Redwood Summer Chapter 13

“So now Alex is trying to hook him up with a job so he can pay off his bills and his back rent!” Mike said loudly to Jason over blaring party music.

Hook who up?” Jason responded just as loud.

Curtis!” Mike repeated.

Oh, good for him!” Jason yelled back. “Hope it works out!”

“Maybe he can find something for you!”

“I’ll need to make more than what Curtis is willing to work for!”

“I heard that!” Mike agreed.

They looked around the unfamiliar house at the shifty, uneasy crowd.

“Know anybody here other than Darren?” Mike asked loudly.

Jason scanned the horde of party goers. “A couple of familiar faces, but no one I know personally!”

They milled around and tried to fit into the agitated atmosphere of the party. Some were drinking heavily and clustered around in separate, loud conversations. Others went in and out of a bedroom at the end of the hallway, closing the door every time they entered or exited.

The night wore on then loud, angry voices clashed over the blasting music. Jason and Mike looked toward the clamor and saw people hurrying toward the front room. They followed everyone and saw Randy and another party goer screaming and pushing at each other as others yelled at them to stop or egged them on. Jason and Mike moved toward the conflict but merged into a flood of people that quickly filled up the front room. The crowd surrounded the two fighters as the mêlée escalated and they tried to wrestle each other down. Jason and Mike struggled to push through the crowd but were stuck. Jason watched the fight from a distance as spectators from the crowd finally reached in and tried to pull Randy and his opponent away from each other while others continued to incite them. Jason tried to keep his footing in the lumbering crowd then someone hollered that a neighbor had called the police.

Everyone quickly untangled themselves, broke away from each other, and dispersed out the front and back doors. Jason and Mike along with Darren got a hold of Randy while the other fighter was pulled away by other disappearing party goers.

Where is that motherfucker!” Randy yelled.

“Chill, dude!” Darren said.

Let’s get the fuck outta here!” Mike ordered as he and Jason pushed Randy out into the backyard and were trailed by Darren. They met up with Brian and Terry and joined a line of people running along the side of the house. They emerged into the front yard and everyone fled into the night under the hazy glow of street lamps.

Lit up police cars rolled up the street, and Jason, Mike, Brian, Terry, and Darren grabbed Randy and took off in the opposite direction. They raced down one street, then another. Jason was fueled by a rush of excitement as he deeply breathed in the cool night air. They kept running through the neighborhood then slowed to a jog, and then a walk as the houses gave way to the large expanse of a high school. They tried to catch their breath as they approached the front of the campus.

Got away,” Brian said between breaths.

So who was that guy you were brawling with?” Jason asked Randy.

“One of Tony’s asshole friends,” Randy said. “I think his name is Frank.”

“Well what were you two fighting about?” Jason asked.

Fuck if I know,” Randy said as he wandered onto the yellow lit school grounds.

Well that explains things,” Brian said sarcastically. “I thought it was something important.”

“You guys should’ve back me up!” Randy insisted.

“We tried but the place was packed,” Mike replied. “We could barely move.”

You’re lucky we got you out of there,” Jason said to Randy. “You’re in no shape to be talking to cops right now.”

They would’ve dragged you away on sight,” Terry added.

Yeah, yeah,” Randy said dismissively. He wandered further onto the school and looked around at the institutional, rectangular buildings. “Haven’t been here in a while.”

I had to get out of that party quick,” Darren said. “I think I still have a warrant out on me.”

That the only reason why you’re so jumpy?” Terry asked knowingly.

At least they didn’t send that helicopter with the spotlight,” Mike said.

Randy continued to survey the school grounds. He walked through the outdoor commons and everyone followed. “Can’t believe it’s been five years already.”

Time marched on,” Brian reminded.

Hope they don’t bust Tony,” Darren worried.

They shouldn’t,” Terry answered. “He just threw a noisy party, that’s all.”

Yeah, as long as nothing is in plain sight,” Mike reminded.

They’re just there to break up our fun,” Randy said as he pulled a can of beer from his jacket pocket. “Shit, like they got nothing better to do.” He opened his beer and foam hissed out of the can as he took a drink.

Hope you brought enough for everybody,” Brian chided.

I might have an extra,” Mike said as he felt inside his jacket, pulled out one can, then another,

and handed one to Brian. Jason then felt his front jacket pocket, found a beer he had forgotten, and

pulled it out. As they opened their beers they all shot out foam.

Randy held up his can. “To the old school,” he said solemnly, and they all took a drink. Jason took a foamy drink that tasted warm and acrid.

Not too often we get to see the old school,” Randy reminisced.

You didn’t see too much of it when you were going,” Mike kidded.

Yeah, but when you’re in high school you can’t let classes get in the way of having a good time,” Randy asserted.

Can’t argue with that,” Jason said half seriously.

That’s right,” Terry agreed. “So what if you weren’t the valedictorian.”

Yeah, I was a pain,” Randy acknowledged, “but I never thought I was going to miss it.” He looked around the campus longingly as he walked ahead. “Now it’s all a bunch of kids who were in fucking junior high when we were here. Can you believe that shit?” Randy quickened his pace as he went by a row of lockers. Everyone else jogged after him while trying not to spill their beers until they came upon the courtyard in the middle of the school buildings. They all stopped, and Randy looked around the open space nostalgically.

“Sure looks empty with nobody around,” Terry said after a while.

Yeah,” Jason agreed, “and smaller.”

Randy gazed around raptly then focused on one of the larger buildings. “The cafeteria,” he spotted. “Did a lot of Saturday school there.”

Couldn’t have been as much as me,” Mike said.

I remember this one time a food fight broke out in there,” Terry began. “When no one was looking, I walked out with a case of Fanta.”

Did you guys hear someone else?” Darren asked warily.

That’s nothing,” Mike said to Terry. “One night I carved donuts on the soccer field with my old Camaro.”

I think that’s just our voices echoing,” Brian said to Darren.

Yeah, I tore it up good,” Mike reminisced as he pantomimed making a sharp turn with a steering wheel.

“Oh, I remember now,” Terry said to Mike. “It was after that party when…”

A piercing scream suddenly erupted from Randy. The echo reverberated off the buildings and briefly filled the vacant courtyard. Everyone looked around startled. “You’re right,” Randy said to Brian.

“Goddammit, Randy! There are cops around!” Jason said angrily.

Hope nobody heard that,” Darren worried.

“Oh, that was heard,” Mike remarked.

You’re awfully jumpy tonight,” Terry said to Darren.

“He’s always jumpy,” Brian added.

“Cops won’t come,” Mike predicted, “they’re busy rousting Tony.”

Aw, man,” Darren lamented.

Randy walked further into the courtyard. “You know how people that say that high school is the quickest four years of your life,” he began, “well it’s been about five years since we all left, and those four years were a lot more fun than the years that came after. Ain’t that a bitch.”

Life was better then and we didn’t even know it,” Brian observed.

Couldn’t wait to get out of here,” Randy said as he looked around the open space longingly, and here I am.” The yellow lights on the buildings glowed beside him and his shadow stretched across the ground and moved with him. Jason watched Randy as he wandered to the center of the courtyard and appeared to be lost in memories. “Back then we were always hanging out with each other, like family. Now we don’t see each other the way we used to.” He stood by himself in the middle of the courtyard. “Especially since some of you are whipped by your girlfriends.”

Jason suspected the last comment was directed at him. Randy looked around some more, thenfocused on one spot in the far corner. “The center of it all,” he said happily. “The smoking section.”

That isn’t the smoking section anymore,” Terry informed.

What?” Randy looked stunned. “Where the fuck is it?”

They don’t have one anymore,” Jason said.

You’re shitting me!”

All the high schools got rid of them,” Mike said, “new state law. Didn’t you hear?”

Randy lowered his head in disappointment. “Everything good in life, they take it all away,” he brooded. “It’s bullshit!” He paced around angrily. “Where are you supposed to go now to hang out with your bros and smoke a bowl?”

Library?” Mike joked.

Goddammit I’m serious!” Randy yelled from the middle of the courtyard. “We have been betrayed by a bunch of fucking new rules! Freeways cover up our old stomping grounds! It’s getting too fucking crowded here! Shit is getting too expensive! We’re losing our freedom!” he declared with fists clenched. “Where’s the fun? Where are the crazy adventures? The memories!” A tense pause filled the air.

Life ain’t that bad,” Mike finally said. “Why stress?”

Because we had something!” Randy emphasized. “We were the big men on campus, and nobody could fuck with us! And now it’s all gone! Fuck!” He flung his can of beer and it skidded across the blacktop then struck one of the buildings as it left a wet trail of beer in its path.

Hey, that’s alcohol abuse,” Terry joked.

“You think I’m kidding?” Randy shot back.

“You need to relax,” Jason advised.

“Fuck that!” Randy paced around some more. “You don’t get it! All you motherfuckers are relaxing too much!” he accused as everyone watched him. “Everything we had is disappearing! And you’re all settling into your nice, boring routines! Dull, predictable lives!” He moved in closer. “You’re all dying inside.”

“Whoa, Randy, that’s heavy,” Mike cautioned.

“And take it easy. There are cops around!” Jason warned.

“What the fuck is wrong with you guys? Are you even listening?” Randy yelled. He pulled out another can of beer from his jacket pocket, opened it, took a long drink and moved closer to everyone. “In the old days you would’ve backed me up.”

“We tried but everybody rushed in,” Mike said. “We could barely move!”

“And then someone said the cops were on the way,” Brian said.

“Yeah,” Jason agreed. “What the fuck were we supposed to do?”

“You’re not supposed to forget who your brothers are!” Randy shouted. Everything fell silent again.

“Okay, Randy, sorry for not jumping in on time,” Brian finally replied. “We didn’t know you were going to start a fight with some total stranger.”

“Fuck, man!” Randy continued angrily. “I didn’t start shit! That fucker bumped into me on purpose! Then he started shooting off his mouth! I couldn’t let him get away with that!” He appeared to wait for a response. “It wasn’t my fault!” he insisted.

“It never is,” Terry remarked.

“Fuck you!” Randy shot back. “You’re supposed to be on my side!”

Let it go,” Brian advised.

“No! Fuck that!” Randy yelled. “I don’t want to hear any more of that pussy bullshit! I’m not letting it go!” he emphasized. “I know what’s going on. No one wants to hang out with Randy anymore.” He paced around again. “Your girlfriends don’t like having me around. They think I’m an embarrassment. They think I’m trouble. But don’t you all forget that I’m the one who makes things happen!” He stared at them accusedly as the tension rose up again. “What would you have done without me, huh?” he asked pointedly. “Sit around and jack off all day? All your memories are because of me! I’ll be the one you tell stories about whenever you all get together! I made your pasts!” He moved in closer. “You can’t escape that.”

“No one has forgotten,” Jason finally said.

“That’s right,” Mike agreed. “Always the life of the party.”

“I was the party,” Randy declared proudly. His eyes appeared to light up from a recalled memory. “You guys remember that party we went to in the east side? At that ranch up in the foothills? Big place, kegs everywhere. And we met those farmer chicks, I think they were drunker than we were,” he said with a laugh. “And there was that one I hit it off with, Rhonda or something. Then we went behind a shed, and we had our party,” he added luridly.

“Yeah, I remember that party,” Terry reminisced, “or at least I remember going there. I think I blacked out at some point.

One of those girls had her hands all over you,” Randy said to Jason. He moved toward him. “You could’ve fucked her. How come you didn’t?”

Jason was caught off guard. “I was going out with Jenny at the time.”

“So?”

“So I didn’t want to cheat on her.”

Well good for you,” Randy said ominously. “That shows loyalty.”

Jason began to feel uneasy. “What are you getting at?”

“I remember a time when you were loyal to your friends,” Randy said as he moved closer to Jason.

Aw, c’mon!” Jason refuted. “Where do you come off saying shit like that?”

Tell me I’m wrong.”

Jason felt the heat of persecution. “I went with you to Tony’s sketchy party, didn’t I?!”

“After I begged you.”

“I can’t hang out like we’re cutting classes anymore!” Jason argued. “I’ve got responsibilities now, bills to pay!”

“And a new class of people to hang out with,” Randy accused.

“What the hell do you want from me, the old Jason? You don’t think I don’t want to do all the fun things we used to do? I miss those days too, but I can’t be a kid forever!”

No more room for Randy,” Randy said with angry self pity.

Hey! I’m here now!”

“Chris finally let you off her your leash.”

“Goddammit! If you can’t keep a woman that’s your problem!”

“I can get any broad I want! Even yours.”

“You better watch your mouth!”

Randy stepped closer. “I have known you a lot longer than she has! We grew up together! We played ball together! Partied together! Did everything together! We used to go after the same girls, and they never got in the way!”

Jason felt the heat Randy’s righteous, accusing glare. Shared memories and the lure of nostalgia tempted him and reminded him of the stresses of his present life. Buried fears of a lost, happier past, fading comradery, and an unknown future arose. The gulf between his past and present widened, and dread began to haunt him. “What is your fucking problem?! Christine is the woman I love! Not some party skank! And do really think my life is some kind of fucking fairy tale? I’ve got all kinds of new problems to deal with! A job I can’t stand! Credit card bills! Mooching off of my parents like I’m still a child!”

“Oh, so I’m holding you back,” Randy further accused. “Is that it?”

Anger and frustration boiled over. “You’re holding yourself back! You’re making the wrong choices! What the fuck am I supposed to do, lead you around by the hand?!”

“You’re supposed to remember who your brothers are!” Randy shot back. “Todd would have backed me up! And Alex, Dwayne, even Curtis!”

“They’re not here!”

“Well where the fuck are they?!”

“I think there at Stu’s,” Mike interjected.

Stu’s throwing a party and you didn’t tell me?” Randy fumed.

“You wanted to go to Tony’s!” Jason reminded angrily.

“I think it’s more of a get together,” Mike added.

“Well we’re not at Tony’s now!” Randy shouted back at Jason.

“Yeah, you had something to do with that,” Terry reminded.

“Fuck you!” Randy threw his almost empty beer can at Terry. Terry quickly moved out of the way and the can thudded against a wall.

“Whoa! What the fuck, man!” Terry said hotly.

“Get a hold of yourself!” Mike ordered.

“Fuck Stu! We’ll have our own party!” Randy declared. “We’ll get some more beers and drive down to the beach!” He began to leave then looked back at everyone. “C’mon!”

“We’ve been drinking all night! We can’t drive over the hill!” Jason asserted.

“You see, that’s the kind of pussy bullshit I’m talking about! Not willing to jump in and take a chance!”

“You’re out of control,” Mike cautioned.

“Who’s with me?!” Randy shouted. “Who’s got a car?!”

“Dude, we’re not driving over the 17 in the middle of the night after we’ve been drinking!” Terry argued.

Shit! I can drive that hill blindfolded!” Randy bragged. “Darren, we’ll take your car!”

“No way, the brakes are shot.”

“Mike!”

“Are you kidding? My alcohol level has to be twice the legal limit right now.”

“Don’t let me down, Terry!”

“Fuck it, I’m heading home,” Terry said, then started to move away.

“Guess I don’t need to ask you,” Randy said flippantly to Jason.

“I’m out.” Jason also began to leave, then Mike.

“Darren!” Randy said with exaggerated friendliness. “You won’t leave me.”

“Sorry, bro, I gotta keep out of sight.” Darren left and jogged up to everyone else leaving.

“So that’s it?” Randy called out as everyone exited the courtyard. “Just gonna leave ol’ Randy all by himself?”

Everyone continued down the corridor toward the school entrance.

“Well I don’t need any of you motherfuckers! Go back to your boring lives! I’m a one man party! I am a creature of the night!” Randy’s voluminous voice became distant as Jason and everyone else approached the school entrance. “That’s it! Keep going! Don’t worry about Randy! I’ll go invade Stu’s! Or find some other party!” Jason heard footsteps in the courtyard moving away quickly in the opposite direction.

Jason and everyone else made it to the street and walked along the sidewalk. A couple of them took a last drink of their beers and tossed them into a nearby trash can. 

“Well this has sure been a crazy night,” Mike observed, and everyone muttered in agreement. They then saw a police car driving down a cross street, and everyone froze for an instant.

 

©2017 Robert Kirkendall

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99 Word Prompt: Lighthouse

July 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

Wendy and Jack approached the old lighthouse with other tourists.

“I just love these old buildings!” Wendy gushed.  “Don’t you, dear?”

“They’re okay, I guess,” Jack replied.

“But it’s so grand looking!  They knew how to build things then.”

“It’s just an archaic brick building with no more use.  Modern ships rely on more advanced technology.”

“But it’s historical!” Wendy reminded.

“It’s useless,” Jack insisted.  “There is no more need for it.”

Just then the long, ugly sound of a ship crashing upon rocks and resulting screams filled the air.

“Okay,” Jack admitted, “maybe this lighthouse is still useful.”

Redwood Summer Part III Chapter 12

Jason hurried along Santa Clara Street as the glaring, late summer sun heated him from above. The unfamiliar feel of his necktie stifled him. He loosened the knot as he was moving, unbuttoned the collar, and let the heat out. He turned south onto Market Street and crossed through shadows cast by mid sized office buildings. He then arrived at an oval island of grass and trees two and a half blocks long from north to south in the middle of Market Street. He ran across the northbound lanes between traffic and onto the sidewalk.

Jason anxiously looked around for Christine as he walked alongside the park. He spotted her sitting on a bench on the other side near the park’s southern end, and felt some relief. He went across the park toward her as she looked the other way seemingly unaware of him. He thought back to the first time they met, when he saw her across the room at a party as she was talking to friends, momentarily unaware of him until he came to her and introduced himself.

As Jason was approaching Christine finally saw him. She smiled at him, and he managed to smile back. He dropped himself onto the bench next to her and let out an exhausted breath.

“So how did it go?” Christine asked.

“Worst job interview ever.”

“What happened?”

“It was a goddamn sales job!” Jason fumed. “Should’ve known.”

“Really?” Christine said with surprise. “The ad didn’t say that.”

“Of course not, that’s how they lure you in.” Jason replayed the whole event in his mind.

“First, they crammed all of us into this room and have us fill out this one page application that looked like it came right off the copier. And then before anyone can finish filling it out, some loudmouth jerk walks in and starts giving us this spiel about making sales, closing deals, and fleecing people. And then some other clown walked in and gave us the same bullshit speech, but even louder and more obnoxious!”

“That sounds nerve wracking,” Christine said.

“I swear, he was like the evil twin of the Downtown Datsun guy,” Jason complained. “Whole thing was like a weird, bad dream. But what gets me were all the applicants who just sat there and bought the whole song and dance, and then they joined in all the noise like sheep! What kind of a person acts like that?”

“It does seem that a lot of people are going into sales these days,” Christine pointed out. “Lots of want ads in the paper for sales jobs, guess there’s a lot of demand for it.”

“Not for me,” Jason rejected as the memory of the event became less haunting. “I can’t bullshit for a living.” He relaxed a bit more. “Remember how the ad in the paper sure made it sound like a once in a lifetime opportunity? What a load.”

“I guess it did sound too good to be true.” They stared out across the park silently.“Something better will come along,” Christine finally said as she put her hand on Jason’s knee encouragingly.

“Yeah, but I’m going to need something more than ‘some college’ and just a few skills to put on my application. I guess I’m going to have to lie more.”

“It does help make getting a job easier.”

“It’s funny,” Jason observed, “when you’re a kid, your parents and teachers and all the other adults are always telling you to not lie and to be honest. But when it comes down to it, you do what you have to get by, even if it means lying, and everybody is fine with it.”

“They should teach that on Sesame Street,” Christine joked.

“And you know what else is bothering me,” Jason continued. “Even if I did find a good job, how do I know that place won’t get bought out, and then they start firing people and making new rules and all the other bullshit that’s happening now at my current job. No way out.”

“At least you’re still working,” Christine said optimistically. “No need to grab the first thing that comes along.”

“Yeah, that helps. I just hope something comes along soon. I don’t know how much longer I can stand it there.” Jason stared out across the park. “You know, I always thought that showing up on time and doing a good job was all it took to make it through life. No one said anything about the office politics and ownership changes and the closed door meetings where your future is decided. Too complicated.” Jason looked out over the grassy field, then up a new twenty floor hotel across the street from the park as he tried to figure out his options. “You want to get something to eat?”

“Sure.” They got up and started walking up the concrete path that crossed the middle length of the park. Christine linked her fingers into Jason’s and their hands held onto each other. They walked along and approached a fountain to their right. About two dozen jets of water shot up from the flat, square sectioned concrete. The water came up to just above Jason’s eye level then flowed back down in a foamy stream. Children in soaked T-shirts and shorts ran in and out of the water in front of watchful adults. “Looks fun,” Christine commented as they stopped to watch.

“Yeah,” Jason agreed. While watching the flock of children he looked into the sun sparkled mist and saw glints of color. He thought back to when he was younger and all the long carefree summer days spent at backyard swimming pools or hanging out at the beach. “Wouldn’t mind being a kid again,” he said partly to himself.

A mother holding an infant emerged from the ring of adults and carried her child into the
fountain. She cupped her hand into one of the founts and then gently applied the water onto her child while the playing children tried not to bump into her. Jason looked upon the scene while still feeling preoccupied, then noticed Christine watching the playing children intently.
“I saw Randy the other day,” Jason said.

“So how’s he doing?”

“Well, he took me out for pizza, and paid for everything, with beers. He said he owed me.”

“Sounds like he’s doing better,” Cristine said. “Right?”

“One minute he’s broke, then suddenly he’s flush,” Jason replied.

“Where did he get the money?”

“I asked him, but he wouldn’t say. And you know what that means.”

They stood quietly against the sound of the splashing water and playing children. “How do you know?” Christine finally asked.

“What else could it be,” Jason replied. He looked upon the fountain scene as he thought of that day and remembered how Randy didn’t give a straight answer when he asked how was doing. “I have been ragging on him lately about not being able to hold a steady job and never having any money.” The mother cradling the infant rocked her child a little more while the children played around her, then sauntered out of the fountain. “Maybe I pushed him to it.”

“You can’t blame yourself,” Christine insisted. “It was his decision.”

“I don’t think he feels he has a choice,” Jason said.

“I know, it’s terrible, and I feel for Randy,” Christine said, “but he is an adult now, and he’s responsible for his own actions.”

“I wonder if he even knows what responsibility is.” They watched the children play in the
fountain for a little more then moved along. They walked up the east side of the park and the sound of the splashing water faded away as they came alongside a wall of traffic noise. “You know,” Jason began, “I actually used to be jealous of Randy. I always had chores to do, a little sister and brother to look after, had to be home by a certain time, but it seemed Randy could do just about anything he wanted, could come and go as he pleased, could stay up as late as he wanted. I thought he was so lucky.”

“You’re the one who was lucky,” Christine countered. “He needed that kind of structure and guidance. He’d be a different person right now if he had.”

Jason noticed the concrete front steps and large white pillars of Saint Joseph’s Cathedral in his right periphery as he reflected further. “Randy has been one of my best friends for almost as long as I can remember, and I thought it was always going to be that way. I just never imagined Randy not being a part of my life.” He dwelt some more as they walked along. “I know the smart thing would be to just let it all go and get on with my life. But how do you that?”

“It’s tough, I know,” Christine said, “but at least you’re concerned about him.”

“Doesn’t feel like enough.”

“You’ve done more for Randy than anyone else, and that’s all anyone can do.”

“I suppose,” Jason said. “I just wish he’d stop hanging out with Darren and all those other sketchy bastards. That’s a bad scene.”

“As long as you’re there for him maybe he’ll realize that. He can still turn things around,” Christine added hopefully. They continued walking toward the north end of the park. “I’m sure the next interview you have will be a lot better than that last one.”

“For sure,” Jason agreed. “I got one tomorrow and another one next week,” he said. “You
know what else is bothering me, when my folks got married they bought a house and raised a family on one paycheck. Now you need two paychecks just to get by. I’m not trying to make excuses, but how the hell did that happen? I thought life was supposed to get better.”

“I know. And do you ever notice how older people always talk about how hard life used to be and everything they had to go through? Which is probably true, but everything sure was a lot more affordable back then.” Christine wrapped her arm around Jason. “But you know what, something good will come along. And it won’t be like that place where you just had that interview from hell.”

“I’m over it,” Jason said and put his arm around Christine. As they came to the end of the park they saw a small plaque in front of a young tree. They stopped, read the plaque, and saw it was a memorial to a Vietnam veteran who was still missing in action. They silently looked upon it for a moment, then moved on.

 

©2017 Robert Kirkendall

Redwood Summer Chapter 11

You don’t believe me, do you,” Phil said impatiently.

I don’t know, Phil,” Larry admitted, “ that all sounds pretty off the wall. And how do you know anyways?”

Anyone can find out if they’re willing to look beyond the establishment mass media,” Phil restated.

“Here we go again!” Larry said with grand facetiousness. “We’re all just a bunch of brainwashed idiots because we don’t listen to all those radio stations at the far end of the dial.”

Jason sat at the other side of the break room table and looked upon the conversation while glancing at the sports page.

“Laugh all you want, but I’m telling you,” Phil lowered his voice, “this place was helped started by ex-Third Reich scientists.” He looked around the table expectantly.

Well big fuckin’ surprise!” Kevin replied. “Our entire space and missile program was fortified with scientists that our military whisked out of Germany at the end of the World War II. Everybody knows that.”

That’s what I’m saying!” Phil implored. “Doesn’t that seem suspicious? They used to work for the enemy.”

But they weren’t politicians, or generals, or even soldiers,” Kevin stressed. “They were scientists, and some very brilliant ones at that. They just happened to be working for the wrong side, that’s all, so we fixed it. Their knowledge and expertise was extremely valuable to us, and still is.”

Yes, I know, I saw Dr. Strangelove,” Phil agreed dismissively. “But you have to wonder about one thing.” He hunched down secretively. “Do they still have any loyalties to their old regime?”

Hey, as long as they’re loyal to us who cares what they believe in,” Kevin asserted. “If we didn’t get them, the Soviets would have. Now imagine that.”

The Soviets got the bomb anyways,” Phil reminded.

“We got it first, and used it,” Kevin said ominously. “That sent them a message.”

“It sent a message to the whole world,” Phil added. “You know, a lot of those scientists ended up at IBM. Big Blue is riddled with fascists.”

Now you’re talking like a crackpot!” Kevin said angrily.

Am I?” Phil countered. “Didn’t you see those visitors who came this morning? Wouldn’t you say they were a little shady?”

So that’s what’s got you on this rant,” Larry said with a laugh.

“You think everybody in a suit is shady,” Kevin alleged.

Jason finished his coffee, got up and left the break room. He crossed through the warehouse to his work area, then looked up at the window of the second story office and saw it was occupied with more people than usual. The men in suits who had arrived earlier did most of the talking while the supervisors listened.

Jason watched the meeting for a moment, then looked around and saw Stan nearby writing on a clipboard. “Hey, Stan.”

Stan looked up from his clipboard.

Jason walked up to him as he nodded toward the office. “Who are those guys?”

Stan glanced up at the office. “The corporate shock troops, I assume.”

So who are they?”

People way above our pay grade,” Stan said and went back to his clipboard.

They do look kind of important,” Jason said as he looked up at the office again.

“Why, because they’re wearing suits?”

“I suppose,” Jason said, “plus the limousines they arrived in.”

Stan looked up again from his clipboard. “And then they breezed right through and didn’t even say hi, just straight to the head office like they own the joint.” Stan moved along and Jason followed him.

Yeah, that was pretty rude,” Jason recalled.

You know why, of course.”

“Because we’re below their pay grade?”

“It’s because they don’t want to get too close to anybody in case they need to terminate some of us,” Stan said as he took the papers from his clipboard and put them away into a steel filing cabinet.

Jason was taken aback. “So this is it?”

Stan slid the cabinet shut. “Don’t tell me you’re surprised.”

Sure, I heard some rumors,” Jason admitted, “but I thought that was all BS. You know how people like to talk, didn’t think any of it was true.”

Well, it’s not a done deal yet,” Stan said as he started toward another section of the warehouse, “but I wouldn’t wait too long to get your resume together.”

Jason was taken aback as he tried to assess the new information. “So now what?”

All I know is that once Alice and I sell our house we’ll have more than enough for a house up in Grass Valley. The hell with this place,” Stan said as he walked down an aisle of inventory.

So you’re moving away?” Jason asked as he followed Stan. “That’s sudden.”

Not really,” Stan replied as he stopped in the middle of the aisle. “We’ve been planning on moving out of the Valley for a while now. Price of living is going through the roof, and it’s getting more crowded every year. Most of the people we know have moved away over the years, whole city is full of strangers. Even our kids are thinking about moving away. This isn’t the place it used to be, and Alice and I just don’t have a lot of attachments here anymore.” Stan continued walking down the aisle.

That seems to be happening a lot,” Jason said as he followed Stan. “One of my friends from the neighborhood moved all the way to Modesto, but he still works here. He commutes two and a half hours each way every day, we never see him anymore. The affordable houses may be far away but the good paying jobs are still here. No way I could handle a commute like that.”

Well I don’t have to worry about that,” Stan said as he stopped again. “Already got a job lined up,” he said confidentially.

“Doing what?”

“Dispatching for a freight company up there,” Stan revealed. “A buddy of mine from my trucking days helped set me up.” He continued walking down the aisle.

Sounds like you got it all worked out,” Jason said as he followed Stan. “Guess it pays to have connections.”

“Yep, the more the better.”

“But I don’t know if I could leave home just like that. My life is here.”

Yeah, it’s home all right,” Stan said as he turned down a walkway at the edge of the warehouse and came to another stop, “but have you seen the price of a house lately? A couple hundred thousand for a two bedroom hovel? Alice and I bought our first house for a tenth of that price, and it had three bedrooms and a big backyard. What are you going to do when it’s time to buy a house?” Stan said then continued along the walkway.

You mean I have to worry about that too?” Jason said with new apprehension. “I thought Ihad to get a new job first.”

You can worry now or you can worry later when it’s too late to do anything about it,” Stan counseled as he came to the doorway of a glass walled office. “Even a good job isn’t enough. Now it takes two paychecks, and who knows what the price of a house is going to be by then. And I don’t know if you plan on having any kids or not, but if you do that’s going to cost you a whole lot more.”

Well thanks for all the good news,” Jason said half seriously as he followed Stan into the office. “I sure have a lot to look forward to.”

“I’m not not trying to bring you down, I’m just telling you what’s up.”

“I know things aren’t what they used to be, but this is my home. Everyone I know, everyone that’s important to me, is here, and I’d seriously miss them, even if I did leave because of some better job somewhere else.”

“Not just a job but an affordable place to live,” Stan pointed out.

“It’d still be painful to leave home.”

Yeah, that’s understandable, but home is where you make it,” Stan said as he stopped in the middle of his work. “You know, I used to love it here. Everybody knew everybody, plenty of open land, you could do all your shopping downtown, anything you needed. Just like a mall, but better, before it was full of homeless and crazy people. You could also fish in the reservoirs, hunt rabbits down by the foothills, and you could always get some spending money by picking fruit or working at Del Monte or one of the other canneries. Tourists actually used to visit here just to see the orchards when they were in bloom. Now look at it, my hometown turned into an overpriced little LA, all spread out and crowded with strangers. Time for Alice and I to pull up stakes and go somewhere quiet.”

“You know, downtown isn’t as rundown as it used to be,” Jason defended. “It actually has some cool hangouts these days.”

“But it ain’t like it used to be, and I’m too old to hang out with yuppies and college kids.”

Jason tried to figure out a new line of discussion. “So what’s your new place like?”

A nice, cozy little home right by a lake and a forest. It’ll be Eden compared to this place.”

That sounds relaxing and all,” Jason said, “but what’s there to do out there? You’ll go crazy with boredom.”

I’ll be living in the great outdoors,” Stan reminded, “can’t beat that. And there’s Lake Tahoe and Reno nearby, and lots of woods and small towns with friendly people. We’ll only be a couple of hours away from the Bay Area so anyone who wants to see us can come and visit us, especially during the skiing season.”

“You going to charge them? Make a little extra on the side?”

“I might. You know, San Jose was a small town at one time, or at least a lot smaller when I was growing up, and we didn’t think it was boring. We had plenty of fun. Back in high school, we used to soup up our Chevys, Fords, and Dodges and cruise Monterey Road looking for girls. Gas was only a quarter a gallon back then, those were the days,” he reminisced. “Now gas is over a dollar and the cruisers are all gangs.”

Guess I can see why you’d want to leave here,” Jason said, “but why leave the Bay Area? This is where everything is at.”

That’s the problem, people keep pouring in. Traffic is a mess, the pressure to get ahead makes everyone neurotic, and it’s only getting worse,” Stan pointed toward the main office, “not to mention big brother always looking over your shoulder.”

“But you were able to get that new job because of experience you got here. If I went somewhere else I’d have to go back to square one.”

“But with less competition you can rise up the ladder faster. Jobs like what you do here come and go, and they tend to have an unknown future. You really ought to look for other opportunities while you’re still young.”

One time Christine tried to get me to work for her uncle.”

What does he do?”

He’s a contractor.”

Really, you should consider it,” Stan suggested. “Never a bad idea to learn a trade. Any skill you learn can only help, and the more skills you have, the more options you have. And contracting is the kind of work that if you do it long enough you can go into business for yourself.”

Those all sound like good ideas and I appreciate the advice,” Jason said, “but I also want to stick with school and try and get a degree.”

Well now’s the time to decide which road you want to take,” Stan said as he returned to his work and typed a few keys on the computer. “Meanwhile, I’ll be far away from this headache.”

Jason began to leave the office, then thought again of the activity he saw in the main office. “So what do you think those guys are talking about up there?” he asked.

You know what we do here, right?” Stan said.

Yeah, basically we create images that are taken by satellites.”

And what kind of pictures do you think those satellites take?”

“I know they’re used for map making.”

“And?”

Studying clouds and weather systems.”

“Anything else?” Stan probed.

Well I assume some pictures are of other country’s armies and navies,” Jason guessed, “what

they’re doing, their movements, keeping an eye on them. Right?”

Right,” Stan replied. “The Berlin Wall is down, the Soviet Union finally has a decent leader, the Pentagon budget actually went down for the first time since Pearl Harbor, but we’re still busy as ever. Doesn’t that seem a little curious?”

I don’t know,” Jason said. “Guess I never really thought about that.”

Most people don’t,” Stan pointed out. “All anybody really wants is a paycheck, just as long as they get it from somewhere.”

Well I like to think of this place as more than just a paycheck,” Jason maintained. “The job is interesting, the atmosphere is friendly, most of the people are cool, and management has been accommodating around my school schedule. Is that all going to end?”

It will if it interferes with the bottom line, which it probably will.”

Didn’t know we were such a burden,” Jason sulked.

Now you’re getting it,” Stan joked. “You know, they say there are satellites up there so accurate that they can take a photo of a Russian’s newspaper while he’s reading it in Red Square.”

Yeah, I remember hearing that.”

So what’s to stop them from taking a picture of you or me or one of our neighbors while we’re having a cookout in our own backyard?”

I don’t know,” Jason doubted. “That’s sounds like the kind of paranoid thing Phil would say. Why would they want to do that to us anyway? We haven’t done anything wrong.”

But they could if they wanted,” Stan emphasized, “and we can’t do the same to them. And I’d bet a year’s pay that they figure out a way to survive this peace craze, probably already have.”

Jason tried to comprehend. “Well now what do I do?”

I’m not trying to get you down,” Stan appeased, “all I’m saying is be a realist, look out for

yourself and the people around you, because you sure can’t trust them,” he nodded toward the upstairs office. “They’re only looking out for their themselves, and we’ve got to do the same.” Stan went back to his job.

“Guess I’ll get back to work.” Jason left the glass office and headed toward his work area. As he was walking back he glanced up at the office window. He looked at the meeting and the men in suits were still addressing the supervisors. He wondered for a moment what was being said, then he moved along.

©2017 Robert Kirkendall

1*xWf3I-S9lvFyiArF0dpzyA

Redwood Summer Chapter 10

Jason leaned over the grill and radiator at the front of his car and reached downward with a new hose.  He tried again to slide it onto the intake nozzle of the water pump.  He struggled to fit on the rigid hose in the cramped engine space and was getting more frustrated.  He then heard the door from the house to the garage open and close.  He looked up from under the hood, saw his father, and felt some relief from his irritation.
“How’s it going?” father asked.
“Just trying to wrestle on this new hose.”  Jason pulled himself up from underneath the hood.  “A little tough to get to, though.  Everything is jammed in so tight, I lost my grip trying to pull off the old hose,” Jason said as he looked at a scrape on his hand.
“That’s why I heard you swear,” father kidded as he looked at the scrape.  “The things we do to save a dollar.”  He placed his hands on the side fender and looked down onto the engine. “They sure don’t make them like they used to,” he observed.  “It used to be that you could look under the hood of a car and all you saw was the motor, the radiator and the battery, and you could fix just about anything with a wrench and a couple of screwdrivers.  Makes me wish I still had my old ‘56 Chevy.”
“Sure wish cars were still that simple,” Jason longed.  “Nowadays you can’t even do a tune up unless you’re a professional.”
“Ain’t that the way,” father agreed as he stood back up.  “Now you take that old Valiant station wagon we used to own.  It didn’t have all that extra shit that modern cars have,” he said as he pointed at the engine, “but those old slant sixes ran forever.  I’ll bet someone’s driving it around right now.”
“Maybe I should drop one of those motors into this thing.”
“If only it was that easy,” father chuckled.  “Cars these days, with all the fuel injection, air conditioning, catalytic converters, belts, hoses, wires going everywhere.  And now all the cars with the front wheel drive that make everything under the hood sideways, can’t even see the ground underneath
anymore.  What’ll they come up with next?”
“Seems like everything gets more complicated,” Jason said as he stared down at the loose radiator hose.  His earlier preoccupations came back to mind.
They stood and looked at the engine together as father leaned in a little closer.  “I suppose there’s something other than car problems that’s bothering you,” he finally said.
“Oh, you know,” Jason replied, “the usual stuff.”  He looked up from the car and stared outside the garage at nothing in particular.
“Let me guess,” father began, “Christine wants to get more serious, your job wants you to work more hours, and now you’re wondering where all the good times have gone.”
Jason felt somewhat unburdened.  “So I’m not the only one,” he said.  “I think I just need a break in the action, or at least from working on this thing,” he said as he indicated his car. He wandered toward the front of the garage and his father did the same.  “Today it’s just a hose, but I don’t want this car to turn into a money pit.”  They stood at the head of the driveway and looked out at the suburban neighborhood.
“It’s the age old struggle.  Man trying to figure out how to make his way through the world.”
“Wish I had a head start,” Jason said half seriously.
“You know,” father began as they leaned back against the trunk of the car, “when your mother and I moved into this house, there was a cherry orchard right there.”  He pointed down the street at a block of tract houses silhouetted against the setting sun.
“I think I remember that.”
“Remember what they looked like when they were in bloom?  Like big, pink cotton candy trees.”
“Christine’s parents talk about how they used to pick plums, prunes, apricots around here every summer when they were kids.”
“Those were the days,” father reminisced.  “Fruit trees everywhere, more farms, less crowded, no traffic jams, slower pace of life.  Now it’s all expressways, strip malls, tract houses, two story office buildings.  They’ll probably build on or pave over every square inch of this valley.”
“Sure seems like it.” Jason thought of all the changes that happened in the Valley.  “I remember when I was little and we’d drive by an orchard, and I’d look down all the rows of fruit trees, one after another, sometimes we’d count them,” he recalled as he got caught up in the same nostalgia.  “Doesn’t seem to be hardly any of them left anymore.”
“That’s too bad,” father said regretfully.  “No more produce stands either, have to buy everything from the store.  You know, this is some of the best soil on earth, and all they do is keep building all over it.  And they never build up, it’s always tilt-ups and business parks that cover as much land as possible, makes no sense at all.  Bad planning. I mean, who thinks up with all this?”
“Someone looking to make a quick turnaround?”
Father laughed some more. “Now you’re learning.”
“When you look around now,” Jason said, “it’s hard to believe there was a time when this wasn’t the Silicon Valley.”
“Yeah, the old Valley of Heart’s Delight.  Those days sure aren’t coming back,” father lamented.  “Price of land is too high and it keeps getting higher, only the high tech industry can afford it now.  There just isn’t enough money in agriculture anymore.”  He folded his arms as he looked out across the neighborhood.  “That’s the thing about real estate, they’re not making any more of it.”
“At least in your day you could buy a house with one paycheck,” Jason said.  “I don’t know anyone who can do that anymore.”
“True,” father admitted. “It was a boomtown when I first got here, houses were cheap, the
weather was nice, the skills I learned in the service helped me get a decent, secure job.  And once I met your mom I knew I was staying.”
“Maybe I was born at the wrong time,” Jason sulked.
“No, I wouldn’t say that,” father corrected.  “There are a lot of positive changes happening right now.  This is a good time to be alive, even if it has gotten too expensive.”
A new thought came to Jason.  “You know, with all the changes happening everywhere, it seems like that’s going to affect business here in the Valley, especially defense jobs, like mine.”
“Technology will always be in demand, it’s human nature, ever since man figured out how to use tools.  And another thing about technology is that it’s always being improved, so there’s always going to be opportunities somewhere.  Something will come along your way.  I was just lucky enough to move here at the right time, that’s all.”
Jason pondered the timing of his situation. “It’s funny, you know. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong.  I’m not some screw up, but I’m also not sure I’m doing the right thing either.  I keep wondering if there’s some next big thing that I’m missing out on, because if there is, I don’t want to find out when it’s too late.”
“You’re not doing anything wrong,” father assured, “it’s just the inflation, that’s all.  The rising tide that was supposed to lift all boats also lifted up the cost of living, so now demand and supply are out of whack.  You’re generation just happened to be caught in the middle of it.  But things will work themselves out, they always do.”
“Don’t want this thing to sink me further into debt,” Jason said as he glanced back at his car.
“When I was your age you could by a running car for fifty bucks. Talk about inflation.”
“At least I’ll be out of the red pretty soon, then I can move back out of the house.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” father said. “You were just living it up and ran into a little trouble, you’re taking care of it,” he said as he clapped Jason on the shoulder reassuringly.
“Yeah, things aren’t so bad,” Jason tried to convince himself.  “Now if I could just get started.”
“You’re on the right track,” father reaffirmed, “but I gotta admit it used to be easier to get
started here.  You could walk into any place, they’d hire you, train you, pay you a decent wage, and you had a career that allowed you to buy a house and raise a family.  That kind of security is sure hard to find these days.  Now it’s all specialized.  Every man for himself.”
“At least you get to retire pretty soon.”
“Looking forward to it, then I’ll have all the time in the world,” father anticipated.
Jason sensed his father reflecting, and he found himself seeing life through his father’s perspective in a new way.  “You know, I hear some people are saying that we may be at the end of history because history is all about conflict, and now the last big conflict is over.  Do you really think it’s going to be like that, no more history?”
Father leaned back some more as he appeared to recall a new memory.  “You know, I was just talking to one of my friends in the aerospace industry.  He was telling me about this big meeting his company just had.  Everybody was there, board of directors, main stockholders, upper management, all these East Coast types, and they were all trying to replan their strategy for the post Cold War era or something like that.  Anyways, the CEO gives some big speech about how they’re going to change the focus of the company to meet the challenges of the new world politics.  One of the lifers with the company asked what that meant exactly since their whole business was about was making aerospace equipment for the defense of the country.  The CEO then says that they will be in the business of making the one thing they have always been in the business of making, money.”  Father laughed to himself.  “As long as there is a dollar to be made someone is going to make it, and that’ll always drive things.”
Jason let the irony sink in.  “At least work hasn’t been a problem, but you know what it feels
like right now at work?  Nobody seems to know what’s going on or what’s going to happen next, so now everyone is trying to figure out their next move before they’re forced to.  Maybe management knows, but if they do they’re not telling us a thing.  I’m starting to wonder how stable my job is.”
“Yeah, they sure do like to keep everybody in the dark.”
“Kind of a raw deal.”
“No, it isn’t very fair,” father agreed, “but I figure every generation has its challenges.  You see, when you’re young you want it all, and you have all the energy and optimism of youth to take on the whole world.  Then one day you realize you can’t have it all, and that you don’t need it all, because maybe having it all is more trouble than it’s worth.  You know, I sometimes miss the days when I was younger and could travel lighter, definitely had fewer worries.”  He surveyed the front yard.  “At least we have our homestead.”
“So,” Jason began, “since I’m the oldest, I get to inherit the house, right?”
“Hey!  I’m not dead yet.”

©2017 Robert Kirkendall

Power Play

(This is the second installment of the Andrew chronicles; a hapless, comical figure trying to get through life. In the first installment, Diridon Station, Andrew runs into an old flame that he has a hard time remembering. In this story, we see Andrew at his workplace.)

Andrew left the break room after lunch feeling sated and slightly caffeinated then a hand grabbed him and pulled him into an empty office. He was face to face with three of his coworkers.

“Can we trust you?” Sterling demanded.

“Uh, what’s going on?” Andrew wondered.

“We ask the questions here!” Damien barked. “First you must swear not to betray us,”

“But what’s going on?” Andrew asked worriedly.

“I don’t think we can trust him,” Gwen said suspiciously.

“Dammit, you must swear!” Damien ordered. “You don’t want to piss off this one,” he warned as he pointed to Gwen.

“Okay, I swear,” Andy promised hoping to reduce the tension.

The three workers eyed Andrew intently. “I think we can trust him,” Sterling finally said.

“What’s happening?” Andrew finally managed to say.

“So how do you like working here?” Damien asked leadingly.

Andrew thought for a moment. “I can’t complain.”

“Hmmm,” Sterling pondered. “Interesting.”

“He doesn’t complain about anything,” Gwen mocked. “When we got a cake for him for his birthday, he took so long getting to the break room that we ended up eating the entire cake before he showed up. Remember?” she said to Andrew.

“Well, total strangers do walk up to me and tell me that I should lose a few pounds,” Andrew placated as he looked around his waist.

“That’s why we call him No Cake Andy,” Gwen continued.

“Oh,” Sterling said with enlightenedness. “I thought it was because of the hazing incident of ‘05.”

“Guys, I think we need to get back on track here,” Damien advised.

“Of course,” Sterling agreed. “Now to the business at hand.” He placed his hands on his hips.

We’ve decided to stage a coup,” he announced as he looked directly at Andrew.

“A coup?” Andrew puzzled. “Where?”

“Here!” Damien added. “Aren’t you sick and tired of slaving for Mr. Weatherby?”

“Well, he’s not that bad,” Andrew replied.

“He is a dangerous, out of control demagogue!” Sterling declared.

“A dictator drunk on his own power!” Damien yelled.

“A multi-headed hydra that must be slain!” Gwen rallied.

“Figuratively of course, right?” Andrew queried.

Gwen appeared amused by Andrew’s question. “Of course.”

“So what brought all this on?” Andrew asked sincerely.

“Increased hours!” Sterling began.

“Stagnant wages!” Damien followed.

“Oppressive and uninspired work environment!” Gwen completed.

“But don’t some of those things have to do with the current world economy and are out of the control of Mr. Weatherby?”

“Don’t those things have to do with world economy?” Gwen mimicked sarcastically. “He’s the one in charge, he’s the one that needs to be taken down!”

“Have you thought this through?” Andrew cautioned.

“Yes,” Sterling answered. “With strength in numbers we’ll confront him and he’ll have no choice but to give in to our demands!”

“Which are what?” Andrew wondered. “That he depart into exile like an overthrown junta?”

“That he let’s us sit in on the board meetings,” Sterling answered.

“Oh, I thought you would’ve had a bigger plan than that.”

“Dammit, you have to start somewhere!” Sterling vociferated.

“So here’s the plan,” Damian began conspiratorially. “We’ll all march in together, shoulder to shoulder!”

“That way Weatherby can’t get around us!” Gwen informed.

“Let me finish,” Damian demanded.

“Who died and made you king?” Gwen shot back.

“Let’s stay on point, guys,” Sterling counseled. “Now here’s the plan. We’ll all walk up together. I’ll start in on him with how we have to work too many hours. When I’m done, Damian,” he said to Damian, “you address how we’re all underpaid. And Gwen, finish him off! By expressing how ugly and uninspired the workplace is.”

“What about me?” Andrew wondered.

Sterling grabbed him by the shoulders. “You’re the point man.”

“Me?”

“Of course,” Gwen answered. “You’re shorter than us.”

“You’ll go in for the first attack,” Sterling continued.

“I can’t do that,” Andrew argued. “I don’t want any involvement in this!” He pulled away from Sterling’s grip.

“You’re already involved,” Damian reminded.

“In deep!” Gwen added.

“But this is all your idea!” Andrew protested. “You dragged me in here against my will then told me all about your plan without me asking to know about it!”

“Ha!” Sterling laughed as he placed his hand on Andrew’s shoulder in a fatherly way. “Well you know all about it now.”

“And if I say no?” Andrew queried.

“Then you’ll be going airborne ,” Damian warned menacingly as he nodded his head toward a window.

“We’re on the ground floor,” Andrew reminded.

“It’ll still hurt!” Damian shot back.

*                     *                     *                      *                     *                     *                     *

They all stood forebodingly in the cramped elevator as it rose up through the building. Everyone looked straight ahead without saying anything. Andrew watched the floor number display count upward as his apprehension grew.

“Everybody remember what they’re going to say?” Sterling pierced the silence.

“I make the demand for increased pay,” Damian said importantly.

“I point out what a junk heap this once proud company has become,” Gwen declared.

“Great! And I’ll address his autocratic ways,” Sterling asserted.

“What am I supposed to say?” Andrew asked.

“You provide the backup,” Sterling answered.

“Why me?”

“We need a regular person,” Damian elucidated.

Andrew was puzzled. “Aren’t we all equal as employees?”

They all chuckled.

“If it’s just us exceptional people,” Sterling said as he pointed to himself, Damian, and Gwen, “Weatherby will never buy it”

“That’s right,” Gwen agreed. “The three of us are known to be above the fray and able to see the big picture, and that scares Weatherby. But if we bring just a plain, regular employee, he’ll know we have a broad base of support.”

“And I’m just a typical worker?” Andrew pondered.

“So typical that you blend in anywhere,” Damian said.

“That is so true,” Gwen added. “Just a typical, nondescript, boring, bland employee, a person who isn’t remarkable in any way.”

“That’s right,” Sterling concurred. “People may say you’re dull as dishwater, but in this instance your dullness is an advantage.”

“Oh,” Andrew said with realization. “Well, glad I can help.”

The elevator dinged when it reached its floor, and the doors slid open.

“Let’s go,” Sterling ordered and they exited the elevator. Sterling, Damian, and Gwen walked purposefully through a corridor toward Weatherby’s outer office as Andrew kept up. Weatherby’s office grew larger and more daunting as they approached. An ominous looking secretary appeared on the right. She sat her desk like a sentry.

“Is Mr. Weatherby expecting you?” the secretary demanded as they came closer. She glared at them unpenetrably.

“No time to explain!” Sterling replied. “It’s too important for you!”

“Nobody gets past me without an appointment!” The secretary picked up a heavy glass ashtray and threw it at them like a Frisbee. Sterling, Damian, and Gwen dodged out of the way of the spinning object and it struck Andrew on the forehead. He staggered back as pain shot through his head.

“We’ve been hit!” Damian shouted.

“Aw, shit!” the secretary shrieked. “Is that No Cake Andy?”

“Damn right!” Sterling said gleefully, “and his uncle is a high powered lawyer!”

“And we are witnesses!” Gwen chimed in.

Andrew held his head in pain but remained upright. “I think I’ll be okay.”

“We can’t take any chances!” Sterling declared. “You better get a first aid kit stat if you want to save this company from a lawsuit, or worse!”

“You’ll be going to the big house for assault and battery!” Gwen warned.

“You’ll be living Orange Is the New Black!” Damian added.

“Fine, I’ll look for the first aid kit.” The secretary ran off.

They waited until the secretary was out of sight. “Let’s go,” Sterling uttered. They walked up to the door leading to Weatherby’s office. Andrew was still shaking off the pain as he stood behind them.

“Wait,” Damian cautioned, “our point man.”

“That’s right,” Sterling agreed. He grabbed Andrew and placed him in front. “How’s your head?”

“Still hurting, but getting better,” Andrew answered.

“Here, have a Vicodin,” Damian offered. “I always carry these.”

“I don’t think I need a…”

“Take it,” Gwen ordered as she took the pill from Damian and stuck it into Andrew’s mouth. Andrew resisted then ended up swallowing the pill.

A second Vicodin appeared in Damian’s hand. “How about another just in case?”

“Better safe than sorry,” Gwen said as she took second pill and stuck into Andrew’s mouth. It slid down his throat and he started to feel numb.

“Now everybody remember what we’re going to say?” Sterling asked.

“Money,” Damian said.

“Work environment,” Gwen said.

“And I address the dictatorial nature of this workplace,” Sterling said.

“What am I doing here?” Andrew asked as he started to feel woozy.

“Backup and moral support,” Damian reminded.

“You’re everyman, remember?” Gwen reminded further.

“But…how do I?” Andrew’s mind started to become foggy.

“No time to answer that,” Sterling said as he pushed the door open. The spacious office was wood paneled and foreboding. The half open vertical Levolor blinds let in just enough light to show Weatherby’s face in half light and half darkness, like a heavy in a film noir. Andrew felt a shove push him forward into the lair.

“What the hell do you want?” Weatherby glowered.

“Uh, well sir.” Andrew looked behind him, and Sterling told him to say something. His impaired mind struggled to remember something to say. “I am here,” he finally began, “because I was enlisted to express grievances that some employees may have.”

“Are you the ringleader?” Weatherby accused.

“No, sir, I’m a…” Andrew struggled, and looked behind him again for an answer.

“I bet you are!” Weatherby reiterated.

“A concerned worker!” Sterling suddenly blurted and stepped in front of Andrew. “You see, Andrew here typifies the average worker who feel, how shall I say, oppressed.”

“Oppressed?” Weatherby said with shock. “This isn’t a banana republic!”

“Of course not, sir,” Sterling relented. “We live in a democratic state.”

“This isn’t a democracy!” Weatherby continued. “The only people who get a vote are the board

of directors! The rest of you are plebes who are damn lucky to have a job!”

“Of course, sir,” Damian agreed as he stepped in front of Andrew and next to Sterling. “It’s just

that lots of people are struggling, and a modest increase in pay would be very helpful. Andrew here

would like to visit his aunt in the old country, but he can’t afford to because he just makes enough to pay for his rent and bare sustenance.” Andrew tried to remember if he had an aunt somewhere in another country. “He still eats Top Ramen, it’s sad.”

“Well there’s nothing I’d like more than to give all you bums a raise,” Weatherby began as he stood up and emerged from behind his large oak desk, “But there are factors that have to do with the world economy, and are totally out of my hands! Did you ever consider that?”

“Yes, sir, that’s a good point,” Gwen agreed.

“Of course it is, I came up with it!” Weatherby proclaimed. “And what’s your beef?”

“Oh, I was just thinking about improving the overall work environment,” Gwen replied. “You know, a new coat of paint, maybe some artwork, things that would inspire the employees.”

“Artwork?” Weatherby blasted. “This isn’t a gallery!”

“No, sir, it isn’t,” Gwen concurred.

“And if you want inspiration think about your next paycheck!” Weatherby took note of Andrew’s intoxicated appearance. “What’s your problem?”

“He had a splitting headache so he took some pain pills,” Sterling jumped in.

“An agitator and a hophead,” Weatherby said accusingly. “I should’ve known!”

“He only does it out of medical necessity, sir,” Damian reassured. “We didn’t know he had taken too many.”

Andrew swayed as he tried to remain upright.

“I’ll make it simple,” Weatherby condescended, “No raises, no interior decorating, and no

democratic reforms. Now you four idiots get back to work before I fire your asses!”

*                     *                     *                    *                     *                     *                    *

Sterling, Damian, and Gwen silently exited the elevator at the ground floor as Andrew staggered along behind them. They stopped at their maze of cubicles and hesitated before entering.

“We tried,” Sterling finally said.

“Maybe we needed a better plan,” Damian suggested.

“We should’ve got more people involved,” Gwen said.

“Well, these things take time,” Andrew struggled to get out from his still narcosis fogged mind. “The fight for workplace equality is a long one, in which people had to overcome a lot of defeats to achieve their victories. And the struggle continues to this day.” Andrew was impressed that he was able to say all that despite his temporary impairment.

“If you don’t mind, Andy, we’d like to discuss this without you,” Sterling requested.

“But don’t you need more people?” Andrew asked feeling suddenly puzzled.

“Yes, but we just can’t trust you anymore,” Sterling answered.

“I have to agree with Sterling,” Damian said.

“Yeah,” Gwen agreed, “it was a mistake to take you in.”

“How come?”

“Because,” Sterling began, “you’re an agitator.”

“And a druggie,” Damian reminded.

©2017 Robert Kirkendall

Redwood Summer Chapter 9

Jason paced himself with the surrounding traffic as he drove on one of the valley freeways during a sunny late afternoon. Vehicles moved in sync as cars sped around semi trucks. More vehicles entered and exited from on-ramps and off-ramps. Randy sat in the passenger seat talking while Brian was in the back seat, his head nodded back in sleep.

So the whole day was kind of a blur,” Randy continued, “but what I do remember is that me, Brian, Darren and Greg were just hanging out at the beach, tossing around the Frisbee, rapping with some bitches, pounding some brews, we were making a day of it.”

“Did you guys go to the Boardwalk?” Jason asked.

“Nah, we went to that beach that’s at the end of Twenty Sixth Ave, away from the tourists.”

“Good plan.”

“Yeah, because then a couple of other guys show up, and one of them had an entire case in his backpack, so we partied with them. It was live,” Randy said as he reminisced. “When it got dark we tried to get a fire going, but no luck. It got late so we finally decided to head back, and I ended up having to drive because I was the least wasted.”

That’s unusual,” Jason kidded.

Yeah, well no thanks to this pussy,” Randy said as he pointed back to Brian. “Anyways, I made it over the 17 in record time, and when we got to Jamie’s, the whole place was raging, an insane fucking party. It took me all of yesterday to recover.” Randy looked again toward Brian. “I don’t know what this animal here did yesterday, but he was the life of the party at Jamie’s.” Brian remained asleep.

You were partying and you didn’t even call me,” Jason said. “What gives?”

Aw, man, I’m sorry. I just figured you were busy with your family because your sister’s in

town.”

Yeah, but, you know…maybe I needed to get away.” Jason said to Randy, and they laughed to themselves familiarly.

“So how’s Kathy doing?”

“Doing well, living the college life.”

“Good for her, I’m really proud of her,” Randy said sincerely. “She’ll go far.”

“Yeah she will,” Jason agreed. “She’ll end up supporting the rest of the family,” he joked. They laughed some more and enjoyed the moment.

That was a good movie,” Randy finally said and broke the silence. “But you know what would have made it better? If Clint Eastwood had starred in it.”

Sean Connery did a good job.”

Yeah, but couldn’t you see Clint in charge of a submarine? He wouldn’t have to take any shit from anybody.”

I don’t know if it’d be right if Clint played a Russian,” Jason said. “That would be like John Wayne playing a Nazi. And could you imagine how funny he’d sound if he tried to talk like a Russian.”

He’s Clint Eastwood, he doesn’t have to say anything,” Randy said. “All he has to do is give you that don’t-fuck-with-me look.” Jason sped up as he changed lanes and drove past a tanker truck. “Hey, thanks for covering me. I owe you.”

No problem,” Jason said.

Movies sure got more expensive,” Randy bemoaned.

Tell me about it.”

I mean, when did it go up to five bucks a ticket? You can rent a movie for half that.”

What gets me is that they have the balls to charge you two fifty for a cup of ice that maybe has a couple of ounces of coke,” Jason said.

Highway fucking robbery!” Randy fumed. “Remember when we used go to the UA, only pay a dollar, and then sneak from movie to movie?”

Or play video games out in the lobby,” Jason said. “A whole weekend of fun with nothing but a pocketful of change.”

The place we were just at had at least ten screens,” Randy pointed out, “we should have sneaked into another movie just to get our money’s worth.”

I would’ve loved to, but you know, I’ve got things to do.” Jason drove quickly to keep up with the rapid, weekend traffic.

Right, family stuff,” Randy assumed. “Doesn’t your dad work on parts that go into submarines?”

He used to,” Jason answered. “I’m not sure what they’re having him do now, but he’s going to retire pretty soon anyways.”

Did he get to work on anything that had to do with torpedoes?”

Possibly,” Jason said. “But he wasn’t much into talking about his job. Whenever any of us asked what he did, he would say that when he was home that was his time, and he didn’t want to spoil it by talking about work.”

That’s because work sucks.”

Right,” Jason agreed dubiously. “How’s that coming along?”

Aw, more problems with the boss,” Randy said.

Same old problems?”

He’s not giving me enough work. I keep telling him that I could use some more hours, but he says he doesn’t have anything for me.”

It’s summer,” Jason said, “this is the busy time of the year for landscaping.”

“Lots of competition out there,” Randy countered, “at least that’s what he tells me.”

“Sounds like he’s jerking you around.”

The guy is a prick anyhow,” Randy said, “one of those anal retentive types who has to manage every little detail of your job, a real pain in the ass.”

Yeah, micro managers are the worst.”

“And he’s so into micro managing that he forgets to look for new customers.”

“Maybe you should try to drum up some business,” Jason suggested.

“Me?” Randy laughed.

“You’re an outgoing guy,” Jason pointed out, “and you have the personality for it.”

Not sure I’m the guy who should be the face of the company,” Randy continued jocularly. “He needs to learn how to schedule appointment first. One time when we were done for the day and getting ready to leave ready, but that fucker wanted us to keep working just as it was getting get dark. How the fuck are we supposed to work in the dark?”

Dude, you don’t need that headache,” Jason agreed. “There’s got to be something better out there for you.”

Sure, but you know what? I don’t need a lot to be happy, just the essentials. Why do I got to bust my ass for?”

Believe me, I wish I could do the same,” Jason said, “but prices keep going up. Rent, gas,

food…everything.”

Randy turned toward Jason. “You know what we should do? We should just say the hell with it and go live on a beach somewhere. We could do that. Who needs all that rat race bullshit?”

“I can’t do that. What would Christine say?”

“Bring her along.”

“Serious?” Jason laughed.

“Why not? We used to do stuff like that all the time, remember?”

Yeah, when we were kids,” Jason reminded. “But things change, and sometimes you got to change along with them. It’s all about growing up.”

Randy stared at Jason. “You used to never talk like that.”

C’mon, Randy, you know I didn’t mean anything.”

Yeah, I know,” Randy said as he looked back ahead, “just looking out for me.” He kept staring ahead as the pavement quickly disappeared under them. “I’ve been hearing that straighten up and fly right talk from teachers, principals, and bosses for as long as I can remember. You know I don’t sweat that stuff. Why worry about getting ahead or any of that? It’s all bullshit anyways.”

Jason noticed wisps of steam from the front of the car, then a steady vapor rose from

underneath the hood and blew over the windshield. “Aw, shit.”

Uh oh,” Randy said. “Looks like we’re going to need a ride.”

Jason decelerated and coasted to the right onto the shoulder of the freeway. “The last fucking thing I need,” he complained. He came to a stop and turned the ignition off. The engine hissed and steam wafted from underneath the hood. “We home yet?” Brian asked groggily from the backseat.

No, go back to sleep,” Randy said. Jason reached under the left side of the dashboard, pulled a

handle, and the front of the hood popped up. He got out and walked to the front of the car. He carefully reached underneath the front of the hood while trying not to burn his hand. He found the metal lever, pushed it aside and lifted the hood all the way up as it released a cloud of steam.

Hope it’s not the water pump,” Randy said as he looked down into the engine from the side.

Jason noticed Randy after not seeing him at first. “Probably just a hose.” He looked down behind the radiator and saw a thin jet of steam hissing out of the thick, black hose that connected the bottom of the radiator to the lower engine block. He leaned downward to get a better look.

Yeah, looks like a hose,” Randy said as he also leaned in closer, “at least they’re cheap to replace, could be worse.”

Brian wandered up to the front of the car. “What happened?” he asked.

We’re going to have a picnic,” Randy joked, “right here next to the freeway.” While they were all looking under the hood the vehicles sped by in a constant coming and going hum of tires spinning on pavement. The sun glared down on the arid landscape and baked the freeway asphalt and the dry dirt and weeds alongside. Smog and haze permeated the hot, dry air.

I got some rags in the trunk,” Jason said. “I think I can tie it around the leak and get us to a gas station. Then I can put more water in the radiator.”

“Electrical tape would be better,” Randy said.

Well, unless you can cough up a roll we’ll just have to make do with what we got.” Jason walked to the back of the car, opened the trunk, reached in and found a rag, closed the trunk, and returned to the front of the car. Randy surveyed the scene with a beer in his hand while Brian stood around lethargically.

Let’s find a pay phone and call Todd or someone and get a ride,” Randy suggested. “No, we’ll

call Stu. He’s got Brian’s van.”

“What’s he doing with Brian’s van,” Jason asked.

Randy looked to Brian. “Why did you let Stu borrow your van?”

“He had to move some shit,” Brian answered tiredly.

“He had to move some shit,” Randy reported to Jason.

“I’ve got ears, Randy,” Jason said.

“So I guess there’s no way to get a hold of Stu,” Randy said.

We’ll make it home,” Jason assured. “There should be a gas station at the next exit.” He went under the hood.

Maybe you can get a new hose there,” Randy said.

If they have the right one.” Jason found the steam sputtering pinhole size leak on the hose and began to tie a rag around it. He tried to avoid getting grime on himself as he reached down between the radiator and engine and worked the rag into a knot. “If they don’t, I’ll probably have to get one from a dealership, and those places love to rip you off.” The rag became wet as it minimized the leak.

For sure,” Randy said as he sipped his beer. “We should get into that kind of business, something a little shady.”

Nah,” Jason said as he closed the hood, “too messy. I don’t think Christine wants to see me with grease underneath my fingernails.” He looked over at Randy and Brian as they stood around by the car. “Thanks for the help, guys.”

Anytime,” Randy said. Brian crawled into the backseat and Randy got in after him into the

passenger seat while Jason got into the driver’s seat. “Look, about what you were saying. I know

you’re just trying to help, and I appreciate it, really.”

Yeah, I know,” Jason said.

Tell you what, since you paid my way, I should do something for you.”

“Like what?”

“Now, I know you love Christine,” Randy said, “but maybe sometimes you get a little curious as to what you’re missing out on.”

“Thanks, but I don’t need any of your ho’s.”

“No, I’m talking about Brian,” Randy kidded as he pointed to the backseat. “Serious, I’m going into the pimping business, and Brian’s going to be my first ho,” he laughed. Jason was unmoved. “Hey, lighten up, man. No need to get all serious.”

Jason shook his head as he tried to remain upset, then finally relented and laughed along with Randy as he started the car.

“Hey, what are you guys talking about?” Brian asked.

“Quiet, bitch!” Randy ordered.

 

©2017 Robert Kirkendall

Redwood Summer Chapter 8

So now that I have my general ed out of the way I can really concentrate on my major,” Kathy said at the dining room table.  “I’ll be able to do more work in the lab, in a year I can intern.”  Jason, Christine, and David sat at one side to Kathy while mother and father were at the other and circled the table crowded with food and drink.

That sounds wonderful, dear,” mother said.

“No more taking classes I don’t need to take,” Kathy said with relief.

Rick’s older brother went to Cal Poly,” David said eagerly.  “One time he went down there for spring break, he said there was a huge kegger in every house.  Then someone started a fire in a dumpster and everybody was rolling it down the street. Got so crazy that the police had to show up in riot gear and break it up.”

Sounds out of control down there,” father said warily.

Wasn’t me,” Kathy said with mock innocence.

Right,” Jason said.

I swear!” Kathy pleaded.  “I was studying that night.”

Jason no longer noticed the foreign texture of the chicken enchiladas as he ate.  A platter of enchiladas were at the center of the table surrounded by a large bowl of salad, dishes of rice, beans, and rolls, and drinks.

So who’s this guy that started the fire?” Christine asked.

Don’t know, I wasn’t out that night,” Kathy said.  “Could have been anyone.”

I meant the one in the dorm,” Christine said.

There was a fire in your dormitory?” mother said alarmingly.

It was no big deal,” Kathy reassured.

“Yes, it is a big deal when the building you’re living in catches on fire,” mother countered.

“No, the building didn’t catch on fire,” Kathy explained.  “All that happened was some moron in one of the rooms tried to microwave regular popcorn in a paper sack and it caught on fire, that’s all.  It wasn’t like the whole building burned down.”  She ate intently.  “God, it is so good to eat a home cooked meal after dorm food.  Thanks, Mom.”

Isn’t there any way you can cook for yourself?” mother asked.

Actually,” Kathy began, “I have these friends that live off campus, and they have a kitchen, washer, dryer, a bathroom they don’t have to share with a bunch of people, and I was thinking of moving out of the dorms and living with them.  I’ve already looked into it, it’d be cheaper than a dorm.”

Well what’s the neighborhood like?” mother asked.

Yeah, is it safe?” father added.

“Of course it’s safe, Dad, you think I’d move to a bad neighborhood?” Kathy said.  “It’s a small town, cops everywhere, it’s not like USC.  Nothing to worry about.”

It takes big money to go there,” mother said.

Nothing to worry about?” father responded.  “Wait until you’re a parent.”

“Should be all right as long as there’s no microwave fires,” Jason added.

Do a lot of girls go to Cal Poly?” David asked.

At that age, they’re called women,” Jason corrected.

Of course, it’s a big campus,” Kathy said.  “So whatever happened with Teresa?”

David looked down.  “She dumped me.”

She left David for the class president,” mother said quietly to Kathy.

Oh my god!” Kathy exclaimed.  “I’m so sorry!”

Still hurts,” David moped.

Don’t let her get you down,” Kathy said to David. “You can do better than her.  She’s kind of a bitch anyhow.”

“Katherine, you’re at the dinner table,” mother reminded.

But don’t you agree?” Kathy asked.

“Well, she did strike me as a bit shallow,” mother admitted.

“I thought she was superficial,” father added.

“She’ll probably end up being some rich guy’s trophy wife,” mother joked.

“See?  You’re better off without her,” Kathy said to David.

Yeah, I know,” David said.  “It just sucks, that’s all.”

That’s one way of putting it,” mother remarked.

Don’t worry, Dave, someone better always comes along,” Jason said, then felt Christine grab his knee affectionately underneath the table.

That’s right,” mother said.  “I’m sure there are a lot of nice girls at school.”

You should try to get with one of the cheerleaders,” Jason said.

Good idea,” father agreed.

The familiar, casual banter continued while Jason looked around the entire table at Christine and his family and took in the whole scene as he remembered back to the last time the whole family was eating together.  A wave of memories came over him and he felt a tug of nostalgia.  He took in everything all at once into a single picture captured in his memory before it was gone.

Kathy, I’m going to Aunt Delia’s tomorrow,” mother said.  “Want to come along?”

Oh, I already made plans with Heather and Tina,” Kathy said apologetically.  “We’re going to check out that new, big mall in Milpitas.”

Where the Ford plant used to be?” father asked pointedly.

Busy, busy,” mother said.

Don’t worry,” Kathy gripped her mother’s hand, “we’ll do something together, I promise,” she emphasized then let go.  “I just need to catch up with a few friends, that’s all.  I’ll be around all summer.”

“We’ll be a full house one again,” mother observed humorously.

“Too bad we only have two bathrooms,” Jason kidded.

“I sure did miss all of you,” Kathy said as she looked around the table.  “There really is no place like home.”

Ah, you’re having the time of your life,” Jason said.

Yeah, but you do get a new appreciation for home once you’re away for awhile,” Kathy said, “especially when you have to do everything on your own for the first time ever.  Funny all the things you take for granted.”

You’re welcome,” mother said.

I promise that I will never complain to you about anything ever again,” Kathy said to mother, “and I mean it this time.”

That’s why I moved back,” Jason said.

Maybe I should stay,” David wondered.

Maybe you should start paying rent,” father said, then everyone laughed except David.

So what are you two doing anything tomorrow?” Kathy asked Jason and Christine.

I told Randy we’d go see a movie,” Jason said, “maybe some of the other guys will tag along.”

Randy,” Kathy said wistfully.  “How’s he doing?”

Oh, you know, same old Randy,” Jason said as he felt himself pulled back into reality.

God, I haven’t seen Randy, or Brian, or Todd, or Alex, or any of your friends for a year or more,” Kathy reminisced. “How’s everyone doing?”

“Doing fine,” Jason said.

They’re always asking how you’re doing,” Christine said to Kathy.

Yeah, they’re the best,” Kathy said, “but nobody was as fun as Randy.  Remember that time when I got stood up on a date, and Randy wanted to kick the guy’s ass for me?”

Didn’t I just say something about watching our language at the dinner table?” mother scolded.

Our little girl sure has grown up,” father said humorously.

If I don’t get a chance to see Randy, can you say hi for me?” Kathy asked.

I’ll do that,” Jason said.

©2016 Robert Kirkendall

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.  We used to watch movies at the Burbank before they started showing skin flicks.”
“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

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