Jason filled up his coffee cup, put the pot back on its burner, and returned to the circle of coworkers at the break room table.
“As mush as I’d like to see a rematch there’s no way we’re having another Bay Bridge Series this year,” Kevin added to the train of conversation. “Possibly the A’s, but not the Giants, too many pitching problems.”
“Still early in the season,” Larry reminded.
“Sure, anything can happen,” Caryn said facetiously.
“I have to admit I liked all the attention we got,” Phil said. “Even with the east coast bias we couldn’t be ignored.”
“I don’t know if it’s bias,” Kevin disagreed. “They’re going to sleep over there when our night games are still playing.”
“And I think it was the earthquake that got us most of the attention,” Larry pointed out.
“It was both events,” Phil asserted. “The Fall Classic and a natural disaster happening at the same time and the same place, and right at the top of the first inning! What are the odds?”
“Now don’t get too excited, Phil,” Kevin advised.
“Yeah, a lot of people died in that earthquake,” Larry said.
“But were it not for the Series being here there would have been more people on the road when the Cypress overpass and that section of Bay Bridge collapsed,” Phil explained. “So in a way the Series being here saved lives.”
“Makes sense,” Jason agreed.
“Damage control,” Kevin added.
“You just wait until the Sharks start playing next year,” Caryn said, “then you’ll see some real athletes.”
“You think it’s easy hitting a ninety five mile per hour projectile?” Phil asked rhetorically.
“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,” Kevin said. “That way I won’t have to travel fifty miles just to see a game.”
“Have you forgotten about the Earthquakes?” Jason asked. “The team, that is.”
“I mean a sport where you get to use your hands,” Kevin gestured.
“At least soccer uses a ball,” Jason said.
“You’ll still have to drive to the Cow Palace to see them until they finish building the new arena,” Phil said to Kevin. “But as long as we have a pro sports team of some kind, that’s the main thing. We’re only the biggest city in northern California.”
“Have you seen the new arena lately?” Larry asked. “Coming along nicely.”
“Yeah, it looks really good,” Caryn raved. “I drive by it every chance I get.”
“What was there before?” Kevin wondered.
“You know, I can’t even remember,” Larry answered.
“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.
“Couldn’t they come up with a better design?” Larry complained.
“Whoever designed it was either blind, stoned, or just bored with their job,” Kevin determined.
Everyone laughed then another employee poked her head into the break room. “Jason, telephone call.”
“Thanks, Gail.” 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 answered. The sound of Christine’s voice lifted his mood. “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 exaggerated humorously.
“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 optimistically.
“I’m salaried, I don’t get time and a half.”
“Well, I’m sure they’ll notice your hard work and dedication.”
Christine laughed. “That’ll be the day.”
“Just trying to help.”
“And I appreciate it, but remember, I do work for sharks,” Christine reminded.
“Funny, we were just talking about Sharks.”
“The ones that live in the ocean or the ones with law degrees?”
“The ones that’ll be playing hockey for us,” Jason relayed.
“Of course,” 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.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Something that will last. Your gift won’t make it through the night,” Christine joked.
“Then it’ll be a very memorable party,” Jason anticipated.
“Or everyone is going to be too hammered to remember anything,” Christine laughed.
“Either way is good,” Jason concluded. “You know, maybe you can bake a cake.”
“Ha! What am I, Mrs. Cleaver? Besides, Lena has that covered.”
“Well then you being there should be more than enough.”
“Aw, thanks, hon,” Christine said sweetly. “Oh, guess who called me earlier.”
“Cece!” Christine said excitedly.
“Cece? Hmm.” Jason tried to recall the name.
“Yeah, don’t you remember her? We used to hang out all the time, I guess that was before we were together. She ended up going to Chico State after high school.”
“Oh, yeah, Cece.” Jason finally remembered her from a party a couple of years earlier where she drank a lot and acted crazy. “Yeah, she was a riot.”
“She’s a wild one all right, but did you know she just graduated 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.”
“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 enviously.
“Hey, don’t feel bad. If she can do it, anyone can. You almost have enough units to be a junior,” Christine reminded. “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 UCs are at least double that.”
“And you know much it is to go to Santa Clara? Fifteen thousand a semester.”
“Whoa! Who the hell can afford that?”
“One of the partners in the firm 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.”
“Yeah, what’s he complaining about.” Jason thoughts went to the previous day’s basketball game. “Still feeling pumped about that game me and Randy played yesterday. You should’ve seen us school those two punks.”
“I know,” Christine said. “You told me all about it last night.”
“And it was an epic battle, came down to the final basket. 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. That is the law.”
“Yeah, it’ll happen soon,” Jason said trying to sound upbeat. “He said that things are kind of up in the air right now because of all the 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 acknowledged. “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 concurred. “And you know, you can always tell them you have other job possibilities, as a bargaining chip.”
“You mean your Uncle Ray?”
“Well he has been busy since the earthquake, and he is looking for more workers.”
“But he doesn’t pay what I’m making now,” Jason said.
“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 hopefully. “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, that is 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 times when there’s not enough work, especially in the winter when it rains. 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 have a good thing going here right now, and I think I should stick with it. I’ve mentioned that before.”
“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 Mom, and then I’ll have to get ready for the party.”
“You know, if I threaten to leave for another job unless they give me a raise, they just might call my bluff and show me the door.”
“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 implored.
“But why now? When things are going good and I’m getting established here?”
“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 said. “It’s like musical chairs.”
“Everything is fine here,” Jason said a little louder. “There is no need to stress.”
“I’m not stressing, I’m just thinking long term.”
“Chris, there is nothing to worry about,” Jason said tersely. “And if there was something to worry about, I’d be doing something about it.”
“Remember the time when we were going to go to the Garlic Festival, and then my grandmother had that health scare and we had to go to the hospital instead?”
“Yeah, she got better.”
“It was something unexpected,” Christine emphasized. “You plan one thing, and then life steps in. Like that time when-”
“Okay, okay,” Jason interrupted, “I get it.” 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.”
“Love you,” Christine said.
Jason huddled around the telephone. “Love you too.” He hung up and joined the stream of coworkers as they headed down the florescent lit corridor.
“Talking to your better half?” Phil asked 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 lamented. “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 corridor and into the main work area. They 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 located next to a mainframe. He looked at a wide printout of data, typed a series of line commands onto a keyboard, and blocks of green lit words and numbers scrolled upward on the screen as he fell back into his work mindset. He then typed in a save command and a small red light on the disc drive lit up as it hummed.
Jason entered some more data and was then asked by a couple of technicians to help them disassemble and repair a component of a larger mainframe. Some other coworkers came by and observed, offered to help, or commented with advice. They finally got the component working, reinstalled it into the mainframe, and it began to print out a detailed satellite image. Some of the employees looked at image intently and discussed its content while Jason returned to his computer. He entered some more data and chatted with coworkers for the remainder of his shift. The mood of everyone lightened as the end of the work week approached.
Jason noticed others were shutting down their computer, then looked up at the clock and saw it was almost 5PM. He logged off of his computer and went with his coworkers through another corridor to the main 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, one of those milestone birthdays. Should be a lot of fun.”
“How old is he going to be?”
Stan laughed. “He’s still young.”
©2016 Robert Kirkendall