A rewrite of chapter 10 of Redwood Summer, a novel of 1990 San Jose. In this chapter Jason is attempting to fix the car problem from the previous chapter, and ends up having a conversation with his father about where he’s at in life, and about what Silicon Valley was in its agricultural past.
Jason took a long drink from a bottle of tomato juice and waited for it to replenish him. His body was fatigued and his mind taxed from too much alcohol over the weekend. He leaned back against a three story rack of heavy steel shelves half filled with inventory and relaxed for a bit. He then screwed the cap back on the bottle and hid it behind a box of computer hardware parts. He tiredly walked back to an assortment of more boxes scattered around the concrete floor and next to a large wooden pallet.
He picked up a clipboard that held a stack of papers and looked at the top form. He tried to comprehend the maze of small writing and blank spaces with his slowed thinking. He then looked down at the pile of boxes and picked up the one closest to him. He read the writing on its label, looked back at the paper on the clipboard, and tried to figure out which information belonged on which line or square. He took the pen from the clipboard and tediously filled out the form. He wanted to go home and sleep off his hangover, but forced himself to go on. He finally completed the form and placed the box on the pallet.
He picked up another box, slowly copied the information from its label onto another complicated form, then stacked the box onto the pallet next to other one. He continued the task alone in the cavernous building. The flickering light of the florescent tubes from the high ceiling aggravated his headache as he struggled to work through the pain.
Isolated and hungover, Jason’s mind began to wander. He thought back to the night of Tony’s party. The argument he had with Randy continued to haunt him in his dulled state. Some harsh words were said, he thought regretfully, we never talked that way to each other before. I had no idea he was jealous like that, he thought, or did I just miss the signs? have I been ignoring him? maybe he’s right about me pushing him away, maybe it’s partly my fault. He recalled more about that night, a party at a strange house crowded with tense people he didn’t know, Randy’s somewhat secretive manner, and his more belligerent than usual behavior that blew up into conflict and almost got in trouble with the police. He’s mixing with the wrong people, Jason asserted. He then began to wonder about his own responsibility. Maybe I drove him to it, he conceded, I have been spending more time with Christine, his getting into wrong situations, doing things he shouldn’t be doing, is he just trying to get me to notice him again? Guilt began to weigh on Jason. I need to be there for him, he reminded himself, but he still felt unsettled. What if he doesn’t want to come back? he worried.
Jason’s actions became more automatic as the day wore on. He silently swore at the new owners for denying employees the playing of radios anywhere in the workplace. Time dragged on without the familiarity of music and he furthered his resolve to find a new career path. I just keep losing my freedoms, he bemoaned, then wondered if Randy was right about some of the things he had said. Life does feel more restricted, he admitted, don’t have as much fun as I used to, spending more time with Chris’s family and friends than with my own, if it keeps up I’m going to be driving around in some lame minivan before long. He looked around the remote area for other people, but saw only empty, lonely space.
His thoughts returned to the night of Tony’s party. The events of the night replayed in his mind as he looked for the moment when everything went wrong. He recalled showing up with Mike, Brian, and Terry when the party was already happening. The people at the front door were paranoid about letting them in, but Randy vouched for them. Once inside they tried to hang out with Randy in the house full of strangers, but he was busy talking to other people. They then tried to talk to some of the other party goers, but the noise and everyone’s erratic behavior made it difficult. A lot of those people were on something other than alcohol, he remembered. Probably just a matter of time until a fight broke out, he figured, if it wasn’t Randy and that other guy it would have been some other two guys. He searched some more but couldn’t pinpoint an exact moment when everything went wrong. Maybe there wasn’t one, he concluded, or it had already happened.
As he poured over the events of that night they began to combine into a single totality, which he then saw as part of a long chain of events that built up unnoticeably over time. He tried to find its beginning but it stretched as far back as he could remember. A pattern of behavior appeared to him and he was surprised that he didn’t see it sooner. It seems so obvious, he thought to himself. He then tried to foresee what the future held for Randy, but it made him uneasy.
He then considered his own future, and the futures of all his other friends. He saw the ending of their happy-go-lucky lifestyles and a future of greater responsibilities and less fun. It used to be we were all living it up without a care in the world, he reminisced, and now it’s all about careers and families and car payments. I thought I had more living to do, he thought indignantly, but with everything getting more expensive all the time I guess there’s no more time to take it easy. He started to wonder if Randy was right in his accusations. He may have a point but you can’t stop yourself from growing older, Jason reminded himself. His actions settled into a manageable work tempo.
His thoughts were drawn back again to Randy’s uncertain future. Where is he headed? he worried, he’s gone way beyond just having a good time. He then looked into the past and tried to find the source of Randy’s behavior. There’s got be a reason, he told himself, people don’t get that way for no reason. He then felt he needed to remind himself that he shouldn’t make excuses for Randy. Why did I have to remind himself of that, he wondered, I’m not saying it’s okay for him to go through life recklessly, I’m just trying to understand.
Jason wondered if everyone else was worrying about Randy. He tried to contemplate if
anything could be done for him, and dreaded that there wasn’t. But I can’t just shun Randy, he told himself. He tried again to figure out a possible positive outcome for Randy but was still unsuccessful. The hopelessness of the situation wore him down. What do I know anyways, he reminded himself, I may know Randy better than anyone, but I didn’t go through what he went through, I didn’t live his life. The history buried in his subconscious became unearthed and dawned upon him.
Jason looked around the stark building as he worked. The bare concrete and steel gave an appearance of solid, immovable permanence. I guess I ought to be thankful for what I have, he thought ironically. Not that I exactly have anything here, he reminded himself, the breaks are shorter, the new bosses suck, all the cool people who used to work here were either laid off or quit, they put a freeze on raises, now they’re talking about drug testing, and I’m not making enough to live on my own.
He remembered some gossip he overheard that the new owners were intentionally making the workplace miserable so people would quit and the company would not have to lay them off and pay them a severance. That’s a fucked up thing to do, he thought angrily, shouldn’t be allowed to happen. He remembered how one of the new supervisors gave him a hard time for being two minutes late. He said it wasn’t fair to the other workers, he recalled bitterly, what an asshole, like anyone cares about two goddamn minutes, that bullshit never happened in the old days.
I better get a new thing going quick and get the hell out of here, he reminded himself. His bleak work situation weighed upon him further, his desperation amplified by his hangover. First thing I’ve got to do is to stay away from those kinds of parties, he told himself, and maybe I’ll have to take any job I can get even if it’s less pay just so I can leave this place. But if I take a job that pays less, he pondered, I’ll have to keep looking for a better paying job. Would Christine even put up with me working for less money? he worried as he struggled to find a solution. Dad had it way more together when he was my age and now it’s getting impossible, he agonized, maybe I really was born at the wrong time.
His thoughts traveled back to all the years of playing sports under a hot summer sun and hard manual jobs he used to work. He remembered one strenuous job where he had to dig trenches for water pipes and sprinkler systems, and another where he had to push around heavy wheelbarrows full of concrete and dump them into wooden frames laid upon the ground. Got to say I was more happy with life then than I am now, he admitted. Here I am filling out paperwork and stacking boxes like they’re blocks, he told himself, pretty easy, a job where I don’t have to kill myself, but I liked it a whole lot better when I was breaking a sweat.
The boxes gradually cleared the floor and covered the pallet as Jason labored repetitiously. He worked just hard enough not to worsen his hangover and timed his task so he wouldn’t finish too fast. They’ll just give me some other stupid thing to do, he told himself. His thoughts drifted further into the past. He remembered how Randy, ever since kindergarten, always seemed to get into trouble with teachers, principals and other authority figures. Mom always said he was looking for the attention that he needed, he recalled, but we all thought he was a lot of fun, made everybody laugh, a lot of good times, sure didn’t seem like a problem back then. He was struck by how life seemed so innocent back then. So many things I didn’t see, he realized, and all because I was too busy having fun.
He reflected on Randy’s home life and the stress and conflicts between he and his mother. Sure they clashed, he remembered, but that’s just how it was, Randy was a handful, especially after his dad took off, so she did what she had to, at the time it actually seemed normal. I know they love each other, he acknowledged, some people just have a harder time showing it. He saw Randy’s lifelong impulsiveness and risky behavior in a new light, and more flaws were revealed than he had remembered. He tried again to find a solution to the chaos. What if he got along better with his mom, he thought, what if his dad never left, what if he had some guidance, what if…what if what! The dam of sympathy burst inside of him. You can’t go back in time and change things! he insisted, you do the best we can with what you got and you get on with it, everyone’s got problems.
The boxes were almost cleared off the floor and stacked onto the pallet. Jason looked at his watch and saw that it was getting close to 5PM. He felt a bit of satisfaction over finishing at his own pace. I wonder if this going to be be my last task here, he thought offhandedly. He then heard a heated discussion in another section of the building.
“Look, this was never a problem before, I’ve already made arrangements for occasions like this,” a coworker was pleading.
“That was with the previous owners,” a new supervisor replied.
“But I have to pick up my son!”
“You can’t bring your personal problems to work,” the new supervisor responded firmly.
“When you’re here, you’re on our time.”
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
“So now Alex is trying to hook him up with a job so he can pay off his bills and his back rent!” Mike said loudly to Jason over blaring party music.
“Hook who up?” Jason responded just as loud.
“Curtis!” Mike repeated.
“Oh, good for him!” Jason yelled back. “Hope it works out!”
“Maybe he can find something for you!”
“I’ll need to make more than what Curtis is willing to work for!”
“I heard that!” Mike agreed.
They looked around the unfamiliar house at the shifty, uneasy crowd.
“Know anybody here other than Darren?” Mike asked loudly.
Jason scanned the horde of party goers. “A couple of familiar faces, but no one I know personally!”
They milled around and tried to fit into the agitated atmosphere of the party. Some were drinking heavily and clustered around in separate, loud conversations. Others went in and out of a bedroom at the end of the hallway, closing the door every time they entered or exited.
The night wore on then loud, angry voices clashed over the blasting music. Jason and Mike looked toward the clamor and saw people hurrying toward the front room. They followed everyone and saw Randy and another party goer screaming and pushing at each other as others yelled at them to stop or egged them on. Jason and Mike moved toward the conflict but merged into a flood of people that quickly filled up the front room. The crowd surrounded the two fighters as the mêlée escalated and they tried to wrestle each other down. Jason and Mike struggled to push through the crowd but were stuck. Jason watched the fight from a distance as spectators from the crowd finally reached in and tried to pull Randy and his opponent away from each other while others continued to incite them. Jason tried to keep his footing in the lumbering crowd then someone hollered that a neighbor had called the police.
Everyone quickly untangled themselves, broke away from each other, and dispersed out the front and back doors. Jason and Mike along with Darren got a hold of Randy while the other fighter was pulled away by other disappearing party goers.
“Where is that motherfucker!” Randy yelled.
“Chill, dude!” Darren said.
“Let’s get the fuck outta here!” Mike ordered as he and Jason pushed Randy out into the backyard and were trailed by Darren. They met up with Brian and Terry and joined a line of people running along the side of the house. They emerged into the front yard and everyone fled into the night under the hazy glow of street lamps.
Lit up police cars rolled up the street, and Jason, Mike, Brian, Terry, and Darren grabbed Randy and took off in the opposite direction. They raced down one street, then another. Jason was fueled by a rush of excitement as he deeply breathed in the cool night air. They kept running through the neighborhood then slowed to a jog, and then a walk as the houses gave way to the large expanse of a high school. They tried to catch their breath as they approached the front of the campus.
“Got away,” Brian said between breaths.
“So who was that guy you were brawling with?” Jason asked Randy.
“One of Tony’s asshole friends,” Randy said. “I think his name is Frank.”
“Well what were you two fighting about?” Jason asked.
“Fuck if I know,” Randy said as he wandered onto the yellow lit school grounds.
“Well that explains things,” Brian said sarcastically. “I thought it was something important.”
“You guys should’ve back me up!” Randy insisted.
“We tried but the place was packed,” Mike replied. “We could barely move.”
“You’re lucky we got you out of there,” Jason said to Randy. “You’re in no shape to be talking to cops right now.”
“They would’ve dragged you away on sight,” Terry added.
“Yeah, yeah,” Randy said dismissively. He wandered further onto the school and looked around at the institutional, rectangular buildings. “Haven’t been here in a while.”
“I had to get out of that party quick,” Darren said. “I think I still have a warrant out on me.”
“That the only reason why you’re so jumpy?” Terry asked knowingly.
“At least they didn’t send that helicopter with the spotlight,” Mike said.
Randy continued to survey the school grounds. He walked through the outdoor commons and everyone followed. “Can’t believe it’s been five years already.”
“Time marched on,” Brian reminded.
“Hope they don’t bust Tony,” Darren worried.
“They shouldn’t,” Terry answered. “He just threw a noisy party, that’s all.”
“Yeah, as long as nothing is in plain sight,” Mike reminded.
“They’re just there to break up our fun,” Randy said as he pulled a can of beer from his jacket pocket. “Shit, like they got nothing better to do.” He opened his beer and foam hissed out of the can as he took a drink.
“Hope you brought enough for everybody,” Brian chided.
“I might have an extra,” Mike said as he felt inside his jacket, pulled out one can, then another,
and handed one to Brian. Jason then felt his front jacket pocket, found a beer he had forgotten, and
pulled it out. As they opened their beers they all shot out foam.
Randy held up his can. “To the old school,” he said solemnly, and they all took a drink. Jason took a foamy drink that tasted warm and acrid.
“Not too often we get to see the old school,” Randy reminisced.
“You didn’t see too much of it when you were going,” Mike kidded.
“Yeah, but when you’re in high school you can’t let classes get in the way of having a good time,” Randy asserted.
“Can’t argue with that,” Jason said half seriously.
“That’s right,” Terry agreed. “So what if you weren’t the valedictorian.”
“Yeah, I was a pain,” Randy acknowledged, “but I never thought I was going to miss it.” He looked around the campus longingly as he walked ahead. “Now it’s all a bunch of kids who were in fucking junior high when we were here. Can you believe that shit?” Randy quickened his pace as he went by a row of lockers. Everyone else jogged after him while trying not to spill their beers until they came upon the courtyard in the middle of the school buildings. They all stopped, and Randy looked around the open space nostalgically.
“Sure looks empty with nobody around,” Terry said after a while.
“Yeah,” Jason agreed, “and smaller.”
Randy gazed around raptly then focused on one of the larger buildings. “The cafeteria,” he spotted. “Did a lot of Saturday school there.”
“Couldn’t have been as much as me,” Mike said.
“I remember this one time a food fight broke out in there,” Terry began. “When no one was looking, I walked out with a case of Fanta.”
“Did you guys hear someone else?” Darren asked warily.
“That’s nothing,” Mike said to Terry. “One night I carved donuts on the soccer field with my old Camaro.”
“I think that’s just our voices echoing,” Brian said to Darren.
“Yeah, I tore it up good,” Mike reminisced as he pantomimed making a sharp turn with a steering wheel.
“Oh, I remember now,” Terry said to Mike. “It was after that party when…”
A piercing scream suddenly erupted from Randy. The echo reverberated off the buildings and briefly filled the vacant courtyard. Everyone looked around startled. “You’re right,” Randy said to Brian.
“Goddammit, Randy! There are cops around!” Jason said angrily.
“Hope nobody heard that,” Darren worried.
“Oh, that was heard,” Mike remarked.
“You’re awfully jumpy tonight,” Terry said to Darren.
“He’s always jumpy,” Brian added.
“Cops won’t come,” Mike predicted, “they’re busy rousting Tony.”
“Aw, man,” Darren lamented.
Randy walked further into the courtyard. “You know how people that say that high school is the quickest four years of your life,” he began, “well it’s been about five years since we all left, and those four years were a lot more fun than the years that came after. Ain’t that a bitch.”
“Life was better then and we didn’t even know it,” Brian observed.
“Couldn’t wait to get out of here,” Randy said as he looked around the open space longingly, “and here I am.” The yellow lights on the buildings glowed beside him and his shadow stretched across the ground and moved with him. Jason watched Randy as he wandered to the center of the courtyard and appeared to be lost in memories. “Back then we were always hanging out with each other, like family. Now we don’t see each other the way we used to.” He stood by himself in the middle of the courtyard. “Especially since some of you are whipped by your girlfriends.”
Jason suspected the last comment was directed at him. Randy looked around some more, thenfocused on one spot in the far corner. “The center of it all,” he said happily. “The smoking section.”
“That isn’t the smoking section anymore,” Terry informed.
“What?” Randy looked stunned. “Where the fuck is it?”
“They don’t have one anymore,” Jason said.
“You’re shitting me!”
“All the high schools got rid of them,” Mike said, “new state law. Didn’t you hear?”
Randy lowered his head in disappointment. “Everything good in life, they take it all away,” he brooded. “It’s bullshit!” He paced around angrily. “Where are you supposed to go now to hang out with your bros and smoke a bowl?”
“Library?” Mike joked.
“Goddammit I’m serious!” Randy yelled from the middle of the courtyard. “We have been betrayed by a bunch of fucking new rules! Freeways cover up our old stomping grounds! It’s getting too fucking crowded here! Shit is getting too expensive! We’re losing our freedom!” he declared with fists clenched. “Where’s the fun? Where are the crazy adventures? The memories!” A tense pause filled the air.
“Life ain’t that bad,” Mike finally said. “Why stress?”
“Because we had something!” Randy emphasized. “We were the big men on campus, and nobody could fuck with us! And now it’s all gone! Fuck!” He flung his can of beer and it skidded across the blacktop then struck one of the buildings as it left a wet trail of beer in its path.
“Hey, that’s alcohol abuse,” Terry joked.
“You think I’m kidding?” Randy shot back.
“You need to relax,” Jason advised.
“Fuck that!” Randy paced around some more. “You don’t get it! All you motherfuckers are relaxing too much!” he accused as everyone watched him. “Everything we had is disappearing! And you’re all settling into your nice, boring routines! Dull, predictable lives!” He moved in closer. “You’re all dying inside.”
“Whoa, Randy, that’s heavy,” Mike cautioned.
“And take it easy. There are cops around!” Jason warned.
“What the fuck is wrong with you guys? Are you even listening?” Randy yelled. He pulled out another can of beer from his jacket pocket, opened it, took a long drink and moved closer to everyone. “In the old days you would’ve backed me up.”
“We tried but everybody rushed in,” Mike said. “We could barely move!”
“And then someone said the cops were on the way,” Brian said.
“Yeah,” Jason agreed. “What the fuck were we supposed to do?”
“You’re not supposed to forget who your brothers are!” Randy shouted. Everything fell silent again.
“Okay, Randy, sorry for not jumping in on time,” Brian finally replied. “We didn’t know you were going to start a fight with some total stranger.”
“Fuck, man!” Randy continued angrily. “I didn’t start shit! That fucker bumped into me on purpose! Then he started shooting off his mouth! I couldn’t let him get away with that!” He appeared to wait for a response. “It wasn’t my fault!” he insisted.
“It never is,” Terry remarked.
“Fuck you!” Randy shot back. “You’re supposed to be on my side!”
“Let it go,” Brian advised.
“No! Fuck that!” Randy yelled. “I don’t want to hear any more of that pussy bullshit! I’m not letting it go!” he emphasized. “I know what’s going on. No one wants to hang out with Randy anymore.” He paced around again. “Your girlfriends don’t like having me around. They think I’m an embarrassment. They think I’m trouble. But don’t you all forget that I’m the one who makes things happen!” He stared at them accusedly as the tension rose up again. “What would you have done without me, huh?” he asked pointedly. “Sit around and jack off all day? All your memories are because of me! I’ll be the one you tell stories about whenever you all get together! I made your pasts!” He moved in closer. “You can’t escape that.”
“No one has forgotten,” Jason finally said.
“That’s right,” Mike agreed. “Always the life of the party.”
“I was the party,” Randy declared proudly. His eyes appeared to light up from a recalled memory. “You guys remember that party we went to in the east side? At that ranch up in the foothills? Big place, kegs everywhere. And we met those farmer chicks, I think they were drunker than we were,” he said with a laugh. “And there was that one I hit it off with, Rhonda or something. Then we went behind a shed, and we had our party,” he added luridly.
“Yeah, I remember that party,” Terry reminisced, “or at least I remember going there. I think I blacked out at some point.
“One of those girls had her hands all over you,” Randy said to Jason. He moved toward him. “You could’ve fucked her. How come you didn’t?”
Jason was caught off guard. “I was going out with Jenny at the time.”
“So I didn’t want to cheat on her.”
“Well good for you,” Randy said ominously. “That shows loyalty.”
Jason began to feel uneasy. “What are you getting at?”
“I remember a time when you were loyal to your friends,” Randy said as he moved closer to Jason.
“Aw, c’mon!” Jason refuted. “Where do you come off saying shit like that?”
“Tell me I’m wrong.”
Jason felt the heat of persecution. “I went with you to Tony’s sketchy party, didn’t I?!”
“After I begged you.”
“I can’t hang out like we’re cutting classes anymore!” Jason argued. “I’ve got responsibilities now, bills to pay!”
“And a new class of people to hang out with,” Randy accused.
“What the hell do you want from me, the old Jason? You don’t think I don’t want to do all the fun things we used to do? I miss those days too, but I can’t be a kid forever!”
“No more room for Randy,” Randy said with angry self pity.
“Hey! I’m here now!”
“Chris finally let you off her your leash.”
“Goddammit! If you can’t keep a woman that’s your problem!”
“I can get any broad I want! Even yours.”
“You better watch your mouth!”
Randy stepped closer. “I have known you a lot longer than she has! We grew up together! We played ball together! Partied together! Did everything together! We used to go after the same girls, and they never got in the way!”
Jason felt the heat Randy’s righteous, accusing glare. Shared memories and the lure of nostalgia tempted him and reminded him of the stresses of his present life. Buried fears of a lost, happier past, fading comradery, and an unknown future arose. The gulf between his past and present widened, and dread began to haunt him. “What is your fucking problem?! Christine is the woman I love! Not some party skank! And do really think my life is some kind of fucking fairy tale? I’ve got all kinds of new problems to deal with! A job I can’t stand! Credit card bills! Mooching off of my parents like I’m still a child!”
“Oh, so I’m holding you back,” Randy further accused. “Is that it?”
Anger and frustration boiled over. “You’re holding yourself back! You’re making the wrong choices! What the fuck am I supposed to do, lead you around by the hand?!”
“You’re supposed to remember who your brothers are!” Randy shot back. “Todd would have backed me up! And Alex, Dwayne, even Curtis!”
“They’re not here!”
“Well where the fuck are they?!”
“I think there at Stu’s,” Mike interjected.
“Stu’s throwing a party and you didn’t tell me?” Randy fumed.
“You wanted to go to Tony’s!” Jason reminded angrily.
“I think it’s more of a get together,” Mike added.
“Well we’re not at Tony’s now!” Randy shouted back at Jason.
“Yeah, you had something to do with that,” Terry reminded.
“Fuck you!” Randy threw his almost empty beer can at Terry. Terry quickly moved out of the way and the can thudded against a wall.
“Whoa! What the fuck, man!” Terry said hotly.
“Get a hold of yourself!” Mike ordered.
“Fuck Stu! We’ll have our own party!” Randy declared. “We’ll get some more beers and drive down to the beach!” He began to leave then looked back at everyone. “C’mon!”
“We’ve been drinking all night! We can’t drive over the hill!” Jason asserted.
“You see, that’s the kind of pussy bullshit I’m talking about! Not willing to jump in and take a chance!”
“You’re out of control,” Mike cautioned.
“Who’s with me?!” Randy shouted. “Who’s got a car?!”
“Dude, we’re not driving over the 17 in the middle of the night after we’ve been drinking!” Terry argued.
“Shit! I can drive that hill blindfolded!” Randy bragged. “Darren, we’ll take your car!”
“No way, the brakes are shot.”
“Are you kidding? My alcohol level has to be twice the legal limit right now.”
“Don’t let me down, Terry!”
“Fuck it, I’m heading home,” Terry said, then started to move away.
“Guess I don’t need to ask you,” Randy said flippantly to Jason.
“I’m out.” Jason also began to leave, then Mike.
“Darren!” Randy said with exaggerated friendliness. “You won’t leave me.”
“Sorry, bro, I gotta keep out of sight.” Darren left and jogged up to everyone else leaving.
“So that’s it?” Randy called out as everyone exited the courtyard. “Just gonna leave ol’ Randy all by himself?”
Everyone continued down the corridor toward the school entrance.
“Well I don’t need any of you motherfuckers! Go back to your boring lives! I’m a one man party! I am a creature of the night!” Randy’s voluminous voice became distant as Jason and everyone else approached the school entrance. “That’s it! Keep going! Don’t worry about Randy! I’ll go invade Stu’s! Or find some other party!” Jason heard footsteps in the courtyard moving away quickly in the opposite direction.
Jason and everyone else made it to the street and walked along the sidewalk. A couple of them took a last drink of their beers and tossed them into a nearby trash can.
“Well this has sure been a crazy night,” Mike observed, and everyone muttered in agreement. They then saw a police car driving down a cross street, and everyone froze for an instant.
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
Jason hurried through downtown along Santa Clara Street. The glaring, late summer sun heated him from above and he was stifled by the unfamiliar tightness of his necktie. He loosened its knot, unbuttoned his collar, and let the heat out as he kept moving. He turned south onto Market Street, went a little further, then came to an oval island ofgrass and trees two and a half blocks long from north to south in the middle of Market Street. Shadows cast by mid sized office buildings spread over the park. He ran across the diagonal northbound lanes between traffic and onto the sidewalk.
Jason anxiously looked around for Christine as he walked alongside the park. He looked all around then finally spotted her sitting on a bench on the other side near the park’s southern end, and felt relieved. He went across the grassy field 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 up 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.”
“Oh no, 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. 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 that Downtown Datsun guy,” Jason complained. “Whole thing was like one of those weird, bad dreams in which you’re in some place where you don’t belong, and you just want to escape.” The episode played out further in his memory. “But what gets me were all the other 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?”
“I don’t know, but 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 haunting memory of the event began to fade, “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.”
The irony struck Jason. “It’s funny,” he 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.
“Yeah,” Jason agreed. “And you know what else is bothering me? 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 reminded optimistically. “No need to grab the first thing that comes along.”
“Yeah, that helps.” Jason continued to look out across the park. “I just hope something comes along soon. I don’t know how much longer I can stand it there.” Worries about his job began to reoccupy his thoughts. “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, ownership changes throwing everything out of whack, and the closed door meetings where your future is decided. Too complicated.” He looked past the grassy field and up a new, beige colored twenty floor hotel across the street from the park as he tried to figure out his options. He looked over to Christine. “You want to get something to eat?”
“Sure.” They got up and started walking. Christine intertwined her fingers into Jason’s and their hands held onto each other as they went up the middle concrete path toward the north end of the park. They walked along then approached a fountain on 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 replied. He watched the flock of playing children then 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 running through sprinklers, swimming in backyard 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,” Christine said. “Right?”
“One minute he’s broke, then suddenly he’s flush?”
“So where did he get the money?”
“I asked him, but he wouldn’t say,” Jason answered. “And you know what that means,” he added ominously.
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 activity around the fountain as he thought of that day, and remembered how Randy wouldn’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,” Jason brooded.
“You can’t blame yourself,” Christine insisted. “It was his decision.”
“I don’t think he feels he has a choice.”
“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 continued up the path 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 up ahead 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 do that?”
“I know it’s tough,” Christine consoled. “Either way is difficult.” She pulled him a little closer. “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. The park began to narrow as they approached its north end. “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 let go of Jason’s hand and wrapped her arm around him. “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 as he felt recovered enough, and put his arm around Christine.
They came to the end of the park and saw a small plaque in front of a young tree. They stopped, read the plaque, and saw it was a memorial to a Vietnam veteran who was still missing in action. They silently looked upon it for a moment, then moved on.
© 2017 Robert Kirkendall
“You don’t believe me, do you,” Phil said impatiently.
“I don’t know, Phil,” Larry admitted, “that all sounds pretty off the wall. And how do you know anyways?”
“The information is out there,” Phil restated, “and anyone can find out if they’re willing to look beyond the establishment mass media.”
“Oh, here we go again!” Larry said with a laugh. “We’re all just a bunch of brainwashed idiots because we don’t listen to the radicals and whack jobs on all those lunatic fringe radio stations at the far end of the dial.”
Jason sat at another table in the break room and looked upon the conversation while looking 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 explained. “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 how that would have worked out.”
“The Soviets got the bomb anyways,” Phil reminded.
“We got it first, and used it. That sent them a message,” Kevin said ominously.
“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.
“No, not everybody,” Phil replied defensively.
Jason finished his coffee and got up.
“But most people who are shady do wear suits,” Phil went on.
Everyone responded in disbelief as Jason 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 as he was reminded of what Phil had just said, “plus the limousines they arrived in.”
Stan looked up again from his clipboard. “And then they breezed right through without even saying hi, just went straight to the head office like they own the joint.” Stan moved along and Jason followed him.
“Yeah, that was pretty rude,” Jason agreed.
“You know why, of course.”
“Because we’re below their pay grade?” Jason repeated.
“It’s because they don’t want to get too close to anybody, “Stan said as he took the papers from his clipboard and put them away into a steel filing cabinet, “just in case they need to terminate any of us.”
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 area of the warehouse, “but I wouldn’t wait too long to get your resumé together.”
Jason felt lost as he tried to comprehend the new information. “So now what?” he asked as he followed Stan.
“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 moved ahead.
“So you’re moving away?” Jason asked as he walked alongside Stan. “That’s sudden.”
“Not really,” Stan replied as he stopped and faced Jason. “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.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Jason agreed.
“That’s right. Too many people we know have moved away over the years, and now it’s a whole city 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 said with remorse as he walked down an aisle of old mainframes and hardware.
“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 when I get there,” he said confidentially.
“Dispatching for a freight company,” Stan revealed. “A buddy of mine from my trucking days helped set me up.” He continued down the aisle.
“Sounds like you got it all worked out,” Jason said as he followed Stan some more. “Guess it pays to have connections.”
“You can’t have too many.”
“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 continued along, then 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?”
“You mean I have to worry about that too?” Jason said with new apprehension. “I thought I had 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 then continued along. 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,” he said as he walked inside. “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 facetiously 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. My family, my friends, everyone I know that’s important to me, are 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 tough to leave home.”
“Yeah, that’s understandable, but home is where you make it,” Stan said as he stopped in the middle of his task. “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 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. And did you know that 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.” Stan typed some keys on a computer.
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,” Stan said with happy anticipation.
“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 as he looked up from the computer, “can’t beat that. Plus there’s Lake Tahoe and Reno nearby, and lots of woods and small towns with friendly people. And 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.”
“Maybe you can charge them,” Jason suggested half seriously. “Make a little extra on the side.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Stan realized. “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.”
Jason glanced at the office. “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 some more keys. “Meanwhile, I’ll be far away from this headache.”
Jason began to leave the office, then thought again of the activity he saw in the main office. “So what do you think those guys are talking about up there?” he asked.
“You know what we do here, right?” Stan said.
“Yeah, basically we create images that are taken by satellites.”
“And what kind of pictures do you think those satellites take?”
“I know they’re used for map making.”
“Studying clouds and weather systems.”
“Anything else?” Stan inquired further.
“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 said. “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, all I’m saying is be a realist. And 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 walled office and headed toward his work area. As he was walking back he looked up again at the office window. He watched the meeting, and saw that the men in suits were still doing all the talking. He wondered for a moment what was being said, then moved along.
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
Jason leaned over the grill and radiator of his car and reached downward with a new hose. He pushed on one side of the rigid hose then the other as he tried again to slide it onto the intake nozzle of the water pump. He struggled some more in the cramped engine space and was getting frustrated, then he heard the door from the house to the garage open and close. He looked up from under the hood, saw his father, and felt some relief from his irritation.
“How’s it going?” father asked.
“Oh, just trying to wrestle on this new hose.” Jason pulled himself up from underneath the hood. “A little tough to get to though, everything is jammed in so tight. And I lost my grip trying to pull off the old hose,” Jason said as he looked at a scrape on his hand.
“So that’s why I heard you swear,” father kidded as he looked at the scrape. “The things we do to save a dollar.” He placed his hands on the side fender and looked down onto the engine. “They sure don’t make them like they used to.”
“I’ll say,” Jason said as he looked down at the loose hose.
“It used to be that you could look under the hood and all you saw was the motor, the radiator, and the battery, and you could fix just about anything with a wrench and a couple of screwdrivers,” father said nostalgically. “Makes me wish I still had my old ‘56 Chevy.”
“Sure wish cars were still that simple,” Jason longed. “Nowadays you can’t even do a tune up unless you’re Mr. Goodwrench.”
“That’s progress for ya,” father agreed as he stood back up. “Now you take that old Valiant station wagon we used to own. It didn’t have all that extra shit that modern cars have, but those old slant sixes ran forever. I’ll bet someone’s driving it around right now.”
“Maybe that’s the kind of car I need,” Jason said, “something low maintenance.”
“If only they still made them like that,” father chuckled. “Cars these days, with all the fuel injection, air conditioning, catalytic converters, belts, hoses, wires going everywhere. And now all the cars with the front wheel drive that make everything under the hood sideways, can’t even see the ground underneath anymore. What’ll they come up with next?”
“Seems like everything gets more complicated,” Jason said as he put his hands back on the front of his car and looked down at the engine, and his earlier preoccupations came back to mind.
They stood and looked at the engine together as father moved in a little closer. “Of course cars aren’t the only things that cause problems,” he finally said.
“Ain’t that the truth,” Jason replied as he sensed his father’s perception. He looked up from the car. “Well it seemed like everything was going along fine, but now…” He stared outside the garage at nothing in particular. “Probably just going through the usual stuff.”
“Let me guess,” father began, “Christine wants to get more serious, your job needs to pay you better, school is getting more expensive, and now you’re wondering where all the good times have gone.”
Jason felt somewhat unburdened. “It seemed like things were fine,” he said, “but now, I can’t tell if I hit a rut, or if it’s something bigger.” He pondered what to do. “Maybe I just need a break in the action, or at least from working on this thing,” he said as he indicated his car. He picked up a rag and wiped his hands as he wandered toward the front of the garage while father did the same. “Today it’s just a hose, but I don’t want this car to turn into a money pit.” They stood at the head of the driveway and looked out at the suburban neighborhood.
“The age old struggle,” father declared, “man trying to figure out his way through the world.”
“Wish I had a head start,” Jason said half seriously.
“You know,” father began as they leaned back against the trunk of the car, “when your mother and I moved into this house, there was a cherry orchard right over there.” He pointed down the street at a block of tract houses silhouetted against the setting sun.
Jason searched his earliest memories. “Yeah, I think I remember that.”
“Remember what they looked like when they were in bloom? Like big, pink cotton candy trees.”
Jason hazily recollected the grove of cherry trees. “Christine’s parents talk about how they used to pick plums, prunes, apricots, walnuts around here every summer when they were kids.”
“Now those were the days,” father reminisced. “Fruit trees everywhere, more farms, more open space, less crowded, no traffic jams, slower pace of life. Now it’s all expressways, strip malls, tract houses, two story office buildings. They’ll probably build on or pave over every square inch of this valley.”
“Sure seems like it,” Jason replied as he thought back some more. “I remember when I was little and we’d drive by an orchard, and I’d look down all the rows of fruit trees, one after another, sometimes we’d count them,” he recalled as he got caught up in the same nostalgia. “Doesn’t seem to be hardly any of them left anymore.”
“And that’s too bad,” father said regretfully. “No more produce stands either, have to buy everything from the grocery store. You know, this is some of the best soil on earth, and all they do is keep building all over it. And they never build up, it’s always tilt-ups and business parks that cover as much land as possible, makes no sense at all. I mean, who comes up with all this bad planning?”
“Someone looking to make a quick turnaround?”
“Now you’re learning,” father said with a laugh. “See, a lot of it is timing, and I was lucky enough to show up here at the right time, that’s all. And now the frontier is closed.”
“Yep, just like Frontier Village.”
“You remember that place? Yeah, we had some fun times there.”
They quietly shared another memory.
“When you look around now,” Jason finally said, “it’s hard to believe there was a time when this wasn’t the Silicon Valley.”
“Seems that way, and those days sure aren’t coming back,” father said wistfully. “Price of land is too high and it keeps getting higher, only the high tech industry can afford it now. There just isn’t enough money in agriculture anymore.” He folded his arms as he looked out across the neighborhood. “That’s the thing about real estate, they’re not making any more of it.”
“At least in your day you could buy a house with one paycheck,” Jason pointed out. “I don’t know anyone who can do that anymore.”
“True,” father admitted. “It was a boomtown when I first got here, houses were cheap, the weather was nice, and the skills I learned in the service helped me get a decent, secure job. And once I met your mom, I knew I was staying.”
Jason thought happily of the origin of his family, then felt concern about his future. “Maybe I was born at the wrong time,” he lamented.
“No, I wouldn’t say that,” father corrected. “There are a lot of positive changes happening right now. This is a good time to be alive, even if it has gotten too expensive.”
Jason looked to where the cherry orchard used to be, and tried to imagine how the neighborhood used to look. “You know, with all the changes happening all over the world, I’m wondering how that’s going to affect business here in the valley, especially defense jobs like mine.”
“Technology will always be in demand, it’s just human nature, ever since man figured out how to make tools. And the thing about technology is that someone is always trying to improve it, some people always want the latest gadget,” father said with some exasperation. “All you have to do is keep at it, and some opportunity somewhere will come your way.”
Jason contemplated his current situation. “You know what it feels like right now? Now I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong, I know I’m not a total screw up, but I’m also not sure if I’m doing the right thing either. It’s like I keep wondering if there’s some next big thing that I’m missing out on, because if there is, I don’t want to find out about it when it’s too late.”
“You’re not doing anything wrong,” father assured. “It’s just a decade and a half of inflation, that’s all. The rising tide that was supposed to lift all boats also lifted up the cost of living, so now demand and supply are out of whack. Your generation just happened to be caught in the middle of it, but things will work themselves out. They always do.”
“Certainly don’t want this thing to sink me further into debt,” Jason remarked as he glanced back at his car.
“When I was your age, you could by a running car for fifty bucks. Talk about inflation.”
“At least I’ll be out of the red pretty soon, then I can move out and get back on my own again.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” father said. “You were just living it up and ran into a little trouble, you’re taking care of it,” he said as he clapped Jason on the shoulder reassuringly.
“Yeah, things aren’t so bad,” Jason tried to convince himself. “Now if I could just get on the right track.”
“You’re on the right track,” father reaffirmed, “but I gotta admit it, it used to be easier to get started here. You could walk into any place, they’d hire you, train you, pay you a decent wage, and you had a career that allowed you to buy a house and raise a family. That kind of security is sure hard to find these days,” he observed pessimistically. “Now it’s all specialized. Every man for himself.”
“At least you get to retire in a couple of years.”
“Yep, looking forward to it,” father anticipated, “then I’ll have all the time in the world.”
Jason noticed his father reflecting, and he found himself aligned with his father’s perspective. He sensed himself on the same path, but wondered where it was heading for him. “You know, I hear some people are saying that we may be at the end of history because history is all about conflict, and now the last big world conflict is over. Do you really think it’s going to be like that, no more history?”
Father leaned back some more as he appeared to recall a new memory. “You know, I was just talking to one of my friends in the aerospace industry. He was telling me about this big meeting his company just had. Everybody was there, board of directors, main stockholders, upper management, all these East Coast types, and they were all trying to replan their strategy for the post Cold War era or something like that. Anyways, the CEO gives some big speech about how they’re going to change the focus of the company to meet the challenges of the new world politics. One of the lifers with the company asked what that meant exactly since their whole business was about was making aerospace equipment for the defense of the country. Well the CEO says to him that they will be in the business of making the one thing they have always been in the business of making, money.” Father laughed to himself. “As long as there is a dollar to be made someone is going to make it, and that’ll always drive things.”
Jason was struck by the lesson, and it sank into his conscience. “At least work hasn’t been a problem, everything there seems to be going in the right direction.” A new thought occurred to him. “But lately, it has been starting to feel like nobody seems to know what’s going to happen next, so now everyone is trying to figure out their next move before they’re forced to look for something new. Maybe management knows, but if they do they’re not telling us a thing. Now I’m starting to wonder how stable my job is.”
“Yeah, they sure do like to keep everybody in the dark.”
“Kind of a raw deal.”
“No, it isn’t very fair,” father agreed, “but I figure every generation has its challenges.”
“Yeah, I suppose so.”
“You see, when you’re young you want it all, and you have all the energy and optimism of youth to take on the whole world. Then one day you realize you can’t have it all, and that you don’t need it all, because maybe having it all is more trouble than it’s worth. You know, I sometimes miss the days when I was younger and could travel lighter, definitely had fewer worries.” He surveyed the front yard. “At least we have our homestead.”
“So,” Jason began, “since I’m the oldest, I get to inherit the house, right?”
“Hey! I’m not dead yet.”
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
Jason paced himself with the surrounding traffic on one of the valley freeways. Vehicles moved in sync as cars, vans, and pickups sped past semi-trailer trucks in the late afternoon sun. More vehicles entered from and exited onto merge lanes. Randy sat in the passenger seat talking while Brian was in the back seat, his head nodded back in sleep.
“So the whole day started out mellow,” Randy continued, “just me, Brian, Darren and Greg hanging out at the beach, tossing around the Frisbee, rapping with some bitches, pounding some brews, making a day of it.”
“Did you guys go to the Boardwalk?” Jason asked.
“Nah, we went to the beach that’s at the end of 26th Avenue, away from the tourists.”
“Nice and secluded over there.”
“Yeah, where the locals go. So anyways, these other guys show up, and a couple of them were also from the Valley, and one of them had an entire case of Pabst in his backpack, so we partied with them. It was awesome,” Randy said as he reminisced. “I like it down there. You can do things down there you can’t do up here.”
“Like smoking a bowl in public?”
“I’ve done that up here plenty,” Randy reminded. “So when it got dark we tried to get a fire going, but no luck. It was getting late so we finally decided to head back, and I ended up having to drive because I was the least wasted.”
“That’s unusual,” Jason kidded.
“Yeah, well no thanks to this pussy,” Randy said as he pointed back to Brian. “Anyways, I made it over the 17 in record time, and then we went to this party at Jamie’s, and the whole place was raging, an insane fucking party. It took me all of yesterday to recover.” Randy looked back toward Brian again. “I don’t know what this animal here did yesterday, but he was the life of the party.” Brian remained asleep.
“Guy I met through work.”
“You were partying and you didn’t even call me,” Jason chided. “What gives?”
“Aw man, I’m sorry,” Randy apologized. “I just figured you were busy with your family because your sister’s in town.”
“Yeah, but, you know…maybe I needed to get away.” Jason looked over at Randy appealingly, and they shared a laugh together.
“So how’s Kathy doing?”
“Doing well,” Jason answered, “living the college life.”
“Good for her, I’m really proud of her,” Randy said sincerely. “She’ll go far.”
“Yeah she will,” Jason agreed. “She’ll probably end up supporting the rest of the family,” he joked. They laughed some more in agreement and enjoyed the moment, then Jason wondered if what he said was actually going to happen.
“That was a good movie,” Randy said after a bit of silence. “But you know what would have made it better? If Clint Eastwood had starred in it.”
“I thought Sean Connery did a good job.”
“Yeah, but couldn’t you see Clint in charge of a submarine? He wouldn’t have to take any shit from anybody.”
“I don’t know,” Jason disagreed. “Clint playing a Russian just doesn’t seem right, it would be like John Wayne playing a Nazi. And could you imagine how funny he’d sound if he tried to talk like a Russian?”
“He’s Clint Eastwood, he doesn’t have to say anything,” Randy said. “All he has to do is give you that don’t-fuck-with-me look.”
Jason slowed down as he approached a reflective tanker truck. He changed lanes, sped up, and drove past it.
Randy looked over to Jason appreciatively. “Hey, thanks for covering me. I owe you.”
“No problem,” Jason said.
“Movies sure got more expensive,” Randy bemoaned.
“Tell me about it.”
“I mean, when did it go up to five bucks a ticket? You can rent a movie for half that.”
“What gets me is that they have the balls to charge you two seventy five for a cup of ice that maybe has a couple of ounces of coke,” Jason complained.
“Highway fucking robbery!” Randy fumed. “Remember when we used go to the UA, only pay a dollar, and then sneak from movie to movie?”
“Or play video games out in the lobby,” Jason added. “A whole weekend of fun with nothing but a pocketful of change.”
“The place we were just at had at least ten screens,” Randy pointed out. “We should have sneaked into another movie just to get our money’s worth.”
“I would’ve loved to, but then we’d have to drag this guy around,” Jason said and pointed back at Brian. “Plus, you know, I’ve got things to do.” He drove quickly to keep up with the rapid, weekend traffic.
“Right, family stuff,” Randy assumed. “Doesn’t your dad work on parts that go into submarines?”
“He used to,” Jason answered. “I’m not sure what they’re having him do now, but he’s going to retire pretty soon anyways.”
“Did he get to work on anything that had to do with torpedoes?”
“Maybe,” Jason said. “But he wasn’t much into talking about his job. Whenever any of us asked what he did, he would say that when he was home that was his time, and he didn’t want to spoil it by talking about work.”
“Got to agree with your dad there,” Randy said. “Work sucks.”
“Right,” Jason said doubtfully. “How’s that coming along?”
“Aw, more problems with the boss,” Randy said.
“He’s not giving me enough work. I keep telling him that I could use some more hours, but he says he doesn’t have anything for me.”
“It’s summer,” Jason pointed out, “this is the busy time of the year for landscaping.”
“Lots of competition out there,” Randy said, “at least that’s what he tells me.”
“Sounds like he’s jerking you around.”
“The guy is a prick anyhow,” Randy complained. “He’s one of those stick up his ass types who have to manage every little detail of your job, a royal pain.”
“Yeah, micro managers are the worst.”
“And he’s so into micro managing that he forgets to look for new customers.”
“Maybe you should try to bring in some business,” Jason suggested.
“Me?” Randy laughed.
“You’re an outgoing guy,” Jason said, “and you have the personality for it.”
“He needs to learn how to run his shit first. One time when we were done for the day and getting ready to leave ready, but that fucker wanted us to keep working just as it was getting get dark because he scheduled us for another job the next day. How the fuck are we supposed to work in the dark?” Randy demanded. “And if I’m going to sell anything I’d rather be selling something that puts in touch with the right kind of customers, like lingerie,” he added luridly.
“Now you’re talking.”
“Oh, you’re being serious.”
“But there’s got to be something better out there for you than that headache of a job.”
“You know what,” Randy began. “I don’t need a lot to be happy, just the essentials. Why do I got to bust my ass for?”
“Believe me, I wish I could do the same,” Jason said, “but prices keep going up. Rent, gas, food…everything.”
“You know what we should do?” Randy said excitedly as he turned toward Jason. “We should just say the hell with it and go live on a beach somewhere. We could do that. I’ve met some people that do that.”
“Yeah, they’re called bums.”
“Aw c’mon, you know it ain’t a bad idea. Who needs all that rat race bullshit anyway?”
“I can’t do that. What would Christine say?”
“Bring her along.”
“Serious?” Jason laughed.
“Why not? We used to do stuff like that all the time, remember?”
“Yeah, when we were kids,” Jason reminded. “But people grow up, and things change, and you have to change along with them.”
Randy stared at Jason. “You used to never talk like that.”
“Well, that’s life.”
Randy looked away. “You used to be fun.”
“C’mon, Randy, you know I didn’t mean anything.”
“Yeah, I know,” Randy said forlornly, “just looking out for me because I’m a fuckup.” He kept staring ahead as the pavement quickly disappeared under them. “I’ve been hearing that straighten up and fly right talk from teachers, principals, and bosses for as long as I can remember. You know I don’t sweat that stuff. Why worry about getting ahead or any of that, it’s all bullshit anyways.”
Jason noticed wisps of steam from the front of the car, then a steady vapor rose from underneath the hood and blew over the windshield. “Aw, shit.”
“Uh oh,” Randy said. “Looks like we’re going to need a ride.”
Jason decelerated, merged right, and coasted onto the shoulder of the freeway. “The last fucking thing I need,” he said with frustration. He came to a stop and turned the ignition off. The engine hissed and steam wafted from underneath the hood.
“We home yet?” Brian asked groggily from the backseat.
“No, go back to sleep,” Randy said.
Jason reached under the left side of the dashboard, pulled a handle, and the front of the hood popped up. He got out, walked to the front of the car, and carefully reached underneath the hood while trying not to burn his hand. He found the metal lever, pushed it aside and lifted the hood all the way up as it released a cloud of steam.
“Hope it’s not the water pump,” Randy said as he appeared alongside the car and looked down into the engine.
Jason noticed Randy after not seeing him at first. “Probably just a hose.” He looked down behind the radiator and saw a thin jet of steam hissing out of the thick, black hose that connected the bottom of the radiator to the lower engine block. He leaned downward to get a better look.
“Yeah, looks like a hose,” Randy said as he also leaned in closer. “At least they’re cheap to replace, could be worse.”
Brian wandered up to the front of the car. “What happened?” he asked.
“We’re going to have a picnic,” Randy joked, “right here next to the freeway.” They were all looking under the hood as vehicles sped by in a constant coming and going hum of spinning tires on pavement. The sun glared down on the arid landscape and baked the freeway asphalt, and the dry dirt and weeds alongside. Haze permeated the hot, dry air.
“I got some rags in the trunk,” Jason said. “I think I can tie it around the leak and get us to a gas station. Then I can put more water in the radiator.”
“Electrical tape would be better,” Randy said.
“Well, unless you can cough up a roll we’ll just have to make do with what we got.” Jason walked to the back of the car, opened the trunk, reached in, found a rag, and closed the trunk. He returned to the front of the car and saw Randy still peering down at the engine while Brian stood around lethargically.
“Let’s find a pay phone and call Todd or someone and get a ride,” Randy suggested. “No, we’ll call Stu. He’s got Brian’s van.”
“What’s he doing with Brian’s van,” Jason asked.
Randy looked to Brian. “Why did you let Stu borrow your van?”
“He had to move some shit,” Brian answered tiredly.
“He had to move some shit,” Randy reported to Jason.
“I’ve got ears, Randy,” Jason said.
“So I guess there’s no way to get a hold of Stu,” Randy said.
“We’ll make it home,” Jason assured. “There should be a gas station at the next exit.” He went under the hood.
“Maybe you can get a new hose there,” Randy said.
“If they have the right one.” Jason found the steam sputtering pinhole size leak on the hose and began to tie a rag around it. He tried to avoid getting grime on himself as he reached down between the radiator and engine and worked the rag into a knot. “If they don’t, I’ll probably have to get one from a dealership, and those places love to rip you off.” The rag became wet as it minimized the leak.
“For sure,” Randy agreed. “We should get into that kind of business, something a little shady.”
“Nah,” Jason said as he closed the hood, “too messy. And I don’t think Christine wants to see me with grease underneath my fingernails.” He looked over at Randy and Brian as they stood around by the car. “Thanks for the help, guys.”
“Anytime,” Randy replied. Brian crawled into the backseat and Randy got in after him into the passenger seat while Jason got into the driver’s seat. “Look, about what you were saying. I know you’re just trying to help, and I appreciate it, really.”
“It’s all right,” Jason said.
“Tell you what, since you paid my way, I should do something for you.”
“Now, I know you love Christine,” Randy said, “but maybe sometimes you get a little curious as to what you’re missing out on.”
“Thanks, but I don’t need any of your hos.”
“No, I’m talking about Brian,” Randy kidded as he pointed to the backseat. “Serious, I’m going into the pimping business, and Brian’s going to be my first ho,” he laughed.
Jason was unmoved.
“Hey, lighten up, man. No need to get all serious.”
Jason tried to remain upset, then finally relented and laughed along with Randy as he started the car.
“Hey, what are you guys talking about?” Brian asked.
“Quiet, bitch!” Randy ordered.
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
Jason and Christine were sitting upon a small stand of wooden bleachers watching her nephew’s little league baseball game. Christine’s sister, brother in law, brother, brother’s girlfriend, niece and nephew were sitting by them along with other families and groups of friends. Others were lounging on folding lawn chairs on either side of the cyclone fenced backstop that surrounded the home plate corner of the baseball diamond. Ten and eleven year old children dotted the the gravelly dirt infield and the patchy, uneven green grass that covered 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 yelled out supportively.
“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 continued to build up 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.”
“No, we can go, but you should ask me before inviting us places,” Jason asserted.
“Carla asked me,” Christine pointed out. “And we don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”
“It’s okay, we’ll go,” Jason said irritably.
“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, and then they dispersed to their separate 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.
“Sure,” Jason nodded.
“See you there,” Christine said to Carla. She and Jason then walked over to his car as Carla and Bill drove away. “It was an honest mistake, really,” she said to him. “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,” she said as they were walking. “We go to Carla and Bill’s all the time, I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jason said as they arrived at his car. “Just me overreacting,” he said sullenly.
“No, you’re right. I should’ve asked you first,” Christine replied helpfully as they got into his car. “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.”
“Okay, from now on I promise not to be so absent minded.”
“Don’t worry, it’s not your fault.”
“Then what’s bothering you?” Christine asked.
They came to a red light. “I don’t know how it happened,” Jason began as he struggled to find the right words, “but now it feels like that I always have to be somewhere. Nothing feels spontaneous anymore, you know?” He felt somewhat unburdened. The light turned green and he turned onto the main avenue.
“We weren’t planning on going to Carla’s right now,” Christine said as she tried to sound helpful.
“I mean just the two of us,” Jason continued, “like when we used to go places on the spur of the moment, just for fun.” He thought longingly. “Remember how much more often we used to go to the beach? Or to concerts? Or how about that time we went down and camped at Big Sur? Stuff like that,” he said nostalgically. “Just the two of us.”
“I’d love for us to get away too, but sometimes you have to make the time for family. Maybe we can’t do everything we want, but we still have fun.”
They drove ahead. “You know I don’t like to whine,” Jason said. “I’m not trying to be a dictator, but I still like to have a say in things.
“Of course,” Christine agreed supportively, “I don’t want you to feel ignored. And you’re right about us needing to get away somewhere. Take a break from everything, like when we took the trip to Hawaii.”
“Yeah, 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 another 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 reminded.
“But it’s going to cut into you going to school.”
“See, this is 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 recalled ironically.
“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 may never return.
“You should hear some of the talk at my job,” Christine related. “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.”
“Maybe so, but I don’t know what they’re saying behind closed doors. That’s what gets me wondering,” Christine said ominously.
“No need to get paranoid,” Jason allayed. “And don’t they have you take notes at those meetings?”
“Not all of them. Sometimes they send me out for coffee.”
“Well, no point in worrying about things you can’t see.”
“But who knows what they’re planning. There’s a buzz going around.”
“What happens in those closed door meetings runs everything,” Christine stated, “and they’re all secretive.”
“And you think where I work is the same way?”
“Aren’t they all?”
“I don’t have my head in the sand,” Jason assured. “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,” Christine said with concern. “For all I know the lawyers I work for are planning something with the people you work for.”
“Well if they are, maybe it’ll end up working out for us,” Jason said while trying to sound upbeat. “They tell me that I’m a good worker,” he said as he navigated through the maze of suburban tract houses, “and if there are any changes, that can mean growth, and 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 with forced assurance. “Things are adjusting, that’s all. We’re heading into a new era,” he went on. “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 of out of control, but so was everyone else at that party. We’ve all been 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 sensed Christine looking at him. He tried to maintain himself and 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. That’s what causing it all.”
“But how long will that behavior go on? Where’s he going to end up?”
Jason felt pressured 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 in charge. 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 spirited, he likes to stir things up.”
“He really hurt Gina.”
“And I’m sorry for that, but it takes two to ruin a relationship,” Jason pointed out.
“Gina was the one that left in tears while Randy just payed quarters with you guys.”
“Game was over by then,” Jason said defensively. “We were all too drunk to play anyhow.” He still felt Christine looking at him. “Randy is what he is, that’s why everybody likes him. He’s a lot of fun, he makes people feel good and festive wherever he goes. He’s like a traveling party.” Jason thought some more. “He may not be the most responsible guy around, but he doesn’t intentionally try to hurt anybody. Sometimes when he’s having fun he just loses control.”
“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, without going over the edge.” They continued driving along. “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.”
Jason felt her words penetrate.
“Maybe he needs outside help,” Christine suggested.
“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 argued. “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 felt 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.”
“If he gets any worse, I’ll talk to him,” Jason relented. “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.”
“All I’m saying is that 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, and 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 always had a hard time settling down, always wanting to do something or go somewhere. We used to think it was because he was more adventurous than the rest of us, but I guess he just lacked stability at home.” He looked upon his old memories with new perspective. “Funny how much stuff you don’t notice when you’re younger.”
“Do you know how his sister is doing these days?”
“Living with some guy she met at The Saddle Rack last I heard.”
“Do she and Randy stay in touch?”
“Yeah, they talk once in a while.”
“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,” Jason revealed. “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.”
“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 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 added humorously. “I’m really looking forward to seeing Kathy. I want to hear some of her college stories.”
“Yeah, 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 wondered 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
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 kitchen table reading the newspaper.
“You’re up early for a weekend,” mother observed.
“Yeah, couldn’t sleep in as late as I wanted to,” Jason said. “Going to see Christine’s nephew’s little league game. The whole family is going to be there.” He looked around for something to eat, then 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 phonograph.”
“A record player?” Jason laughed. “What’s he doing buying other people’s junk?”
“He calls them bargains.”
“Didn’t anyone tell Dad 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 took another bite. “Technology isn’t all bad, computers are just about everywhere now, can’t imagine life without them anymore. Plus you got VCRs, cordless phones, fax machines, and CDs are a definite improvement on LPs. No scratches or warping, and they take up less space.” He continued eating.
“Oh sure, they’re an improvement,” mother said, then looked up from the newspaper.
“But you know what, everything moves a little too fast these days. You buy a stereo or a computer or anything electronic, and before you have time to get your use out of it, it goes obsolete and you have to buy a new one.”
“Well, that’s progress,” Jason said as he opened the refrigerator got out a pitcher of orange juice. “Out with the old, and in with the new and improved.”
“Yeah, and prices sure aren’t going down,” mother reminded.
“But at least wages are higher than they used to be,” Jason said as he poured himself a glass of juice. “I remember Dad saying how he used to only get paid a buck an hour when he started working.” He put the pitcher back in the refrigerator.
“More money to buy more stuff,” mother said facetiously, “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 better, but sometimes I just don’t know.”
Jason leaned back against the counter. “But that’s what makes everything go round, supply and demand. It’s what keeps people working.” He took a drink.
“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 TV, before that people actually talked to each other instead of vegging out in front of the tube.”
“But you did have radio back then.”
“Yeah, but at least with radio you can do other things while you’re listening, and it leaves something to the imagination. And 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 even 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 continued her rant, “there was enough open space back then that you could ride around on a horse, now look at this place. You know, there used to be an old horse ranch where they built Highway 87.”
Jason thought about what his mother said. “Yeah, maybe people are more materialistic these days. But you know why I think it’s that way, it’s because capitalism won the Cold War, so now everyone is living it up.”
“I like to think that it was things like freedom and democracy that won.”
“Aren’t they the same thing?”
Mother looked at Jason 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 about these things, and argue about them, and sometimes it got ugly, but people were engaged. Now all anybody seems to care about is how much they’re making and what car they’re driving,” she sighed. “I guess you were too young to remember any of that.”
Jason finished his orange juice. “Yeah, I suppose things are kind of shallow right now,” he admitted, “but I think people just want to relax and enjoy life now.” He rinsed out the empty glass and placed it in the sink. “People have been stressing for too long over too many issues, but I’m sure it’s just a phase. Someday we’ll go back to arguing and fighting with each other and everything will be fine,” he joked.
“We’ll see,” mother said cautiously. “So you’ll be home tonight?”
“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? What’s wrong with Greyhound?”
“I don’t think it’s anything fancy, it’s called Green Turtle or something like that. The way she described it it sounded kind of hippie-ish.”
“Like a Deadhead bus?”
“Just as long as there are no crazy people on board,” mother said warily. “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 with sibling authority.
“I’m sure she knows big brother is watching,” mother said offhandedly.
“So when is 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 drolly. “I did enough of that when you two were growing up.”
“I’ll be on my best behavior, I promise,” Jason said mock seriously.
“I’ve heard that before,” mother said with a laugh.
“But this time I mean it.”
“Of course you do,” mother replied in the same tone. “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 assured as his mood changed. He sat down at the table.
“I’m happy for Kathy, and I’m very proud of her,” he said sincerely. “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 going to junior college and trying to get an education so you can 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 junior college. I just didn’t want to fall behind.”
“That seems to be the trend. When I was young I knew a lot of people who dropped out of high school so they could work, seemed like a normal thing to do. Nowadays it’s a stigma if you don’t at least have a diploma.”
“Growing up I was just looking to have fun, I never really looked ahead. Now everyone these days is saying that you need a degree or you won’t get ahead.”
“Which I suppose means that the next generation are all going to have to get master’s degrees,” mother concluded. “And who knows what tuition will cost then.”
“Too much,” Jason replied. He then scooted around the table, leaned in closer, and put his arm around mother. “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 handful.” Mother smiled reminiscently, and Jason smiled back.
“Thanks for letting me move back in.”
“It’s all right. If your dad and I had easy credit when we were your age I’m sure we would have done the same thing.”
“Didn’t know I was going to have money problems so early.”
“See? Progress,” mother reminded as she looked back at the newspaper.
Jason smiled in agreement, then kissed mother on the cheek and got up. “Ought to be a good game,” he said as he looked around the kitchen for one last thing to eat, then grabbed a plum from a bowl of fruit.
“So which one of Christine’s nephews is playing today, Eric?”
“Well have fun.”
“See you later.” Jason headed to the front door.
“Oh, could you pick up some ice on the way home?”
©2016 Robert Kirkendall
Jason’s eyes slowly opened in the diminishing darkness of early dawn. He made out a ceiling in the dimness, then looked down and saw Christine asleep and huddled up against him on the living room couch. He gently kissed her face, then felt the weight of a hangover and his eyes fell shut. His head was blunted by alcohol as he drifted in and out of consciousness. He was worn out but still happy in the hazy aftermath of the party.
After a while Jason awakened fully and slowly looked around. Silhouettes of furniture and sleeping people gradually materialized out of the obscurity, 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 carefully 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 again. “Even hungover you’re beautiful.”
“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 a shock of light flooded the living the room. 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 those girls Drew was hitting on? They looked high school age.” He put the pot back on its burner and made room for Brian and Jason.
“What were they doing at our party?” Jason asked.
“Maybe they found out from your brother,” Brian said to Jason as he poured himself a coffee.
“Probably,” Jason laughed. “But we can’t be having the jail bait. What if the cops show up because of the noise and see them?”
“Drew needs to work on his approach anyhow,” Brian remarked.
“I know,” Dwayne agreed. “His approach causes women to depart.”
They laughed as Jason grabbed the pot and 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 suggested.
“Yeah,” Dwayne agreed. “Hair of the dog.”
“No fuckin’ way,” Stu rejected as he poured tomato juice into an empty beer cup. “Alcohol is the last thing I need right now. I need a break from it.”
“Sure, and this time you mean it,” Dwayne kidded. 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 added.
“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 announced.
“Well you’re looking chipper,” Mike responded.
“Best birthday party ever I ever had,” Todd declared. He walked over to Randy on the couch and shoved him with his foot. “Wake up, you maniac!”
“In a sec,” Randy replied 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 reminded.
“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 further accused.
“You and Gina,” Rachel scolded, “the two of you got into a very loud argument. Don’t you remember?”
“Really?” Randy said innocently.
“Yeah, really!” Cheryl snapped. “How fucking drunk were you?”
“No more than anyone else,” Randy deflected.
“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.”
“Yeah,” Terry agreed, “our quarters game was interrupted.”
“And Gina was really hurt,” Rachel emphasized.
“Well I’m hurt, too,” Randy said pityingly.
“Please!” Cheryl called out. “Can’t you think of anyone besides yourself?”
“Seriously,” Randy said as he held up his hands defensively, “she yelled at me first.”
“Well what did you say to her?” Mike asked.
Randy appeared to search his memory. “You know what, I just don’t remember,” he admitted. “I think I blacked out when she started yelling.”
“So she just started yelling out of nowhere,” Mike said skeptically.
“Maybe it’s her time of the month,” Randy supposed.
“What can she possibly see in you?” Liz said contemptuously.
“You too? Damn,” Randy said as he appeared weary from persecution. “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 informed, “bawling her head off, as if you cared.”
“Jeez, of course I care. I’m not all bad,” Randy contended. “Speaking of balling,” he turned 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 disgustedly.
“Yeah,” Liz agreed. “What would Lena say?”
“I think we could all use a bonghit,” Dwayne suggested.
“Amen,” Brian concurred, “take the edge off these hangovers.”
Dwayne sat in front of the coffee table, pulled a worn cellophane bag from his pocket, unfolded it, and removed a chunk of cannabis. Brian placed the bong in front of Dwayne, 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 sipping coffee, a couple of others were drinking cups of flat beer scavenged from the keg. 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?”
“Well,” Todd began, “we might have a couple eggs in the fridge and some week old danishes. Or, I know of this excellent breakfast place where we can go.”
“Where?” Dwayne asked.
“It’s over on The Alameda,” Todd said, “just up the street from Andy’s Pet Shop. They make 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, left the house, 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 recommended.
“That sounds tasty,” Curtis said.
“Anything with hash sounds good,” Brian remarked.
“Did you ever notice how everything on the menu looks good when your hungover,” Alex said.
“Pace yourself,” Randy advised, and everyone looked at him confusedly.
A few minutes later the waitress came with the drinks the took their orders.
“Are you from Texas?” Randy asked her.
“Georgia,” Randy replied, the appeared more curious. “So how come you moved out here?”
“Why, to be a movie star, hon,” the waitress answered saucily.
“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 informed.
“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 joked and everyone laughed.
“I’ll bet 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 to the kitchen window.
“You’re in rare form this weekend, Randy,” Alex observed.
“This is nothing,” Randy said. “Remember that Day On The Green?” he said to Todd. “We snuck 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 recalled. “You must have crashed in some complete stranger’s van.”
“Really,” Randy said as he appeared to search his memory. “I think I scored that night.”
“What was the lucky guy’s name?” Mike said and everyone laughed.
“Say what you want, but 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, they gathered together their cash and left a pile of money on the bill tray. They got up, went to the front door, and thanked the waitress just as they were leaving. “You all stay out of trouble now,” she said affectionately as they filed out the door. They chatted a bit more out in the parking lot, made tentative plans for future gatherings, then said their goodbyes 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 steered with his left hand. She rested her head on his shoulder, then softly traced her hand up and down his thigh, and smiled at him. He felt a rush of anticipation and drove a little faster.
They arrived at Christine’s, parked, and went inside. He embraced her from behind, held her close, and kissed her all over. She gave in, then slid out of his grip, took his hand, and led him into her bedroom. They came together amorously and kissed each other deeply as they tugged at each other’s clothes. They fell onto her bed and he reached under her blouse, ran his hand up her back, and pulled her closer. She stopped and gently pushed away from his embrace. He looked upon her curiously. She looked keenly into his eyes, and he was mesmerized.
“You know what I was thinking about?” Christine asked softly. She looked away in serene reflection. “Last night,” she began, “seeing all our friends, everyone all together, celebrating, having a very joyous time…everything just felt so right, almost perfect. It was like no other feeling I’ve ever had before.” She beamed as she looked back at Jason. “And then I thought about us.” She moved in a little closer. “We are so incredibly lucky, to be here in this time and in this place, with all our friends, our families, our health, living together in the most free time ever in history, and with our whole lives ahead of us,” she said with heartfelt emphasis.
Christine’s looked deeply into Jason’s eyes and bared complete trust and unending love. He felt the weight of her gaze, and looked into her eyes with equal devotion. Their shared love grew into an unrestrainable desire, and they joined together into a passionate and heated entanglement.
©2016 Robert Kirkendall