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.
Just rewrote chapter 3 of Redwood Summer. I’m going through the entire draft of the novel making final changes and improvements before I approach an agent. Redwood Summer takes place in 1990 San Jose, CA, and this chapter is set in the main character’s workplace during the early summer. All 17 chapters of Redwood Summer are posted on my site.
The parties, family gatherings, career change, leaving of school, ordeals, dispersement of friends to their separate lives, and all the other life events of the past year ran through Jason’s mind as he continued to look out the passenger side window from a work truck as Hal drove. He gazed ahead to the dry, golden hills in the distance covered with light brown grass, then another memory came to mind as he thought back to a time when he and his friends drove up to the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains, hiked into a park of enormous rocks, and looked down across the entire valley. He peered toward the south and tried to find the spot on the mountain range where they went, but the truck turned a corner and he lost sight of it.
“I tell you, Jason, your uncle’s a good guy,” Hal said as he sped past a long row of business parks and concrete tilt-ups. “He lets me work for him when I’m not making enough at my own business. Things are kind of dicey right now, but it should pick up soon. Times like this are good for the economy.”
The cab became silent, then Jason figured Hal was waiting for a response. “Yeah, I’m sure it will,” he answered reflexively. “Uncle Ray is a good guy, saved me from a dead end job.”
“Salt of the earth,” Hal proclaimed. “Ought to be more like him.”
“Yeah, there should,” Jason responded as he recalled how welcoming Uncle Ray was when he approached him for a job. Like he was expecting me, Jason thought to himself.
“You see, what we’re doing is solid,” Hal informed. “Businesses come and go, some get bought out, others move overseas, but there’s always going to be a need for construction. All the engineers and programmers and computer nerds around here, they spend their whole day in front of computer screens, never go outside, probably never get laid. Think any of them can do what we do?”
“Maybe not,” Jason replied, “but they’re the ones who come up with the ideas that keep
everything going. So what if they don’t know how to swing a hammer, they don’t need to.”
“But you can’t run a business outdoors, or this country for that matter. Every king needs a castle, and someone has to build that castle, that’s where we come in.” Hal looked around the expanse. “Sure, this place gets more crowded every year, I remember how it used to be, but that’s what keeps us in business.”
“Yep,” Jason said, “until we run out of land.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Hal reassured. “There’s still enough to keep us busy for a long while. Plus there’s all those older buildings that need to be demolished and replaced. No new real estate required for that.”
“And on it goes,” Jason said partly to himself. He contemplated the perpetually onward flow of time, and its complete indifference to the changes in his own life.
“You know what,” Hal began, “we supply a necessary demand, which gives us a chance to make a decent living in the greatest country on earth. That’s something to be thankful for.” Over the radio a news talk show was discussing a pending United States military deployment to the Mideast. “Now you take that situation between Iraq and Kuwait,” he said, “all the bleeding heart types say we should avoid war, but what choice do we have? That is a key strategic part of the world.”
Jason listened to the discussion on the radio, and thought some of the people talking sounded more agitated and enthusiastic for war than they needed to be. “I don’t know,” he countered. “You think they’re telling us everything?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well the way they’re talking about it, it just sounds too neat, like something is being left out.”
“We got the biggest and best military on earth. What’s the worse that can happen?”
“What does a war on the other side of the world have to do with us?”
“Strategy, my friend,” Hal reminded.
Jason pondered. “I thought we were friends with the Russians now.”
“All the more reason to strike, they won’t get in the way.”
“But it seems like there’s still time to work it out.”
“Well, you have to look at the big picture,” Hal advised. “If all we do is talk, which is basically doing nothing, greater problems may happen. Problems that can affect our security,” he added ominously.
“It’ll still cost some lives.”
“Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.” Hal looked over at Jason. “You don’t like war?”
“All I’m saying we shouldn’t rush into anything until we know what’s going on over there,” Jason cautioned.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Hal said confidentially. “Over there is where most of the world’s black gold is, that’s what fuels industry, the economy, pretty much all of civilization, and we got to have a foothold there if we want to get our share. It’s all a matter of survival.”
“What about the people already living there?”
Hal laughed. “Are you kidding me? A bunch of sand niggers who’ve been killing each other for centuries? We got to go in there, straighten the whole mess out, and put everyone back in their place. That’s what we do.”
Jason looked down an avenue they were crossing and in the distance noticed the building where his last job was. “Since when?”
“Okay, all kidding aside,” Hal started. “Everyone does have a right to an opinion, that’s the American way, but when the shit goes down you don’t want to be caught on the wrong side.” They drove along further. “You know what I’m saying, right?”
Jason listened closer to the talking on the radio. The debate had become heated and antagonistic as the voices rose to a higher pitch. He sensed Hal still looking at him, and he felt the push of coercion. “You know what,” he began, “I work, I pay taxes, I’m a good citizen, and I have the right to believe in what I want, when I want, how I want,” he asserted. “And no one can tell me different!” He was surprised by the righteousness of his declaration, and it dawned upon him that he was free. “Yeah,” he said to himself, “I’d fight for that.”
Hal appeared to want to respond, but silently drove on. Jason then remembered his plans for the upcoming weekend with Christine and some friends, as well as some people from their new neighborhood. Something to look forward to, he thought happily.
©2018 Robert Kirkendall
Jason 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 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