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
Jason was feeling good as he got home after work. His younger brother was sitting at the kitchen table and talking on the telephone while his father was over in the sunken family room. Father was looking at the newspaper while the evening news was on the television.
“Hi, Dad,” Jason said.
“Jason. How was work?” father asked.
“Good, real good.”
“Oh yeah,” Jason said positively as he went down to the family room. “We had this big company wide meeting today. Everybody was there, including the owners. Went really well, too. Upper management said we’d make the transition through the current world situation so easily that nobody would notice.”
“That sounds grand,” father said amusedly.
“Well, that’s the way they put it, but it all sounded legit.”
“Did they bring you flowers as well?”
“No flowers, but they set out a huge spread. I’m full.”
“So you won’t need any dinner tonight,” father joked.
“I’ll make room,” Jason said humorously. “But you know what, we’re in the satellite imaging business, and they have lots of uses, not just military. They say the future is looking bright.”
“Well that’s good,” father said. “But remember, they’re only going to tell you what they want you to know. They can’t risk the commoners knowing too much.”
“They’re smart people, they know what they’re doing.”
“Maybe they’re just acting like they know what they’re doing,” father pointed out.
“Well whatever they’re doing, it’s working. I got a good feeling about where we’re going and I’m glad to be a part of it.” Jason looked over at his brother. “David, anyone call for me?”
“Huh? No,” David said from the kitchen. “Who? That was brother,” he said into the telephone. “Older…Yeah, I’m the youngest.”
“Now you heard about this Hubble telescope fiasco, right?” father said to Jason.
Jason looked back to father. “Oh yeah, everybody at work has been talking about it.”
“A couple of billion charged to the taxpayers and the damn thing doesn’t even work right,” father ridiculed as he pointed to an article in the newspaper.
“He’s only been here for a couple of months,” David said into the telephone. “He had to move back home because of credit card debt.”
“Hey! Don’t be telling the world my business,” Jason said angrily to David.
David pulled the receiver away. “Sorry,” he said to Jason, and went back to the telephone.
“Kid sure is a blabbermouth, eh?” father laughed.
“Yeah he is,” Jason agreed.
“So the point I’m trying to make,” father continued, “is that no matter how high up the ladder someone is, no one is immune to incompetency. Some people just know how to present themselves well, fool the right people, and that’s it.”
“Yeah, I see what you’re saying, but I really think the people I’m working for are too smart for that,” Jason replied. “They’re even bringing in some new investors, and that can only mean things are looking up. Investors aren’t going to gamble their money on something with no future.”
“Maybe so, but remember, we had a stock market crash just a couple of years ago,” father reminded.
Jason tried to remember the crash. “Seems like we’ve recovered.”
Father laughed. “Aw hell, you know what you’re doing.”
“I’m fortunate to be in a good place, so I’m just going with the flow.”
“Okay, but remember,” father cautioned as he pointed to the Hubble telescope newspaper article again, “all it takes is a mistake at the top that trickles down and fucks it up for everyone else. And you know that none of the people who came up with this boondoggle will get fired.”
“That’s where the job security is,” Jason said, and they shared a laugh as he left the family room. He headed through the dining area, down the hallway, and entered his room. He closed the door, and the sound of the television and David talking became faint. He tossed his keys onto the nightstand, then sat on his bed and took off his shoes. He put on a compact disc and pressed the play button on his stereo. He fell back onto his bed and the music permeated the room. He relaxed unhurriedly.
Jason lost himself in the music as he basked in the afterglow of the meeting at work. He felt content, and anticipated a brighter future. A few minutes later he heard his mother come home followed by the sound of a couple of bags of groceries being set on the kitchen counter. From the calmness of his room he overheard activity happening in the rest of the house. He then heard a knock on the front door. His mother answered and he heard his friend Randy. “So where’s Jason?” Randy asked.
“I think he’s in his room,” mother answered.
“I hear there’s going to be a huge party at Todd’s this weekend,” David said.
“Sorry, Dave, grown ups only,” Randy said.
“That’s all right,” David replied, “me and the guys will find something to do.”
“I, not me,” father corrected.
“See?” Randy said to David. “You got things going on.”
“David got a part time job at Long’s,” mother said proudly.
“So you’re a working man now,” Randy congratulated. “Way to go!”
“I just stock shelves,” David said. “Not exactly brain surgery.”
“But you are learning about responsibility,” mother reminded.
“That’s right,” Randy agreed, “listen to your mother or you’ll end up like me,” he joked. “I’ll go bother Jason.”
Jason heard quick steps to his room and a knock on the door. “Come in,” he said.
The door opened and Randy entered. His clothes were dirt stained. “Already in bed? The sun is still out.”
“Just relaxing after a day’s work.”
“I just worked too,” Randy chided, “and you don’t see me layin’ around.”
Jason lifted his head up. “You found work?”
“Yep. Terry hooked me up a job with a landscaper.”
“Way to go.”
“Now let’s celebrate and go shoot some hoops!”
Jason dropped his head back onto his pillow. “Can’t. I’ve got class tonight.”
“Again? You had class last night.”
“It’s a Monday through Thursday night class.”
“But it’s summer!” Randy pleaded. “What are you going to school for?”
“It’s just one class, and it’s only for six weeks,” Jason asserted. “Excuse me for trying to get an education.”
“You weren’t talking about getting an education back when we were cutting classes in high school.”
“I didn’t cut nearly as much as you.” Jason looked over at his clock. “And I’m going to have to leave in half an hour.”
“Aw, c’mon, you can skip one class!” Randy persuaded. “Why you want to drive all the way out to Los Gatos?”
“It’s in Saratoga.”
“So what’s your point?”
“My point is that today’s Thursday,” Randy said, “so you know what means?”
Jason thought for a moment. “Tomorrow’s Friday?”
“So you want me to cut school and go shoot hoops with you?”
“Of course,” Randy said. “Once we get to the park and throw the ball around you’ll feel better, a whole lot better than if you went to class.”
“I don’t know,” Jason said reluctantly. “It’s early in the semester.”
“One missed class isn’t going to hurt.”
Jason thought it over. “I suppose not, but I don’t know.”
“C’mon, dude. You said we’d play this week, and the week’s almost over.”
Jason started to relent. “Well, you did find a job. That’s worth celebrating.”
“It’s only a temporary job.”
“Again? Seems like all your jobs are temporary.”
“Hey! At least I did something!” Randy argued. “Look at me, dirty from a hard day’s work. And look at you, just layin’ there like a lazy bastard.”
“I’m just messin’ with ya,” Jason kidded.
“Yeah, I know,” Randy said. “Hell, when you come right down to it, work sucks, but school sucks even more because you don’t get paid for it, so let’s go!” Randy looked around. “Where’s your basketball?”
“At your place.”
“So we’ll stop at my place and get it,” Randy urged. “C’mon, it’s on the way. You said you’d play, remember?”
Jason weighed going to school against the fun of a playing basketball. He reminded himself of the importance of getting an education, but didn’t want to deny Randy either, and a decision came to him. “Okay, you talked me into it.” He sat up.
“Now you’re talking!”
“I’ll just copy the notes from another student.” Jason put on his running shoes. “I could use the exercise anyway.”
“That’s right,” Randy agreed. “You do too much sitting at your job, time to break a sweat.”
“At least it’s steady.” Jason finished tying his shoes and got up.
“But how do you know they won’t lay you off someday?”
“Please, you’re ruining my good mood,” Jason said half seriously. He turned off his stereo, grabbed his keys, and left with Randy. “Going to the park to shoot some hoops, Mom.”
“Have fun,” mother said as they walked out the front door.
* * * * * *
Jason and Randy walked along the suburban street in the orange glow of the sun. The sidewalk neatly divided the front yards from a strip of lawn next to the curb. Some lawn strips were covered with rocks, juniper bushes, trees, or were overgrown with crabgrass. All the houses were of the same four or five designs with a living room on one side and a garage and driveway on the other. Variations of color and exterior features lessened the conformity. Jason felt comfortable in the familiarity of the neighborhood.
“Just like the old days,” Randy said happily. “Going to the playground to shoot some hoops!”
“Wonder if we’ll ever grow up,” Jason wondered.
“Now why you want to do something like that?” Randy laughed.
Jason tried to figure out an answer. “You got me.” They stepped over a wide crack in the sidewalk where a tree root had lifted the concrete.
“That’s right, you know what I’m talking about,” Randy said. “All work and no play makes life boring as shit, and I don’t want to see you turn into a bore.”
“Just because I have a regular job and I’m going to school doesn’t mean I don’t know how to have a good time,” Jason countered.
“Yeah, but now you save all your fun for Christine,”
“Hey, I can still party.”
“I don’t know,” Randy doubted. “She seems to have you on a short leash.”
“A leash?” Jason laughed. “We ain’t that kinky.”
They turned down another residential street. “So you ready for tomorrow night?” Randy asked.
“Of course.” Jason began to look forward to their friend’s birthday party.
“Twenty five years. Can you believe that?”
“I know,” Jason agreed. “Kind of sounds old.”
“It’s one of life’s major events,” Randy said, “so you know it’s going to be raging.”
“I am so looking forward to it,” Jason anticipated. “I have a good feeling about this party, I think it’s going to be extra special.”
“I’m ready to cut loose,” Randy said eagerly, “and this time I earned it.” The nondescript, quiet street slowly rolled into a curve and crossed over a narrow creek. A short concrete wall with cyclone fencing topped with rusty barbed wire separated the sidewalk from the creek. Its banks sloped down a shallow stream of green water partially covered with dry weeds and foliage.
* * * * * * *
Jason and Randy arrived at Randy’s house. An old car was parked in the driveway. The front lawn was dry and overgrown. The house was faded with paint starting to crack.
“Is that you, Randy?” a loud voice said from the kitchen as they entered.
“When are you going to mow the lawn?” Randy’s mother called out. “It looks like shit.”
“Mom, I have a guest.”
“Just me,” Jason said while Randy went to his room.
“Oh, hi, Jason,” Randy’s mother said nicely. She ambled slowly into the foyer. She was wearing a bathrobe and using a cane. “So how are you doing?”
“Doing all right.”
“Good, good. And how’s your mother?”
“Doing well,” Jason answered. “She really likes her new job.” Randy returned with the basketball.
“Glad to hear that,” she said. “There are still places out there that don’t like to hire women, especially mothers.”
“Good thing Mom landed at the right place,” Jason said.
“And how’s your father?” Randy’s mother asked.
“Doing good as well, looking forward to retirement.”
“So I suppose you two are going to the park to play some basketball?” Randy’s mother asked.
“No, Mom, we’re going bowling,” Randy said as he tossed the basketball around in his hands.
“Well, smartass, could you mow the lawn when you get back?” Randy’s mother responded testily. “I filled the gas can yesterday and I don’t want it sitting in the garage forever.”
“Don’t worry,” Randy said, “the house isn’t going to blow up.”
“No, it’s not going to blow up because you’re going to mow the lawn ASAP.” She looked over at Jason and put her hand on her lower back. “I’d do it myself but I can’t. My back’s killing me. I won’t be able to go back to work for six months. Doctor says I might even need surgery,” she added.
“You’ll be fine,” Randy said.
“And you,” she pointed at Randy sternly, “stop stealing my Percodans.”
“Right, they just disappeared on their own.” Randy’s mother ambled back to the kitchen area. “You two have fun.”
Randy and Jason left. Randy dribbled the ball as they walked down the sidewalk. “My mom’s making way too big of a deal about her back injury,” Randy said knowingly. “She isn’t going to need any surgery. She just wants sympathy.”
“I don’t know,” Jason said, “back injuries can be pretty bad.”
“She’s also trying to milk workman’s comp.”
“Wasn’t she just on crutches?”
“You taking her side?” Randy said in a hurt tone.
“Well, someone has to,” Jason said trying to sound humorous.
“That’s because she treats you better than me.”
“I think all mothers do that,” Jason pointed out. “It’s their way of trying to get you to act like some other kid that they think is better behaved.”
“Even your mom?” Randy said surprisingly.
“Not anymore, she only does it to David now.”
Randy laughed. “Your mom’s cool.” He dribbled the ball a couple of more times then passed it to Jason. “So how are things with you and your main squeeze?”
Jason began dribbling the ball. “Can’t complain.”
“So what’s the secret?”
Jason was puzzled. “What secret?”
“The secret to keeping a woman from leaving you.”
“Beats me,” Jason admitted. “I didn’t know were going to last this long.”
“Must be why you’re always with her,” Randy kidded.
“Things are good, we’re happy,” Jason said feeling satisfied, then another thought came to mind. “Now her family, that’s a different story.”
“Oh, I see,” Randy said pointedly. “You don’t live up to their standards.”
“No, I don’t think it’s that.” Jason dribbled the ball ahead of him. “It’s just that we’ve been going together for almost three years now, they see us together all the time, they treat me like I’m one of the family. And now I’m thinking they want me to take that next step.” He thought some more. “I’m almost a hundred percent positive.” He dribbled the ball a couple of more times then bounced it over to Randy.
“Has anyone said anything to you?” Randy asked as he took the ball and dribbled it.
“Not directly, they just say stuff like, ‘back in the old days, everybody got married when they were still young.’ You know, hints like that.”
“Subtle,” Randy joked. “Yeah, they’re putting on the pressure.”
“I can’t say I blame them,” Jason said. “Family is family.” He thought a little more. “But sometimes it does seem like they’re being too possessive about Christine.”
“They got to get over it,” Randy concluded. “You can’t let them tell you what to do.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jason agreed. “But they’re…you know, traditional.”
“Yeah, but it’s not what they think, it’s what Christine thinks. Do you think she really wants to get married or is her family putting her up to it?”
“Sometimes she complains about how controlling they are, but she has her own mind about things,” Jason said. “Believe me,” he added.
“You know what they all might be thinking,” Randy offered.
“That you’re some lech who’s trying to use their little girl.”
Jason laughed. “If that was my plan we would’ve been over with long ago.” They walked along some more. “Christine isn’t that type of girl anyhow.”
“I’ll say,” Randy agreed. “You’ve been with her longer than all your previous girlfriends combined. You two should just move in together.”
“I don’t think Christine’s family would like that, being traditional and all.”
“You two have been together for almost three years,” Randy reminded. “If you two ever do tie the knot they know it’s not going to be a white wedding.”
“Yeah, they’re past that,” Jason said. “At least I think they are.”
“Not your problem anyhow,” Randy counseled. “If you did move in together, it would show that you’re serious. That should get them off your back.”
“Well I don’t plan on living at home forever, but right now might be the last time I get any free meals or free rent,” Jason said. “Besides, if we did move in together, that’s like saying we’re engaged.”
“And you don’t want to give up your life as a free man, I hear ya.”
“And I’m not ruling it out, I just don’t know about that kind of commitment right now.”
“Good plan. You don’t want to jump into anything just because of Christine’s family,” Randy advised as he passed the ball to Jason in mid stride.
“Of course,” Jason said as he dribbled the ball. “But they’re good people.”
“Sure they are, especially that fine cousin of hers, what’s her name again, Melinda?”
“Yeah, Melissa,” Randy said. “Does she look good, or what?”
“She’s not bad.”
“Not bad? She’s fuckin’ gorgeous,” Randy said excitedly. “Did you ever want to leave Christine for her?”
“Hey, I love Christine.”
“Of course you do, but you used to love all kinds of girls, remember?”
“Yeah, I know,” Jason said reminiscently. “But I’ve never been with a girl like Christine before. And there aren’t a lot like her out there, at least ones that are available.”
“I know Christine means a lot to you, but you don’t want to lose all your options,” Randy said helpfully. “I love Gina, at least I love fucking her. But am I in love with her, do I want to marry her? No way.”
“You know, if this was the old days, Christine and I would be married already, living in our own house, paying a mortgage, maybe with a kid or two already,” Jason said. “Nowadays, all of that is just too expensive.”
“For sure,” Randy agreed. “And women these days don’t want to be housewives. They want to go to college, get careers, do their own thing. They’re not at man’s mercy anymore.”
“You’re telling me, Christine makes more than I do,” Jason admitted. “That never would have happened in the old days.”
“She works for lawyers, and they make more bank than anybody,” Randy reminded. “And don’t be afraid to mooch off of her, I wish Gina made good money.”
“Yeah, but I want to be a provider,” Jason assertd. “And she doesn’t make that much more than me,” he added. “You know, it was that trip we took to Hawaii that put me on the path to debt. We may have partied a little too much.”
“Yeah, but you had a good time, right?”
Jason dribbled the ball and reflected happily on the trip as they were walking. “I wouldn’t mind doing it again, maybe run up a bigger debt.”
“Fuckin’ A right you would! I would’ve done the same thing if someone was dumb enough to give me a credit card.”
“They’d confiscate your card and send you to the leper colony island,” Jason kidded.
“And they’ll make me their leader!” Randy declared. “But seriously, all those fine ass bitches in bikinis laying out on the beach right in front of you, must have been tempting.”
Jason thought back to the scene on the beach. “No harm in looking.”
“Yeah, I knew it,” Randy laughed. “A whole lotta pussy out there, and I don’t want you to miss out if you’re still feeling the need.”
“Thanks for looking out for me,” Jason said with a laugh.
“Hey, what are friends for,” Randy said as he threw his arm around Jason’s shoulders. “But you gotta let me plan your bachelor party, if you get married that is, I got to make sure you leave bachelorhood in a blaze of glory.”
“Okay, but nothing too crazy like in that Tom Hanks movie.”
“No cross dressers, no farm animals on drugs, I promise,” Randy said then let go of Jason. “You know, we haven’t even hit our prime yet, we’re only twenty two.”
“I’m twenty three.”
“You are?” Randy said with surprise.
“Yeah, don’t you remember the party?”
“Oh yeah. I guess all the parties seem to run together,” Randy said humorously. “So twenty three? Dude, you’re old.” They approached the park, a patch of green open space bordered by tract houses. Near the entrance were the basketball courts, painted rectangles on the black asphalt in between steel poles. Ten feet up the poles were wooden backboards which held horizontal metal hoops with the dangling, tattered remnants of chain link nets. The rhythmic, high pitched sound of children on swings was in the background.
Randy hit the ball from Jason’s hands and broke into a jog while dribbling all the way to the empty basketball courts. He ran up to the closest basket, jumped up and rolled the ball off his hand. It hit the back board and fell through the basket. “Two!” he exclaimed as Jason arrived at the court.
Randy went to get the ball and looked over at some high school kids playing on one of the
courts. “Hey, check out Craig’s little brother. Tommy!” he called out. One of the guys at the other court looked over at Randy, waved to him, then returned to his game. “He’s not as good as Craig was.”
“Not yet, but he might catch up,” Jason said.
“I don’t know, looks pretty runty.”
Jason walked up to the painted line that crossed the middle of the court.
“Wanna take it out?” Randy asked.
Randy bounced the ball to Jason. Jason began dribbling. He tried to see a path to the basket, crossed the half court line and dribbled slowly while moving one way, then another as Randy stayed in front of him. He moved closer to the end of the court as Randy stayed between him and the basket. He got to within shooting distance, held up the ball with one hand, balanced it with the other, sprang up and shot the ball as Randy reached up and tried to block it. The ball arced over Randy, missed the basket, and ricocheted off the backboard. They both ran after the ball and Randy grabbed it first.
“Too slow,” Randy taunted, and Jason’s competitiveness was triggered. Randy dribbled to the half court line as Jason followed him. Jason got in front of Randy and stayed in front of him as he dribbled the ball back into play. Jason kept up with Randy as they advanced steadily toward the basket. Randy moved one way, then another, then charged toward the basket. Jason ran with him, Randy then circled around, aimed the ball to the basket and Jason threw his arms up. Randy quickly dribbled around Jason, jumped to the basket with the ball in his palm and lofted it up. Jason tried to block as the ball bounced off the backboard then dropped through the hoop. “That’s one,” Randy said.
“That one doesn’t count,” Jason said.
“Because I let you have it.”
Randy laughed sarcastically while Jason grabbed the ball as it bounced to a stop underneath the
basket. He took it to the other side of the half court line then dribbled the ball back into play as Randy blocked. He ran down the side of the court while dribbling and Randy quickly ran beside him. Jason slanted to the middle, tried to get past Randy, and slowed to a stop with his back to the basket. He dribbled the ball cautiously and maneuvered sideways and back while Randy stood behind him with his arms outstretched. He then held the ball with both hands and tried to figure his next move as he sensed Randy encroach upon him. He cautiously dribbled the ball again, moved right and drew Randy into one direction, then dodged the other way, spun around him, shot the ball over the hoop and through the basket. “One to one,” Jason said.
“Okay, we’re warmed up,” Randy said. He took the ball to the half court line, dribbled the ball back into play and Jason got in front of him. Randy moved ahead slowly, first one way, then another as Jason stayed ahead of him. Suddenly he charged around Jason and Jason ran with him as he tried to stay in front. They raced to the basket and bumped against each other as they got closer. Near the end of the court Randy got the ball in both hands and jumped forward. Jason jumped alongside Randy and tried to get a hand on the ball. Randy pushed the ball up and sank it into the basket. “Yes!” he boasted. “Two-one.”
Jason grabbed the ball and jogged to the other side of the half court line. He looked down the court as Randy stood in front of him and focused ahead on the basket. He dribbled the ball across the line as Randy stayed in front of him. He bolted, stopped abruptly, and Randy overran him a couple of steps. Jason huddled around the ball as he dribbled and Randy tried to reach in and knock it free. Jason moved laterally, then dodged around Randy and shot the ball to the basket. It rolled around the hoop and fell through. “Two-two,” he said.
“That was luck.” Randy grabbed the ball, hustled to the half court line, and Jason quickly followed. Randy dribbled the ball in place as Jason tried to anticipate his next move. Randy broke past Jason and dribbled ahead quickly as he ran alongside and fought to keep pace. Randy jumped to the basket while pushing the ball up with one hand as Jason jumped next to him and batted the ball away. It ricocheted off the backboard and bounced onto the court. Randy grabbed the ball before Jason could get to it, turned around and shot the ball off balance. Jason reached up and tried to deflect it. The ball cleared Jason’s hand, skimmed off the backboard, and bounced out of bounds over the foul line. Jason ran after the ball across the asphalt and picked it up as it slowed down.
As Jason circled around and jogged back to the court he saw two familiar figures approaching from the edge of the park, one of them was bouncing a basketball. Jason got to the foul line and looked again at the two figures, recognized them and saw they were advancing toward him and Randy.
“C’mon, let’s go,” Randy urged.
“We got company,” Jason said and nodded toward the two approaching guys.
Randy turned around, saw Tim and Ronnie, and started laughing. “You two looking to get beat again?” Tim and Ronnie walked up to the court. Tim was holding a basketball against his hip.
“Nah,” Ronnie said, “we just happened to be in the neighborhood. Then we saw you two stumbling around and figured you needed a lesson.”
Jason and Randy started laughing.
“Stop, you’re killing us,” Jason said between laughs.
“I know why they’re here,” Randy said after he finished laughing, “they’re here to watch and learn!” He and Jason laughed some more.
“Shit,” Ronnie said disdainfully, and looked over at Tim. Tim dribbled his ball a couple of times then broke toward the basket, ran past Jason and Randy, leaped, and laid the ball up to hoop with one hand. It fell through and bounced along the asphalt until it came to a stop.
“Wow!” Randy exclaimed sarcastically. “You’ve been practicing.”
“Guess you don’t need a step ladder anymore,” Jason added derisively.
“Think you can keep up?” Ronnie dared.
“We take it out,” Randy insisted.
Jason took his ball and went to the end of the court. He stood underneath the backboard behind the painted white perimeter while the others gathered around in front of him. “Full court?”
“Of course,” Ronnie said as he moved in front of Jason.
“What are we playing to, ten? Fifteen?” Jason asked.
“Fuck that, twenty,” everyone else said.
“All right,” Jason said. He held the ball with both hands and looked for Randy past Ronnie and Tim. Ronnie blocked Jason and Tim stood in front of Randy. Jason faked a pass quickly one way and then the other as Ronnie shifted side to side. Jason spotted Randy as he ran around and tried to separate from Tim. Randy stopped, Tim stood in front of him as they both watched Jason, then Randy broke away and Jason threw him the ball before Tim caught up.
Randy dribbled quickly down the side of the court as Tim ran alongside and tried to keep up. Jason and Ronnie chased after them along the other side of the court and tried to outrun each other. Randy came to the end of the court, stuttered to a stop, and Tim stopped between him and the basket. Jason and Ronnie caught up to them and they all clustered at the end of the court. Randy passed the ball to Jason, Jason dribbled slowly to the basket as Ronnie blocked him. Jason looked left, saw Randy run from behind Tim, and bounced the ball right to where Randy was going. Randy grabbed the ball, turned around, jumped up and shot the ball to the basket. It rolled around the hoop and fell through.
“One-nothing,” Randy said.
Tim took the ball and stood underneath the backboard. He deked the ball one way then the other as Randy blocked him. Ronnie moved around and away from Jason as Jason kept up and stayed between Ronnie and Tim. Jason watched Ronnie then Tim as he tried to anticipate where Tim was going to throw the ball. Ronnie ran in front Jason and Tim shot the ball to him past Randy. Ronnie dribbled quickly to the other basket and Jason ran after him. They crossed the half court line and Ronnie passed the ball to Tim on the other side of Jason. Tim dribbled quickly to the basket and Randy tried to get in his way as they bumped against each other. Tim threw the ball to Ronnie, Ronnie hopped up and shot the ball over Jason as he tried to deflect the ball. The ball glanced over Jason’s hand, hit off the backboard then fell through the basket.
“One-one,” Ronnie said. Randy took the ball and stood under the backboard. Jason dodged around Ronnie as he tried to find an opening from Randy. He ran in front of Ronnie and angled behind Tim, then Randy shot the ball to him diagonally. Jason got the ball with one hand while running and pushed it down and forward as he ran and dribbled down court. Jason heard Ronnie’s footsteps fast behind and he sped up. He approached the basket from the right, jumped as he lifted the ball with one hand toward the hoop, and Ronnie smacked the ball from behind. The ball fell down onto the court and Randy snagged the ball ahead of Tim. He came to a stop and dribbled in place as Tim got in front of him and Jason positioned himself for a pass. Randy slowly dribbled to the basket and Tim blocked him as Jason shifted one way then another and Ronnie stayed in front of him. Randy dribbled some more, turned then set himself to shoot. Tim got in front of Randy while Jason circled behind Randy with Ronnie trailing him to the other side of the basket.
“Here,” Jason called out while still in motion and Randy passed him the ball. Jason took the ball, jumped up to the basket and tried to shove it over the hoop. The ball bounced backward over Jason and Ronnie and they chased after it. They jostled against each other as Jason grabbed the ball first and quickly dribbled away. He looked for another shot or a way to get the ball to Randy. Ronnie got in front of him while Randy and Tim jockeyed for position near the basket. Jason slowly dribbled toward middle court as Ronnie shadowed him. Randy and Tim stood against each other underneath the basket, then Randy broke away and Jason pushed the ball to him. Randy got the ball, shot it before Tim caught up, and it fell through the basket.
“Two-one,” Randy said loudly.
Tim grabbed the ball as it bounced under the basket and stood under the backboard. Jason blocked Ronnie as he watched Tim and tried to predict where he was going to throw the ball. Ronnie got in front of Jason, Jason moved back in front of Ronnie and they crowded each other until Ronnie broke away and Tim passed him the ball. Ronnie hurriedly dribbled down court and Jason ran after him as he was getting caught up in the antagonistic, competitive spirit.
Ronnie and Jason got to the end of the court as Randy and Tim ran upon them and they all bunched up around the basket. Ronnie passed the ball to Tim, Tim dribbled to the basket while trying to dodge Randy, then passed the ball back to Ronnie. Ronnie set himself to shoot, Jason got in front of him, and Ronnie passed the ball diagonally to Tim. Randy reached for the ball, deflected it, and it bounced away. Tim and Randy ran after the ball followed by Ronnie and Jason. Tim got to the ball first, snagged it up, and dribbled rapidly back to the end of the court as Randy, Ronnie, and Jason ran after. Tim got to the basket, jumped forward and hooked the ball sideways in an arc. It rebounded off the backboard, hit the front of the hoop then fell through. “Two-two,” he retaliated.
Jason grabbed the bouncing ball and stood under the backboard. He looked for Randy past Ronnie as Randy moved one way then another and tried to keep away from Tim. Randy dodged around some more then Jason saw a clear path to him and he shot the ball quickly. Randy dribbled furiously to the other end of the court as Tim ran close behind and lateral to him. Jason hustled down the other side of the court as he tried to outrun Ronnie to the basket. Randy got near the end, stuttered to a stop and set himself to shoot. Tim swarmed Randy as Jason and Ronnie ran upon them. Randy passed the ball around Tim to Jason and he dribbled ahead quickly. Ronnie got in Jason’s way, Jason went around him and launched the ball to the basket. It hit the backboard at an angle and bounced through the net. “Three-two,” he said.
Ronnie grabbed the ball, stood under the backboard and Jason positioned himself in front of him. He faked a pass one way then the other as Jason moved sideways with the ball until Ronnie bounced it diagonally into Tim’s hands and the action of the game shifted down court.
The match went on with both sides trading baskets and rebounds as the lead changed several times with the difference no more than two points. Dusk approached as a golden orange sunset shone over the western mountains and cast the last of the sunlight across the neighborhood, the park, and its visitors. Jason felt energized and immersed into the intense, reciprocating competition. Some other people at the park noticed their game and watched for a bit.
“C’mon, man, try to keep up,” Tim baited Randy.
“On your ass, motherfucker,” Randy warned.
“Bitch, you’re laggin,’” Tim spun around Randy, shot the ball to the basket, and it fell through. “Oh yeah! Back on top!”
Randy grabbed the ball as he went under the backboard. He slung it to Jason. Jason quickly dribbled to the other basket while being flanked by Ronnie. He ran across the half court line then passed the ball to Randy. Randy charged ahead, jumped to the basket simultaneously with Tim as they bumped against each other, then he underhanded the ball to Jason while in midair. Jason got the ball as Ronnie swiped at it, dribbled a couple times to the basket, then pushed the ball up to the hoop. It went over the rim and fell through.
“Fuck yeah!” Randy shouted. “Thirteen all!”
“Settle down,” Ronnie said as he grabbed the ball, “we’re just getting started.”
“That’s right,” Tim backed up, “I put the T in Run TMC.”
“Oh my god!” Randy laughed. “That is the stupidest fucking thing you’ve ever said.”
“Always talking shit,” Tim accused angrily.
Ronnie stood under the backboard. Jason got in front of him and focused on the ball as Ronnie held it close. Tim and Randy ran around behind Jason, then Tim got the pass from Ronnie and furiously dribbled down court quickly trailed by Randy then Jason and Tim. The game persisted as the momentum and the lead shifted back and forth. The pace quickened as they competed more aggressively, and they increasingly taunted and insulted each other. The glow of the sun was disappearing behind the western mountains and night approached over the eastern mountains as people began to leave the park.
Jason and Randy battled to a nineteen to eighteen lead as Tim ran and dribbled then made a shot over Randy to the basket. The ball ricocheted off the backboard and fell toward Jason and Ronnie. They jumped for the ball and Jason snagged it first. He dribbled quickly and sped down court as he anticipated the winning point. He heard footsteps all around him and noticed Ronnie in his periphery running alongside. He then saw Randy running ahead of him to the other side. He passed the ball to him then veered away from Ronnie. Randy charged to the basket and got the ball up as Tim ran up by him and knocked it away. The ball bounced toward the foul line and Randy chased after it as Ronnie tried to get it first. Randy grabbed the ball with both hands, spun around and shot it to the basket while still in motion. The ball traveled in an arc, hit against the hoop, rolled around a couple of times and fell through. “Yes!” Randy shouted. “Game point!”
“Hey!” Ronnie yelled as he pointed down at the foul line. “Your foot was over the line, right here!”
“I was in!” Randy yelled back while pointing to the same spot.
“Bullshit! You were out!”
“Yeah,” Tim said as he got behind Randy. “Our ball!”
“Game over! We win!” Jason said out loud.
“Your foot went over the goddamn line!” Ronnie pointed again at the spot on the blacktop. “Here! Right fucking here!”
“Yeah! I saw it too!” Tim chimed in.
“You lost!” Jason insisted. “Now go on home!”
“Stop your crying!” Randy shouted back at Ronnie, “I wasn’t out! I was in! We won it fair! Now quit your bitching!”
“Fuck you, punk!” Randy and Ronnie advanced upon each other. Tim backed up Ronnie and Jason got behind Randy. They swore at each other and argued some more in the near empty park. Jason felt a rush from the heat of conflict as he stood behind Randy and became entangled in the noisy ruckus. The boisterous shouting went back and forth until tempers cooled down and Jason dragged Randy away while Tim pulled Ronnie away.
“C’mon,” Jason said to Randy, “let’s go. We won and they know it. Sore fuckin’ losers just don’t want to admit it.”
“In your dreams, bitches!” Ronnie said defiantly and they traded a few more taunts as they slowly parted from each other. Randy picked up Jason’s basketball from the end of the court as he and Jason left the park. Randy bounced the ball forcefully on the sidewalk with one hand then the other as they walked home. Jason was still feeling agitated from the almost fight and moved quickly. The sun was below the horizon and twilight was cast over the valley.
“What a couple of whiny fuckin’ babies,” Randy said as he dribbled the ball from hand to hand. “No respect.”
“They’re punks,” Jason said. “Remember when we used to hang out with Ronnie’s brother, Jeff? He wasn’t a smart ass, he was all right.”
“He should’ve kicked Ronnie’s ass more often,” Randy said.
“I think we showed him.” Jason’s excitement slowly ebbed and his breathing became easier.
“Man, my heart is still racing,” Randy said while dribbling.
“Must be the adrenalin buzz,” Jason said.
“That and those two little fuckers getting under my skin,” Randy said.
“They’re not so little anymore.”
“So what? We can still fuck them up.”
“Of course,” Jason said. “Remember what a skinny little bastard Tim was when he was a freshman? Couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds.”
“Yeah, and he already had a big mouth.”
“No respect,” Jason repeated. The layer of sweat covering him cooled him off in the balmy early evening. He breathed in deeply and felt good as they walked home in the increasing darkness. He began to relax after the excitement of the game and the heat of the argument had dissipated. “Felt good getting that win,” he said. “I thought I might be slipping.”
“Nah, you haven’t lost a step,” Randy reassured. “You played real good, if anything there were a couple of shots I missed that I should have made, especially the one you dished off to me when they tried to double team you.”
“Yeah, but that was a tough corner shot. You didn’t miss by much.”
“I should’ve hooked it more.” Randy finally stopped dribbling and held the ball against his side. “We got to do this more often, and get some some of the other guys to play too.” They talked about the game some more as they were walking until they arrived at Randy’s house.
“I bet you had a funner time than if you went to class tonight,” Randy said.
“Yeah, it was fun,” Jason admitted, “especially getting that win.”
“So you want to grab a beer?” Randy asked.
“Can’t. Going over to Christine’s right now,” Jason said. “I’ll save myself for Todd’s party tomorrow night.”
“Right on,” Randy said. “At least you’re getting some tonight.”
“Don’t you have Gina to go to?”
“I don’t know, she’s being a real pain in the ass right now. I’ll go and see what some of the other guys are doing.” Randy jogged across the yard to his front door. “See you tomorrow night. Man, I can’t wait!”
“Try to control yourself, all right?” Jason said jokingly.
“I’ll be on my best behavior, I swear,” Randy promised, and they both laughed. They waved one last time as Randy entered his house.
The front door closed and Jason moved along. The neighborhood was suddenly silent and the overhead street lamps shone yellow as he walked home alone with his thoughts. He replayed the last few seconds of the basketball game in his mind and was certain he and Randy had won. He silently reveled in victory for the rest of the walk, and sensed an overall positive feeling about his life and its direction.
Jason came to his house then looked down at his empty hands and realized he didn’t have his basketball. “Dammit,” he said to himself. “Forgot it again.”
©2016 Robert Kirkendall
SANTA CLARA VALLEY – 1964
John stood outside in the back yard of his family farmhouse and lit a cigarette. He looked out across the maintained rows of green leaved plum and apricot trees under the midday sun. In the distance he saw a construction crew on a recently cleared lot paving new streets and laying foundations for future tract houses, and felt encroached upon. His mother came out of the back door of the house and stood behind him. He sensed her looking at him with concern as he looked toward the sky’s end at the western mountains.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” John said sullenly.
“We couldn’t get a hold of you,” his mother replied. “You’ve been away for close to three years now. And with all your moving around after your discharge we didn’t know where to find you.”
“I would’ve returned sooner if I knew this was going to happen.”
“I’m sorry you had to find out like this. We were hoping to keep the orchard, but your father isn’t as young as he used to be. His doctors are telling him to take it easy.”
“And Richard is okay with this?”
“Richard just got promoted to foreman at Owens Corning. He’s doing well. He could probably get you a job there.”
“I would’ve taken over the farm.”
“There’s just no more money to be made from fruit trees, at least not around here. All the new housing and shopping centers are driving up the price of land, and our property taxes are going up with it. A lot of farmers are selling out.”
John took a drag off his cigarette. “This is all wrong.”
“I don’t like it either, but we don’t have much of a choice.” Mother moved toward John. “And the trees are getting older, some of them are at least fifty years old or more.”
John continued to look at their rows of fruit trees, and he was pained thinking how they would soon be gone. “I thought this would always be here. Farmers made this valley.”
“Yes, we did.” Mother stood next to John. “Farms and orchards used to stretch as far as the eye could see. People would come here and visit just to see them. I always thought it’d be like this too,” she said forlornly.
“Our way of life is coming to an end.”
“The valley is a big place, I’m sure some of the orchards will remain. People will always have to eat. And the south valley is still unbuilt upon at least.”
John took another drag off his cigarette as he wandered away from the house still feeling crestfallen. “So what am I going to do now?”
“We didn’t think you’d be back anytime soon. We just figured you’d settle some place else. You always were restless,” mother said with maternal nostalgia.
“Yeah, I did some adventuring around, but I’m back now.” John looked back at mother. “And the whole time I was away, I thought there would always be as home to come back to, and that a future here was possible. And I was wrong.” He paced around some more. “So what are you and Dad going to do? And Scott and Erin?”
“Well, we don’t have to move out just yet. We’ll get one more harvest. And with the money we’re getting we can buy a new home somewhere.”
“It won’t be like this,” John said disappointedly “Just a little house with a little yard. Where are you all going to move to anyway?”
“Willow Glen might be nice. We have time to look around, and we don’t need a big house anymore. I’m kind of looking forward to it to tell you the truth. Just a little garden to take care of.”
“I still can’t get used to this.”
“It’ll be all right. You know, there are a lot of new jobs here. Your friend Jim is working at Westinghouse. And remember FMC? They used to make cans for all the canneries? Now they’re making tanks for the army. With your service experience you’d be a shoo in.”
“I didn’t come back here to work in a factory. I always liked the openness here, and I am not liking this,” John said as he nodded toward the construction site.
“Are you going to leave us again?” mother asked somberly.
John took another drag and exhaled. “Haven’t made up my mind yet.”
“And when did you take up smoking?”
“In the service. Guys who smoke get a cigarette break.”
“The doctors say it was cigarettes that caused your father’s heart attack.”
John dropped the cigarette butt and crushed it into the dirt with his boot. “I don’t smoke that much.”
“Just don’t want the same thing to happen to you.”
“Nobody used to say that cigarettes were bad for you.”
“Everything is changing,” mother pointed out. “I remember when they built that hangar at Moffett Field. It was so big you could see it from miles away. But the land is filling up. You can’t see across the valley the way you used to.”
John watched the activity at the construction site resentfully and thought of the formerly open land that was about to be closed off, built upon, and occupied by strangers. “Can’t believe this is all going to be gone.”
“Sorry you feel that way, son. I didn’t think you’d take it this so hard.”
“Because I didn’t see this coming,” John said with some anger. “Would you have done the same thing if I was here?”
“I don’t know, but you would’ve been part of the conversation. What would you have done? Or said?”
“I would’ve tried to hold onto the farm. This is ours.”
“But how would you have kept it going? You never ran things. You don’t know what that’s like. A lot of responsibility. All the harvesting, and bringing to market.”
“I remember. I took part in all of that. I packed and loaded a lot of crates over the years.”
“But it’s different when you’re in charge. There are bills, expenses, employees to pay, equipment to maintain, loans to pay off, taxes, rising costs.”
“I would’ve at least tried.”
“But for how long? Especially with every other farm and orchard selling to developers and builders. It just feels inevitable.”
“I suppose you’re right,” John said cynically. “I saw that big, new, ritzy department store over on Stevens Creek and Winchester. Never thought I’d see one of those here.”
“You mean The Emporium? That is a grand place,” mother said happily. “Your father bought me a dress from there.”
“What’s wrong with Sears?”
“Sometimes you want nice things.”
“The valley is all about growing food for the people, especially the city people who don’t know how to farm. They depend on us. We don’t need to be like San Francisco.”
“Well I don’t think we’ll ever get that big, but we do have more businesses and industry here now, and all those workers need places to live and shop.”
“But do you like what’s going on here?” John asked as he gestured toward the construction site.
Mother sighed. “I’m too old to fight it.”
“So it’s just me?”
“Like I said, you always were a restless child. As soon as you could walk you were off and running. You must have roamed over every square inch of this valley.”
“And someday there’ll be nowhere to run around or fish or hunt,” John said dejectedly.
John’s mother moved closer to him. “You know, we were never sure if you were going to come back or not. It’s just your wandering ways.” She stood next to him and put her arm around him. “So what are you going to do next?”
John took a long look around at their property as he put his arm around his mother. “Think I’ll go over to Phil’s and see what he’s doing.” He looked to her. “Can I take the Dodge?”
“Keys are in the usual place.”
* * * * * * * *
John cruised along the two lane blacktop in a 1953 Dodge. Phil sat on the passenger side of the front seat. Rows of fruiting trees, plums, cherries, apricots, and almonds, bordered either side of the street, interspersed with plowed fields, at the end of which were old Victorian era farmhouses. A line of wire strung telephone poles were on one side of the street.
“Nice to have you back,” Phil began. “You must have missed home.”
“I’m going to be missing it more.”
“Are you leaving again?”
“My parents are selling the farm.”
“Oh no. All of it?”
“All twenty five acres.”
“I didn’t know they were looking to sell.”
“I just found out myself.” They approached an intersection and came to a stop. A produce stand was at one corner. John looked down either direction, then turned left onto the cross street. More orchards and farms lined the street.
“Getting one last look before it’s all gone?” Phil asked.
“Why don’t we grab some beers and head down to Almaden? We’ll go for a hike, maybe even do some fishing. You’ll feel better.”
“A hike sounds good. Maybe it’ll clear my head.” They drove along further.
“I don’t know what to say,” Phil finally said.
“I’m still in shock myself,” John said. “This changes everything.” He pondered his future and wondered where his next path was.
“My parents are talking about selling.”
“It’s the taxes,” Phil explained. “They don’t think they’ll be able to hold on much longer.”
“What are you all going to do?”
“My parents are thinking about buying land out near Gilroy or Hollister, maybe even all the way out to the San Joaquin Valley.”
“They want to move away?”
“They’re growers, only life they know.”
“How about you?”
“Well, this is the only home I know. If we sell I’ll have to find a job. I’ll see how it goes. How about you?”
“Haven’t decided.” They came to another intersection. A flashing red light was strung over its center. John tuned right and parked in front of a liquor store, a wide nineteenth century era white wooden building. They walked in and got a six pack of Falstaff beer from a refrigerated case. They went to the front counter.
“My friend here just got back into town,” Phil said to the middle aged woman behind the counter.
“Oh, glad to be back?” the woman asked John.
“My home has been sold to developers,” John answered.
The woman’s expression saddened. “Well that is too bad,” she said consolingly. “That’s been happening all over.”
“At least this old place is still here,” Phil added cheerfully.
“Don’t know how for how much longer,” the woman lamented. “The planning department wants to turn Almaden Road out there into an expressway!”
“That could bring in more business,” Phil pointed out.
“It’ll put us out of business because the expressway will go over all this,” the woman said with arms held out.
“Why do the have to put it right here?” Phil asked. “Can’t they pave around you?”
“No can do,” the woman said. “If they expand the road the other way it’ll fall into the river. Their mind is made up.”
“Can you fight it?” John asked.
“They’ll use eminent domain. The best we can hope for is a good price for the land. Everyone is fleeing downtown for the suburbs.”
“Suburbs that haven’t been built yet,” John added.
“They’re building them as fast they can,” the woman informed. “And I’ll be glad to be gone when they do.”
“I can’t imagine the valley without places like this,” Phil said. “This is a landmark.”
“It sure was,” the woman said wistfully. “Back when this was a saloon, this was the only stop between San Jose and Almaden where you could come in and wet your whistle. Now San Jose is swallowing the whole place up. Can’t wait to get out.”
“That’s got to hurt,” Phil said sympathetically.
“Breaks my heart,” the woman said. “All the old families that grew and farmed in this valley are selling out and leaving. In ten years I’m not going to recognize my hometown.”
“Where are you going to go?” John asked.
The woman leaned forward onto the counter. “My husband and I have a beach cottage down in Capitola. That’s where we’ll be.”
“Sure won’t be the same here without Robertsville Liquors,” Phil said.
“No it won’t,” the woman shook her head. “Never thought I’d see the day.”
* * * * * * * *
John and Phil paid for the beer and a couple of sandwiches, then got back into the Dodge and drove south on Almaden Road. They passed more orchards, some cornfields, an occasional market, and an old, Spanish designed elementary school.
“So they’re really going to widen this street,” Phil wondered. “Can’t imagine what that’s going to look like.”
“Guess we’re going to find out,” John replied.
“Who decides these things? Nobody asked us.”
“Somebody higher on the totem pole.”
“Yeah, much higher,” Phil said. “I thought we were safe from all that. People need to eat, and we supply that.”
“California is a big state with a lot of agriculture. They’ll find a place.”
“Just wished they asked us.”
They passed by a roadhouse tavern as they drove on further into the south valley. The fruit trees began to give way to ranches and open fields. The straight road started to wind around knolls and climbed into the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The farms and ranches became sparser and gave way to forest and trees, black oaks, bay laurels, madrones, and various firs. John lit up a cigarette as the road weaved higher into the mountains and gradually curved to the right. A creek appeared below the left side of the road.
They came to a turnout and John parked the Dodge. They got out of the car and crossed the road as John dropped his cigarette butt. They took in the new surroundings as they entered a trail head and headed into the woods. “When was the last time you were down here?” Phil asked.
“Before I left home. At least this looks the same.” John’s mood improved as they hiked further into the thicket of trees. His worries dispersed into the natural surroundings as he fell into a more primordial conscious. The trees blocked out some of the sun and he felt a little cooler. They got through the trees and came to a reservoir. The late afternoon sun reflected brightly off the surface of the water.
“Well this looks as good a place as any to drink some beers,” Phil said. He set the six pack on a large rock along with a small paper sack. He pulled a church key from his pocket, opened two of the bottles, and handed one to John. “Glad to have you back, my friend,” Phil said as he raised his bottle in a toast.
John clinked his bottle against Phil’s. “About time, eh?” They both took a drink.
“Some of us were wondering if you were ever going to come back. We figured you were on a great big adventure. You know how it is growing up in a valley, every direction you look there’s mountains. Kind of makes the world seem small.” Phil reached into the paper sack and pulled out a cellophane wrapped sandwich. “You want your sandwich?”
“Later.” John wandered around the edge of the water as he thought about what Phil said. He remembered thinking the same thing growing but had never expressed it. He wondered if all he ever wanted was to see what was on the other side of the mountains, and then considered if he wanted to remain on the other side now that home as he knew it was about to end. As he pondered he spotted a hawk in the far sky. He followed its hovering flight path.
“No way they build up here,” Phil broke the silence. “Too far away from everything.” He took the last bite of his sandwich. “Not everything changes.”
John watched the hawk as it circled in the distance. “Things won’t be the same, whether I stay or leave.”
“Well I’m going to stick it out for the time being. The valley is still a good place to live. Even if we sell the farm I can find a job here, and there’s a lot more jobs than there used to be.” Neither spoke. “But I do know some people that are leaving. They just can’t compete. And my sister wants to go to college up in Berkeley. If she does that I can’t imagine her coming back here to live the farm life, assuming we still have it by then.” Phil took another drink as he moved closer to the water next to John. “At least you don’t have to worry about being drafted now that you’ve done your time. Weren’t you stationed in Vietnam?”
“Vietnam is what I keep hearing on the news. Maybe the Army will come after me if that builds up.”
“We’re only there to support their government against the Communists. At least that’s what they told us.”
“You were in that part of the world. What do you think?”
“It’s been over a year since I was there. A lot has changed.”
They looked across the water together. “You mean since the president was shot?”
A memory of shared trauma was triggered. “Everything is on edge now,” John dreaded. “Hard to tell what’s going to happen next.”
“Well, whatever the future holds, we sure had some good times,” Phil said affectionately.
John thought back to their growing years. He felt a yearning for that time, then sorrow over its passing. Then he began to see his varied past in its entirety. “I may not know what the future holds, I don’t even know if I’m going to stay here or not, and maybe everything I remember from home as I knew it is going to disappear. But I do know where I came from, where we came from, and no one can take that away from us,” he said proudly.
John held up his beer. “To our little Eden.” Phil toasted along with him as they looked out across the water.
©2015 Robert Kirkendall