A rewrite of chapter 10 of Redwood Summer, a novel of 1990 San Jose. In this chapter Jason is attempting to fix the car problem from the previous chapter, and ends up having a conversation with his father about where he’s at in life, and about what Silicon Valley was in its agricultural past.
Rewrite of chapter 9 for Redwood Summer. In this chapter Jason, the main character, and his friends Randy and Brian are driving home after seeing a movie, but what’s really happening is the growing apart of Jason and Randy. The breakdown that happens to Jason’s car is symbolic, not only of the relationship between Jason Randy, but also of the greater world changes that were happening below the surface in the summer of 1990 and were about to undermine the hard fought victory of the Cold War.
The parties, family gatherings, career change, leaving of school, ordeals, dispersement of friends to their separate lives, and all the other life events of the past year ran through Jason’s mind as he continued to look out the passenger side window from a work truck as Hal drove. He gazed ahead to the dry, golden hills in the distance covered with light brown grass, then another memory came to mind as he thought back to a time when he and his friends drove up to the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains, hiked into a park of enormous rocks, and looked down across the entire valley. He peered toward the south and tried to find the spot on the mountain range where they went, but the truck turned a corner and he lost sight of it.
“I tell you, Jason, your uncle’s a good guy,” Hal said as he sped past a long row of business parks and concrete tilt-ups. “He lets me work for him when I’m not making enough at my own business. Things are kind of dicey right now, but it should pick up soon. Times like this are good for the economy.”
The cab became silent, then Jason figured Hal was waiting for a response. “Yeah, I’m sure it will,” he answered reflexively. “Uncle Ray is a good guy, saved me from a dead end job.”
“Salt of the earth,” Hal proclaimed. “Ought to be more like him.”
“Yeah, there should,” Jason responded as he recalled how welcoming Uncle Ray was when he approached him for a job. Like he was expecting me, Jason thought to himself.
“You see, what we’re doing is solid,” Hal informed. “Businesses come and go, some get bought out, others move overseas, but there’s always going to be a need for construction. All the engineers and programmers and computer nerds around here, they spend their whole day in front of computer screens, never go outside, probably never get laid. Think any of them can do what we do?”
“Maybe not,” Jason replied, “but they’re the ones who come up with the ideas that keep
everything going. So what if they don’t know how to swing a hammer, they don’t need to.”
“But you can’t run a business outdoors, or this country for that matter. Every king needs a castle, and someone has to build that castle, that’s where we come in.” Hal looked around the expanse. “Sure, this place gets more crowded every year, I remember how it used to be, but that’s what keeps us in business.”
“Yep,” Jason said, “until we run out of land.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Hal reassured. “There’s still enough to keep us busy for a long while. Plus there’s all those older buildings that need to be demolished and replaced. No new real estate required for that.”
“And on it goes,” Jason said partly to himself. He contemplated the perpetually onward flow of time, and its complete indifference to the changes in his own life.
“You know what,” Hal began, “we supply a necessary demand, which gives us a chance to make a decent living in the greatest country on earth. That’s something to be thankful for.” Over the radio a news talk show was discussing a pending United States military deployment to the Mideast. “Now you take that situation between Iraq and Kuwait,” he said, “all the bleeding heart types say we should avoid war, but what choice do we have? That is a key strategic part of the world.”
Jason listened to the discussion on the radio, and thought some of the people talking sounded more agitated and enthusiastic for war than they needed to be. “I don’t know,” he countered. “You think they’re telling us everything?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well the way they’re talking about it, it just sounds too neat, like something is being left out.”
“We got the biggest and best military on earth. What’s the worse that can happen?”
“What does a war on the other side of the world have to do with us?”
“Strategy, my friend,” Hal reminded.
Jason pondered. “I thought we were friends with the Russians now.”
“All the more reason to strike, they won’t get in the way.”
“But it seems like there’s still time to work it out.”
“Well, you have to look at the big picture,” Hal advised. “If all we do is talk, which is basically doing nothing, greater problems may happen. Problems that can affect our security,” he added ominously.
“It’ll still cost some lives.”
“Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.” Hal looked over at Jason. “You don’t like war?”
“All I’m saying we shouldn’t rush into anything until we know what’s going on over there,” Jason cautioned.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Hal said confidentially. “Over there is where most of the world’s black gold is, that’s what fuels industry, the economy, pretty much all of civilization, and we got to have a foothold there if we want to get our share. It’s all a matter of survival.”
“What about the people already living there?”
Hal laughed. “Are you kidding me? A bunch of sand niggers who’ve been killing each other for centuries? We got to go in there, straighten the whole mess out, and put everyone back in their place. That’s what we do.”
Jason looked down an avenue they were crossing and in the distance noticed the building where his last job was. “Since when?”
“Okay, all kidding aside,” Hal started. “Everyone does have a right to an opinion, that’s the American way, but when the shit goes down you don’t want to be caught on the wrong side.” They drove along further. “You know what I’m saying, right?”
Jason listened closer to the talking on the radio. The debate had become heated and antagonistic as the voices rose to a higher pitch. He sensed Hal still looking at him, and he felt the push of coercion. “You know what,” he began, “I work, I pay taxes, I’m a good citizen, and I have the right to believe in what I want, when I want, how I want,” he asserted. “And no one can tell me different!” He was surprised by the righteousness of his declaration, and it dawned upon him that he was free. “Yeah,” he said to himself, “I’d fight for that.”
Hal appeared to want to respond, but silently drove on. Jason then remembered his plans for the upcoming weekend with Christine and some friends, as well as some people from their new neighborhood. Something to look forward to, he thought happily.
©2018 Robert Kirkendall
Jason looked over the newspaper classified want ads while sitting at the kitchen table. David was across the table doing his homework.
“Anything promising?” father asked from the living room.
“Not much,” Jason answered. “A lot of the same old stuff.”
“Budget cuts because of the Cold War ending would be my guess.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking,” Jason agreed. “We need another war to get things going again,” he added half seriously.
“Doesn’t the county building have a job center?” David asked.
“I checked it out, most of it’s part time work,” Jason said, “and nothing that pays enough.”
“What about a temp agency?” David suggested.
“I need a permanent job,” Jason replied. “Those temp jobs don’t pay dick anyhow.”
“I should look for a new job myself,” David said. “I’m getting tired of the fast food scene.”
“Then get a job at Safeway,” father said impatiently.
The telephone rang. David reached over and picked up the receiver. “Hello? Oh hi, Todd…Yeah, he’s here.” He handed the receiver to Jason. “It’s Todd.”
Jason took the receiver. “Todd. What’s up?”
“Jason, got some bad news,” Todd said.
He got a sinking feeling. “What is it?”
“Randy got busted.”
“Dammit!” Jason struck the table and David looked up. “What happened?”
“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Todd said. “A SWAT team did a raid on this house where he just happened to be in the middle of a deal.”
Jason was dismayed and angry. He got up as he tried to grasp what he just heard and paced around as the coiled phone chord dangled from the receiver to the telephone. “I can’t believe this!” he said angrily. “Where is he now?”
“They got him at the city lockup. I called and they told me he’s going to be arraigned tomorrow.”
“Goddamn, this is a nightmare!” Jason became anxious as the news sank in. The dread he felt for Randy reached its conclusion, and the remaining hopes he had came crashing down. He then looked around and noticed his brother and father looking at him. He turned toward the telephone on the wall to conceal his anger. “You know, I told him a thousand goddamn times not to be careless, not to get mixed up with Darren and Tony, all those other sketchy motherfuckers, that whole scene, now look what happens!”
“I heard how he lost it at Tony’s party and got into a fight.”
“Yeah, we got him out of there just before the cops showed up.”
“I also heard from some of the guys that you and Randy almost got into it,” Todd said carefully.
Jason felt the regret of that night. “Yeah,” he admitted. “Never thought it’d come to that.”
“Don’t blame you for avoiding the party.”
“I never knew Tony all that well anyway,” Todd said
“I only went because of Randy, guess I thought I could keep him out of trouble. A lot of good that did,” Jason added with bitter irony.
“It’s all fucked up,” Todd lamented. “But I guess it isn’t a total surprise.”
“No, guess not,” Jason agreed. “So now what? It’s not like Randy or his mom can afford a
decent lawyer, or any kind of lawyer.”
“I know. He’ll probably end up with some half ass public defender.”
“Which means he’ll probably end up doing some time.”
“Most likely,” Todd said dejectedly. “It’ll all depend on the lawyer he gets stuck with, the judge, whether the DA wants to cut him a deal, and they won’t do that unless he’s willing to give up some names.”
“Can’t see Randy doing that,” Jason predicted. “Probably doesn’t know anyone important anyway.”
“I doubt he does,” Todd agreed. “He’s the low man on the totem pole.”
“So what next?”
“I’m going to call in sick tomorrow so I can go to the arraignment. I’ll be in touch with everyone as soon as I know what’s happening.”
“So how much do you think his bail will be?” Jason asked.
“No idea,” Todd answered. “I guess that’ll depend on the amount he was caught with.”
Jason leaned against the wall and rested his head on his hand. “He’s really up a creek.”
“Could be,” Todd said. “Do you know if he has any priors?”
“Nothing like this,” Jason said. He stood back up. “This sucks, this really, fucking sucks.”
“I know. Randy always was the life of the party, since he was little. Guess it finally caught up with him.”
“It’s like he ignored all the warning signs.”
“Yeah,” Tom sighed. “Well, I’ll let you go, I’ve got some more people to call. I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know how it went.”
“All right,” Jason said. “I was just about to head to Christine’s myself. Says she has important news, probably about a job somewhere.”
“That could be a good thing, I know you’re getting sick and tired of your current job.”
“We’ll see, not exactly on my mind right now.”
“Well, talk to you tomorrow,” Jason said.
“All right, bye.”
“Bye.” Jason hung up the receiver.
“What happened?” David asked.
“Randy was arrested.”
“Oh, no!” he reacted. “What for?”
“Possession,” Jason said. He grabbed his keys off the table and headed to the front door.
“What a shame,” father remarked sadly.
“Going over to Christine’s,” Jason said as he left. He got into his car and drove away quickly. The late summer twilight faded into darkness as he was driving and all his worries about Randy were recasting into new uncertainties. The story of Randy’s life played out in his mind once again, from when they first met in kindergarten, their shared times and adventures as they grew up together, and all through the years up to the present where it was culminating into a sense of finality. He then despaired that Randy was slipping out of his life.
He arrived at Christine’s and tried to straighten out his thoughts as he walked to her apartment. He knocked on the front door. It opened slowly and Christine quietly let him in. He entered and milled around in the front room. He was feeling the weight of what he was about what to tell her.
“Bad news about Randy,” he finally said.
“He got busted.”
“Oh no,” Christine said sadly and she sat down. “That’s terrible.”
“Todd just called and told me, he was arrested earlier today.”
“What did he do?”
“He was in the middle of a drug deal then the police raided the place.” Jason paced around some more. “I tried to talk some sense into him,” he said exasperatedly. “I told him not to get mixed up with the wrong people.”
“You did the best you could,” Christine reassured.
“Did I?” Jason countered as he kept pacing around the room. “Feels like I could have done more.” He came to a stop as he dwelt some more about what happened. “Shit, they’ll probably throw the book at him, because they can.”
“I know,” Christine said somewhat absently, “it’s awful.”
Jason sensed that Christine was thinking of something else. “You work for lawyers, what do you think his chances are?”
“Hmm? Oh, I don’t know, we don’t do criminal law. I guess it’s going to depend on how much he was caught with, and if he’s willing to plea bargain.”
“Well then he’s in bad shape because Randy was never one to snitch.” Jason started to move around again to release mounting stress. “Why the fuck did he have to get caught? Now he’s stuck in the gears of the system!”
“Maybe he’ll get help he needs on the inside,” Christine said hopefully.
“And he has to go behind bars to get it? That ain’t fair,” Jason said angrily. “This is all fucked
up. I know he blew it, but it’s not like he robbed a bank or killed someone, all he did was fall in with
the wrong crowd and make some mistakes! Why all this other bullshit?”
“I know, it’s terrible, I’m really sorry it all happened like this,” Christine said, “but it’s out of our hands now.”
“Yeah, just like a lot of other things in life.”
Christine stood up and walked up to Jason as he was pacing around. “Look, Jason, I know this is important, but there is something I need to tell you.”
“If it’s about another job possibility can we talk about it later?” Jason demanded. “Got a lot on my mind right now.”
“No, it’s not about a job,” Christine reassured.
“Then what?” Jason asked curtly as he stopped in front of Christine. “Is it a family emergency? Someone back in the hospital?”
“No, it’s nothing like that.”
“Then what?” Jason repeated louder.
Christine hesitated and struggled for words.
Jason wandered away. “Well I hope it’s important because I have a lot on my mind right now.”
Jason was startled. He looked back at Christine. Her expression was gravely serious. His agonizing over Randy ended abruptly and he looked searchingly into her eyes. He became apprehensive of what he was about to hear. She tried to speak. He moved closer to her. “What is it?”
Jason was suddenly numb all over. He tried to comprehend what he just heard and struggled to say something, but was too overwhelmed. He sensed his life changing beyond his control. “For real?” he asked astonishingly.
Christine nodded. “I just found out today.”
Jason remained confused. “I…I don’t know what to say.”
“I was late,” Christine revealed, “and I started to worry. So I took the test.”
Jason saw his old life disappearing for good, and a new reality of living for others began to emerge. He tried to grasp the situation but it was changing too fast. He searched for something to say in the sudden vacuum. “I guess I never figured on this happening so soon,” he finally said.
“Me neither,” Christine admitted. “Oh my god, what are my parents going to say!” She buried her face into her hands.
Jason began to think of her ordeal. “You haven’t told them yet?”
“I haven’t told anyone.”
Jason slowly put his hand onto Christine’s shoulder. She held onto his hand, and they came together. She convulsed a little as they leaned onto each other for a long moment. He held her close as he realized everything about his life was changing permanently. She sobbed a little more then wiped the tears from her eyes as she continued to hold on to him.
“Now I’m really going to have to get a new job,” Jason said. “I need to get out of my rut anyway,” he said with unexpected relief.
“I’ll work for as long as I can,” Christine offered, “at least until I get too big.”
Jason imagined Christine in the last stages of pregnancy and how she would look. “Guess I’ll have to hug you from behind when that happens.”
“When I found out, I wasn’t sure how you’d react,” Christine said as she rested her head on Jason. “I guess it’s still sinking in for me.”
“I’m still in shock myself,” Jason admitted. “Hope I’m up for it.”
Christine looked up at Jason. “I think you’ll make a great father,” she said convincingly, her eyes still wet as she smiled a little. He worried if he could live up to her faith as he saw his youth coming to its final end. He considered all his new obligations for the future as he headed irreversibly into destiny. After a long while they slowly relaxed their hold on each other.
“Sorry it happened like this,” Christine apologized.
“Nah, don’t be,” Jason consoled. “Time to move on from that soul sucking job anyhow.” He sensed himself readjusting to his new circumstances automatically without any effort. “They’re forcing everybody out so they can bring in all their own high end cronies. Whole place feels like it’s on lock down.”
“I was afraid you were going to be upset.”
“No, just surprised.”
“Same here, this changes everything.” Christine appeared concerned. “What are you going to do about school?”
“Some other time,” Jason said resignedly.
“Really sorry about that.”
“Don’t be, degrees aren’t worth what they used to be. Better to learn a skill anyhow.” Jason gave in to the transformation that he felt to be happening on its own. “Guess we’ll have to tell everyone pretty soon,”
“My family will sure be in for a surprise,” Christine said as she laughed a little.
“Same with mine,” Jason said laughing along with her. “My parents are going to be
grandparents for the first time, that’s gonna to make them feel old!” They laughed some more, then embraced each other again as their laughter subsided. The weight of their situation grounded them and Jason felt more tied to Christine than he ever had before. “So you’re ready for all this?” he finally asked.
“This is sooner than I expected.” Christine held onto Jason contentedly. She then looked up to him. “Yes, I’m ready.”
Jason paused for a moment. “Is your uncle still hiring?”
©2018 Robert Kirkendall
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
“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 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.”
“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
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.”
“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
“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.
“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.”
“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
Jason leaned over the grill and radiator of his car and reached downward with a new hose. He pushed on one side of the rigid hose then the other as he tried again to slide it onto the intake nozzle of the water pump. He struggled some more in the cramped engine space and was getting frustrated, then he 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.
“Oh, 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. And I lost my grip trying to pull off the old hose,” Jason said as he looked at a scrape on his hand.
“So 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.”
“I’ll say,” Jason said as he looked down at the loose hose.
“It used to be that you could look under the hood 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,” father said nostalgically. “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 Mr. Goodwrench.”
“That’s progress for ya,” 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, but those old slant sixes ran forever. I’ll bet someone’s driving it around right now.”
“Maybe that’s the kind of car I need,” Jason said, “something low maintenance.”
“If only they still made them like that,” 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 put his hands back on the front of his car and looked down at the engine, and his earlier preoccupations came back to mind.
They stood and looked at the engine together as father moved in a little closer. “Of course cars aren’t the only things that cause problems,” he finally said.
“Ain’t that the truth,” Jason replied as he sensed his father’s perception. He looked up from the car. “Well it seemed like everything was going along fine, but now…” He stared outside the garage at nothing in particular. “Probably just going through the usual stuff.”
“Let me guess,” father began, “Christine wants to get more serious, your job needs to pay you better, school is getting more expensive, and now you’re wondering where all the good times have gone.”
Jason felt somewhat unburdened. “It seemed like things were fine,” he said, “but now, I can’t tell if I hit a rut, or if it’s something bigger.” He pondered what to do. “Maybe I just need a break in the action, or at least from working on this thing,” he said as he indicated his car. He picked up a rag and wiped his hands as he wandered toward the front of the garage while 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.
“The age old struggle,” father declared, “man trying to figure out 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 over there.” He pointed down the street at a block of tract houses silhouetted against the setting sun.
Jason searched his earliest memories. “Yeah, I think I remember that.”
“Remember what they looked like when they were in bloom? Like big, pink cotton candy trees.”
Jason hazily recollected the grove of cherry trees. “Christine’s parents talk about how they used to pick plums, prunes, apricots, walnuts around here every summer when they were kids.”
“Now those were the days,” father reminisced. “Fruit trees everywhere, more farms, more open space, 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 replied as he thought back some more. “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.”
“And that’s too bad,” father said regretfully. “No more produce stands either, have to buy everything from the grocery 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. I mean, who comes up with all this bad planning?”
“Someone looking to make a quick turnaround?”
“Now you’re learning,” father said with a laugh. “See, a lot of it is timing, and I was lucky enough to show up here at the right time, that’s all. And now the frontier is closed.”
“Yep, just like Frontier Village.”
“You remember that place? Yeah, we had some fun times there.”
They quietly shared another memory.
“When you look around now,” Jason finally said, “it’s hard to believe there was a time when this wasn’t the Silicon Valley.”
“Seems that way, and those days sure aren’t coming back,” father said wistfully. “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 pointed out. “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, and 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.”
Jason thought happily of the origin of his family, then felt concern about his future. “Maybe I was born at the wrong time,” he lamented.
“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.”
Jason looked to where the cherry orchard used to be, and tried to imagine how the neighborhood used to look. “You know, with all the changes happening all over the world, I’m wondering how that’s going to affect business here in the valley, especially defense jobs like mine.”
“Technology will always be in demand, it’s just human nature, ever since man figured out how to make tools. And the thing about technology is that someone is always trying to improve it, some people always want the latest gadget,” father said with some exasperation. “All you have to do is keep at it, and some opportunity somewhere will come your way.”
Jason contemplated his current situation. “You know what it feels like right now? Now I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong, I know I’m not a total screw up, but I’m also not sure if I’m doing the right thing either. It’s like 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 about it when it’s too late.”
“You’re not doing anything wrong,” father assured. “It’s just a decade and a half of 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. Your generation just happened to be caught in the middle of it, but things will work themselves out. They always do.”
“Certainly don’t want this thing to sink me further into debt,” Jason remarked 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 out and get back on my own again.”
“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 on the right track.”
“You’re on the right track,” father reaffirmed, “but I gotta admit it, 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,” he observed pessimistically. “Now it’s all specialized. Every man for himself.”
“At least you get to retire in a couple of years.”
“Yep, looking forward to it,” father anticipated, “then I’ll have all the time in the world.”
Jason noticed his father reflecting, and he found himself aligned with his father’s perspective. He sensed himself on the same path, but wondered where it was heading for him. “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 world 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. Well the CEO says to him 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 was struck by the lesson, and it sank into his conscience. “At least work hasn’t been a problem, everything there seems to be going in the right direction.” A new thought occurred to him. “But lately, it has been starting to feel like nobody seems to know what’s going to happen next, so now everyone is trying to figure out their next move before they’re forced to look for something new. Maybe management knows, but if they do they’re not telling us a thing. Now 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.”
“Yeah, I suppose so.”
“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
Jason paced himself with the surrounding traffic on one of the valley freeways. Vehicles moved in sync as cars, vans, and pickups sped past semi-trailer trucks in the late afternoon sun. More vehicles entered from and exited onto merge lanes. Randy sat in the passenger seat talking while Brian was in the back seat, his head nodded back in sleep.
“So the whole day started out mellow,” Randy continued, “just me, Brian, Darren and Greg hanging out at the beach, tossing around the Frisbee, rapping with some bitches, pounding some brews, making a day of it.”
“Did you guys go to the Boardwalk?” Jason asked.
“Nah, we went to the beach that’s at the end of 26th Avenue, away from the tourists.”
“Nice and secluded over there.”
“Yeah, where the locals go. So anyways, these other guys show up, and a couple of them were also from the Valley, and one of them had an entire case of Pabst in his backpack, so we partied with them. It was awesome,” Randy said as he reminisced. “I like it down there. You can do things down there you can’t do up here.”
“Like smoking a bowl in public?”
“I’ve done that up here plenty,” Randy reminded. “So when it got dark we tried to get a fire going, but no luck. It was getting 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 then we went to this party at Jamie’s, and the whole place was raging, an insane fucking party. It took me all of yesterday to recover.” Randy looked back toward Brian again. “I don’t know what this animal here did yesterday, but he was the life of the party.” Brian remained asleep.
“Guy I met through work.”
“You were partying and you didn’t even call me,” Jason chided. “What gives?”
“Aw man, I’m sorry,” Randy apologized. “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 looked over at Randy appealingly, and they shared a laugh together.
“So how’s Kathy doing?”
“Doing well,” Jason answered, “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 probably end up supporting the rest of the family,” he joked. They laughed some more in agreement and enjoyed the moment, then Jason wondered if what he said was actually going to happen.
“That was a good movie,” Randy said after a bit of silence. “But you know what would have made it better? If Clint Eastwood had starred in it.”
“I thought 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,” Jason disagreed. “Clint playing a Russian just doesn’t seem right, it 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 slowed down as he approached a reflective tanker truck. He changed lanes, sped up, and drove past it.
Randy looked over to Jason appreciatively. “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 seventy five for a cup of ice that maybe has a couple of ounces of coke,” Jason complained.
“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 added. “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 then we’d have to drag this guy around,” Jason said and pointed back at Brian. “Plus, you know, I’ve got things to do.” He 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?”
“Maybe,” 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.”
“Got to agree with your dad there,” Randy said. “Work sucks.”
“Right,” Jason said doubtfully. “How’s that coming along?”
“Aw, more problems with the boss,” Randy said.
“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 pointed out, “this is the busy time of the year for landscaping.”
“Lots of competition out there,” Randy said, “at least that’s what he tells me.”
“Sounds like he’s jerking you around.”
“The guy is a prick anyhow,” Randy complained. “He’s one of those stick up his ass types who have to manage every little detail of your job, a royal pain.”
“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 bring in some business,” Jason suggested.
“Me?” Randy laughed.
“You’re an outgoing guy,” Jason said, “and you have the personality for it.”
“He needs to learn how to run his shit 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 because he scheduled us for another job the next day. How the fuck are we supposed to work in the dark?” Randy demanded. “And if I’m going to sell anything I’d rather be selling something that puts in touch with the right kind of customers, like lingerie,” he added luridly.
“Now you’re talking.”
“Oh, you’re being serious.”
“But there’s got to be something better out there for you than that headache of a job.”
“You know what,” Randy began. “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.”
“You know what we should do?” Randy said excitedly as he turned toward Jason. “We should just say the hell with it and go live on a beach somewhere. We could do that. I’ve met some people that do that.”
“Yeah, they’re called bums.”
“Aw c’mon, you know it ain’t a bad idea. Who needs all that rat race bullshit anyway?”
“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 people grow up, and things change, and you have to change along with them.”
Randy stared at Jason. “You used to never talk like that.”
“Well, that’s life.”
Randy looked away. “You used to be fun.”
“C’mon, Randy, you know I didn’t mean anything.”
“Yeah, I know,” Randy said forlornly, “just looking out for me because I’m a fuckup.” 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, merged right, and coasted onto the shoulder of the freeway. “The last fucking thing I need,” he said with frustration. 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, walked to the front of the car, and carefully reached underneath 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 appeared alongside the car and looked down into the engine.
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.” They were all looking under the hood as vehicles sped by in a constant coming and going hum of spinning tires on pavement. The sun glared down on the arid landscape and baked the freeway asphalt, and the dry dirt and weeds alongside. 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, found a rag, and closed the trunk. He returned to the front of the car and saw Randy still peering down at the engine 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 agreed. “We should get into that kind of business, something a little shady.”
“Nah,” Jason said as he closed the hood, “too messy. And 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 replied. 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.”
“It’s all right,” Jason said.
“Tell you what, since you paid my way, I should do something for you.”
“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 hos.”
“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 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