Redwood Summer Part III Chapter 12

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

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

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

“So how did it go?” Christine asked.

“Worst job interview ever.”

“What happened?”

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

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

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

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

“That sounds nerve wracking,” Christine said.

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

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

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

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

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

“It does help make getting a job easier.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So how’s he doing?”

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

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

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

“Where did he get the money?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Doesn’t feel like enough.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

©2017 Robert Kirkendall

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Redwood Summer Chapter 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Soviets got the bomb anyways,” Phil reminded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stan looked up from his clipboard.

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

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

So who are they?”

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

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

“Why, because they’re wearing suits?”

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

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

Yeah, that was pretty rude,” Jason recalled.

You know why, of course.”

“Because we’re below their pay grade?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Doing what?”

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

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

“Yep, the more the better.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does he do?”

He’s a contractor.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know they’re used for map making.”

“And?”

Studying clouds and weather systems.”

“Anything else?” Stan probed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I remember hearing that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 Robert Kirkendall

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Redwood Summer Chapter 10

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

©2017 Robert Kirkendall

Redwood Summer Chapter 9

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

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

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

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

“Good plan.”

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

That’s unusual,” Jason kidded.

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

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

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

town.”

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

“So how’s Kathy doing?”

“Doing well, living the college life.”

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

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

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

Sean Connery did a good job.”

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

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

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

No problem,” Jason said.

Movies sure got more expensive,” Randy bemoaned.

Tell me about it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s because work sucks.”

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

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

Same old problems?”

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

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

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

“Sounds like he’s jerking you around.”

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

Yeah, micro managers are the worst.”

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

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

“Me?” Randy laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

food…everything.”

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

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

“Bring her along.”

“Serious?” Jason laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Electrical tape would be better,” Randy said.

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

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

call Stu. He’s got Brian’s van.”

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

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

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

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

“I’ve got ears, Randy,” Jason said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I know,” Jason said.

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

“Like what?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Quiet, bitch!” Randy ordered.

 

©2017 Robert Kirkendall

Redwood Summer Chapter 7

Jason and Christine sat upon a small stand of wooden bleachers and watched her nephew’s little league baseball game along with Christine’s sister, brother in law, brother, brother’s girlfriend, niece and nephew.  Other families and groups of friends sat amongst the bleachers or on folding lawn chairs on either side of the cyclone fenced backstop that surrounded the back of the baseball diamond.  Ten and eleven year old children dotted the the gravelly dirt infield and the patchy, uneven green grass covering the outfield.  The high summer sun shone above from a cloudless sky.  Past the field heat waves shimmered up from the blacktop and blurred the images of the drab, rectangular school buildings in the far ground.

Christine’s nephew, Tommy, crossed the white chalk foul outline at the side of the diamond and advanced to the batter’s box with bat in hand.  “All right, Tommy, let’s go!” Christine and her family shouted.  Tommy planted his cleats into the dirt rut beside the five sided white plate, gripped the bat with both hands, held it up behind him ready to swing, and focused on the pitcher.  The pitcher stood still on the mound and looked straight ahead to the catcher.  He nodded yes, then wound up, leaned back on one foot, launched forward and hurled the ball to the catcher.  Tommy stepped toward the pitch and began to swing but held back as the ball smacked into the catcher’s mitt.

Ball,” the umpire called from behind the catcher.

Good eye, Tommy!  Make him pitch to you,” the family called out.

He’s showing more patience now,” Christine’s sister, Carla, said.  “Remember how he used to swing at everything?”

Looks like he listened to what you told him,” Carla’s husband, Bill, said to Jason.

He’s a natural,” Jason said.

You were pretty good in your day,” Christine said to Jason.  “You should see his trophies,” she bragged to Carla.

They give those to everybody,” Jason downplayed.

C’mon, you were good, you know it,” Christine insisted.

I heard you were an all-star one year,” Christine’s brother, Pete, said.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Christine agreed.  “Don’t be so modest.”

Yeah, I guess I was pretty good,” Jason admitted.

Hey, Chris,” Carla said, “we’re having a barbecue after the game, want to come by?”

Sure, we’ll be there,” Christine said.  “I’ve been dying to see what you’ve done with the backyard.”

Jason was caught off guard.

You should see the new roses,” Carla said, “we also have a new brick walkway, and the deck is finally fixed.”

Did you and Bill do that yourself?” Christine asked.

Are you kidding,” Carla laughed.  “We hired this guy who uses college students to work for him, he’s a friend of a friend of Bill’s.  I think they were all hungover half the time, but they did a good job, a lot faster than we ever could have done it.”

Jason became irritated as their conversation continued.

Hey, is that Tina over there?” Christine asked.

Yeah, her kid brother is on the other team,” Carla said.

The frustration was building in Jason until there was a break in Christine and Carla’s conversation.  He leaned toward Christine.  “We’re supposed to be having dinner at my place tonight,” he reminded her sharply.  “My sister’s coming home today.  Don’t you remember me telling you earlier?”

Oh, that’s right,” Christine said apologetically.  “I’m sorry, I forgot. We can skip the barbecue.”

You should ask me before inviting us places,” Jason asserted.

Carla asked me,” Christine pointed out.  “We don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

Don’t worry about it, we’ll go.”

Why are you being so touchy?”

Let’s just watch the game.”

When the game was over, the two teams went to their side of the diamond, formed into a line and walked toward each other.  They slapped each other’s outstretched hands while saying ‘good game’ as they passed each other then wound back to their side of the field.  The coaches gathered the players together, said one last thing to them before letting them go, then they all dispersed to their families.

Did you see that RBI double I hit?” Tommy said excitedly as he ran up to Carla, Bill, and the rest of the family.

How about that catch back in the second inning?” Bill said.  Everyone stood around Tommy and congratulated him and bragged about his team’s performance as they headed to their vehicles.

The celebratory mood continued as the families walked over to a row of parked cars with their folding chairs and coolers while chatting with each other.  They slowly loaded everything in while still conversing, then got into their cars.  Carla rolled down her window.  “So I’ll see you at my place?” she asked Christine.

Jason thought he could feel Christine’s eyes on him.  “What do you say, hon,” she asked him.

Yeah, sure,” Jason said.

See you there,” Christine said to Carla then she and Jason walked over to his car.  “It was an honest mistake, really,” she said to him once they were alone.  “I know, I should have remembered about your sister, it’s just that I haven’t seen Kathy in a while so I guess I forgot.  We go to Carla and Bill’s all the time, I didn’t think you’d mind.”

Yeah, I know,” Jason said as they got into his car.  “Just me overreacting,” he said sullenly.

No, you’re right. I should’ve asked you first,” Christine replied helpfully.  “We don’t have to stay long anyhow.  Carla just wants to show off her new deck, you know how she is.”

Jason started his car, backed up into the street, and drove off without saying anything.

“Really, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Jason drove along with the exiting traffic.  “I know.”

I’ve invited us to places before, we both have.  I didn’t think it’d be a big deal.”

Usually a couple of days in advance,” Jason reminded, “not all of a sudden.”  They came to a stoplight.

Is that what’s bothering you?” Christine asked.

The light turned green and Jason turned onto the main avenue.  “I don’t know how it happened, but now it feels like that I always have to be somewhere.”  He felt somewhat unburdened.  “Nothing feels spontaneous anymore, you know?”

We weren’t planning on going to Carla’s right now,” Christine offered.

I mean just the two of us,” Jason argued, “like when we used to go places on the spur of the moment, just for fun.”  He thought longingly.  “Like going to the beach, or that time we went down and camped at Big Sur, stuff like that.”

I’d love for us to get away, but sometimes you have to make the time for family.  Maybe we can’t do everything we want, but we still have fun.”

You know I don’t like to whine,” Jason said as they drove ahead.  “I’m not trying to be a dictator, but I still like to have a say in things.

Of course,” Christine agreed.  “We definitely need to get away somewhere.  Take a break from everything, like when we took the trip to Hawaii.”

But first we need to be able to afford it,” Jason reminded.  “I don’t need much, anyways, even a trip up to the City would be all right.”  They drove along with the busy traffic then came to a red light.

So how are things at work?” Christine asked.

Work’s fine,” Jason said.  “That isn’t a problem.”

Didn’t you say they laid off some people?”

They were just temps.”

I see,” Christine remarked.  The light turned green and they drove ahead.  “Maybe that’s why they have you working more hours.”

The extra money will get me out of debt quicker,” Jason pointed out.

But it’s going to cut into you going to school.”

See, that’s what I’m talking about,” Jason said angrily.  “I’m tired of worrying about this, that, and every other damn thing!  I just want things to be simple.”

Me too,” Christine agreed.  “But what can we do?  Maybe this is just how life gets, less play and more responsibilities.”

“Just like our parents always warned us about,” Jason said half seriously.

“It’s been getting busier at my job, too, ever since that new client.”

Work is cutting into both of our lives.”  Jason thought yearningly of disappearing free time, and feared that it would never return.

You should hear some of the talk at my job.  Mergers, acquisitions, lawsuits, one company swallowing up another, and they don’t even think about how all that affects other people’s lives.”

I’ll bet a lot of that is big talk just to impress each other.  Guys like to bullshit, especially lawyers.”

It’s what they’re saying behind closed doors is what gets me wondering,” Christine said ominously. “Who knows what they’re planning.”

“No need to get paranoid,” Jason cautioned.  “Why worry about things you can’t see?”

“If there’s one thing I’ve noticed is that what happens in the boardrooms runs everything, and they’re all secretive.”

“And I suppose you think where I work is the same way?”

“Aren’t they all?”

I don’t have my head in the sand,” Jason asserted.  “If anything was going to happen to my job I would know about it.”

They should at least pay you what you deserve,” Christine insisted.

It’ll do for now,” Jason said.  “Besides, it’s such a pain in the ass to look for a job.  I should just pick up the extra pay while I can.”  He slowed down and turned right into a residential neighborhood.

I’m not trying to be a harpy, it’s just that it feels like it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen next.  What if the lawyers I work for are planning something with the owners you work for?”

“Well if they are, maybe it’ll end up working out for us,” Jason said positively as he navigated through the maze of suburban tract houses.  “They tell me that I’m a good worker. If there are any changes, I can rise with the company.”

“I just don’t want you to be left behind when everything settles.”

Enough worrying, everything will be fine,” Jason said confidently.  “Bad enough I can’t hang out with Randy anymore.”

Jason, you know I don’t want to keep you away from your friends, but Randy is getting difficult to be around, especially if he’s been drinking.  Remember how belligerent he was at Todd’s party?”

Yeah, he was a little of out of control, but so was everyone else at that party.  We’ve all seen him that way before.”

Gina kept calling me and Cheryl and Rachel and Liz and everyone else everyday for about the past two weeks crying over Randy.”

Maybe she’s better off without him.”

So you agree Randy is getting difficult,” Christine replied.

That’s not what I meant!” Jason said irritably.  He calmed down and tried to gather his thoughts. “Sure, Randy has been kind of wild lately, but maybe he’s just blowing off steam.  Troubles with Gina, bouncing from job to job, conflicts with his mom.  He’s got his reasons.”

“But where’s he going to end up?”

Jason felt pressure to come up with an answer.  “You know what, we all make mistakes.  Hell, all of us got into trouble with teachers or the principal or parents or someone.  That’s just part of growing up.”

Yeah, but once you grow up you’re supposed to mature and leave that kind of recklessness behind.”

I don’t know if I’d call Randy reckless,” Jason countered.  “It’s not like he crashed a car into a school bus.  He’s just got a behavior problem.”

“A problem that’s worsened by alcohol.”

“He is what he is, and that’s why everybody likes him,” Jason said defensively.  “Randy’s a lot of fun, he makes people feel good and festive.  He’s a traveling party, what’s wrong with that?  He may not be the most responsible guy around, but he brightens up wherever he goes.  And that’s something we all need.”

Yes, he can be a lot of fun,” Christine agreed, “and he’s a joy to be around when he’s that way.  I wish he could be that way all the time.”  Jason sensed Christine looking at him again.  “I know he’s one of your best friends and he means a lot to you, but his behavior seems to be getting worse.  I just don’t want see him to get into any serious trouble.”  He felt her words penetrate.  “Maybe he needs outside help.”

Like what, AA?”

If that’s what it takes.”

I know you’re just trying to help,” Jason said, “but I really don’t think that Randy is at that point yet.”

I just don’t want to see him get to a point where it’s too late,” Christine warned.

But what can I do?”

You can talk to him.”

Jason chuckled.  “Yeah, that’ll work.”

All you have to do is tell him that you’re concerned,” Christine pleaded.  “He’ll listen to you. Just tell him that you don’t want to see him or someone else get hurt.”

Randy may blow it sometimes, but he would never hurt anyone intentionally.  He’s a result of his upbringing.  He can still grow out of it.”

He’s an adult now.  Shouldn’t he have grown out of it already?”

Ah, why stress so much!” Jason exasperated.  “Randy will be fine, he’s a survivor.”  He turned onto another residential side street.  “If I go to Randy with some Nancy Reagan lecture about how he’s got to straighten up and fly right, he’s just going to think I’m getting on his ass like everyone else in his life and that’ll just upset him more.”

“So nothing?”

“If he gets any worse, I’ll talk to him, okay?”

I’m just concerned, that’s all,” Christine reiterated.  “He might have a lot inside of him that he needs to let out.”

Well I don’t know about that,” Jason replied.  “Randy isn’t the type to hold back,” he said as a new thought occurred to him.  “Maybe that’s the problem.”  He turned onto another street.  “So how’s Gina doing?”

I think she’s starting to recover,” Christine said.  “That poor girl always has bad luck with guys.”

Like Randy?”

They’re not right for each other,” Christine said pointedly.  “That’s all I meant.”  Jason felt Christine looking at him again as she moved in closer.  “I care about Randy, too.  Deep down he’s got a good heart.  Sometimes he can be a real sweet guy.  I just wish he could be his better self more often.”

Sometimes you just have to accept people for what they are,” Jason deemed.  “People are what they are, they don’t change all that much.”

Christine relaxed back into her seat.  “I know he didn’t have an easy time of it growing up.  Maybe if things were different.”

If only,” Jason agreed.  He thought back to when he and Randy were younger.  “Randy was always wanting to go somewhere, he couldn’t just settle down.  We thought it was because he was more adventurous than the rest of us, I guess he was just trying to get away from home.  His older sister was the same way.”  He looked upon his old memories with new perspective.  “Seems like you don’t notice that stuff as much when you’re younger.”

So what’s Randy’s sister doing now?”

Last I heard living with some guy she met at The Saddle Rack.”

“Do she and Randy stay in touch?”

Yeah, they talk once in a while,” Jason said.

It’s really too bad Randy’s dad wasn’t around,” Christine sympathized.  “His war experiences must have seriously messed him up.”  They pulled up to Carla’s house and parked out front.  Jason cut the engine.

You know, the only reason why he got sent to Vietnam was because he got into trouble with the law. The judge told him he could either join the army or go to jail.”

Not much of a choice.”

They probably would have drafted him anyways,” Jason said.

So what’s he doing now?” Christine asked.

Jason tried to remember the last time he heard anything about Randy’s father.  “I have no idea. Randy hasn’t seen him in a few years.  Last I heard he fell in with a bad crowd.” Jason thought some more of Randy and his father and their similarities.  “Just a couple of victims of circumstance.”

They got out of the car and walked to Carla’s house.  “We don’t have to stay long,” Christine promised, “just long enough to admire their new deck,” she joked.  “I’m really looking forward to seeing Kathy. I want to hear some of her college stories.”

Same here,” Jason said.  “Did you know she’s going to be a junior when she goes back to school in the fall? She’s halfway to graduating.”

Already?  Time sure does fly.”

And where does it all go, Jason thought to himself.  They entered through the open front door and were enveloped into the hum of socializing once everyone said their hellos.  People were in the kitchen and backyard cooking and barbecuing, chatting and laughing while a ballgame was on television in the background.

©2106 Robert Kirkendall

Redwood Summer Part II Chapter 6

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

©2016 Robert Kirkendall

Redwood Summer Chapter 5

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

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

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

Tired,” she said just as quiet.

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

Thanks.”

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

Not now.”  Christine tried to sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever cures you,” Brian said.

Another beer might help,” Jason said.

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

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

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

Man, that party was insane,” Mike said.

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

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

“As usual,” Mike said.

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

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

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

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

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

Well you’re looking chipper,” Mike said.

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

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

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

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

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

But you were the loudest,” Cheryl said.

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

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

Huh?”

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

Really?” Randy said.

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

No more than anyone else,” Randy said.

She was in tears!”

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

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

Our quarters game was interrupted,” Terry said.

And Gina was really hurt,” Rachel added.

Well I’m hurt, too,” Randy said.

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

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

What did you say to her?” Mike asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You guys are awful,” Cheryl said angrily.

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

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

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

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

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

Is there any of that cake left?”

All gone.”

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

Hope they can kill hangovers,” Randy said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloody Marys all around,” Randy said.

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

I’ll have coffee,” Rachel said.

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

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

Me,” Randy said.

Me, too,” Todd said.

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

I will,” Dwayne said.

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

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

I’ll have an iced tea,” Cheryl said.

“Me, too,” Liz said.

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

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

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

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

Oh, that’s healthy,” Cheryl said.

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

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

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

That sounds tasty,” Curtis said.

Anything with hash sounds good,” Brian said.

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

Are you from Texas?” Randy asked her.

No, Georgia.”

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

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

See, you were way off,” Todd said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                *                     *                     *                     *                     *                     *                     *

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

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

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

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

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

©2016 Robert Kirkendall

 

Redwood Summer Chapter 4

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

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

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

“God forbid they should have any ethics.”

“The guys I work for are all right.”

Are they all guys?”

Jason thought for a second. “Pretty much.”

Of course,” Christine said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Is the company growing?” Christine asked.

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

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

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

Oh, I bet he will.”

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

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

Is she still with Roger?”

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, Brian!” Jason replied.

Heard about your game yesterday,” Brian said.

From who, Randy?”

No, Tim.”

What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, it’s the though that counts.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just about to get her and myself a beer.”

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

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

Moosehead!” Curtis yelled over the music.

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

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

I got him a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.”

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

“Why don’t you now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, dummy, Alcohol Beverage Control.”

I thought the ATF handled that shit.”

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

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

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

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

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

He must be good for something,” Cheryl said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where would you go?” Liz asked.

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

Seattle’s a cool city,” Rachel said.

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds like L.A,” Jason said.

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

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

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

“Where’s that?” Terry said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any time, any place,” Brian answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m in the right place now.”

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

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

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

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

Yeah, Curtis was telling me,” Jason said.

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

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

You’re killing me,” Jason protested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fucking thing should be condemned,” Dwayne asserted.

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

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

I claimed her first!”

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

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

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

“I heard shots being poured,” Mike said

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

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

Hey, Jason,” someone yelled.

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

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

Yeah.”

I ran into him the other day.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*         *             *          *          *            *

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

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

From one beer?” Jason asked.

Cheryl brought a bottle of schnapps.”

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

What have you been drinking?” Christine asked.

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

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

*     *     *      *     *     *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’ll dilute the schnapps,” Jason said.

Can’t I just sip on yours?”

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

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

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

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

Have one on me, smart ass.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I saw them outside talking,” Brian said.

Just talking?” Dwayne said.

They were starting to get loud,” Brian said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was sudden,” Brian said.

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

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

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

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

So whose turn is it?” Todd asked.

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

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

No, I’m just saying.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, thanks Randy,” Mike said.

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

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

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

“So what were you discussing?” Jason asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2016 Robert Kirkendall

Redwood Summer Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Makes sense,” Jason added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was there before?” Kevin asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it’ll be good for business.”

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

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

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

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

Good one!” Christine laughed.

“Just trying to help.”

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

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

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

“Like what?”

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

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

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

“I’m good either way.”

“Oh, guess who called me earlier.”

Who?”

Cece.”

Cece?  Hmm.”  Jason tried to remember her.

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

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

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

How did that party animal find time for school?”

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

That’s smart.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s good.”

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

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

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

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

Thanks,” Jason smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean your Uncle Ray?”

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

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

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

That kind of sounds like a temp job.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I knew it! I am being too pushy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay, bye.”

“Bye.”

“Love you,” Christine said sweetly.

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

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

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

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

We’re not married.”

Oops, my mistake,” Phil apologized. 

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

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

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

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

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

Really, for who?”

A friend of mine.”

How old is he going to be?”

Twenty five.”

“He’s still young.”

 

©2016 Robert Kirkendall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redwood Summer Chapter 2

Jason got home after work. His younger brother was sitting at the kitchen table and talking on the telephone while his father was over in the sunken family room. Father was looking at the newspaper while the evening news was on the television.

“Hi, Dad,” Jason said.

“Jason. How was work?” father asked.

“Good, real good.”

“That so?”

“Oh yeah,” Jason said positively as he approached the family room. “We had this big company wide meeting today. Everybody was there, including the owners. Went really well, too. Upper management said we’d make the transition through the current world situation so easily that nobody would notice.”

“That sounds grand,” father said amusedly.

“Well, that’s the way they put it, but it all sounded legit.”

“Sounds like they’re sweet talkin’ you,” father warned.

“I guess that’s why they brought us flowers,” Jason said humorously. “But you know what, we’re in the satellite imaging business, and they have lots of uses, not just military. They say the future is looking bright.”

“Well that’s good,” father said. “But remember, they’re only going to tell you what they want you to know. They can’t risk the commoners knowing too much.”

“They’re smart people, they know what they’re doing.”

“Maybe they’re just acting like they know what they’re doing.”

“Whatever they’re doing it’s working. I got a good feeling about where we’re going and I’m glad to be a part of it.” Jason looked over at his brother. “David, anyone call for me?”

“Huh? No,” David said from the kitchen. “Who? That was brother,” he said into the telephone. “Older…Yeah, I’m the youngest.”

“Now you heard about this Hubble telescope fiasco, right?” father said to Jason.

Jason looked back toward his father. “Oh yeah, everybody at work was talking about it.”

“A couple of billion charged to the taxpayers and the damn thing doesn’t even work right,” father ridiculed as he pointed to an article in the newspaper.

“He’s only been here for a month,” David said into the telephone. “He had to move back home because of credit card debt.”

“Hey! Don’t be telling the world my business,” Jason said angrily to David.

David pulled the receiver away. “Sorry,” he said to Jason, and went back to the telephone.

“Kid sure is a blabbermouth, eh?” father laughed.

“Yeah he is,” Jason agreed.

“So the point I’m trying to make,” father continued, “is that no matter how high up the ladder someone is, no one is immune to incompetency. Some people just know how to present themselves well, and that’s it.”

“Yeah, I see what you’re saying, but I really think the people I’m working for are too smart for that,” Jason reassured. “They’re even bringing in some new investors, that can only mean things are looking up. Investors aren’t going to gamble their money on something with no future.”

“Maybe so, but remember, we had a stock market crash just a couple of years ago,” father reminded.

Jason tried to remember when that happened. “Seems like we’ve recovered.”

Father laughed. “Aw hell, you know what you’re doing.”

“Things are going good, so I’m just going with the flow.”

“Okay, but remember,” father cautioned as he pointed to the Hubble telescope newspaper article again, “all it takes is a mistake at the top that trickles down and fucks it up for everyone else. And you know that none of the people who came up with this boondoggle will get fired.”

“That’s where the job security is,” Jason said then headed out of the dining area. He walked down the hallway and entered his room. He closed the door, and the sound of the television and David talking became faint. He tossed his keys onto the nightstand, then sat on his bed and took off his shoes. He put on a compact disc and pressed the play button on his stereo. He fell back onto his bed and the music permeated the room. He relaxed unhurriedly.

Jason lost himself in the music as he basked in the afterglow of the meeting at work. He felt content, and anticipated a brighter future. A few minutes later he heard his mother come home followed by the sound of a couple of bags of groceries being set on the kitchen counter. From the calmness of his room he overheard activity happening in the rest of the house. He then heard a knock on the front door. His mother answered and he heard his friend Randy. “So where’s Jason?” Randy asked.

“I think he’s in his room,” mother said.

“I hear there’s going to be a huge party at Todd’s this weekend,” David said.

“Sorry, Dave, grown ups only,” Randy said.

“That’s all right,” David said, “me and my friends got stuff to do.”

“See?” Randy said. “You got things going on.”

“David got a part time job at Long’s,” mother said.

“So you’re a working man now,” Randy said. “Way to go!”

“I just stock shelves,” David answered. “Not exactly brain surgery.”

“But you are learning about responsibility,” mother reminded.

“That’s right,” Randy said, “listen to your mother or you’ll end up like me,” he joked. “I’ll go bother Jason.”

Jason heard quick steps to his room and a knock on his door. “Come in,” he said.

The door opened and Randy entered. His clothes were dirt stained. “Already in bed? The sun is still out.”

“Just relaxing after a day’s work.”

“I just worked too,” Randy chided, “and you don’t see me layin’ around.”

Jason lifted his head up. “You found work?”

“Yep. Terry hooked me up a job with a landscaper.”

“Way to go.”

“Now let’s celebrate and go shoot some hoops!”

Jason dropped his head back onto his pillow. “Can’t. I’ve got class tonight.”

“Again? You had class last night.”

“It’s a Monday through Thursday night class.”

“But it’s summer!” Randy pleaded. “What are you going to school for?”

“It’s just one class, and it’s only for six weeks,” Jason asserted. “Excuse me for trying to get an education.”

“You weren’t talking about getting an education back when we were cutting classes in high school.”

“I didn’t cut nearly as much as you.” Jason looked over at his clock. “And I’m going to have to leave in half an hour.”

“Aw, c’mon, you can skip one class!” Randy persuaded. “Why you want to drive all the way out to Los Gatos?”

“It’s in Saratoga.”

“Same distance.”

“So what’s your point?”

“My point is that today’s Thursday,” Randy said, “so you know what means?”

Jason thought for a moment. “Tomorrow’s Friday?”

“Exactly!”

“So you want me to cut school and go shoot hoops with you?”

“Of course,” Randy said. “Once we get to the park and throw the ball around you’ll feel better, a whole lot better than if you went to class.”

“I don’t know,” Jason said. “It’s early in the semester.”

“One missed class isn’t going to hurt.”

Jason thought it over. “I suppose not, but I don’t know.”

“C’mon, dude. You said we’d play this week, and the week’s almost over.”

Jason started to relent. “Well, you did find a job. That’s worth celebrating.”

“It’s only a temporary job.”

“Again? Seems like all your jobs are temporary.”

“Hey! At least I did something!” Randy argued. “Look at me, dirty from a hard day’s work. And look at you, just layin’ there like a lazy bastard.”

“I’m just messin’ with ya,” Jason kidded.

“Yeah, I know,” Randy said. “Hell, when you come right down to it, work sucks, but school sucks even more because you don’t get paid for it, so let’s go!” Randy looked around. “Where’s your basketball?”

“At your place.”

“So we’ll stop at my place and get it,” Randy urged. “C’mon, it’s on the way. You said you’d play, remember?”

Jason weighed going to school against the fun of a playing basketball. “Okay, you talked me into it.” He sat up.

“Now you’re talking!”

Jason put on his running shoes. “I could use the exercise anyway.”

“That’s right,” Randy agreed. “You do too much sitting at your job, time to break a sweat.”

“At least it’s steady.” Jason finished tying his shoes and got up.

“But how do you know they won’t lay you off someday?”

“Please, you’re ruining my good mood,” Jason said half seriously. He turned off his stereo, grabbed his keys, and left with Randy. “Going to the park to shoot some hoops, Mom.”

“Have fun,” mother said as they walked out the front door.

*                     *                     *                     *                     *                     *                    *                    *

Jason and Randy walked along the suburban street in the orange glow of the sun. The sidewalk neatly divided the front yards from a strip of lawn next to the curb. Some lawn strips were covered with rocks, juniper bushes, trees, or were overgrown with crabgrass. All the houses were of the same four or five designs with a living room on one side and a garage and driveway on the other. Variations of color and exterior features lessened the conformity. Jason felt comfortable in the familiarity of the neighborhood.

Just like the old days,” Randy said happily. “Going to the playground to shoot some hoops!”

Wonder if we’ll ever grow up,” Jason wondered.

“Now why you want to do something like that?” Randy laughed.

Jason tried to figure out an answer. “You got me.” They stepped over a wide crack in the sidewalk where a tree root had lifted the concrete.

“That’s right, you know what I’m talking about,” Randy said. “All work and no play makes life boring as shit, and I don’t want to see you turn into a bore.”

“Just because I have a regular job and I’m going to school doesn’t mean I don’t know how to have a good time,” Jason insisted.

“Yeah, but now you save all your fun for Christine,”

“Hey, I can still party.”

“I don’t know,” Randy said. “She seems to have you on a short leash.”

“A leash?” Jason laughed. “We ain’t that kinky.”

They turned down another residential street. “So you ready for tomorrow night?” Randy asked.

Of course.” Jason started to look forward to their friend’s birthday party.

Twenty five years. Can you believe that?”

I know,” Jason agreed. “Kind of sounds old.”

It’s one of life’s major events,” Randy said, “so you know it’s going to be raging.”

I am so looking forward to it,” Jason anticipated. “I have a good feeling about this party, I think it’s going to be extra special.”

I’m ready to cut loose,” Randy said, “and this time I earned it.” The nondescript, quiet street slowly rolled into a curve and crossed over a narrow creek. A short concrete wall with cyclone fencing and rusty barbed wire on top separated the sidewalk from the creek. Its banks sloped down a shallow stream of green water partially covered with dry weeds and foliage.

*                     *                     *                     *                     *                     *                    *                    *

Jason and Randy arrived at Randy’s house. An old car was parked in the driveway. The front lawn was dry and overgrown. The house was faded with paint starting to crack.

Is that you, Randy?” a loud voice said from the kitchen as they entered.

Yeah, mom.”

When are you going to mow the lawn?” Randy’s mother called out. “It looks like shit.”

“Mom, I have a guest.”

Who?”

Just me,” Jason said while Randy went to his room.

Oh, hi, Jason,” she said nicely. She ambled slowly into the foyer. She was wearing a bathrobe and using a cane. “So how you doing?”

Doing all right.”

Good, good. And how’s your mother?”

Doing well,” Jason answered, “she really loves her new job.” Randy returned with the basketball.

“Glad to hear that,” she said. “There are still places out there that don’t like to hire women, especially mothers.”

“Good thing Mom landed at the right place,” Jason said.

And how’s your father?” Randy’s mother asked.

Doing good, looking forward to retirement.”

So I suppose you two are going to the park to play some basketball?” Randy’s mother asked.

No, Mom, we’re going bowling,” Randy said as he tossed the basketball around in his hands.

Well, smartass, could you mow the lawn when you get back?” Randy’s mother responded angrily. “I filled the gas can yesterday and I don’t want it sitting in the garage forever.”

Don’t worry,” Randy said, “the house isn’t going to blow up.”

No, it’s not going to blow up because you’re going to mow the lawn ASAP.” She looked over at Jason and put her hand on her lower back. “I’d do it myself but I can’t. My back’s killing me. I won’t be able to go back to work for six months. Doctor says I might even need surgery,” she added.

You’ll be fine,” Randy said.

And you,” she pointed at Randy sternly, “stop stealing my Percodans!”

Mom, please!”

Right, they just disappeared on their own.” Randy’s mother ambled back to the kitchen area. “You two have fun.”

Randy and Jason left. Randy dribbled the ball as they walked down the sidewalk. “My mom’s making way too big of a deal about her back injury,” Randy said knowingly. “She isn’t going to need any surgery. She just wants sympathy.”

I don’t know,” Jason countered, “back injuries can be pretty bad.”

She’s also trying to milk workman’s comp.”

Wasn’t she just on crutches?”

“You taking her side?” Randy said in a hurt tone.

“Well, someone has to,” Jason said trying to sound humorous.

“That’s because she treats you better than me.”

“I think all mothers do that,” Jason pointed out. “It’s their way of trying to get you to act like some other kid that they think is better behaved.”

“Even your mom?” Randy said surprisingly.

“Not anymore, she only does it to David now.”

Randy laughed. “Your Mom’s cool.” He dribbled the ball a couple of more times then passed it to Jason. “So how are things with you and the old lady?”

Jason began dribbling the ball. “Can’t complain.”

“What’s the secret?”

“Beats me,” Jason admitted. “I didn’t know were going to last this long.”

Must be why you’re always with her,” Randy kidded.

Things are good, we’re happy,” Jason said feeling satisfied. “Now her family, that’s a different story.”

Oh, I see,” Randy said pointedly. “You don’t live up to their standards.”

No, I don’t think it’s that.” Jason dribbled the ball ahead of him. “It’s just that we’ve been going together for almost three years now, they see us together all the time, they treat me like I’m one of the family. And now I’m thinking they want me to take that next step.” He thought some more. “I’m almost a hundred percent positive.” He dribbled the ball a couple of more times then bounced it over to Randy.

Has anyone said anything to you?” Randy asked as he took the ball and dribbled it.

Not directly, they just say stuff like, ‘back in the old days, everybody got married when they were still young,’ you know, hints like that.”

Subtle,” Randy joked. “Yeah, they’re putting on the pressure.”

I can’t say I blame them,” Jason said. “Family is family.” He thought a little more. “But sometimes it does seem like they’re being too possessive about Christine.”

They got to get over it,” Randy concluded. “You can’t let them tell you what to do.”

Yeah, I know,” Jason said. “They’re…you know, traditional.”

Yeah, but it’s not what they think, it’s what Christine thinks. Do you think she really wants to get married or is her family putting her up to it?”

Sometimes she complains about how controlling they are, but she has her own mind about things,” Jason said. “Believe me,” he added.

You know what they all might be thinking,” Randy said.

“What?”

“That you’re some letch who’s trying to use their little girl.”

Jason laughed. “If that was my plan we would’ve been over with long ago.” They walked along some more. “Christine isn’t that type of girl anyhow.”

I’ll say,” Randy agreed. “You’ve been with her longer than all your previous girlfriends combined. You two should just move in together.”

“I don’t think Christine’s family would like that, being traditional and all.”

“You two have been together for almost three years,” Randy said. “If you two ever do tie the knot they know it’s not going to be a white wedding.”

Yeah, they’re past that,” Jason said. “At least I think they are.”

“Not your problem anyhow,” Randy said. “If you did move in together, it would show that you’re serious, that should get them off your back.”

Well I don’t plan on living at home forever, but right now might be the last time I get any free meals or free rent,” Jason said. “Besides, if we did move in together, that’s like saying we’re engaged.”

And you don’t want to give up your life as a free man, I hear ya.”

“And I’m not ruling it out, I just don’t know about that kind of commitment right now.”

“Good plan. You don’t want to jump into anything just because of Christine’s family,” Randy advised as he passed the ball to Jason in mid stride.

Of course,” Jason said as he dribbled the ball. “But they’re good people.”

Sure they are, especially that fine cousin of hers, what’s her name again, Melinda?”

Melissa.”

Yeah, Melissa,” Randy said. “Does she look good, or what?”

She’s not bad.”

Not bad? She’s fuckin’ gorgeous,” Randy said excitedly. “Did you ever want to leave Christine for her?”

Hey, I love Christine.”

Of course you do, but you used to love all kinds of girls, remember?”

“Yeah, I know,” Jason said, and felt a wave of nostalgia. “But I’ve never been with a girl like Christine before. There aren’t a lot like her out there, at least ones that are available.”

I know Christine means a lot to you, but you don’t want to lose all your options,” Randy said helpfully. “I love Gina, at least I love fucking her. But am I in love with her, do I want to marry her? No way.”

You know, if this was the old days, Christine and I would be married already, living in our own house, paying a mortgage, maybe with a kid or two already,” Jason said. “Nowadays, all of that is just too expensive.”

For sure,” Randy agreed. “And women these days don’t want to be housewives. They want to go to college, get careers, do their own thing. They’re not at man’s mercy anymore.”

You’re telling me, Christine makes more than I do,” Jason admitted. “That never would have happened in the old days.”

She works for lawyers, and they make more bank than anybody,” Randy reminded. “And don’t be afraid to mooch off of her, I wish Gina made good money.”

Yeah, but I want to be a provider,” Jason said. “And it’s not that much more than me,” he added. “You know, it was that trip we took to Hawaii that put me on the path to debt. We may have partied a little too much.”

Yeah, but you had a good time, right?”

Jason dribbled the ball and reflected happily on the trip as they were walking. “I wouldn’t mind doing it again, maybe run up a bigger debt.”

Fuckin’ A right you would! I would’ve done the same thing if someone was dumb enough to give me a credit card.”

They’d confiscate your card and send you to the leper colony island,” Jason kidded.

And they’ll make me their leader!” Randy boasted. “But seriously, all those fine ass bitches in bikinis laying out on the beach right in front of you, must have been tempting.”

Jason thought back to the scene on the beach. “No harm in looking.”

Yeah, I knew it,” Randy laughed. “A whole lotta pussy out there, and I don’t want you to miss out if you’re still feeling the need.”

Thanks for looking out for me,” Jason said with a laugh.

Hey, what are friends for,” Randy said as he threw his arm around Jason’s shoulders. “But you gotta let me plan your bachelor party, if you get married that is, I got to make sure you leave bachelorhood in a blaze of glory.”

Okay, but nothing too crazy like in that Tom Hanks movie.”

No transvestites, no farm animals on drugs, I promise,” Randy said then let go of Jason. “You know, we haven’t even hit our prime yet, we’re only twenty two.”

I’m twenty three.”

You are?” Randy said with surprise.

“Yeah, don’t you remember the party?”

“Oh yeah. I guess all the parties seem to run together,” Randy said humorously. “So twenty three? Dude, you’re old.” They approached the park, a patch of green open space bordered by tract houses. Near the entrance were the basketball courts, painted rectangles on the black asphalt in between steel poles. Ten feet up the poles were wooden backboards that held horizontal metal hoops with the dangling, tattered remnants of chain link nets. The rhythmic, high pitched sound of children on swings was in the background.

Randy hit the ball from Jason’s hands and broke into a jog while dribbling the ball all the way to the empty basketball courts. He ran up to the closest basket, jumped up and rolled the ball off his hand. It hit the back board and fell through the basket. “Two!” he exclaimed as Jason arrived at the court.

Randy went to get the ball and looked over at some high school kids playing on one of the

courts. “Hey, check out Craig’s little brother. Tommy!” he called out. One of the guys at the other court looked over at Randy, waved to him, then returned to his game. “He’s not as good as Craig was.”

Not yet, but he might catch up,” Jason said.

“I don’t know, looks pretty runty.”

Jason walked up to the painted line that crossed the middle of the court.

Wanna take it out?” Randy asked.

Sure.”

Randy bounced the ball to Jason. Jason began dribbling. He tried to see a path to the basket, crossed the half court line and dribbled slowly while moving one way, then another as Randy stayed in front of him. He moved closer to the end of the court as Randy stayed between him and the basket. He got to within shooting distance, held up the ball with one hand, balanced it with the other, sprang up and shot the ball as Randy reached up and tried to block it. The ball arced over Randy, missed the basket, and ricocheted off the backboard. They both ran after the ball and Randy grabbed it first.

“Too slow,” Randy taunted, and Jason’s sense of competitiveness was triggered. Randy dribbled to the half court line as Jason followed him. Jason got in front of Randy and stayed in front of him as he dribbled the ball back into play. Jason kept up with Randy as they advanced steadily toward the basket. Randy moved one way, then another, then charged toward the basket. Jason ran with him, Randy then circled around, aimed the ball to the basket and Jason threw his arms up. Randy quickly dribbled around Jason, jumped to the basket with the ball in his palm and lofted it up. Jason tried to block as the ball bounced off the backboard then dropped through the hoop. “That’s one,” Randy said.

That one doesn’t count,” Jason said.

How come?”

Because I let you have it.”

Randy laughed sarcastically while Jason grabbed the ball as it bounced to a stop underneath the

basket. He took it to the other side of the half court line then dribbled the ball back into play as Randy blocked. He ran down the side of the court while dribbling and Randy quickly ran beside him. Jason slanted to the middle, tried to get past Randy, and slowed to a stop with his back to the basket. He dribbled the ball cautiously and maneuvered sideways and back while Randy stood behind him with his arms outstretched. He then held the ball with both hands and tried to figure his next move as he sensed Randy encroach upon him. He cautiously dribbled the ball again, moved right and drew Randy into one direction, then dodged the other way, spun around him, shot the ball over the hoop and through the basket. “One to one,” Jason said.

Okay, we’re warmed up,” Randy said. He took the ball to the half court line, dribbled the ball back into play and Jason got in front of him. Randy moved ahead slowly, first one way, then another as Jason stayed in front of him. Suddenly he charged around Jason and Jason ran with him as he tried to stay in front. They raced to the basket and bumped against each other as they got closer. Near the end of the court Randy got the ball in both hands and jumped forward. Jason jumped alongside Randy and tried to get a hand on the ball. Randy pushed the ball up and sank it into the basket. “Yes!” he said. “Two-one.”

Jason grabbed the ball and jogged to the other side of the half court line. He looked down the court as Randy stood in front of him and focused ahead on the basket. He dribbled the ball across the line as Randy stayed in front of him. He bolted, then stopped abruptly and Randy overran him a couple of steps. Jason huddled around the ball as he dribbled and Randy tried to reach in and knock it free. Jason moved laterally, then dodged around Randy and shot the ball to the basket. It rolled around the hoop and fell through. “Two-two,” he said.

That was luck.” Randy grabbed the ball, hustled to the half court line, and Jason quickly followed. Randy dribbled the ball in place as Jason tried to anticipate his next move. Randy broke past Jason and dribbled ahead quickly as he ran alongside and fought to keep pace. Randy jumped to the basket while pushing the ball up with one hand as Jason jumped next to him and batted the ball away. It ricocheted off the backboard and bounced onto the court. Randy grabbed the ball before Jason could get to it, turned around and shot the ball off balance. Jason reached up and tried to deflect it. The ball cleared Jason’s hand, skimmed off the backboard, and bounced out of bounds over the foul line. Jason ran after the ball across the asphalt and picked it up as it slowed down.

As Jason circled around and jogged back to the court he saw two familiar figures approaching from the edge of the park, one of them was bouncing a basketball. Jason got to the foul line and looked again at the two figures, recognized them and saw that they were advancing toward him and Randy.

C’mon, let’s go,” Randy urged.

We got company,” Jason said and nodded his head at the two guys approaching.

Randy turned around, saw Tim and Ronnie, and started laughing. “You two looking to get beat again?” Tim and Ronnie walked up to the court. Tim was holding a basketball against his hip.

“Nah,” Ronnie said, “we just happened to be in the neighborhood. Then we saw you two stumbling around and figured you needed a lesson.”

Jason and Randy started laughing.

Really?” Randy finally said. “Because we were thinking you were here to watch and learn.”

Shit,” Ronnie said disdainfully.

Tim dribbled his ball a couple of times then broke toward the basket, ran past Jason and Randy, leaped, and laid the ball up to hoop with one hand. It fell through and bounced along the asphalt until it came to a stop.

“Wow!” Randy exclaimed sarcastically.

“Think you can keep up?” Ronnie dared.

We take it out,” Jason said. He took his ball and went to the end of the court. He stood underneath the backboard behind the painted white perimeter while the others gathered around in front of him. “Full court?”

Of course,” Ronnie said as he moved in front of Jason.

What are we playing to, ten? Fifteen?” Jason asked.

Fuck that, twenty,” everyone else said.

All right,” Jason said. He held the ball with both hands and looked for Randy past Ronnie and Tim. Ronnie blocked Jason and Tim stood in front of Randy. Jason faked a pass quickly one way and then the other as Ronnie shifted side to side. Jason spotted Randy as he ran around and tried to separate from Tim. Randy stopped, Tim stood in front of him as they both watched Jason, then Randy broke away and Jason threw him the ball before Tim caught up.

Randy dribbled quickly down the side of the court as Tim ran alongside and tried to keep up. Jason and Ronnie chased after them along the other side of the court and tried to outrun each other. Randy came to the end of the court, stuttered to a stop, and Tim stopped between him and the basket. Jason and Ronnie caught up to them and they all clustered at the end of the court. Randy passed the ball to Jason, Jason dribbled slowly to the basket as Ronnie blocked him. Jason looked left, saw Randy run from behind Tim, and bounced the ball right to where Randy was going. Randy grabbed the ball, turned around, jumped up and shot the ball to the basket. It rolled around the hoop and fell through.

“One-nothing,” Randy said.

Tim took the ball and stood underneath the backboard. He deked the ball one way then the other as Randy blocked him. Ronnie moved around and away from Jason as Jason kept up and stayed between Ronnie and Tim. Jason watched Ronnie then Tim as he tried to anticipate where Tim was going to throw the ball. Ronnie ran in front Jason and Tim shot the ball to him past Randy. Ronnie dribbled quickly to the other basket and Jason ran after him. They crossed the half court line and Ronnie passed the ball to Tim on the other side of Jason. Tim dribbled quickly to the basket and Randy tried to get in his way as they bumped and jostled against each other. Tim threw the ball to Ronnie, Ronnie hopped up and shot the ball over Jason as he tried to deflect the ball. The ball glanced over Jason’s hand, hit off the backboard then fell through the basket.

One-one,” Ronnie said. Randy took the ball and stood under the backboard. Jason dodged around Ronnie as he tried to find an opening from Randy. He ran in front of Ronnie and angled behind Tim, then Randy shot the ball to him diagonally. Jason got the ball with one hand while running and pushed it down and forward as he ran and dribbled down court. Jason heard Ronnie’s footsteps fast behind and he sped up. He approached the basket from the right, jumped as he lifted the ball with one hand toward the hoop, and Ronnie smacked the ball from behind. The ball fell down onto the court and Randy snagged the ball ahead of Tim. He came to a stop and dribbled in place as Tim got in front of him and Jason positioned himself for a pass. Randy slowly dribbled to the basket and Tim blocked him as Jason shifted one way then another and Ronnie stayed in front of him. Randy dribbled some more, turned then set himself to shoot. Tim got in front of Randy while Jason circled behind Randy with Ronnie trailing him to the other side of the basket.

“Here,” Jason called out while still in motion and Randy passed him the ball. Jason took the ball, jumped up to the basket and tried to shove it over the hoop. The ball bounced backward over Jason and Ronnie and they chased after it. They jostled against each other as Jason grabbed the ball first and quickly dribbled away. He looked for another shot or a way to get the ball to Randy. Ronnie got in front of him while Randy and Tim jockeyed for position near the basket. Jason slowly dribbled toward middle court as Ronnie shadowed him. Randy and Tim stood against each other underneath the basket, then Randy broke away and Jason pushed the ball to him. Randy got the ball, shot it before Tim caught up, and it fell through the basket.

Two-one,” Randy said loudly.

Tim grabbed the ball as it bounced under the basket and stood under the backboard. Jason blocked Ronnie as he watched Tim and tried to predict where he was going to throw the ball. Ronnie got in front of Jason, Jason moved back in front of Ronnie and they crowded each other until Ronnie broke away and Tim passed him the ball. Ronnie hurriedly dribbled down court and Jason ran after him as he was getting caught up in the antagonistic, competitive spirit.

Ronnie and Jason got to the end of the court as Randy and Tim ran upon them and they all bunched up around the basket. Ronnie passed the ball to Tim, Tim dribbled to the basket while trying to dodge Randy, then passed the ball back to Ronnie. Ronnie set himself to shoot, Jason got in front of him, and Ronnie passed the ball diagonally to Tim. Randy reached for the ball, deflected it, and it bounced away. Tim and Randy ran after the ball followed by Ronnie and Jason. Tim got to the ball first, snagged it up, and dribbled rapidly back to the end of the court as Randy, Ronnie, and Jason ran after. Tim got to the basket, jumped forward and hooked the ball sideways in an arc. It rebounded off the backboard, hit the front of the hoop then fell through. “Two-two,” he retaliated.

Jason grabbed the bouncing ball and stood under the backboard. He looked for Randy past Ronnie as Randy moved one way then another and tried to keep away from Tim. Randy dodged around some more then Jason saw a clear path to him and he shot the ball quickly. Randy dribbled furiously to the other end of the court as Tim ran close behind and lateral to him. Jason hustled down the other side of the court as he tried to outrun Ronnie to the basket. Randy got near the end, stuttered to a stop and set himself to shoot. Tim swarmed Randy as Jason and Ronnie ran upon them. Randy passed the ball around Tim to Jason and he dribbled ahead quickly. Ronnie got in Jason’s way, Jason went around him and launched the ball to the basket. It hit the backboard at an angle and bounced through the net. “Three-two,” he said.

Ronnie grabbed the ball, stood under the backboard and Jason positioned himself in front of him. He faked a pass one way then the other as Jason moved sideways with the ball until Ronnie bounced it diagonally into Tim’s hands and the action of the game shifted down court.

The match went on with both sides trading baskets and rebounds as the lead changed several times with no more than a two point difference. Dusk approached as a golden orange sunset shone over the western mountains and cast the last of the sunlight across the neighborhood, the park, and its visitors. Jason felt energized and immersed into the intense, reciprocating competition. Some other people at the park noticed their game and watched for a bit.

C’mon, man, show me what you got!” Tim baited Randy.

“You’re a laggin’ motherfucker,” Randy taunted.

Bitch, I put the T in Run-T.M.C.” Tim spun around Randy, shot the ball to the basket, and it fell through. “Oh yeah! Back on top!”

Randy grabbed the ball as he went under the backboard. He slung it to Jason. Jason quickly dribbled to the other basket while being flanked by Ronnie. He ran across the half court line then passed the ball to Randy. Randy charged ahead, jumped to the basket simultaneously with Tim as they bumped against each other, then he underhanded the ball to Jason while in midair. Jason got the ball as Ronnie swiped at it, dribbled a couple times to the basket, then pushed the ball up to the hoop. It went over the rim and fell through.

Fuck yeah!” Randy shouted. “Thirteen all!”

Settle down,” Ronnie said as he grabbed the ball, “we’re just getting started.”

“Shit,” Tim said, “we’ve been taking it easy till now.”

Oh my god!” Randy laughed. “You’re gonna get an ass whoopin’ and like it.”

“Talking shit as usual,” Tim said angrily.

Ronnie stood under the backboard. Jason got in front of him and focused on the ball as Ronnie held it close. Tim and Randy ran around behind Jason, then Tim got the pass from Ronnie and furiously dribbled down court quickly trailed by Randy then Jason and Tim. The game persisted and the momentum shifted back and forth as both teams traded baskets and rebounds. Their reciprocating rhythm quickened as they competed with more aggression. They increasingly derided and insulted each other. The glow of the sun was disappearing behind the western mountains and night approached over the eastern mountains as people began to leave the park.

Jason and Randy battled to a nineteen to eighteen lead as Tim ran and dribbled then made a shot over Randy to the basket. The ball ricocheted off the backboard and fell toward Jason and Ronnie. They jumped for the ball and Jason snagged it first. He dribbled quickly and sped down court as he anticipated the winning point. He heard footsteps all around him and noticed Ronnie in his periphery running alongside. He then saw Randy running ahead of him to the other side. He passed the ball to him then veered away from Ronnie. Randy charged to the basket and got the ball up as Tim ran up by him and knocked it away. The ball bounced toward the foul line and Randy chased after it as Ronnie tried to get it first. Randy grabbed the ball with both hands, spun around and shot it to the basket while still in motion. The ball traveled in an arc, hit against the hoop, rolled around a couple of times and fell through. “Yes!” Randy shouted. “Game point!”

Hey!” Ronnie yelled as he pointed down at the foul line. “Your foot was over the line, right here!”

I was in!” Randy yelled back while pointing to the same spot.

Bullshit! You were out!”

Yeah,” Tim said as he got behind Randy. “Our ball!”

Game over! We win!” Jason said out loud.

Your foot went over the goddamn line!” Ronnie pointed again at the spot on the blacktop. “Here! Right fucking here!”

“Yeah! I saw it too!” Tim chimed in.

“You lost!” Jason insisted. “Now go on home!”

Stop your crying!” Randy shouted back at Ronnie, “I wasn’t out! I was in! We won it fair! Now quit your bitching!”

Cheating motherfucker!”

Fuck you, punk!” Randy and Ronnie advanced upon each other. Tim backed up Ronnie and Jason got behind Randy. They swore at each other and argued some more in the near empty park. Jason felt a rush from the heat of conflict as he stood behind Randy and joined in the noisy altercation. The boisterous shouting went back and forth until tempers cooled down and Jason dragged Randy away while Tim pulled Ronnie away.

C’mon,” Jason said to Randy, “let’s go. We won and they know it. Sore fuckin’ losers just don’t want to admit it.”

In your dreams, bitches!” Ronnie said defiantly and they traded a few more taunts as they slowly parted from each other. Randy picked up Jason’s basketball from the end of the court as he and Jason left the park. Randy bounced the ball forcefully on the sidewalk with one hand then the other as they walked home. Jason was still feeling agitated from the almost fight and moved quickly. The sun was below the horizon and twilight was cast over the valley.

What a couple of whiny fuckin’ babies,” Randy said as he dribbled the ball from hand to hand. “No respect.”

They’re punks,” Jason said. “Remember when we used to hang out with Ronnie’s brother, Jeff? He wasn’t a smart ass, he was all right.”

He should’ve kicked Ronnie’s ass more often,” Randy said.

I think we showed him.” Jason’s excitement slowly ebbed and his breathing became easier.

Man, my heart is still racing,” Randy said while dribbling.

Must be the adrenalin buzz,” Jason said.

That and those two little fuckers getting under my skin,” Randy said.

They’re not so little anymore.”

So what? We can still fuck them up.”

“Of course,” Jason said. “Remember what a skinny little bastard Tim was when he was a freshman? Couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds.”

Yeah, and he already had a big mouth.”

No respect,” Jason repeated. The layer of sweat covering him cooled him off in the balmy early evening. He breathed in deeply and felt good as they walked home in the increasing darkness. He began to relax after the excitement of the game and the heat of the argument had dissipated. “Felt good getting that win,” he said. “I thought I might be slipping.”

Nah, you haven’t lost a step,” Randy reassured. “You played real good, if anything there were a couple of shots I missed that I should have made, especially the one you dished off to me when they tried to double team you.”

“Yeah, but that was a tough corner shot. You didn’t miss by much.”

“I should’ve hooked it more.” Randy finally stopped dribbling and held the ball against his side. “We got to do this more often, and get some some of the other guys to play too.” They talked about the game some more as they were walking until they arrived at Randy’s house.

“I bet you had a funner time than if you went to class tonight,” Randy said.

“Yeah, it was fun,” Jason admitted, “especially getting that win.”

So you want to grab a beer?” Randy asked.

Can’t. Going over to Christine’s right now,” Jason said. “I’ll save myself for Todd’s party tomorrow night.”

Right on,” Randy said. “At least you’re getting some tonight.”

Don’t you have Gina to go to?”

I don’t know, she’s being a real pain in the ass right now. I’ll go and see what some of the other guys are doing.” Randy jogged across the yard to his front door. “See you tomorrow night. Man, I can’t wait!”

Try to control yourself, all right?” Jason said jokingly.

I’ll be on my best behavior, I swear,” Randy promised, and they both laughed. They waved one last time as Randy entered his house.

The front door closed and Jason moved along. The neighborhood was suddenly silent and the overhead street lamps shone yellow as he walked home alone with his thoughts. He replayed the last few seconds of the basketball game in his mind and was certain he and Randy had won. He silently reveled in victory for the rest of the walk. It grew to an overall positive feeling about his life and he forgot about all of his worries.

Jason came to his house then looked down at his empty hands and realized he didn’t have his basketball. “Dammit!” he said to himself. “Forgot it again.”

 

©2016 Robert Kirkendall