Cpl. Wildey led his squad through a clearing and into a wooded thicket toward enemy lines on a reconnaissance mission to ascertain troop locations. The trail they were on approached an enemy headquarters in the distance. Cpl. Wildey thought he saw movement ahead, so he ordered his troops to sneak up by crawling through a high grass area. He carefully maneuvered them without notice when he suddenly came face to face with a pair of the enemy’s boots standing squarely and menacingly. Fear shot through him, until he looked up and saw that no one was wearing the boots.
Jason took a long drink from a bottle of tomato juice and waited for it to replenish him. His body was fatigued and his mind taxed from too much alcohol over the weekend. He leaned back against a three story rack of heavy steel shelves half filled with inventory and relaxed for a bit. He then screwed the cap back on the bottle and hid it behind a box of computer hardware parts. He tiredly walked back to an assortment of more boxes scattered around the concrete floor and next to a large wooden pallet.
He picked up a clipboard that held a stack of papers and looked at the top form. He tried to comprehend the maze of small writing and blank spaces with his slowed thinking. He then looked down at the pile of boxes and picked up the one closest to him. He read the writing on its label, looked back at the paper on the clipboard, and tried to figure out which information belonged on which line or square. He took the pen from the clipboard and tediously filled out the form. He wanted to go home and sleep off his hangover, but forced himself to go on. He finally completed the form and placed the box on the pallet.
He picked up another box, slowly copied the information from its label onto another complicated form, then stacked the box onto the pallet next to other one. He continued the task alone in the cavernous building. The flickering light of the florescent tubes from the high ceiling aggravated his headache as he struggled to work through the pain.
Isolated and hungover, Jason’s mind began to wander. He thought back to the night of Tony’s party. The argument he had with Randy continued to haunt him in his dulled state. Some harsh words were said, he thought regretfully, we never talked that way to each other before. I had no idea he was jealous like that, he thought, or did I just miss the signs? have I been ignoring him? maybe he’s right about me pushing him away, maybe it’s partly my fault. He recalled more about that night, a party at a strange house crowded with tense people he didn’t know, Randy’s somewhat secretive manner, and his more belligerent than usual behavior that blew up into conflict and almost got in trouble with the police. He’s mixing with the wrong people, Jason asserted. He then began to wonder about his own responsibility. Maybe I drove him to it, he conceded, I have been spending more time with Christine, his getting into wrong situations, doing things he shouldn’t be doing, is he just trying to get me to notice him again? Guilt began to weigh on Jason. I need to be there for him, he reminded himself, but he still felt unsettled. What if he doesn’t want to come back? he worried.
Jason’s actions became more automatic as the day wore on. He silently swore at the new owners for denying employees the playing of radios anywhere in the workplace. Time dragged on without the familiarity of music and he furthered his resolve to find a new career path. I just keep losing my freedoms, he bemoaned, then wondered if Randy was right about some of the things he had said. Life does feel more restricted, he admitted, don’t have as much fun as I used to, spending more time with Chris’s family and friends than with my own, if it keeps up I’m going to be driving around in some lame minivan before long. He looked around the remote area for other people, but saw only empty, lonely space.
His thoughts returned to the night of Tony’s party. The events of the night replayed in his mind as he looked for the moment when everything went wrong. He recalled showing up with Mike, Brian, and Terry when the party was already happening. The people at the front door were paranoid about letting them in, but Randy vouched for them. Once inside they tried to hang out with Randy in the house full of strangers, but he was busy talking to other people. They then tried to talk to some of the other party goers, but the noise and everyone’s erratic behavior made it difficult. A lot of those people were on something other than alcohol, he remembered. Probably just a matter of time until a fight broke out, he figured, if it wasn’t Randy and that other guy it would have been some other two guys. He searched some more but couldn’t pinpoint an exact moment when everything went wrong. Maybe there wasn’t one, he concluded, or it had already happened.
As he poured over the events of that night they began to combine into a single totality, which he then saw as part of a long chain of events that built up unnoticeably over time. He tried to find its beginning but it stretched as far back as he could remember. A pattern of behavior appeared to him and he was surprised that he didn’t see it sooner. It seems so obvious, he thought to himself. He then tried to foresee what the future held for Randy, but it made him uneasy.
He then considered his own future, and the futures of all his other friends. He saw the ending of their happy-go-lucky lifestyles and a future of greater responsibilities and less fun. It used to be we were all living it up without a care in the world, he reminisced, and now it’s all about careers and families and car payments. I thought I had more living to do, he thought indignantly, but with everything getting more expensive all the time I guess there’s no more time to take it easy. He started to wonder if Randy was right in his accusations. He may have a point but you can’t stop yourself from growing older, Jason reminded himself. His actions settled into a manageable work tempo.
His thoughts were drawn back again to Randy’s uncertain future. Where is he headed? he worried, he’s gone way beyond just having a good time. He then looked into the past and tried to find the source of Randy’s behavior. There’s got be a reason, he told himself, people don’t get that way for no reason. He then felt he needed to remind himself that he shouldn’t make excuses for Randy. Why did I have to remind himself of that, he wondered, I’m not saying it’s okay for him to go through life recklessly, I’m just trying to understand.
Jason wondered if everyone else was worrying about Randy. He tried to contemplate if
anything could be done for him, and dreaded that there wasn’t. But I can’t just shun Randy, he told himself. He tried again to figure out a possible positive outcome for Randy but was still unsuccessful. The hopelessness of the situation wore him down. What do I know anyways, he reminded himself, I may know Randy better than anyone, but I didn’t go through what he went through, I didn’t live his life. The history buried in his subconscious became unearthed and dawned upon him.
Jason looked around the stark building as he worked. The bare concrete and steel gave an appearance of solid, immovable permanence. I guess I ought to be thankful for what I have, he thought ironically. Not that I exactly have anything here, he reminded himself, the breaks are shorter, the new bosses suck, all the cool people who used to work here were either laid off or quit, they put a freeze on raises, now they’re talking about drug testing, and I’m not making enough to live on my own.
He remembered some gossip he overheard that the new owners were intentionally making the workplace miserable so people would quit and the company would not have to lay them off and pay them a severance. That’s a fucked up thing to do, he thought angrily, shouldn’t be allowed to happen. He remembered how one of the new supervisors gave him a hard time for being two minutes late. He said it wasn’t fair to the other workers, he recalled bitterly, what an asshole, like anyone cares about two goddamn minutes, that bullshit never happened in the old days.
I better get a new thing going quick and get the hell out of here, he reminded himself. His bleak work situation weighed upon him further, his desperation amplified by his hangover. First thing I’ve got to do is to stay away from those kinds of parties, he told himself, and maybe I’ll have to take any job I can get even if it’s less pay just so I can leave this place. But if I take a job that pays less, he pondered, I’ll have to keep looking for a better paying job. Would Christine even put up with me working for less money? he worried as he struggled to find a solution. Dad had it way more together when he was my age and now it’s getting impossible, he agonized, maybe I really was born at the wrong time.
His thoughts traveled back to all the years of playing sports under a hot summer sun and hard manual jobs he used to work. He remembered one strenuous job where he had to dig trenches for water pipes and sprinkler systems, and another where he had to push around heavy wheelbarrows full of concrete and dump them into wooden frames laid upon the ground. Got to say I was more happy with life then than I am now, he admitted. Here I am filling out paperwork and stacking boxes like they’re blocks, he told himself, pretty easy, a job where I don’t have to kill myself, but I liked it a whole lot better when I was breaking a sweat.
The boxes gradually cleared the floor and covered the pallet as Jason labored repetitiously. He worked just hard enough not to worsen his hangover and timed his task so he wouldn’t finish too fast. They’ll just give me some other stupid thing to do, he told himself. His thoughts drifted further into the past. He remembered how Randy, ever since kindergarten, always seemed to get into trouble with teachers, principals and other authority figures. Mom always said he was looking for the attention that he needed, he recalled, but we all thought he was a lot of fun, made everybody laugh, a lot of good times, sure didn’t seem like a problem back then. He was struck by how life seemed so innocent back then. So many things I didn’t see, he realized, and all because I was too busy having fun.
He reflected on Randy’s home life and the stress and conflicts between he and his mother. Sure they clashed, he remembered, but that’s just how it was, Randy was a handful, especially after his dad took off, so she did what she had to, at the time it actually seemed normal. I know they love each other, he acknowledged, some people just have a harder time showing it. He saw Randy’s lifelong impulsiveness and risky behavior in a new light, and more flaws were revealed than he had remembered. He tried again to find a solution to the chaos. What if he got along better with his mom, he thought, what if his dad never left, what if he had some guidance, what if…what if what! The dam of sympathy burst inside of him. You can’t go back in time and change things! he insisted, you do the best we can with what you got and you get on with it, everyone’s got problems.
The boxes were almost cleared off the floor and stacked onto the pallet. Jason looked at his watch and saw that it was getting close to 5PM. He felt a bit of satisfaction over finishing at his own pace. I wonder if this going to be be my last task here, he thought offhandedly. He then heard a heated discussion in another section of the building.
“Look, this was never a problem before, I’ve already made arrangements for occasions like this,” a coworker was pleading.
“That was with the previous owners,” a new supervisor replied.
“But I have to pick up my son!”
“You can’t bring your personal problems to work,” the new supervisor responded firmly.
“When you’re here, you’re on our time.”
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
The beginning of the flashback in which the the main character reflects on the events of that year (1990). His memories make up the rest of the novel until he’s back to where he is chapter 1, but with a new understanding.
Source: Redwood Summer Chapter 2
I’m working on chapter 13 of Redwood Summer right now and will post it soon. Redwood Summer is a story about youth, friendship, love, betrayal, loss, and takes place in 1990 Silicon Valley, an era of great change. Here is where it begins.
Source: Redwood Summer Part I Chapter 1
My summer short story! An amateur photographer, excited with new found artistic dreams, takes pictures at a Native American sun ceremony in the Arizona desert. Afterward he discovers something unexpected. This may be my most autobiographical story.
Source: Vanishing Act
First posted this short story two years ago. Made a few minor changes that improve the narrative and the dialogue. Hopefully I’ve made a good story even better.
(I have not written a poem in years, but I used to write poems back in the ’90’s and read them at poetry slams and open readings. My poetry is different than my prose and dramatic writings because once I write a poem I do not rewrite it, making my poetry, though imperfect, as close to pure expression as I can possibly get. This poem is still untitled, so I’m using the date I wrote it as the title.)
January 18, 2017
A silent wound
Planted long ago
Buried by time
Expecting it to leave
But is almost impossible
The pain that was shelved
Continued to prick
And an old memory
Comes back to haunt
“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
(Inspired by the peculiar election season of 2016)
LIONEL TROWBRIDGE – The interviewer
TANYA BICKFORD – The interviewee
Scene: An interview studio
Good evening, and welcome to Current Affairs. I am your host, Lionel Trowbridge. Tonight we’ll be discussing the entertaining, if not controversial, congressional campaign of Arnie Fowler with his most recent spokesperson Tanya Bickford. Thank you for joining us, Tanya.
Thank you for having me, Lionel.
So you are the the newest spokesperson. How long have you been in the inner circle the Fowler campaign?
Hmm, let’s see. (THINKS) Since this morning.
And what happened to the previous spokesperson?
Well the police and the FBI are still looking for him. Hopefully they’ll catch him before he flees the country. Who would think that a former Wall Street lobbyist would turn out to be an embezzler. Sure had us fooled.
Yes, quite. So, Arnie Fowler. Last week he accused his opponent, incumbent Sylvia Brown, of being not only a sympathizer of ISIS, but a doner of money and time to the cause. He even claimed that Brown runs an ISIS training camp on her palatial estate. Now after a through search by our staff, we determined that all these claims were beyond false. In fact, the palatial estate Fowler claimed to be owned by brown is actually a two bedroom townhouse next to a busy freeway. How do you explain Fowler’s apparently false claims?
Well, Mr. Fowler didn’t actually claim these things, he was merely speculating in the spirit of debate.
But debate requires two opposing sides.
Well, yes, that’s the standard, mainstream way of debating, but Mr. Fowler likes to push the envelope of what are considered the accepted definitions of reality.
I see. Now let’s move on to another of Fowler’s statements. He referred to appellate court judge Margaret Tanaka as a “disgrace to the bench and women everywhere,” a “stupid broad,” and “proof that only men were capable of being judges.” He then followed these statements with a series of stereotypical karate motions and sounds in an apparent swipe at Judge Tanaka’s heritage. How do you explain such behavior?
What Mr. Fowler said was taken completely out of context by a media that is obsessed with political correctness and doesn’t really care what the average middle American is thinking. And Judge Tanaka did rule against Mr. Fowler and his business associates planned project to revitalize the city.
Was that the project that was going to demolish an old folks home so they could build a golf course?
Yes, that one.
Back to your previous comment, are you suggesting that middle Americans are thinking the same things and feel the same way as Arnie Fowler?
I’m just saying you can’t know until you stir things up, and Mr. Fowler has been drawing sizable crowds. Why at our last rally a bunch of supporters all showed up in white. They were even wearing these white hoods. Very supportive, and so many of them.
Now that brings me to another point. At many of Fowler’s speeches, there have been verbal and physical assaults against peaceful protesters, a number of which were egged on by Fowler. And at one rally Fowler handed out cattle prods and autographed ax handles to his supporters. Are you at all reticent about working on a campaign that seems to endorse violence?
Mr. Fowler is a man of the people, and he likes to keep that relationship close. He doesn’t need the filter of handlers and political insiders who are so called experts on campaigning. All these high priced consultants claim that all they’re doing is trying to save their candidate from embarrassing and campaign killing situations. Mr. Fowler isn’t afraid to say what’s on his mind at all times no matter the consequences. Some even say that Mr. Fowler is beyond embarrassment.
Hmm. Another recurring theme in the criticism of Arnie Fowler is his consistent ignorance of history and today’s news events, as well as his constant disinformation. Care to comment?
Glad to, Lionel. People are sick and tired of being told what to do by snobby, overly educated elites. Just because they’ve studied and learned more than most people doesn’t make them experts. People want a candidate they can identify with, who’s just like them, humble and god-fearing, not some intimidating brainiac who knows how to read.
(PAUSE) Are you saying that Mr. Fowler doesn’t know how to read?
He does know the alphabet. He just still has trouble with words longer than two letters. But you know what? People like an underdog. They don’t want a candidate who claims they can solve every single problem, they want a candidate who’s willing to admit his shortcomings. That’s what makes Mr. Fowler so relatable.
Actually Fowler has claimed to be perfect and mistake free on many occasions, and he regularly ridicules people for their mistakes and flaws. And his recent embrace of Christianity seems to go against past comments in which Fowler referred to church goers as (LOOKS AT NOTES), “dumb sheep who’ll believe anything.”
Ah, but Mr. Fowler was merely being sarcastic when he was saying those things. Certainly the people know the difference between truth and sarcasm.
Interesting. Any final comments on the campaign of Arnie Fowler and why people should vote for him?
Yes. People are tired of the same old same old. They want a fresh perspective with a new agenda that isn’t beholden to special interests like the human rights agitators and union bosses and intellectual elites. A vote for Arnie Fowler is a vote for political honesty and against political correctness. Mr. Fowler is candidate who always speaks his mind without concern of how those words words will affect others. You see, deep down Mr. Fowler has the innocence of a child, and like a child there is a purity to his demands. That’s what matters to his supporters, and that’s why people should vote for Arnie Fowler.
Well thank you for joining us, Tanya. (TO AUDIENCE) And thank you for watching another edition of Current Affairs. We have been speaking with Tanya Bickford, the newest campaign manager for congressional candidate Arnie Fowler. I’m your host, Lionel Trowbridge. Good night.
©2016 Robert Kirkendall
My last episode of Pacific Television Theater which was supposed to live broadcast last Saturday night was not able to broadcast due to technical difficulties. The person in charge of programming at CTV Santa Cruz was not made aware that my show is live. However the show was performed and recorded, so once I edit out a couple of parts I will be able to post episode 3, Rising Tide, as soon as possible.