Reposting of Redwood Summer chapter 8 after giving it a rewrite. It isn’t too different from earlier version, just more expanded. In this chapter, Jason, the character, is having dinner with his entire family and his girlfriend, and it’s the last truly happy moment for him in the novel. After this chapter, the downward descent begins.
Rewrite of chapter 5. The scene is the morning after a glorious party, and the end of the first third of the novel. Everyone is hungover but happy, and the story reaches a peak at the end of this chapter, after which is the downward slide to its ultimate fate.
Just gave chapter 4 a rewrite, the party scene. One of the inspirations for this chapter is the party scene from The Great Gatsby. Not that I’m at that level of expertise, but learn from the best. What struck me about the party scene from Gatsby is that it’s so ethereal it almost seems unreal, and so beautiful that you know the happiness won’t last. And I think it’s a match with my party scene because it represents a deliriously happy peak for all the characters that they’ll never reach again.
The parties, family gatherings, career change, leaving of school, ordeals, dispersement of friends to their separate lives, and all the other life events of the past year ran through Jason’s mind as he continued to look out the passenger side window from a work truck as Hal drove. He gazed ahead to the dry, golden hills in the distance covered with light brown grass, then another memory came to mind as he thought back to a time when he and his friends drove up to the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains, hiked into a park of enormous rocks, and looked down across the entire valley. He peered toward the south and tried to find the spot on the mountain range where they went, but the truck turned a corner and he lost sight of it.
“I tell you, Jason, your uncle’s a good guy,” Hal said as he sped past a long row of business parks and concrete tilt-ups. “He lets me work for him when I’m not making enough at my own business. Things are kind of dicey right now, but it should pick up soon. Times like this are good for the economy.”
The cab became silent, then Jason figured Hal was waiting for a response. “Yeah, I’m sure it will,” he answered reflexively. “Uncle Ray is a good guy, saved me from a dead end job.”
“Salt of the earth,” Hal proclaimed. “Ought to be more like him.”
“Yeah, there should,” Jason responded as he recalled how welcoming Uncle Ray was when he approached him for a job. Like he was expecting me, Jason thought to himself.
“You see, what we’re doing is solid,” Hal informed. “Businesses come and go, some get bought out, others move overseas, but there’s always going to be a need for construction. All the engineers and programmers and computer nerds around here, they spend their whole day in front of computer screens, never go outside, probably never get laid. Think any of them can do what we do?”
“Maybe not,” Jason replied, “but they’re the ones who come up with the ideas that keep
everything going. So what if they don’t know how to swing a hammer, they don’t need to.”
“But you can’t run a business outdoors, or this country for that matter. Every king needs a castle, and someone has to build that castle, that’s where we come in.” Hal looked around the expanse. “Sure, this place gets more crowded every year, I remember how it used to be, but that’s what keeps us in business.”
“Yep,” Jason said, “until we run out of land.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Hal reassured. “There’s still enough to keep us busy for a long while. Plus there’s all those older buildings that need to be demolished and replaced. No new real estate required for that.”
“And on it goes,” Jason said partly to himself. He contemplated the perpetually onward flow of time, and its complete indifference to the changes in his own life.
“You know what,” Hal began, “we supply a necessary demand, which gives us a chance to make a decent living in the greatest country on earth. That’s something to be thankful for.” Over the radio a news talk show was discussing a pending United States military deployment to the Mideast. “Now you take that situation between Iraq and Kuwait,” he said, “all the bleeding heart types say we should avoid war, but what choice do we have? That is a key strategic part of the world.”
Jason listened to the discussion on the radio, and thought some of the people talking sounded more agitated and enthusiastic for war than they needed to be. “I don’t know,” he countered. “You think they’re telling us everything?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well the way they’re talking about it, it just sounds too neat, like something is being left out.”
“We got the biggest and best military on earth. What’s the worse that can happen?”
“What does a war on the other side of the world have to do with us?”
“Strategy, my friend,” Hal reminded.
Jason pondered. “I thought we were friends with the Russians now.”
“All the more reason to strike, they won’t get in the way.”
“But it seems like there’s still time to work it out.”
“Well, you have to look at the big picture,” Hal advised. “If all we do is talk, which is basically doing nothing, greater problems may happen. Problems that can affect our security,” he added ominously.
“It’ll still cost some lives.”
“Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.” Hal looked over at Jason. “You don’t like war?”
“All I’m saying we shouldn’t rush into anything until we know what’s going on over there,” Jason cautioned.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Hal said confidentially. “Over there is where most of the world’s black gold is, that’s what fuels industry, the economy, pretty much all of civilization, and we got to have a foothold there if we want to get our share. It’s all a matter of survival.”
“What about the people already living there?”
Hal laughed. “Are you kidding me? A bunch of sand niggers who’ve been killing each other for centuries? We got to go in there, straighten the whole mess out, and put everyone back in their place. That’s what we do.”
Jason looked down an avenue they were crossing and in the distance noticed the building where his last job was. “Since when?”
“Okay, all kidding aside,” Hal started. “Everyone does have a right to an opinion, that’s the American way, but when the shit goes down you don’t want to be caught on the wrong side.” They drove along further. “You know what I’m saying, right?”
Jason listened closer to the talking on the radio. The debate had become heated and antagonistic as the voices rose to a higher pitch. He sensed Hal still looking at him, and he felt the push of coercion. “You know what,” he began, “I work, I pay taxes, I’m a good citizen, and I have the right to believe in what I want, when I want, how I want,” he asserted. “And no one can tell me different!” He was surprised by the righteousness of his declaration, and it dawned upon him that he was free. “Yeah,” he said to himself, “I’d fight for that.”
Hal appeared to want to respond, but silently drove on. Jason then remembered his plans for the upcoming weekend with Christine and some friends, as well as some people from their new neighborhood. Something to look forward to, he thought happily.
©2018 Robert Kirkendall
“So now that I have my general ed out of the way I can really concentrate on my major,” Kathy said optimistically. “I’ll be able to do more work in the lab, and in a year I can intern.” Jason, Christine, and David sat at one side of Kathy at the dining room table, mother and father were at the other side, and the table was crowded with food and drink.
“That sounds wonderful, dear,” mother replied.
“No more taking classes that have nothing to do with my major,” Kathy said with relief.
“Aren’t your classes going to get harder?” Christine asked.
“That’s what they say, but I’ve built a good foundation,” Kathy assured. “There’ll be a lot of overlap anyway.”
“Rick’s older brother went to Cal Poly,” David chimed in. “One time he went down there for spring break, he said there was a huge kegger in every house.”
“That’s a good way to spend the weekend,” Jason commented.
“And then he said someone started a fire in a dumpster,” David went on, “and everybody was rolling it down the street. Got so crazy that the police had to show up in riot gear and break it up.”
“Sounds out of control down there,” father said warily.
“Wasn’t me,” Kathy said with mock innocence.
“Right,” Jason said facetiously.
“I swear!” Kathy pleaded. “I was studying that night.”
“You missed out on all the fun,” David pointed out.
“Gave the firefighters something to do at least,” Kathy said offhandedly.
Jason no longer noticed the foreign texture of the chicken enchiladas as he ate. A large pan of enchiladas were at the center of the table surrounded by a large bowl of salad, rice, beans, rolls, and drinks.
“So who’s this guy that started the fire?” Christine asked.
“Don’t know, I wasn’t out that night,” Kathy said. “Could have been anyone.”
“I meant the one in the dorm,” Christine said.
“There was a fire in your dormitory?” mother said alarmingly.
“It was no big deal,” Kathy reassured.
“Yes, it is a big deal!” mother countered.
“Okay, this is what happened. Some idiot in one of the rooms took some regular popcorn, poured it in a paper sack, tried to microwave it, and it caught on fire. That’s all,” Kathy explained. “It wasn’t like the whole building burned down.”
“Wow, I thought only smart people went to college,” Jason quipped.
“Guess they’ll let anyone in,” father added wryly.
“I’ve had professors who can teach the most advanced math and science but still don’t know how to work a coffee maker,” Kathy said. “Go figure.”
“Was he kicked out of the dorms?” Christine asked.
“He promised not to do it again, but we’ll see.” Kathy continued to eat intently. “God, it is so good to eat a home cooked meal after dorm food. Thanks, Mom.”
“Isn’t there any way you can cook for yourself?” mother asked.
“Actually,” Kathy began, “I have these friends that live off campus, and they have a kitchen, washer, dryer, a bathroom they don’t have to share with a bunch of people, and I was thinking of moving out of the dorms and living with them. I’ve already looked into it, it’d be cheaper than a dorm.”
“Well what’s the neighborhood like?” mother asked.
“Yeah, is it safe?” father demanded.
“Of course it’s safe, Dad. You think I’d move to a bad neighborhood?” Kathy said. “It’s a small town, cops everywhere, it’s not like USC. Nothing to worry about.”
“It takes big money to go there,” mother remarked.
“Nothing to worry about?” father responded indignantly. “Wait until you’re a parent.”
“Should be all right as long as there’s no microwave fires,” Jason added humorously.
“Do a lot of girls go to Cal Poly?” David asked.
“At that age, they’re called women,” Jason corrected.
“Of course, it’s a big campus,” Kathy said. “So whatever happened with Teresa?”
David looked down. “Didn’t work out.”
“She left David for the team quarterback,” mother said quietly to Kathy.
“Oh my god!” Kathy exclaimed. “I’m so sorry!”
“I’ll be all right,” David moped.
“Don’t let her get you down,” Kathy said to David. “You can do better than her. She’s kind of a bitch anyhow.”
“Must you talk that way at the dinner table?” mother scolded.
“But don’t you agree?” Kathy asked. “She definitely had no sense of humor.”
“Well, she did strike me as a bit shallow,” mother admitted.
“Yeah, she was kind of superficial,” father added.
“She’ll probably end up being some rich guy’s trophy wife,” mother joked.
“See? You’re better off without her,” Kathy said to David.
“Yeah, I know,” David said. “It just sucks, that’s all.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” mother remarked.
“I know it hurts now, but you’ll get through this,” Kathy said supportingly.
“That’s right, Dave,” Jason concurred, “and someone better always comes along.” He felt
Christine grab his knee affectionately underneath the table.
“I’m sure there are plenty of nice girls at school,” mother said helpfully.
“You should try to get with one of the cheerleaders,” Jason advised.
“Good idea,” father agreed.
The familiar, casual banter continued around the table as Jason looked affectionately at Christine and his family. He took in the whole scene as he remembered back to the last time the entire family was eating together around the dinner table. Must have been when Kathy was up here for spring break, he recalled. We used to eat together every night, he thought wistfully, now it’s only on special occasions. A wave of memories came over him and he felt the tug of nostalgia. He took in the entire scene all at once into a single image and captured it in his memory before it was gone.
“Kathy, I’m going to Aunt Delia’s tomorrow,” mother said. “Want to come along?”
“Oh, I already made plans with Heather and Tina,” Kathy said apologetically. “We’re going to check out that new, big mall in Milpitas.”
“Where the Ford plant used to be?” father questioned.
“Busy, busy,” mother remarked.
Kathy gripped her mother’s hand. “Mom, I promise we’ll do something together. I just need to catch up with a few friends, that’s all,” she explained as she let go. “I’ll be around all summer.”
“Once again we’re a full house,” mother observed.
“Too bad we only have two bathrooms,” Jason kidded.
“And just like in the old days you three are going to have to share one,” father decreed.
“Hope the hot water heater hold up,” Kathy said.
“No more long showers for you,” Jason said to David.
“Who, me?” David said innocently. “Why would I do that?”
Mother shook her head. “I don’t want to know.”
“Did you miss all this delightful dinner table conversation?” Christine humorously asked Kathy.
“I did actually, and I certainly missed all of you,” Kathy beamed as she looked around the table. “There really is no place like home.”
“Ah, you’re having the time of your life,” Jason said.
“Yeah, but you really do get a new appreciation for home after you’ve been away,” Kathy said, “especially when you have to do everything on your own for the first time ever. Funny all the things you take for granted.”
“You’re welcome,” mother said.
“I promise that I will never complain to you about anything ever again,” Kathy said to mother, “and I mean it this time.”
“That’s why I moved back,” Jason said.
“Maybe I should stay,” David wondered.
“Maybe you should start paying rent,” father said, and everyone laughed.
“So what are you two doing anything tomorrow?” Kathy asked Jason and Christine.
“I told Randy we’d go see a movie,” Jason said. “Maybe some of the other guys will tag along.”
“Randy,” Kathy said reminiscently. “How’s he doing?”
“Oh, you know, same old Randy,” Jason said tersely.
“God, I haven’t seen Randy, or Brian, or Todd, or Alex, or any of your friends for a year or more,” Kathy recalled. “How’s everyone doing?”
“Doing all right,” Jason said.
“They’re always asking how you’re doing,” Christine said to Kathy.
“Yeah, they’re the best,” Kathy said, “but nobody was as fun as Randy. Remember that time when I got stood up on a date, and Randy wanted to kick the guy’s ass for me?”
“Didn’t I just say something about watching our language at the dinner table?” mother reminded.
“Our little girl sure has grown up,” father said humorously.
“If I don’t get a chance to see Randy, can you say hi for me?” Kathy asked.
“I’ll do that,” Jason said.
©2016 Robert Kirkendall