a big league team,” Jason said.  “That way I don’t always have to travel fifty miles to see a game.”

“Well we’re only the biggest city in northern California,” Phil said.

Have you seen the new arena lately?” Larry asked.  “Coming along nicely.”

“Yeah, I know,” Laura said.  “I drive by it every chance I get.”

What was there before?” Kevin asked.

You know, I can’t even remember,” Larry said.

Whatever it was, it stood in the way of progress,” Phil said.  The telephone outside the break room rang.

I just hope the arena looks a lot better than the convention center.  What an eyesore,” Kevin bemoaned. Everyone nodded in agreement.

“Whoever designed that was either blind, stoned, or just bored with their job,” Phil added.

Everyone laughed then another employee poked her head into the break room.  “Jason, telephone call.”  

Thanks, Gayle.”  Jason left the break room and went to a wall telephone out in the corridor.  He picked up the receiver and hit the hold button.  Hello.”

Hi, honey, how’s work?” Christine asked over the telephone.

“All right,” Jason said happy to hear Christine’s voice.  “Just hanging out in the break room with the rest of the crew.”

Good.  I thought I called too late,” Christine said.  “I tried to call earlier but we got a visit from these big shot clients, so we had to work into our lunch hour and give them the red carpet treatment.”

Yeah, got to please the money people,“ Jason said.

They’re all in a closed door meeting now, probably something really important,” Christine said facetiously.

Maybe it’ll be good for business.”

Good for business means I’ll have to work more hours.”

But at least you’ll get overtime,” Jason reminded.

I’m salaried, I don’t get time and a half.”

Well, I’m sure they’ll notice you working hard.”

Good one!” Christine laughed.

“Just trying to help.”

“And I appreciate it, but I work for sharks,” Christine said.  “So I was wondering if I should get anything for the party?”

“It’s okay, I already got Todd’s gift.”

“But this is an important birthday.  I was thinking of a little something extra.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  Something that will last.  Your gift won’t make it through the night,” Christine kidded.

“Then it’ll be a very memorable party,” Jason promised.

Or everyone is going to be too hammered to remember anything,” Christine laughed.

“I’m good either way.”

“Oh, guess who called me earlier.”

Who?”

Cece.”

Cece?  Hmm.”  Jason tried to remember her.

Yeah, don’t you remember her?  She’s one of my best friends,” Christine said excitedly.  “We used to hang out all the time.  I guess that was before we were together.  I told her about Todd’s party, she said she’d try to make it.”

Oh, yeah, Cece.”  Jason finally remembered her from a party where she drank a lot and acted crazy. “Yeah, she liked to party.”

She’s a wild one.  But did you know she just graduated from Chico State and now she’s going for her master’s?  Go figure.”

How did that party animal find time for school?”

Why do you think she went to Chico?” Christine said knowingly.  “She’s probably staying in school so she doesn’t have to go out in the real world.”

That’s smart.”

And she’s getting a grant.  She won’t even have to work.  Of all the luck.”

I could use some of that luck,” Jason said glumly.

Hey, don’t feel bad, if she can do it, anyone can.  You almost have enough units to be a junior,” Christine said hopefully.  “Think of all the money you’re saving right now.”

That’s true,” Jason agreed.  “But I don’t want to wait too long.  State schools cost over five hundred a semester now, and U.C.’s are at least double that.”

You know much it is to go to Santa Clara?  Fourteen thousand a semester.”

Whoa, I’m not that ambitious.  I’m just a regular guy looking to go to a state college.”

“One of the partners is sending his daughter there,” Christine said.  He complains about how much it’s costing him, but it must be nice to be able to spend that much on your kid.”

Jason thoughts then went to the previous day’s basketball game.  “Still feeling pumped about that game me and Randy played yesterday.”

That’s good.”

You should’ve seen us school those two punks.”

I know,” Christine said.  “You told me all about it last night.”

Yeah, and I wish you could have seen it.  An epic battle. I got to play more often so I don’t get out of shape.”

I’d say you’re in plenty good shape,” Christine said suggestively.

Thanks,” Jason smiled.

“So did you get a chance to talk to your supervisor?”

“Yeah, we talked, and he was cool about it.  He said I’m a good worker and he likes my dedication.  He even said if it was up to him I’d have a raise by now, but you know, workplace bureaucracy, chain of command, all that.  But I think it went all right.”

That’s good,” Christine said.  “It has been over a year now.  They at least owe you a review.  I’m pretty sure that’s the law.”

Yeah, it’ll happen soon,” Jason said trying to sound upbeat.  “John said that things are kind of up in the air right now because they’re looking to get some new investors, plus all the other changes happening in the world right now, but everyone is positive.  I even told him about my credit card debt and how I’m trying to save money for college.  He said he was sympathetic.”

I’m not being too pushy, am I?” Christine asked.

No, it was my idea,” Jason reassured.  “I’ve got to make it happen, and like you said, they do owe me a review.”

Yeah, but I was thinking that maybe you got the idea when I told you about my rent going up.”

Just a coincidence,” Jason said.  “Besides, I’m not the new guy anymore. I’m due, and high rents are the just the reality of living here or anywhere in the Bay Area.  We all need a raise.”

That’s for sure,” Christine agreed.  “And you know, you can always tell them you have other job possibilities.”

“You mean your Uncle Ray?”

“Well he has been busy since the earthquake, and he’s looking for more workers.”

But he doesn’t pay what I’m making now,” Jason reminded.

I know eight an hour doesn’t sound like much, but it’s under the table so you’ll actually be taking home eight an hour.”

That kind of sounds like a temp job.”

All his workers start under the table, but it can easily become permanent,” Christine added.  “If he likes the way you work, and I’m sure he will, he can take you on as a regular employee, and then you could be making at least twice that.”

Yeah, we talked about it last night. It’s something to think about, but it sounds like a lot of hours, and I don’t know if I can do that and go to school at the same time.  Also there’s also times when there’s not enough work, especially in the winter.  I think I should just stay here for now.” Jason decided.

Well, okay.  Just thought I’d mention it,” Christine said nonchalantly.

Yeah, sure. I mean, it sounds all right, and I know you’re trying to help,” Jason leaned into the wall and spoke quieter. “It’s just that I can’t be talking about that kind of stuff right here at work. We’ll talk about it later, all right?”

Yeah, of course.  No big deal,” Christine said.  “I guess it is kind of a dumb idea.”

No, it’s not a bad idea,” Jason replied a little irritably.  “It’s just that I should stick with what I’m doing right now.  We already discussed this.”

You’re right,” Christine accepted, “and it’s not like a take it or leave it right now kind of thing anyways. I guess I was thinking that it could be a plan B.”

Yeah, sure.  Doesn’t hurt to have options.”  Jason thought more of the idea and still did not feel inclined.

Okay, I better let you go now.  Don’t want to tie you up.  After work I have to go to the store for my mom, and then I’ll have to get ready for the party.”

First the raise, now this?” Jason pointed out.

I knew it! I am being too pushy.”

No, you’re not being pushy,” Jason insisted.  “It just sounds like a mixed message.”

“It’s about having options,” Christine insisted.

“But why now?  When things are going good?”

Look, this is what happened.  I was talking to my mom earlier this week, and while we were talking she mentioned how busy Uncle Ray is right now because a couple of his guys quit, and I just thought I’d mention it you.  Honest, there’s no conspiracy.”

If I was wanting a new job, I would have said something,” Jason stated.

But you know how things are always changing in the technology field,” Christine emphasized.  “It doesn’t hurt to have options.”

Everything is going along fine here,” Jason said a little louder.  “There is no need to stress.”

But you don’t always know what’s going to happen down the road.”

Chris, there is nothing to worry about,” Jason said with finality.  “And if there was something to worry about, I’d be doing something about it.”

But what if it’s something you can’t see?  Mom and Dad wanting me to take care of cousin Stephanie’s baby shower because Aunt Rita just got out of the hospital, I didn’t see that one coming.  Plus we have to get our guest bedroom ready for Grandma, and the firm may want me to work more hours…”

All right, all right,” Jason interrupted.  He noticed people leaving the break room.  “Lunch time is over, I better get off the phone now.  I’ll call you when I get home.”

“Okay, bye.”

“Bye.”

“Love you,” Christine said sweetly.

Jason huddled around the telephone.  “Love you.”  He hung up and joined the stream of coworkers as they headed back to work.

Talking to your better half?” Phil said to Jason.

Yep,” Jason said as he tried to refocus on his job.

I’m on marriage number three right now and it still hasn’t gotten any easier,” Phil said.  “At least you’re at the beginning, the honeymoon period,” he said longingly.  “I envy you young newlyweds.”

We’re not married.”

Oops, my mistake,” Phil apologized. 

Everyone dispersed out of the florescent lit corridor and into the main work area.  Workers maneuvered through large computer mainframes and work tables with printers, monitors, and other electronic equipment and gravitated to their work stations.  Past a far glass wall at the end of the work area was an office with a small maze of cubicles and desks.

Jason went to a black screen monitor, looked at a wide printout of data next to it, and typed a series of line commands onto a keyboard as he fell back into work mindset.  A series of words and numbers scrolled upward on the screen.  He typed a save command and a light on the disc drive lit up as it hummed.  He entered some more data, then worked with a couple of technicians disassembling a component of a larger mainframe.  Some other coworkers came by, observed, and commented with advice.  After a while they got the computer working and it began to print out a detailed satellite image. A couple of the employees looked at and commented on the image as Jason returned to his computer. He spent the remaining hour entering more data and chatting with coworkers.  The mood of everyone lightened from the approaching weekend.

At 5PM Jason shut down his computer and walked with his coworkers through another corridor to the entrance.  People were gathered around the time clock and getting out their time cards while talking about their plans for the weekend.

So any big plans this Friday night?” Stan asked Jason.

Going to a birthday party,” Jason said while he reached for his time card.

Really, for who?”

A friend of mine.”

How old is he going to be?”

Twenty five.”

“He’s still young.”

 

©2016 Robert Kirkendall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redwood Summer Chapter 2

Jason got home after work.  His younger brother was sitting at the kitchen table and talking on the telephone while his father was over in the sunken family room.  Father was looking at the newspaper while the evening news was on the television.
“Hi, Dad,” Jason said.
“Jason.  How was work?” father asked.
“Good, real good.”
“That so?”
“Oh yeah,” Jason said positively as he approached the family room.  “We had this big company wide meeting today.  Everybody was there, including the owners.  Went really well, too.  Upper management said we’d make the transition through the current world situation so easily that nobody would notice.”
“That sounds grand,” father said amusedly.
“Well, that’s the way they put it, but it all sounded legit.”
“Sounds like they’re sweet talkin’ you,” father warned.
“I guess that’s why they brought us flowers,” Jason said humorously.  “But you know what, we’re in the satellite imaging business, and they have lots of uses, not just military.  They say the future is looking bright.”
“Well that’s good,” father said.  “But remember, they’re only going to tell you what they want you to know.  They can’t risk the commoners knowing too much.”
“They’re smart people, they know what they’re doing.”
“Maybe they’re just acting like they know what they’re doing.”
“Whatever they’re doing it’s working.  I got a good feeling about where we’re going and I’m glad to be a part of it.”  Jason looked over at his brother.  “David, anyone call for me?”
“Huh? No,” David said from the kitchen.  “Who? That was brother,” he said into the telephone.  “Older…Yeah, I’m the youngest.”
“Now you heard about this Hubble telescope fiasco, right?” father said to Jason.
Jason looked back toward his father.  “Oh yeah, everybody at work was talking about it.”
“A couple of billion charged to the taxpayers and the damn thing doesn’t even work right,” father ridiculed as he pointed to an article in the newspaper.”
“He’s only been here for a month,” David said into the telephone.  “He had to move back home because of credit card debt.”
“Hey! Don’t be telling the world my business,” Jason said angrily to David.
David pulled the receiver away.  “Sorry,” he said to Jason, and went back to the telephone.
“Kid sure is a blabbermouth, eh?” father laughed.
“Yeah he is,” Jason agreed.
“So the point I’m trying to make,” father continued, “is that no matter how high up the ladder someone is, no one is immune to incompetency.  Some people just know how to present themselves well and that’s it.”
“Yeah, I see what you’re saying, but I really think the people I’m working for are too smart for that,” Jason reassured.  “They’re even bringing in some new investors, that can only mean things are looking up. Investors aren’t going to gamble their money on something with no future.”
“Maybe so, but remember, we had a stock market crash just a couple of years ago,” father reminded.
Jason tried to remember when that happened.  “Seems like we’ve recovered.”
Father laughed.  “Aw hell, you know what you’re doing.”
“Things are going good, so I’m just going with the flow.”
“Okay, but remember,” father cautioned as he pointed to the Hubble telescope newspaper article again, “all it takes is a mistake at the top that trickles down and fucks it up for everyone else.  And you know that none of the people who came up with this boondoggle will get fired.”
“That’s where the job security is,” Jason said then headed out of the dining area.  He walked down the hallway and entered his room.  He closed the door, and the sound of the television and David talking became faint.  He tossed his keys onto the nightstand, then sat on his bed and took off his shoes.  He put on a compact disc and pressed the play button on his stereo. He fell back onto his bed and the music permeated the room.  He relaxed unhurriedly.
Jason lost himself in the music as he basked in the afterglow of the meeting at work.  He felt content, and anticipated a brighter future.  A few minutes later he heard his mother come home followed by the sound of a couple of bags of groceries being set on the kitchen counter.  From the calmness of his room he overheard activity happening in the rest of the house.  He then heard a knock on the front door. His mother answered and he heard his friend Randy.  “So where’s Jason?” Randy asked.
“I think he’s in his room,” mother said.
“I hear there’s going to be a huge party at Todd’s this weekend,” David said.
“Sorry, Dave, grown ups only,” Randy said.
“That’s all right,” David said, “me and my friends got stuff to do.”
“See?” Randy said.  “You got things going on.”
“David got a part time job at Long’s,” mother said.
“So you’re a working man now,” Randy said.  “Way to go!”
“I just stock shelves,” David answered, “not exactly brain surgery.”
“But you are learning about responsibility,” mother reminded.
“That’s right,” Randy said, “listen to your mother or you’ll end up like me,” he joked.  “I’ll go bother Jason.”
Jason heard quick steps to his room and a knock on his door.  “Come in,” he said.
The door opened and Randy entered.  His clothes were dirt stained.  “Already in bed?  The sun is still out.”
“Just relaxing after a day’s work.”
“I just worked too,” Randy chided, “and you don’t see me layin’ around.”
Jason lifted his head up.  “You found work?”
“Yep.  Terry hooked me up a job with a landscaper.”
“Way to go.”
“Now let’s celebrate and go shoot some hoops!”
Jason dropped his head back onto his pillow.  “Can’t. I’ve got class tonight.”
“Again? You had class last night.”
“It’s a Monday through Thursday night class.”
“But it’s summer,” Randy pleaded.  “What are you going to school for?”
“It’s just one class, and it’s only for six weeks,” Jason said.  “Excuse me for trying to get an education.”
“You weren’t talking about getting an education back when we were cutting classes in high school.”
“I didn’t cut nearly as much as you.” Jason looked over at his clock.  “And I’m going to have to leave in half an hour.”
“Aw, c’mon, you can skip one class,” Randy persuaded.  “Why you want to drive all the way out to Los Gatos?”
“It’s in Saratoga.”
“Same distance.”
“So what’s your point?”
“My point is that today’s Thursday,” Randy said, “so you know what means?”
Jason thought for a moment. “Tomorrow’s Friday?”
“Exactly!”
“So you want me to cut school and go shoot hoops with you?”
“Of course,” Randy said.  “Once we get to the park and throw the ball around you’ll feel better, a whole lot better than if you went to class.”
“I don’t know,” Jason said.  “It’s early in the semester.”
“One missed class isn’t going to hurt.”
Jason thought it over.  “I suppose not, but I don’t know.”
“C’mon, dude.  You said we’d play this week, and the week’s almost over.”
Jason started to relent.  “Well, you did find a job. That’s worth celebrating.”
“It’s only a temporary job.”
“Again? Seems like all your jobs are temporary.”
“Hey! At least I did something!” Randy argued.  “Look at me, dirty from a hard day’s work. And look at you, just layin’ there like a lazy bastard.”
“I’m just messin’ with ya,” Jason kidded.
“Yeah, I know,” Randy said.  “Hell, when you come right down to it, work sucks, but school sucks even more because you don’t get paid for it, so let’s go!”  Randy looked around. “Where’s your basketball?”
“At your place.”
“So we’ll stop at my place and get it,” Randy urged.  “C’mon, it’s on the way.  You said you’d play, remember?”
Jason weighed going to school against the fun of a playing basketball.  “Okay, you talked me into it.”  He sat up.
“Now you’re talking.”
Jason put on his running shoes.  “I could use the exercise anyway.”
“That’s right,” Randy agreed.  “You do too much sitting at your job, time to break a sweat.”
“At least it’s steady.”  Jason finished tying his shoes and got up.
“But how do you know they won’t lay you off someday?”
“Please, you’re ruining my good mood,” Jason said half seriously.  He turned off his stereo, grabbed his keys, and left with Randy.  “Going to the park to shoot some hoops, Mom.”
“Have fun,” mother said as they walked out the front door.
*                *                *                *                 *                 *               *               *
Jason and Randy walked along the suburban street in the orange glow of the sun.  The sidewalk neatly divided the front yards from a strip of lawn next to the curb.  Some lawn strips were covered with rocks, juniper bushes, trees, or were overgrown with crabgrass.  All the houses were of the same four or five designs with a living room on one side and a garage on the other.  Variations of color and exterior features lessened the conformity.  Jason felt comfortable in the familiarity of the neighborhood.
“Just like the old days,” Randy said happily.  “Going to the playground to shoot some hoops.”
“Wonder if we’ll ever grow up,” Jason wondered.
“Now why you want to do something like that?” Randy laughed.
Jason tried to figure out an answer.  “You got me.”  They stepped over a wide crack in the sidewalk where a tree root had lifted the concrete.
“That’s right, you know what I’m talking about,” Randy said.  “All work and no play makes life boring as shit, and I don’t want to see you turn into a bore.”
“Just because I have a regular job and I’m going to school doesn’t mean I don’t know how to have a good time,” Jason insisted.
“Yeah, but now you save all your fun for Christine,”
“Hey, I can still party.”
“I don’t know,” Randy said.  “She seems to have you on a short leash.”
“A leash?” Jason laughed.  “We ain’t that kinky.”
They turned down another residential street.  “So you ready for tomorrow night?” Randy asked.
“Of course.”  Jason started to look forward to their friend’s birthday party.
“Twenty five years.  Can you believe that?”
“I know,” Jason agreed.  “Kind of sounds old.”
“It’s one of life’s major events,” Randy said, “so you know it’s going to be raging.”
“I am so looking forward to it,” Jason anticipated.  “I have a good feeling about this party, I think it’s going to be extra special.”
“I’m ready to cut loose,” Randy said, “and this time I earned it.”  The nondescript, quiet street slowly rolled into a curve and crossed over a narrow creek.  A short concrete wall with cyclone fencing and rusty barbed wire on top separated the sidewalk from the creek.  Its banks sloped down a shallow stream of green water partially covered with dry weeds and foliage.
*               *                *                *                *                *                *               *               *
Jason and Randy arrived at Randy’s house.  An old car was parked in the driveway.  The front lawn was dry and overgrown.  The house was faded with paint starting to crack.
“Is that you, Randy?” a loud voice said from the kitchen as they entered.
“Yeah, mom.”
“When are you going to mow the lawn?” Randy’s mother called out.  “It looks like shit.”
“Mom, I have a guest.”
“Who?”
“Just me,” Jason said while Randy went to his room.
“Oh, hi, Jason,” she said nicely.  She ambled slowly into the foyer.  She was wearing a bathrobe and using a cane.  “So how you doing?”
“Doing all right.”
“Good, good. And how’s your mother?”
“Doing well,” Jason answered, “she really loves her new job.”  Randy returned with the basketball.
“Glad to hear that,” she said.  “There are still places out there that don’t like to hire women, especially mothers.”
“Good thing Mom landed at the right place,” Jason said.
“And how’s your father?” Randy’s mother asked.
“Doing good, looking forward to retirement.”
“So I suppose you two are going to the park to play some basketball?” Randy’s mother asked.
“No, Mom, we’re going bowling,” Randy said as he tossed the basketball around in his hands.
“Well, smartass, could you mow the lawn when you get back?” Randy’s mother responded angrily.  “I filled the gas can yesterday and I don’t want it sitting in the garage forever.”
“Don’t worry,” Randy said, “the house isn’t going to blow up.”
“No, it’s not going to blow up because you’re going to mow the lawn ASAP.”  She looked over at Jason and put her hand on her lower back.  “I’d do it myself but I can’t.  My back’s killing me.  I won’t be able to go back to work for six months.  Doctor says I might even need surgery,” she added.
“You’ll be fine,” Randy said.
“And you,” she pointed at Randy sternly, “stop stealing my Percodans!”
“Mom, please!”
“Right, they just disappeared on their own.”  Randy’s mother ambled back to the kitchen area.  “You two have fun.”
Randy and Jason left.  Randy dribbled the ball as they walked down the sidewalk.  “My mom’s making way too big of a deal about her back injury,” Randy said knowingly.  “She isn’t going to need any surgery.  She just wants sympathy.”
“I don’t know,” Jason countered, “back injuries can be pretty bad.”
“She’s also trying to milk workman’s comp.”
“Wasn’t she just on crutches?”
“You taking her side?” Randy said in a hurt tone.
“Well, someone has to,” Jason said trying to sound humorous.
“That’s because she treats you better than me.”
“I think all mothers do that,” Jason pointed out.  “It’s their way of trying to get you to act like some other kid that they think is better behaved.”
“Even your mom?” Randy said surprisingly.
“Not anymore, she only does it to David now.”
Randy laughed.  “Your Mom’s cool.”  He dribbled the ball a couple of more times then passed it to Jason.  “So how are things with you and the old lady?”
Jason began dribbling the ball.  “Can’t complain.”
“What’s the secret?”
“Beats me,” Jason admitted.  “I didn’t know were going to last this long.”
“Must be why you’re always with her,” Randy kidded.
“Things are good, we’re happy,” Jason said feeling satisfied.  “Now her family, that’s a different story.”
“Oh, I see,” Randy said pointedly.  “You don’t live up to their standards.”
“No, I don’t think it’s that.”  Jason dribbled the ball ahead of him.  “It’s just that we’ve been going together for almost three years now, they see us together all the time, they treat me like I’m one of the family.  And now I’m thinking they want me to take that next step.” He thought some more.  “I’m almost a hundred percent positive.”  He dribbled the ball a couple of more times then bounced it over to Randy.
“Has anyone said anything to you?” Randy asked as he took the ball and dribbled it.
“Not directly, they just say stuff like, ‘back in the old days, everybody got married when they were still young,’ you know, hints like that.”
“Subtle,” Randy joked.  “Yeah, they’re putting on the pressure.”
“I can’t say I blame them,” Jason said.  “Family is family.”  He thought a little more.  “But sometimes it does seem like they’re being too possessive about Christine.”
“They got to get over it,” Randy concluded.  “You can’t let them tell you what to do.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jason said.  “They’re…you know, traditional.”
“Yeah, but it’s not what they think, it’s what Christine thinks.  Do you think she really wants to get married or is her family putting her up to it?”
“Sometimes she complains about how controlling they are, but she has her own mind about things,” Jason said.  “Believe me,” he added.
“You know what they all might be thinking,” Randy said.
“What?”
“That you’re some letch who’s trying to use their little girl.”
Jason laughed.  “If that was my plan we would’ve been over with long ago.”  They walked along some more.  “Christine isn’t that type of girl anyhow.”
“I’ll say,” Randy agreed.  “You’ve been with her longer than all your previous girlfriends combined.  You two should just move in together.”
“I don’t think Christine’s family would like that, being traditional and all.”
“You two have been together for almost three years,” Randy said.  “If you two ever do tie the knot they know it’s not going to be a white wedding.”
“Yeah, they’re past that,” Jason said.  “At least I think they are.”
“Not your problem anyhow,” Randy said.  “If you did move in together, it would show that you’re serious, that should get them off your back.”
“Well I don’t plan on living at home forever, but right now might be the last time I get any free meals or free rent,” Jason said.  “Besides, if we did move in together, that’s like saying we’re engaged.”
“And you don’t want to give up your life as a free man, I hear ya.”
“And I’m not ruling it out, I just don’t know about that kind of commitment right now.”
“Good plan.  You don’t want to jump into anything just because of Christine’s family,” Randy advised as he passed the ball to Jason in mid stride.
“Of course,” Jason said as he dribbled the ball.  “But they’re good people.”
“Sure they are, especially that fine cousin of hers, what’s her name again, Melinda?”
“Melissa.”
“Yeah, Melissa,” Randy said.  “Does she look good, or what?”
“She’s not bad.”
“Not bad? She’s fuckin’ gorgeous,” Randy said excitedly.  “Did you ever want to leave Christine for her?”
“Hey, I love Christine.”
“Of course you do, but you used to love all kinds of girls, remember?”
“Yeah, I know,” Jason said, and felt a wave of nostalgia.  “But I’ve never been with a girl like Christine before.  There aren’t a lot like her out there, at least ones that are available.”
“I know Christine means a lot to you, but you don’t want to lose all your options,” Randy said helpfully.  “I love Gina, at least I love fucking her.  But am I in love with her, do I want to marry her?  No way.”
“You know, if this was the old days, Christine and I would be married already, living in our own house, paying a mortgage, maybe with a kid or two already,” Jason said.  “Nowadays, all of that is just too expensive.”
“For sure,” Randy agreed.  “And women these days don’t want to be housewives.  They want to go to college, get careers, do their own thing.  They’re not at man’s mercy anymore.”
“You’re telling me, Christine makes more than I do,” Jason admitted.  “That never would have happened in the old days.”
“She works for lawyers, and they make more bank than anybody,” Randy reminded.  “And don’t be afraid to mooch off of her, I wish Gina made good money.”
“Yeah, but I want to be a provider,” Jason said. “And it’s not that much more than me,” he added.  “You know, it was that trip we took to Hawaii that put me on the path to debt.  We may have partied a little too much.”
“Yeah, but you had a good time, right?”
Jason dribbled the ball and reflected happily on the trip as they were walking.  “I wouldn’t mind doing it again, maybe run up a bigger debt.”
“Fuckin’ A right you would!  I would’ve done the same thing if someone was dumb enough to give me a credit card.”
“They’d confiscate your card and send you to the leper colony island,” Jason kidded.
“And they’ll make me their leader!” Randy boasted.  “But seriously, all those fine ass bitches in bikinis laying out on the beach right in front of you, must have been tempting.”
Jason thought back to the scene on the beach.  “No harm in looking.”
“Yeah, I knew it,” Randy laughed.  “A whole lotta pussy out there, and I don’t want you to miss out if you’re still feeling the need.”
“Thanks for looking out for me,” Jason said with a laugh.
“Hey, what are friends for,” Randy said as he threw his arm around Jason’s shoulders.  “But you gotta let me plan your bachelor party, if you get married that is, I got to make sure you leave bachelorhood in a blaze of glory.”
“Okay, but nothing too crazy like in that Tom Hanks movie.”
“No transvestites, no farm animals on drugs, I promise,” Randy said then let go of Jason. “You know, we haven’t even hit our prime yet, we’re only twenty two.”
“I’m twenty three.”
“You are?” Randy said with surprise.
“Yeah, don’t you remember the party?”
“Oh yeah.  I guess all the parties seem to run together,” Randy said humorously.  “So twenty three? Dude, you’re old.”  They approached the park, a patch of green open space bordered by tract houses.  Near the entrance were the basketball courts, painted rectangles on the black asphalt in between steel poles.  Ten feet up the poles were wooden backboards that held horizontal metal hoops with the dangling, tattered remnants of chain link nets. The rhythmic, high pitched sound of children on swings was in the background.
Randy hit the ball from Jason’s hands and broke into a jog while dribbling the ball all the way to the empty basketball courts.  He ran up to the closest basket, jumped up and rolled the ball off his hand.  It hit the back board and fell through the basket.  “Two!” he exclaimed as Jason arrived at the court.
Randy went to get the ball and looked over at some high school kids playing on one of the
courts.  “Hey, check out Craig’s little brother. Tommy!” he called out.  One of the guys at the other court looked over at Randy, waved to him, then returned to his game.  “He’s not as good as Craig was.”
“Not yet, but he might catch up,” Jason said.
“I don’t know, looks pretty runty.”
Jason walked up to the painted line that crossed the middle of the court.
“Wanna take it out?” Randy asked.
“Sure.”
Randy bounced the ball to Jason.  Jason began dribbling.  He tried to see a path to the basket, crossed the half court line and dribbled slowly while moving one way, then another as Randy stayed in front of him.  He moved closer to the end of the court as Randy stayed between him and the basket.  He got to within shooting distance, held up the ball with one hand, balanced it with the other, sprang up and shot the ball as Randy reached up and tried to block it.  The ball arced over Randy, missed the basket, and ricocheted off the backboard. They both ran after the ball and Randy grabbed it first.
“Too slow,” Randy taunted, and Jason’s sense of competitiveness was triggered.  Randy dribbled to the half court line as Jason followed him.  Jason got in front of Randy and stayed in front of him as he dribbled the ball back into play.  Jason kept up with Randy as they advanced steadily toward the basket.  Randy moved one way, then another, then charged toward the basket.  Jason ran with him, Randy then circled around, aimed the ball to the basket and Jason threw his arms up.  Randy quickly dribbled around Jason, jumped to the basket with the ball in his palm and lofted it up.  Jason tried to block as the ball bounced off the backboard then dropped through the hoop.  “That’s one,” Randy said.
“That one doesn’t count,” Jason said.
“How come?”
“Because I let you have it.”
Randy laughed sarcastically while Jason grabbed the ball as it bounced to a stop underneath the basket.  He took it to the other side of the half court line then dribbled the ball back into play as Randy blocked.  He ran down the side of the court while dribbling and Randy quickly ran beside him. Jason slanted to the middle, tried to get past Randy, and slowed to a stop with his back to the basket.  He dribbled the ball cautiously and maneuvered sideways and back while Randy stood behind him with his arms outstretched.  He then held the ball with both hands and tried to figure his next move as he sensed Randy encroach upon him.  He cautiously dribbled the ball again, moved right and drew Randy into one direction, then dodged the other way, spun around him, shot the ball over the hoop and through the basket.  “One to one,” Jason said.
“Okay, we’re warmed up,” Randy said.  He took the ball to the half court line, dribbled the ball back into play and Jason got in front of him.  Randy moved ahead slowly, first one way, then another as Jason stayed in front of him.  Suddenly he charged around Jason and Jason ran with him as he tried to stay in front.  They raced to the basket and bumped against each other as they got closer.  Near the end of the court Randy got the ball in both hands and jumped forward.  Jason jumped alongside Randy and tried to get a hand on the ball.  Randy pushed the ball up and sank it into the basket.  “Yes!” he said.  “Two-one.”
Jason grabbed the ball and jogged to the other side of the half court line.  He looked down the court as Randy stood in front of him and focused ahead on the basket.  He dribbled the ball across the line as Randy stayed in front of him.  He bolted, then stopped abruptly and Randy overran him a couple of steps. Jason huddled around the ball as he dribbled and Randy tried to reach in and knock it free. Jason moved laterally, then dodged around Randy and shot the ball to the basket. It rolled around the hoop and fell through. “Two-two,” he said.
“That was luck.” Randy grabbed the ball, hustled to the half court line, and Jason quickly followed.  Randy dribbled the ball in place as Jason tried to anticipate his next move.  Randy broke past Jason and dribbled ahead quickly as he ran alongside and fought to keep pace. Randy jumped to the basket while pushing the ball up with one hand as Jason jumped next to him and batted the ball away.  It ricocheted off the backboard and bounced onto the court.  Randy grabbed the ball before Jason could get to it, turned around and shot the ball off balance.  Jason reached up and tried to deflect it.  The ball cleared Jason’s hand, skimmed off the backboard, and bounced out of bounds over the foul line.  Jason ran after the ball across the asphalt and picked it up as it slowed down.
As Jason circled around and jogged back to the court he saw two familiar figures approaching from the edge of the park, one of them was bouncing a basketball.  Jason got to the foul line and looked again at the two figures, recognized them and saw that they were advancing toward him and Randy.
“C’mon, let’s go,” Randy urged.
“We got company,” Jason said and nodded his head at the two guys approaching.
Randy turned around, saw Tim and Ronnie, and started laughing.  “You two looking to get beat again?”  Tim and Ronnie walked up to the court.  Tim was holding a basketball against his hip.
“Nah,” Ronnie said, “we just happened to be in the neighborhood.  Then we saw you two stumbling around and figured you needed a lesson.”
Jason and Randy started laughing.
“Really?” Randy finally said.  “Because we were thinking you were here to watch and learn.”
“Shit,” Ronnie said disdainfully.
Tim dribbled his ball a couple of times then broke toward the basket, ran past Jason and Randy, leaped, and laid the ball up to hoop with one hand.  It fell through and bounced along the asphalt until it came to a stop.
“Wow!” Randy exclaimed sarcastically.
“Think you can keep up?” Ronnie dared.
“We take it out,” Jason said.  He took his ball and went to the end of the court.  He stood underneath the backboard behind the painted white perimeter while the others gathered around in front of him.  “Full court?”
“Of course,” Ronnie said as he moved in front of Jason.
“What are we playing to, ten?  Fifteen?” Jason asked.
“Fuck that, twenty,” everyone else said.
“All right,” Jason said.  He held the ball with both hands and looked for Randy past Ronnie and Tim.  Ronnie blocked Jason and Tim stood in front of Randy.  Jason faked a pass quickly one way and then the other as Ronnie shifted side to side.  Jason spotted Randy as he ran around and tried to separate from Tim.  Randy stopped, Tim stood in front of him as they both watched Jason, then Randy broke away and Jason threw him the ball before Tim caught up.  Randy dribbled quickly down the side of the court as Tim ran alongside and tried to keep up.  Jason and Ronnie chased after them along the other side of the court and tried to outrun each other.  Randy came to the end of the court, stuttered to a stop, and Tim stopped between him and the basket.  Jason and Ronnie caught up to them and they all clustered at the end of the court.  Randy passed the ball to Jason, Jason dribbled slowly to the basket as Ronnie blocked him.  Jason looked left, saw Randy run from behind Tim, and bounced the ball right to where Randy was going.  Randy grabbed the ball, turned around, jumped up and shot the ball to the basket.  It rolled around the hoop and fell through.
“One-nothing,” Randy said.
Tim took the ball and stood underneath the backboard.  He deked the ball one way then the other as Randy blocked him.  Ronnie moved around and away from Jason as Jason kept up and stayed between Ronnie and Tim.  Jason watched Ronnie then Tim as he tried to anticipate where Tim was going to throw the ball.  Ronnie ran in front Jason and Tim shot the ball to him past Randy.  Ronnie dribbled quickly to the other basket and Jason ran after him.  They crossed the half court line and Ronnie passed the ball to Tim on the other side of Jason.  Tim dribbled quickly to the basket and Randy tried to get in his way as they bumped and jostled against each other.  Tim threw the ball to Ronnie, Ronnie hopped up and shot the ball over Jason as he tried to deflect the ball.  The ball glanced over Jason’s hand, hit off the backboard then fell through the basket.
“One-one,” Ronnie said.  Randy took the ball and stood under the backboard.  Jason dodged around Ronnie as he tried to find an opening from Randy.  He ran in front of Ronnie and angled behind Tim, then Randy shot the ball to him diagonally.  Jason got the ball with one hand while running and pushed it down and forward as he ran and dribbled down court. Jason heard Ronnie’s footsteps fast behind and he sped up.  He approached the basket from the right, jumped as he lifted the ball with one hand toward the hoop, and Ronnie smacked the ball from behind.  The ball fell down onto the court and Randy snagged the ball ahead of Tim.  He came to a stop and dribbled in place as Tim got in front of him and Jason positioned himself for a pass.  Randy slowly dribbled to the basket and Tim blocked him as Jason shifted one way then another and Ronnie stayed in front of him.  Randy dribbled some more, turned then set himself to shoot.  Tim got in front of Randy while Jason circled behind Randy with Ronnie trailing him to the other side of the basket.
“Here,” Jason called out while still in motion and Randy passed him the ball.  Jason took the ball, jumped up to the basket and tried to shove it over the hoop.  The ball bounced backward over Jason and Ronnie and they chased after it.  They jostled against each other as Jason grabbed the ball first and quickly dribbled away.  He looked for another shot or a way to get the ball to Randy.  Ronnie got in front of him while Randy and Tim jockeyed for position near the basket.  Jason slowly dribbled toward middle court as Ronnie shadowed him. Randy and Tim stood against each other underneath the basket, then Randy broke away and Jason pushed the ball to him.  Randy got the ball, shot it before Tim caught up, and it fell through the basket.
“Two-one,” Randy said loudly.
Tim grabbed the ball as it bounced under the basket and stood under the backboard.  Jason blocked Ronnie as he watched Tim and tried to predict where he was going to throw the ball.  Ronnie got in front of Jason, Jason moved back in front of Ronnie and they crowded each other until Ronnie broke away and Tim passed him the ball.  Ronnie hurriedly dribbled down court and Jason ran after him as he was getting caught up in the antagonistic, competitive spirit.
Ronnie and Jason got to the end of the court as Randy and Tim ran upon them and they all bunched up around the basket.  Ronnie passed the ball to Tim, Tim dribbled to the basket while trying to dodge Randy, then passed the ball back to Ronnie.  Ronnie set himself to shoot, Jason got in front of him, and Ronnie passed the ball diagonally to Tim.  Randy reached for the ball, deflected it, and it bounced away.  Tim and Randy ran after the ball followed by Ronnie and Jason.  Tim got to the ball first, snagged it up, and dribbled rapidly back to the end of the court as Randy, Ronnie, and Jason ran after.  Tim got to the basket, jumped forward and hooked the ball sideways in an arc.  It rebounded off the backboard, hit the front of the hoop then fell through.  “Two-two,” he retaliated.
Jason grabbed the bouncing ball and stood under the backboard.  He looked for Randy past Ronnie as Randy moved one way then another and tried to keep away from Tim.  Randy dodged around some more then Jason saw a clear path to him and he shot the ball quickly. Randy dribbled furiously to the other end of the court as Tim ran close behind and lateral to him.  Jason hustled down the other side of the court as he tried to outrun Ronnie to the basket.  Randy got near the end, stuttered to a stop and set himself to shoot.  Tim swarmed Randy as Jason and Ronnie ran upon them.  Randy passed the ball around Tim to Jason and he dribbled ahead quickly.  Ronnie got in Jason’s way, Jason went around him and launched the ball to the basket.  It hit the backboard at an angle and bounced through the net. “Three-two,” he said.
Ronnie grabbed the ball, stood under the backboard and Jason positioned himself in front of him.  He faked a pass one way then the other as Jason moved sideways with the ball until Ronnie bounced it diagonally into Tim’s hands and the action of the game shifted down court.
The match went on with both sides trading baskets and rebounds as the lead changed several times with no more than a two point difference.  Dusk approached as a golden orange sunset shone over the western mountains and cast the last of the sunlight across the neighborhood, the park, and its visitors.  Jason felt energized and immersed into the intense, reciprocating competition.  Some other people at the park noticed their game and watched for a bit.
“C’mon, man, show me what you got!” Tim baited Randy.
“You’re a laggin’ motherfucker,” Randy taunted.
“Bitch, I put the T in Run-T.M.C.”  Tim spun around Randy, shot the ball to the basket, and it fell through.  “Oh yeah! Back on top!”
Randy grabbed the ball as he went under the backboard.  He slung it to Jason.  Jason quickly dribbled to the other basket while being flanked by Ronnie.  He ran across the half court line then passed the ball to Randy. Randy charged ahead, jumped to the basket simultaneously with Tim as they bumped against each other, then he underhanded the ball to Jason while in midair.  Jason got the ball as Ronnie swiped at it, dribbled a couple times to the basket, then pushed the ball up to the hoop.  It went over the rim and fell through.
“Fuck yeah!” Randy shouted.  “Thirteen all!”
“Settle down,” Ronnie said as he grabbed the ball, “we’re just getting started.”
“Shit,” Tim said, “we’ve been taking it easy till now.”
“Oh my god!” Randy laughed.  “You’re gonna get an ass whoopin’ and like it.”
“Talking shit as usual,” Tim said angrily.
Ronnie stood under the backboard.  Jason got in front of him and focused on the ball as Ronnie held it close.  Tim and Randy ran around behind Jason, then Tim got the pass from Ronnie and furiously dribbled down court quickly trailed by Randy then Jason and Tim.  The game persisted and the momentum shifted back and forth as both teams traded baskets and rebounds.  Their reciprocating rhythm quickened as they competed with more aggression.  They increasingly derided and insulted each other.  The glow of the sun was disappearing behind the western mountains and night approached over the eastern mountains as people began to leave the park.
Jason and Randy battled to a nineteen to eighteen lead as Tim ran and dribbled then made a shot over Randy to the basket.  The ball ricocheted off the backboard and fell toward Jason and Ronnie.  They jumped for the ball and Jason snagged it first.  He dribbled quickly and sped down court as he anticipated the winning point.  He heard footsteps all around him and noticed Ronnie in his periphery running alongside.  He then saw Randy running ahead of him to the other side.  He passed the ball to him then veered away from Ronnie.  Randy charged to the basket and got the ball up as Tim ran up by him and knocked it away.  The ball bounced toward the foul line and Randy chased after it as Ronnie tried to get it first. Randy grabbed the ball with both hands, spun around and shot it to the basket while still in motion.  The ball traveled in an arc, hit against the hoop, rolled around a couple of times and fell through.  “Yes!” Randy shouted.  “Game point!”
“Hey!” Ronnie yelled as he pointed down at the foul line.  “Your foot was over the line, right here!”
“I was in!” Randy yelled back while pointing to the same spot.
“Bullshit!  You were out!”
“Yeah,” Tim said as he got behind Randy. “Our ball!”
“Game over! We win!” Jason said out loud.
“Your foot went over the goddamn line!”  Ronnie pointed again at the spot on the blacktop. “Here! Right fucking here!”
“Yeah! I saw it too!” Tim chimed in.
“You lost!” Jason insisted.  “Now go on home!”
“Stop your crying!” Randy shouted back at Ronnie, “I wasn’t out! I was in! We won it fair! Now quit your bitching!”
“Cheating motherfucker!”
“Fuck you, punk!” Randy and Ronnie advanced upon each other.  Tim backed up Ronnie and Jason got behind Randy.  They swore at each other and argued some more in the near empty park.  Jason felt a rush from the heat of conflict as he stood behind Randy and joined in the noisy altercation.  The boisterous shouting went back and forth until tempers cooled down and Jason dragged Randy away while Tim pulled Ronnie away.
“C’mon,” Jason said to Randy, “let’s go.  We won and they know it.  Sore fuckin’ losers just don’t want to admit it.”
“In your dreams, bitches!” Ronnie said defiantly and they traded a few more taunts as they slowly parted from each other.  Randy picked up Jason’s basketball from the end of the court as he and Jason left the park.  Randy bounced the ball forcefully on the sidewalk with one hand then the other as they walked home.  Jason was still feeling agitated from the almost fight and moved quickly.  The sun was below the horizon and twilight was cast over the valley.
“What a couple of whiny fuckin’ babies,” Randy said as he dribbled the ball from hand to hand.  “No respect.”
“They’re punks,” Jason said.  “Remember when we used to hang out with Ronnie’s brother, Jeff?  He wasn’t a smart ass, he was all right.”
“He should’ve kicked Ronnie’s ass more often,” Randy said.
“I think we showed him.”  Jason’s excitement slowly ebbed and his breathing became easier.
“Man, my heart is still racing,” Randy said while dribbling.
“Must be the adrenalin buzz,” Jason said.
“That and those two little fuckers getting under my skin,” Randy said.
“They’re not so little anymore.”
“So what?  We can still fuck them up.”
“Of course,” Jason said.  “Remember what a skinny little bastard Tim was when he was a freshman?  Couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds.”
“Yeah, and he already had a big mouth.”
“No respect,” Jason repeated.  The layer of sweat covering him cooled him off in the balmy early evening.  He breathed in deeply and felt good as they walked home in the increasing darkness.  He began to relax after the excitement of the game and the heat of the argument had dissipated.  “Felt good getting that win,” he said.  “I thought I might be slipping.”
“Nah, you haven’t lost a step,” Randy reassured.  “You played real good, if anything there were a couple of shots I missed that I should have made, especially the one you dished off to me when they tried to double team you.”
“Yeah, but that was a tough corner shot.  You didn’t miss by much.”
“I should’ve hooked it more.”  Randy finally stopped dribbling and held the ball against his side.  “We got to do this more often, and get some some of the other guys to play too.” They talked about the game some more as they were walking until they arrived at Randy’s house.
“I bet you had a funner time than if you went to class tonight,” Randy said.
“Yeah, it was fun,” Jason admitted, “especially getting that win.”
“So you want to grab a beer?” Randy asked.
“Can’t.  Going over to Christine’s right now,” Jason said.  “I’ll save myself for Todd’s party tomorrow night.”
“Right on,” Randy said.  “At least you’re getting some tonight.”
“Don’t you have Gina to go to?”
“I don’t know, she’s being a real pain in the ass right now.  I’ll go and see what some of the other guys are doing.”  Randy jogged across the yard to his front door.  “See you tomorrow night. Man, I can’t wait!”
“Try to control yourself, all right?” Jason said jokingly.
“I’ll be on my best behavior, I swear,” Randy promised, and they both laughed.  They waved one last time as Randy entered his house.
The front door closed and Jason moved along.  The neighborhood was suddenly silent and the overhead street lamps shone yellow as he walked home alone with his thoughts.  He replayed the last few seconds of the basketball game in his mind and was certain he and Randy had won.  He silently reveled in victory for the rest of the walk.  It grew to an overall positive feeling about his life and he forgot about all of his worries.
Jason came to his house then looked down at his empty hands and realized he didn’t have his basketball.  “Dammit!” he said to himself.  “Forgot it again.”

©2016 Robert Kirkendall