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.
A rewrite of chapter 7, not much different than earlier version, but deeper. Action is right after action in chapter 6. Jason and Christine are at her nephew’s little league game, which symbolizes his journeys from participant to spectator, and contrasts with chapter 2 in which Jason plays a game of basketball with friends.
Also in this chapter Jason begins to lose control over his life as outside forces start to move him against his will.
A rewrite and expansion of Redwood Summer chapter 6. This is the beginning of the second third of the novel. It takes place about a month after chapter 5 ends, and begins the changes that will happen in Jason’s, the main character, life. Jason and his mother have a debate about the pros and cons of technology, and then she reminds him that his sister will be home from college that later that day. She is a student at Cal Poly, and this her first mention in the novel. Mother suspects Jason may be envious of his sister, though he swears he isn’t.
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 drove along a Central Valley freeway through large expanses of agriculture. In the distance he saw the prison, a desolate cluster of rectangular, institutional buildings imposing upon the surrounding open space. He exited off the freeway as he approached and drove to the visitor lot. He parked and felt a little uneasy as he passed under a guard tower and entered an outer gate into the stark compound. He walked down a concrete path lined with high cyclone fencing topped with a long coil of concertina wire. He entered a building, went through a metal detector, signed a visitor log, and a guard led him to a drab room with a row of chairs lined up in front of glass partitions. He followed the guard and walked behind the other visitors. He noticed the grim looking prisoners behind glass panes out of the corner of his eye. The guard pointed him to a chair and he sat down.
Jason looked through the glass pane, then saw Randy approach. His heart sank a little when he saw him in his prison uniform. Randy sat down across him. Jason picked up the receiver, and Randy did the same. He was unsure of what to say.
“So how you been?” Randy finally asked.
“Not bad,” Jason answered. “How about you?”
“I’m settling in, getting to know the rest of the guys,” Randy said from the other side of the glass. “What choice do I have anyways, right?” he said jokingly. Jason involuntarily smiled along with him.
“Yeah,” Jason agreed. He struggled with the sight of Randy in prison.
“Some of the guys here,” Randy continued, “you should hear their stories.”
“And I thought I had it bad.”
“Seems like no matter how bad it is,” Jason realized, “somebody always has it worse.”
“Guess I had to learn that the hard way,” Randy said half kiddingly.
Jason remained serious. “So what’s it like in here?”
“It ain’t complicated. They got everybody on the same schedule, same old routine, day in, day out. So I do what they tell me to do, stay out of trouble, and count the days. I’ll be out of here someday.”
“Yeah, took some getting used to.”
“I guess it could be worse,” Jason said.
“Yeah, but it could also be a whole lot better,” Randy replied. “Bad as it is, I didn’t think I was going to miss the outside world so much. I really miss is being able to bullshit people, can’t do that here. But I’m making the best of it.”
“I suppose that’s all you can do,” Jason said resignedly. “But I can’t get used to seeing you like this.”
“At least I know where my next meal is coming from, and you can’t beat the rent,” Randy said with a smile.
Jason wanted to smile along with Randy, but couldn’t.
“I’ve also been doing some reading,” Randy continued. “Nothing too difficult, but it’s a change. Used to be I was too busy for school, but I’ve got plenty of time now.”
Jason was surprised that he was feeling slightly envious over of his own lack of free time.
“So how are things on the outside?” Randy asked.
“Everyone’s doing all right,” Jason answered. “They sure do miss you.”
“Not as much as I miss them,” Randy said longingly. “I even miss the people I didn’t like,” he added amusedly.
“How about Gina?”
Randy laughed. “I burned that bridge to a crisp.”
“You remember Terry’s little brother?” Jason asked.
“Yeah, the one who joined the Navy.”
“Looks like he might be headed to the Persian Gulf.”
“It’s not for certain yet, but if things keep on going the way they’re going…” Jason trailed off.
“I can remember when he was was just a toddler,” Randy reminisced.
“You know, he only signed up was for the college money,” Jason said. “Didn’t think he was going to see any action.”
“Yeah, he got tricked,” Randy concluded. “Hope he’s going to be all right.”
“I’m thinking he will be.” Jason said. “I don’t think this thing will drag on for too long. I’m sure they learned from all the mistakes in the last war.”
“We’ll see,” Randy said suspiciously. “I wonder if my dad knows I’m here.”
“Doesn’t your mom or your sister know where to find him?”
“I think my sister does. She said she’d try to find him and tell him.”
“Hope you hear from him.”
“Yeah,” Randy said forlornly. “Maybe he’ll write me a letter or something. So how’s Christine doing?”
“Doing well,” Jason said. “She isn’t showing yet, but she will be soon.”
“Wow, you’re going to be a dad!” Randy said happily. “That’s got to be tripping you out.”
“I’m still trying to get used to it.”
“I can’t wait to get out of here so I can see him, or her.”
“I just hope I’m up to it,” Jason admitted. “Seems only yesterday I was just a kid myself.”
“Ah, don’t worry, you’ll make a great dad,” Randy reassured. “At least you’re making more money now. How is the new job?”
“It’s more work,” Jason said, “but it is a whole lot better than the last job.”
“Good. You were really hating that other place.”
“Yeah, it was getting on my last nerve,” Jason said with recalled anger. “I have to say, this was not how I planned on changing jobs.”
“Hey, so what if your old lady had to help find a job for you. It’s all about who you know.”
“I do get to be outdoors at least,” Jason remembered, “working with my hands. If nothing else it’ll keep me in shape.”
“Yeah, you don’t want to be stuck indoors chained to a desk. How’s the pay?”
“Five bucks more an hour than the last job.”
“Yeah, and I’m going to need every penny of it raising a kid.”
“And then you’ll need a raise if you two have any more kids,” Randy added encouragingly.
“One challenge at a time,” Jason resisted.
“So are you and Chris going to tie the knot?” Randy asked.
“Looks like it. We’re practically married already,” Jason added.
“Sounds like we’re both set,” Randy said with a laugh.
Jason leaned forward toward the glass. “You know, it didn’t have to be this way. All you’re doing is protecting the wrong people,” he implored. “You think they’d do the same for you?” he tried to persuade.
“They caught me red handed,” Randy reminded. “They were going to put me away no matter what, why drag other people down.”
“What about an appeal?”
“Can’t afford it, and the public defender said I needed more grounds.”
Jason felt defeated. “Wish there was something I could do.”
“Hey, at least you came to see me,” Randy said gratefully. “That means a lot.”
A regretful memory rose to the surface of Jason conscience. “Sorry for the things I said that night…you know, after that party.”
“Don’t be,” Randy brushed aside. “I’m the one who should be apologizing.”
“I never wanted you out of my life,” Jason asserted. “It’s just that things changed.”
“Yeah they did.”
“This is all fucked up,” Jason said moodily. “You don’t deserve to be stuck in here.”
“There’s always time off for good behavior,” Randy pointed out.
Jason was struck by the Randy’s optimism. He saw no reason for it, but his gloom lightened. “You should be able to swing that,” he said humorously as he finally relaxed. “At least you’re going to be paroled someday, not me. Parenthood is a life sentence.” He leaned in confidentially. “I have to admit, you may be right about Chris taking over my life.”
“You know,” Randy began completely serious, “if I had a girl like Christine in my life, I wouldn’t be stuck in here right now.”
Jason saw a long absent clarity in Randy’s eyes as they looked at each other for a long moment. “Yeah,” he finally said. “I guess I’m the lucky one.”
“Sorry I couldn’t take care of the bachelor party.”
“It’s all right,” Jason said, “probably would’ve lead to more arrests.”
“Yeah, Darren most likely,” Randy predicted, and they shared a laugh. “Send me some pictures of the wedding.”
“You got it.” Jason wanted to make the moment last. Memories of a disappeared, happier past beckoned him, and he sensed Randy was feeling the same way. He wanted to enjoy the moment some more, but he felt the pull of the outside world. “Well, I better get going.”
“Tell everybody I said hi.”
“I’ll do that.” Jason looked to Randy one last time. “Good to see you again.”
“Likewise. Don’t be a stranger.”
“I won’t.” Jason fought back tears. “Bye, Randy.”
“See you later, brother.”
Jason slowly hung up the receiver, got up, and left the stark room. He saw Randy in his periphery still seated behind the glass partition as he was departing.
©2018 Robert Kirkendall
Jason looked over the newspaper classified want ads while sitting at the kitchen table. David was across the table doing his homework.
“Anything promising?” father asked from the living room.
“Not much,” Jason answered. “A lot of the same old stuff.”
“Budget cuts because of the Cold War ending would be my guess.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking,” Jason agreed. “We need another war to get things going again,” he added half seriously.
“Doesn’t the county building have a job center?” David asked.
“I checked it out, most of it’s part time work,” Jason said, “and nothing that pays enough.”
“What about a temp agency?” David suggested.
“I need a permanent job,” Jason replied. “Those temp jobs don’t pay dick anyhow.”
“I should look for a new job myself,” David said. “I’m getting tired of the fast food scene.”
“Then get a job at Safeway,” father said impatiently.
The telephone rang. David reached over and picked up the receiver. “Hello? Oh hi, Todd…Yeah, he’s here.” He handed the receiver to Jason. “It’s Todd.”
Jason took the receiver. “Todd. What’s up?”
“Jason, got some bad news,” Todd said.
He got a sinking feeling. “What is it?”
“Randy got busted.”
“Dammit!” Jason struck the table and David looked up. “What happened?”
“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Todd said. “A SWAT team did a raid on this house where he just happened to be in the middle of a deal.”
Jason was dismayed and angry. He got up as he tried to grasp what he just heard and paced around as the coiled phone chord dangled from the receiver to the telephone. “I can’t believe this!” he said angrily. “Where is he now?”
“They got him at the city lockup. I called and they told me he’s going to be arraigned tomorrow.”
“Goddamn, this is a nightmare!” Jason became anxious as the news sank in. The dread he felt for Randy reached its conclusion, and the remaining hopes he had came crashing down. He then looked around and noticed his brother and father looking at him. He turned toward the telephone on the wall to conceal his anger. “You know, I told him a thousand goddamn times not to be careless, not to get mixed up with Darren and Tony, all those other sketchy motherfuckers, that whole scene, now look what happens!”
“I heard how he lost it at Tony’s party and got into a fight.”
“Yeah, we got him out of there just before the cops showed up.”
“I also heard from some of the guys that you and Randy almost got into it,” Todd said carefully.
Jason felt the regret of that night. “Yeah,” he admitted. “Never thought it’d come to that.”
“Don’t blame you for avoiding the party.”
“I never knew Tony all that well anyway,” Todd said
“I only went because of Randy, guess I thought I could keep him out of trouble. A lot of good that did,” Jason added with bitter irony.
“It’s all fucked up,” Todd lamented. “But I guess it isn’t a total surprise.”
“No, guess not,” Jason agreed. “So now what? It’s not like Randy or his mom can afford a
decent lawyer, or any kind of lawyer.”
“I know. He’ll probably end up with some half ass public defender.”
“Which means he’ll probably end up doing some time.”
“Most likely,” Todd said dejectedly. “It’ll all depend on the lawyer he gets stuck with, the judge, whether the DA wants to cut him a deal, and they won’t do that unless he’s willing to give up some names.”
“Can’t see Randy doing that,” Jason predicted. “Probably doesn’t know anyone important anyway.”
“I doubt he does,” Todd agreed. “He’s the low man on the totem pole.”
“So what next?”
“I’m going to call in sick tomorrow so I can go to the arraignment. I’ll be in touch with everyone as soon as I know what’s happening.”
“So how much do you think his bail will be?” Jason asked.
“No idea,” Todd answered. “I guess that’ll depend on the amount he was caught with.”
Jason leaned against the wall and rested his head on his hand. “He’s really up a creek.”
“Could be,” Todd said. “Do you know if he has any priors?”
“Nothing like this,” Jason said. He stood back up. “This sucks, this really, fucking sucks.”
“I know. Randy always was the life of the party, since he was little. Guess it finally caught up with him.”
“It’s like he ignored all the warning signs.”
“Yeah,” Tom sighed. “Well, I’ll let you go, I’ve got some more people to call. I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know how it went.”
“All right,” Jason said. “I was just about to head to Christine’s myself. Says she has important news, probably about a job somewhere.”
“That could be a good thing, I know you’re getting sick and tired of your current job.”
“We’ll see, not exactly on my mind right now.”
“Well, talk to you tomorrow,” Jason said.
“All right, bye.”
“Bye.” Jason hung up the receiver.
“What happened?” David asked.
“Randy was arrested.”
“Oh, no!” he reacted. “What for?”
“Possession,” Jason said. He grabbed his keys off the table and headed to the front door.
“What a shame,” father remarked sadly.
“Going over to Christine’s,” Jason said as he left. He got into his car and drove away quickly. The late summer twilight faded into darkness as he was driving and all his worries about Randy were recasting into new uncertainties. The story of Randy’s life played out in his mind once again, from when they first met in kindergarten, their shared times and adventures as they grew up together, and all through the years up to the present where it was culminating into a sense of finality. He then despaired that Randy was slipping out of his life.
He arrived at Christine’s and tried to straighten out his thoughts as he walked to her apartment. He knocked on the front door. It opened slowly and Christine quietly let him in. He entered and milled around in the front room. He was feeling the weight of what he was about what to tell her.
“Bad news about Randy,” he finally said.
“He got busted.”
“Oh no,” Christine said sadly and she sat down. “That’s terrible.”
“Todd just called and told me, he was arrested earlier today.”
“What did he do?”
“He was in the middle of a drug deal then the police raided the place.” Jason paced around some more. “I tried to talk some sense into him,” he said exasperatedly. “I told him not to get mixed up with the wrong people.”
“You did the best you could,” Christine reassured.
“Did I?” Jason countered as he kept pacing around the room. “Feels like I could have done more.” He came to a stop as he dwelt some more about what happened. “Shit, they’ll probably throw the book at him, because they can.”
“I know,” Christine said somewhat absently, “it’s awful.”
Jason sensed that Christine was thinking of something else. “You work for lawyers, what do you think his chances are?”
“Hmm? Oh, I don’t know, we don’t do criminal law. I guess it’s going to depend on how much he was caught with, and if he’s willing to plea bargain.”
“Well then he’s in bad shape because Randy was never one to snitch.” Jason started to move around again to release mounting stress. “Why the fuck did he have to get caught? Now he’s stuck in the gears of the system!”
“Maybe he’ll get help he needs on the inside,” Christine said hopefully.
“And he has to go behind bars to get it? That ain’t fair,” Jason said angrily. “This is all fucked
up. I know he blew it, but it’s not like he robbed a bank or killed someone, all he did was fall in with
the wrong crowd and make some mistakes! Why all this other bullshit?”
“I know, it’s terrible, I’m really sorry it all happened like this,” Christine said, “but it’s out of our hands now.”
“Yeah, just like a lot of other things in life.”
Christine stood up and walked up to Jason as he was pacing around. “Look, Jason, I know this is important, but there is something I need to tell you.”
“If it’s about another job possibility can we talk about it later?” Jason demanded. “Got a lot on my mind right now.”
“No, it’s not about a job,” Christine reassured.
“Then what?” Jason asked curtly as he stopped in front of Christine. “Is it a family emergency? Someone back in the hospital?”
“No, it’s nothing like that.”
“Then what?” Jason repeated louder.
Christine hesitated and struggled for words.
Jason wandered away. “Well I hope it’s important because I have a lot on my mind right now.”
Jason was startled. He looked back at Christine. Her expression was gravely serious. His agonizing over Randy ended abruptly and he looked searchingly into her eyes. He became apprehensive of what he was about to hear. She tried to speak. He moved closer to her. “What is it?”
Jason was suddenly numb all over. He tried to comprehend what he just heard and struggled to say something, but was too overwhelmed. He sensed his life changing beyond his control. “For real?” he asked astonishingly.
Christine nodded. “I just found out today.”
Jason remained confused. “I…I don’t know what to say.”
“I was late,” Christine revealed, “and I started to worry. So I took the test.”
Jason saw his old life disappearing for good, and a new reality of living for others began to emerge. He tried to grasp the situation but it was changing too fast. He searched for something to say in the sudden vacuum. “I guess I never figured on this happening so soon,” he finally said.
“Me neither,” Christine admitted. “Oh my god, what are my parents going to say!” She buried her face into her hands.
Jason began to think of her ordeal. “You haven’t told them yet?”
“I haven’t told anyone.”
Jason slowly put his hand onto Christine’s shoulder. She held onto his hand, and they came together. She convulsed a little as they leaned onto each other for a long moment. He held her close as he realized everything about his life was changing permanently. She sobbed a little more then wiped the tears from her eyes as she continued to hold on to him.
“Now I’m really going to have to get a new job,” Jason said. “I need to get out of my rut anyway,” he said with unexpected relief.
“I’ll work for as long as I can,” Christine offered, “at least until I get too big.”
Jason imagined Christine in the last stages of pregnancy and how she would look. “Guess I’ll have to hug you from behind when that happens.”
“When I found out, I wasn’t sure how you’d react,” Christine said as she rested her head on Jason. “I guess it’s still sinking in for me.”
“I’m still in shock myself,” Jason admitted. “Hope I’m up for it.”
Christine looked up at Jason. “I think you’ll make a great father,” she said convincingly, her eyes still wet as she smiled a little. He worried if he could live up to her faith as he saw his youth coming to its final end. He considered all his new obligations for the future as he headed irreversibly into destiny. After a long while they slowly relaxed their hold on each other.
“Sorry it happened like this,” Christine apologized.
“Nah, don’t be,” Jason consoled. “Time to move on from that soul sucking job anyhow.” He sensed himself readjusting to his new circumstances automatically without any effort. “They’re forcing everybody out so they can bring in all their own high end cronies. Whole place feels like it’s on lock down.”
“I was afraid you were going to be upset.”
“No, just surprised.”
“Same here, this changes everything.” Christine appeared concerned. “What are you going to do about school?”
“Some other time,” Jason said resignedly.
“Really sorry about that.”
“Don’t be, degrees aren’t worth what they used to be. Better to learn a skill anyhow.” Jason gave in to the transformation that he felt to be happening on its own. “Guess we’ll have to tell everyone pretty soon,”
“My family will sure be in for a surprise,” Christine said as she laughed a little.
“Same with mine,” Jason said laughing along with her. “My parents are going to be
grandparents for the first time, that’s gonna to make them feel old!” They laughed some more, then embraced each other again as their laughter subsided. The weight of their situation grounded them and Jason felt more tied to Christine than he ever had before. “So you’re ready for all this?” he finally asked.
“This is sooner than I expected.” Christine held onto Jason contentedly. She then looked up to him. “Yes, I’m ready.”
Jason paused for a moment. “Is your uncle still hiring?”
©2018 Robert Kirkendall
Jason took a long drink from a bottle of tomato juice and waited for it to replenish him. His body was fatigued and his mind taxed from too much alcohol over the weekend. He leaned back against a three story rack of heavy steel shelves half filled with inventory and relaxed for a bit. He then screwed the cap back on the bottle and hid it behind a box of computer hardware parts. He tiredly walked back to an assortment of more boxes scattered around the concrete floor and next to a large wooden pallet.
He picked up a clipboard that held a stack of papers and looked at the top form. He tried to comprehend the maze of small writing and blank spaces with his slowed thinking. He then looked down at the pile of boxes and picked up the one closest to him. He read the writing on its label, looked back at the paper on the clipboard, and tried to figure out which information belonged on which line or square. He took the pen from the clipboard and tediously filled out the form. He wanted to go home and sleep off his hangover, but forced himself to go on. He finally completed the form and placed the box on the pallet.
He picked up another box, slowly copied the information from its label onto another complicated form, then stacked the box onto the pallet next to other one. He continued the task alone in the cavernous building. The flickering light of the florescent tubes from the high ceiling aggravated his headache as he struggled to work through the pain.
Isolated and hungover, Jason’s mind began to wander. He thought back to the night of Tony’s party. The argument he had with Randy continued to haunt him in his dulled state. Some harsh words were said, he thought regretfully, we never talked that way to each other before. I had no idea he was jealous like that, he thought, or did I just miss the signs? have I been ignoring him? maybe he’s right about me pushing him away, maybe it’s partly my fault. He recalled more about that night, a party at a strange house crowded with tense people he didn’t know, Randy’s somewhat secretive manner, and his more belligerent than usual behavior that blew up into conflict and almost got in trouble with the police. He’s mixing with the wrong people, Jason asserted. He then began to wonder about his own responsibility. Maybe I drove him to it, he conceded, I have been spending more time with Christine, his getting into wrong situations, doing things he shouldn’t be doing, is he just trying to get me to notice him again? Guilt began to weigh on Jason. I need to be there for him, he reminded himself, but he still felt unsettled. What if he doesn’t want to come back? he worried.
Jason’s actions became more automatic as the day wore on. He silently swore at the new owners for denying employees the playing of radios anywhere in the workplace. Time dragged on without the familiarity of music and he furthered his resolve to find a new career path. I just keep losing my freedoms, he bemoaned, then wondered if Randy was right about some of the things he had said. Life does feel more restricted, he admitted, don’t have as much fun as I used to, spending more time with Chris’s family and friends than with my own, if it keeps up I’m going to be driving around in some lame minivan before long. He looked around the remote area for other people, but saw only empty, lonely space.
His thoughts returned to the night of Tony’s party. The events of the night replayed in his mind as he looked for the moment when everything went wrong. He recalled showing up with Mike, Brian, and Terry when the party was already happening. The people at the front door were paranoid about letting them in, but Randy vouched for them. Once inside they tried to hang out with Randy in the house full of strangers, but he was busy talking to other people. They then tried to talk to some of the other party goers, but the noise and everyone’s erratic behavior made it difficult. A lot of those people were on something other than alcohol, he remembered. Probably just a matter of time until a fight broke out, he figured, if it wasn’t Randy and that other guy it would have been some other two guys. He searched some more but couldn’t pinpoint an exact moment when everything went wrong. Maybe there wasn’t one, he concluded, or it had already happened.
As he poured over the events of that night they began to combine into a single totality, which he then saw as part of a long chain of events that built up unnoticeably over time. He tried to find its beginning but it stretched as far back as he could remember. A pattern of behavior appeared to him and he was surprised that he didn’t see it sooner. It seems so obvious, he thought to himself. He then tried to foresee what the future held for Randy, but it made him uneasy.
He then considered his own future, and the futures of all his other friends. He saw the ending of their happy-go-lucky lifestyles and a future of greater responsibilities and less fun. It used to be we were all living it up without a care in the world, he reminisced, and now it’s all about careers and families and car payments. I thought I had more living to do, he thought indignantly, but with everything getting more expensive all the time I guess there’s no more time to take it easy. He started to wonder if Randy was right in his accusations. He may have a point but you can’t stop yourself from growing older, Jason reminded himself. His actions settled into a manageable work tempo.
His thoughts were drawn back again to Randy’s uncertain future. Where is he headed? he worried, he’s gone way beyond just having a good time. He then looked into the past and tried to find the source of Randy’s behavior. There’s got be a reason, he told himself, people don’t get that way for no reason. He then felt he needed to remind himself that he shouldn’t make excuses for Randy. Why did I have to remind himself of that, he wondered, I’m not saying it’s okay for him to go through life recklessly, I’m just trying to understand.
Jason wondered if everyone else was worrying about Randy. He tried to contemplate if
anything could be done for him, and dreaded that there wasn’t. But I can’t just shun Randy, he told himself. He tried again to figure out a possible positive outcome for Randy but was still unsuccessful. The hopelessness of the situation wore him down. What do I know anyways, he reminded himself, I may know Randy better than anyone, but I didn’t go through what he went through, I didn’t live his life. The history buried in his subconscious became unearthed and dawned upon him.
Jason looked around the stark building as he worked. The bare concrete and steel gave an appearance of solid, immovable permanence. I guess I ought to be thankful for what I have, he thought ironically. Not that I exactly have anything here, he reminded himself, the breaks are shorter, the new bosses suck, all the cool people who used to work here were either laid off or quit, they put a freeze on raises, now they’re talking about drug testing, and I’m not making enough to live on my own.
He remembered some gossip he overheard that the new owners were intentionally making the workplace miserable so people would quit and the company would not have to lay them off and pay them a severance. That’s a fucked up thing to do, he thought angrily, shouldn’t be allowed to happen. He remembered how one of the new supervisors gave him a hard time for being two minutes late. He said it wasn’t fair to the other workers, he recalled bitterly, what an asshole, like anyone cares about two goddamn minutes, that bullshit never happened in the old days.
I better get a new thing going quick and get the hell out of here, he reminded himself. His bleak work situation weighed upon him further, his desperation amplified by his hangover. First thing I’ve got to do is to stay away from those kinds of parties, he told himself, and maybe I’ll have to take any job I can get even if it’s less pay just so I can leave this place. But if I take a job that pays less, he pondered, I’ll have to keep looking for a better paying job. Would Christine even put up with me working for less money? he worried as he struggled to find a solution. Dad had it way more together when he was my age and now it’s getting impossible, he agonized, maybe I really was born at the wrong time.
His thoughts traveled back to all the years of playing sports under a hot summer sun and hard manual jobs he used to work. He remembered one strenuous job where he had to dig trenches for water pipes and sprinkler systems, and another where he had to push around heavy wheelbarrows full of concrete and dump them into wooden frames laid upon the ground. Got to say I was more happy with life then than I am now, he admitted. Here I am filling out paperwork and stacking boxes like they’re blocks, he told himself, pretty easy, a job where I don’t have to kill myself, but I liked it a whole lot better when I was breaking a sweat.
The boxes gradually cleared the floor and covered the pallet as Jason labored repetitiously. He worked just hard enough not to worsen his hangover and timed his task so he wouldn’t finish too fast. They’ll just give me some other stupid thing to do, he told himself. His thoughts drifted further into the past. He remembered how Randy, ever since kindergarten, always seemed to get into trouble with teachers, principals and other authority figures. Mom always said he was looking for the attention that he needed, he recalled, but we all thought he was a lot of fun, made everybody laugh, a lot of good times, sure didn’t seem like a problem back then. He was struck by how life seemed so innocent back then. So many things I didn’t see, he realized, and all because I was too busy having fun.
He reflected on Randy’s home life and the stress and conflicts between he and his mother. Sure they clashed, he remembered, but that’s just how it was, Randy was a handful, especially after his dad took off, so she did what she had to, at the time it actually seemed normal. I know they love each other, he acknowledged, some people just have a harder time showing it. He saw Randy’s lifelong impulsiveness and risky behavior in a new light, and more flaws were revealed than he had remembered. He tried again to find a solution to the chaos. What if he got along better with his mom, he thought, what if his dad never left, what if he had some guidance, what if…what if what! The dam of sympathy burst inside of him. You can’t go back in time and change things! he insisted, you do the best we can with what you got and you get on with it, everyone’s got problems.
The boxes were almost cleared off the floor and stacked onto the pallet. Jason looked at his watch and saw that it was getting close to 5PM. He felt a bit of satisfaction over finishing at his own pace. I wonder if this going to be be my last task here, he thought offhandedly. He then heard a heated discussion in another section of the building.
“Look, this was never a problem before, I’ve already made arrangements for occasions like this,” a coworker was pleading.
“That was with the previous owners,” a new supervisor replied.
“But I have to pick up my son!”
“You can’t bring your personal problems to work,” the new supervisor responded firmly.
“When you’re here, you’re on our time.”
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
Jason hurried along Santa Clara Street as the glaring, late summer sun heated him from above. The unfamiliar feel of his necktie stifled him. He loosened the knot as he was moving, unbuttoned the collar, and let the heat out. He turned south onto Market Street and crossed through shadows cast by mid sized office buildings. He then arrived at an oval island of grass and trees two and a half blocks long from north to south in the middle of Market Street. He ran across the northbound lanes between traffic and onto the sidewalk.
Jason anxiously looked around for Christine as he walked alongside the park. He spotted her sitting on a bench on the other side near the park’s southern end, and felt some relief. He went across the park toward her as she looked the other way seemingly unaware of him. He thought back to the first time they met, when he saw her across the room at a party as she was talking to friends, momentarily unaware of him until he came to her and introduced himself.
As Jason was approaching Christine finally saw him. She smiled at him, and he managed to smile back. He dropped himself onto the bench next to her and let out an exhausted breath.
“So how did it go?” Christine asked.
“Worst job interview ever.”
“It was a goddamn sales job!” Jason fumed. “Should’ve known.”
“Really?” Christine said with surprise. “The ad didn’t say that.”
“Of course not, that’s how they lure you in.” Jason replayed the whole event in his mind.
“First, they crammed all of us into this room and have us fill out this one page application that looked like it came right off the copier. And then before anyone can finish filling it out, some loudmouth jerk walks in and starts giving us this spiel about making sales, closing deals, and fleecing people. And then some other clown walked in and gave us the same bullshit speech, but even louder and more obnoxious!”
“That sounds nerve wracking,” Christine said.
“I swear, he was like the evil twin of the Downtown Datsun guy,” Jason complained. “Whole thing was like a weird, bad dream. But what gets me were all the applicants who just sat there and bought the whole song and dance, and then they joined in all the noise like sheep! What kind of a person acts like that?”
“It does seem that a lot of people are going into sales these days,” Christine pointed out. “Lots of want ads in the paper for sales jobs, guess there’s a lot of demand for it.”
“Not for me,” Jason rejected as the memory of the event became less haunting. “I can’t bullshit for a living.” He relaxed a bit more. “Remember how the ad in the paper sure made it sound like a once in a lifetime opportunity? What a load.”
“I guess it did sound too good to be true.” They stared out across the park silently.“Something better will come along,” Christine finally said as she put her hand on Jason’s knee encouragingly.
“Yeah, but I’m going to need something more than ‘some college’ and just a few skills to put on my application. I guess I’m going to have to lie more.”
“It does help make getting a job easier.”
“It’s funny,” Jason observed, “when you’re a kid, your parents and teachers and all the other adults are always telling you to not lie and to be honest. But when it comes down to it, you do what you have to get by, even if it means lying, and everybody is fine with it.”
“They should teach that on Sesame Street,” Christine joked.
“And you know what else is bothering me,” Jason continued. “Even if I did find a good job, how do I know that place won’t get bought out, and then they start firing people and making new rules and all the other bullshit that’s happening now at my current job. No way out.”
“At least you’re still working,” Christine said optimistically. “No need to grab the first thing that comes along.”
“Yeah, that helps. I just hope something comes along soon. I don’t know how much longer I can stand it there.” Jason stared out across the park. “You know, I always thought that showing up on time and doing a good job was all it took to make it through life. No one said anything about the office politics and ownership changes and the closed door meetings where your future is decided. Too complicated.” Jason looked out over the grassy field, then up a new twenty floor hotel across the street from the park as he tried to figure out his options. “You want to get something to eat?”
“Sure.” They got up and started walking up the concrete path that crossed the middle length of the park. Christine linked her fingers into Jason’s and their hands held onto each other. They walked along and approached a fountain to their right. About two dozen jets of water shot up from the flat, square sectioned concrete. The water came up to just above Jason’s eye level then flowed back down in a foamy stream. Children in soaked T-shirts and shorts ran in and out of the water in front of watchful adults. “Looks fun,” Christine commented as they stopped to watch.
“Yeah,” Jason agreed. While watching the flock of children he looked into the sun sparkled mist and saw glints of color. He thought back to when he was younger and all the long carefree summer days spent at backyard swimming pools or hanging out at the beach. “Wouldn’t mind being a kid again,” he said partly to himself.
A mother holding an infant emerged from the ring of adults and carried her child into the
fountain. She cupped her hand into one of the founts and then gently applied the water onto her child while the playing children tried not to bump into her. Jason looked upon the scene while still feeling preoccupied, then noticed Christine watching the playing children intently.
“I saw Randy the other day,” Jason said.
“So how’s he doing?”
“Well, he took me out for pizza, and paid for everything, with beers. He said he owed me.”
“Sounds like he’s doing better,” Cristine said. “Right?”
“One minute he’s broke, then suddenly he’s flush,” Jason replied.
“Where did he get the money?”
“I asked him, but he wouldn’t say. And you know what that means.”
They stood quietly against the sound of the splashing water and playing children. “How do you know?” Christine finally asked.
“What else could it be,” Jason replied. He looked upon the fountain scene as he thought of that day and remembered how Randy didn’t give a straight answer when he asked how was doing. “I have been ragging on him lately about not being able to hold a steady job and never having any money.” The mother cradling the infant rocked her child a little more while the children played around her, then sauntered out of the fountain. “Maybe I pushed him to it.”
“You can’t blame yourself,” Christine insisted. “It was his decision.”
“I don’t think he feels he has a choice,” Jason said.
“I know, it’s terrible, and I feel for Randy,” Christine said, “but he is an adult now, and he’s responsible for his own actions.”
“I wonder if he even knows what responsibility is.” They watched the children play in the
fountain for a little more then moved along. They walked up the east side of the park and the sound of the splashing water faded away as they came alongside a wall of traffic noise. “You know,” Jason began, “I actually used to be jealous of Randy. I always had chores to do, a little sister and brother to look after, had to be home by a certain time, but it seemed Randy could do just about anything he wanted, could come and go as he pleased, could stay up as late as he wanted. I thought he was so lucky.”
“You’re the one who was lucky,” Christine countered. “He needed that kind of structure and guidance. He’d be a different person right now if he had.”
Jason noticed the concrete front steps and large white pillars of Saint Joseph’s Cathedral in his right periphery as he reflected further. “Randy has been one of my best friends for almost as long as I can remember, and I thought it was always going to be that way. I just never imagined Randy not being a part of my life.” He dwelt some more as they walked along. “I know the smart thing would be to just let it all go and get on with my life. But how do you that?”
“It’s tough, I know,” Christine said, “but at least you’re concerned about him.”
“Doesn’t feel like enough.”
“You’ve done more for Randy than anyone else, and that’s all anyone can do.”
“I suppose,” Jason said. “I just wish he’d stop hanging out with Darren and all those other sketchy bastards. That’s a bad scene.”
“As long as you’re there for him maybe he’ll realize that. He can still turn things around,” Christine added hopefully. They continued walking toward the north end of the park. “I’m sure the next interview you have will be a lot better than that last one.”
“For sure,” Jason agreed. “I got one tomorrow and another one next week,” he said. “You
know what else is bothering me, when my folks got married they bought a house and raised a family on one paycheck. Now you need two paychecks just to get by. I’m not trying to make excuses, but how the hell did that happen? I thought life was supposed to get better.”
“I know. And do you ever notice how older people always talk about how hard life used to be and everything they had to go through? Which is probably true, but everything sure was a lot more affordable back then.” Christine wrapped her arm around Jason. “But you know what, something good will come along. And it won’t be like that place where you just had that interview from hell.”
“I’m over it,” Jason said and put his arm around Christine. As they came to the end of the park they saw a small plaque in front of a young tree. They stopped, read the plaque, and saw it was a memorial to a Vietnam veteran who was still missing in action. They silently looked upon it for a moment, then moved on.
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
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