A rewrite of chapter 10 of Redwood Summer, a novel of 1990 San Jose. In this chapter Jason is attempting to fix the car problem from the previous chapter, and ends up having a conversation with his father about where he’s at in life, and about what Silicon Valley was in its agricultural past.
A rewrite of chapter 7, not much different than earlier version, but deeper. Action is right after action in chapter 6. Jason and Christine are at her nephew’s little league game, which symbolizes his journeys from participant to spectator, and contrasts with chapter 2 in which Jason plays a game of basketball with friends.
Also in this chapter Jason begins to lose control over his life as outside forces start to move him against his will.
A rewrite and expansion of Redwood Summer chapter 6. This is the beginning of the second third of the novel. It takes place about a month after chapter 5 ends, and begins the changes that will happen in Jason’s, the main character, life. Jason and his mother have a debate about the pros and cons of technology, and then she reminds him that his sister will be home from college that later that day. She is a student at Cal Poly, and this her first mention in the novel. Mother suspects Jason may be envious of his sister, though he swears he isn’t.
Rewrite of chapter 5. The scene is the morning after a glorious party, and the end of the first third of the novel. Everyone is hungover but happy, and the story reaches a peak at the end of this chapter, after which is the downward slide to its ultimate fate.
Just gave chapter 4 a rewrite, the party scene. One of the inspirations for this chapter is the party scene from The Great Gatsby. Not that I’m at that level of expertise, but learn from the best. What struck me about the party scene from Gatsby is that it’s so ethereal it almost seems unreal, and so beautiful that you know the happiness won’t last. And I think it’s a match with my party scene because it represents a deliriously happy peak for all the characters that they’ll never reach again.
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
“So now Alex is trying to hook him up with a job so he can pay off his bills and his back rent!” Mike said loudly to Jason over blaring party music.
“Hook who up?” Jason responded just as loud.
“Curtis!” Mike repeated.
“Oh, good for him!” Jason yelled back. “Hope it works out!”
“Maybe he can find something for you!”
“I’ll need to make more than what Curtis is willing to work for!”
“I heard that!” Mike agreed.
They looked around the unfamiliar house at the shifty, uneasy crowd.
“Know anybody here other than Darren?” Mike asked loudly.
Jason scanned the horde of party goers. “A couple of familiar faces, but no one I know personally!”
They milled around and tried to fit into the agitated atmosphere of the party. Some were drinking heavily and clustered around in separate, loud conversations. Others went in and out of a bedroom at the end of the hallway, closing the door every time they entered or exited.
The night wore on then loud, angry voices clashed over the blasting music. Jason and Mike looked toward the clamor and saw people hurrying toward the front room. They followed everyone and saw Randy and another party goer screaming and pushing at each other as others yelled at them to stop or egged them on. Jason and Mike moved toward the conflict but merged into a flood of people that quickly filled up the front room. The crowd surrounded the two fighters as the mêlée escalated and they tried to wrestle each other down. Jason and Mike struggled to push through the crowd but were stuck. Jason watched the fight from a distance as spectators from the crowd finally reached in and tried to pull Randy and his opponent away from each other while others continued to incite them. Jason tried to keep his footing in the lumbering crowd then someone hollered that a neighbor had called the police.
Everyone quickly untangled themselves, broke away from each other, and dispersed out the front and back doors. Jason and Mike along with Darren got a hold of Randy while the other fighter was pulled away by other disappearing party goers.
“Where is that motherfucker!” Randy yelled.
“Chill, dude!” Darren said.
“Let’s get the fuck outta here!” Mike ordered as he and Jason pushed Randy out into the backyard and were trailed by Darren. They met up with Brian and Terry and joined a line of people running along the side of the house. They emerged into the front yard and everyone fled into the night under the hazy glow of street lamps.
Lit up police cars rolled up the street, and Jason, Mike, Brian, Terry, and Darren grabbed Randy and took off in the opposite direction. They raced down one street, then another. Jason was fueled by a rush of excitement as he deeply breathed in the cool night air. They kept running through the neighborhood then slowed to a jog, and then a walk as the houses gave way to the large expanse of a high school. They tried to catch their breath as they approached the front of the campus.
“Got away,” Brian said between breaths.
“So who was that guy you were brawling with?” Jason asked Randy.
“One of Tony’s asshole friends,” Randy said. “I think his name is Frank.”
“Well what were you two fighting about?” Jason asked.
“Fuck if I know,” Randy said as he wandered onto the yellow lit school grounds.
“Well that explains things,” Brian said sarcastically. “I thought it was something important.”
“You guys should’ve back me up!” Randy insisted.
“We tried but the place was packed,” Mike replied. “We could barely move.”
“You’re lucky we got you out of there,” Jason said to Randy. “You’re in no shape to be talking to cops right now.”
“They would’ve dragged you away on sight,” Terry added.
“Yeah, yeah,” Randy said dismissively. He wandered further onto the school and looked around at the institutional, rectangular buildings. “Haven’t been here in a while.”
“I had to get out of that party quick,” Darren said. “I think I still have a warrant out on me.”
“That the only reason why you’re so jumpy?” Terry asked knowingly.
“At least they didn’t send that helicopter with the spotlight,” Mike said.
Randy continued to survey the school grounds. He walked through the outdoor commons and everyone followed. “Can’t believe it’s been five years already.”
“Time marched on,” Brian reminded.
“Hope they don’t bust Tony,” Darren worried.
“They shouldn’t,” Terry answered. “He just threw a noisy party, that’s all.”
“Yeah, as long as nothing is in plain sight,” Mike reminded.
“They’re just there to break up our fun,” Randy said as he pulled a can of beer from his jacket pocket. “Shit, like they got nothing better to do.” He opened his beer and foam hissed out of the can as he took a drink.
“Hope you brought enough for everybody,” Brian chided.
“I might have an extra,” Mike said as he felt inside his jacket, pulled out one can, then another,
and handed one to Brian. Jason then felt his front jacket pocket, found a beer he had forgotten, and
pulled it out. As they opened their beers they all shot out foam.
Randy held up his can. “To the old school,” he said solemnly, and they all took a drink. Jason took a foamy drink that tasted warm and acrid.
“Not too often we get to see the old school,” Randy reminisced.
“You didn’t see too much of it when you were going,” Mike kidded.
“Yeah, but when you’re in high school you can’t let classes get in the way of having a good time,” Randy asserted.
“Can’t argue with that,” Jason said half seriously.
“That’s right,” Terry agreed. “So what if you weren’t the valedictorian.”
“Yeah, I was a pain,” Randy acknowledged, “but I never thought I was going to miss it.” He looked around the campus longingly as he walked ahead. “Now it’s all a bunch of kids who were in fucking junior high when we were here. Can you believe that shit?” Randy quickened his pace as he went by a row of lockers. Everyone else jogged after him while trying not to spill their beers until they came upon the courtyard in the middle of the school buildings. They all stopped, and Randy looked around the open space nostalgically.
“Sure looks empty with nobody around,” Terry said after a while.
“Yeah,” Jason agreed, “and smaller.”
Randy gazed around raptly then focused on one of the larger buildings. “The cafeteria,” he spotted. “Did a lot of Saturday school there.”
“Couldn’t have been as much as me,” Mike said.
“I remember this one time a food fight broke out in there,” Terry began. “When no one was looking, I walked out with a case of Fanta.”
“Did you guys hear someone else?” Darren asked warily.
“That’s nothing,” Mike said to Terry. “One night I carved donuts on the soccer field with my old Camaro.”
“I think that’s just our voices echoing,” Brian said to Darren.
“Yeah, I tore it up good,” Mike reminisced as he pantomimed making a sharp turn with a steering wheel.
“Oh, I remember now,” Terry said to Mike. “It was after that party when…”
A piercing scream suddenly erupted from Randy. The echo reverberated off the buildings and briefly filled the vacant courtyard. Everyone looked around startled. “You’re right,” Randy said to Brian.
“Goddammit, Randy! There are cops around!” Jason said angrily.
“Hope nobody heard that,” Darren worried.
“Oh, that was heard,” Mike remarked.
“You’re awfully jumpy tonight,” Terry said to Darren.
“He’s always jumpy,” Brian added.
“Cops won’t come,” Mike predicted, “they’re busy rousting Tony.”
“Aw, man,” Darren lamented.
Randy walked further into the courtyard. “You know how people that say that high school is the quickest four years of your life,” he began, “well it’s been about five years since we all left, and those four years were a lot more fun than the years that came after. Ain’t that a bitch.”
“Life was better then and we didn’t even know it,” Brian observed.
“Couldn’t wait to get out of here,” Randy said as he looked around the open space longingly, “and here I am.” The yellow lights on the buildings glowed beside him and his shadow stretched across the ground and moved with him. Jason watched Randy as he wandered to the center of the courtyard and appeared to be lost in memories. “Back then we were always hanging out with each other, like family. Now we don’t see each other the way we used to.” He stood by himself in the middle of the courtyard. “Especially since some of you are whipped by your girlfriends.”
Jason suspected the last comment was directed at him. Randy looked around some more, thenfocused on one spot in the far corner. “The center of it all,” he said happily. “The smoking section.”
“That isn’t the smoking section anymore,” Terry informed.
“What?” Randy looked stunned. “Where the fuck is it?”
“They don’t have one anymore,” Jason said.
“You’re shitting me!”
“All the high schools got rid of them,” Mike said, “new state law. Didn’t you hear?”
Randy lowered his head in disappointment. “Everything good in life, they take it all away,” he brooded. “It’s bullshit!” He paced around angrily. “Where are you supposed to go now to hang out with your bros and smoke a bowl?”
“Library?” Mike joked.
“Goddammit I’m serious!” Randy yelled from the middle of the courtyard. “We have been betrayed by a bunch of fucking new rules! Freeways cover up our old stomping grounds! It’s getting too fucking crowded here! Shit is getting too expensive! We’re losing our freedom!” he declared with fists clenched. “Where’s the fun? Where are the crazy adventures? The memories!” A tense pause filled the air.
“Life ain’t that bad,” Mike finally said. “Why stress?”
“Because we had something!” Randy emphasized. “We were the big men on campus, and nobody could fuck with us! And now it’s all gone! Fuck!” He flung his can of beer and it skidded across the blacktop then struck one of the buildings as it left a wet trail of beer in its path.
“Hey, that’s alcohol abuse,” Terry joked.
“You think I’m kidding?” Randy shot back.
“You need to relax,” Jason advised.
“Fuck that!” Randy paced around some more. “You don’t get it! All you motherfuckers are relaxing too much!” he accused as everyone watched him. “Everything we had is disappearing! And you’re all settling into your nice, boring routines! Dull, predictable lives!” He moved in closer. “You’re all dying inside.”
“Whoa, Randy, that’s heavy,” Mike cautioned.
“And take it easy. There are cops around!” Jason warned.
“What the fuck is wrong with you guys? Are you even listening?” Randy yelled. He pulled out another can of beer from his jacket pocket, opened it, took a long drink and moved closer to everyone. “In the old days you would’ve backed me up.”
“We tried but everybody rushed in,” Mike said. “We could barely move!”
“And then someone said the cops were on the way,” Brian said.
“Yeah,” Jason agreed. “What the fuck were we supposed to do?”
“You’re not supposed to forget who your brothers are!” Randy shouted. Everything fell silent again.
“Okay, Randy, sorry for not jumping in on time,” Brian finally replied. “We didn’t know you were going to start a fight with some total stranger.”
“Fuck, man!” Randy continued angrily. “I didn’t start shit! That fucker bumped into me on purpose! Then he started shooting off his mouth! I couldn’t let him get away with that!” He appeared to wait for a response. “It wasn’t my fault!” he insisted.
“It never is,” Terry remarked.
“Fuck you!” Randy shot back. “You’re supposed to be on my side!”
“Let it go,” Brian advised.
“No! Fuck that!” Randy yelled. “I don’t want to hear any more of that pussy bullshit! I’m not letting it go!” he emphasized. “I know what’s going on. No one wants to hang out with Randy anymore.” He paced around again. “Your girlfriends don’t like having me around. They think I’m an embarrassment. They think I’m trouble. But don’t you all forget that I’m the one who makes things happen!” He stared at them accusedly as the tension rose up again. “What would you have done without me, huh?” he asked pointedly. “Sit around and jack off all day? All your memories are because of me! I’ll be the one you tell stories about whenever you all get together! I made your pasts!” He moved in closer. “You can’t escape that.”
“No one has forgotten,” Jason finally said.
“That’s right,” Mike agreed. “Always the life of the party.”
“I was the party,” Randy declared proudly. His eyes appeared to light up from a recalled memory. “You guys remember that party we went to in the east side? At that ranch up in the foothills? Big place, kegs everywhere. And we met those farmer chicks, I think they were drunker than we were,” he said with a laugh. “And there was that one I hit it off with, Rhonda or something. Then we went behind a shed, and we had our party,” he added luridly.
“Yeah, I remember that party,” Terry reminisced, “or at least I remember going there. I think I blacked out at some point.
“One of those girls had her hands all over you,” Randy said to Jason. He moved toward him. “You could’ve fucked her. How come you didn’t?”
Jason was caught off guard. “I was going out with Jenny at the time.”
“So I didn’t want to cheat on her.”
“Well good for you,” Randy said ominously. “That shows loyalty.”
Jason began to feel uneasy. “What are you getting at?”
“I remember a time when you were loyal to your friends,” Randy said as he moved closer to Jason.
“Aw, c’mon!” Jason refuted. “Where do you come off saying shit like that?”
“Tell me I’m wrong.”
Jason felt the heat of persecution. “I went with you to Tony’s sketchy party, didn’t I?!”
“After I begged you.”
“I can’t hang out like we’re cutting classes anymore!” Jason argued. “I’ve got responsibilities now, bills to pay!”
“And a new class of people to hang out with,” Randy accused.
“What the hell do you want from me, the old Jason? You don’t think I don’t want to do all the fun things we used to do? I miss those days too, but I can’t be a kid forever!”
“No more room for Randy,” Randy said with angry self pity.
“Hey! I’m here now!”
“Chris finally let you off her your leash.”
“Goddammit! If you can’t keep a woman that’s your problem!”
“I can get any broad I want! Even yours.”
“You better watch your mouth!”
Randy stepped closer. “I have known you a lot longer than she has! We grew up together! We played ball together! Partied together! Did everything together! We used to go after the same girls, and they never got in the way!”
Jason felt the heat Randy’s righteous, accusing glare. Shared memories and the lure of nostalgia tempted him and reminded him of the stresses of his present life. Buried fears of a lost, happier past, fading comradery, and an unknown future arose. The gulf between his past and present widened, and dread began to haunt him. “What is your fucking problem?! Christine is the woman I love! Not some party skank! And do really think my life is some kind of fucking fairy tale? I’ve got all kinds of new problems to deal with! A job I can’t stand! Credit card bills! Mooching off of my parents like I’m still a child!”
“Oh, so I’m holding you back,” Randy further accused. “Is that it?”
Anger and frustration boiled over. “You’re holding yourself back! You’re making the wrong choices! What the fuck am I supposed to do, lead you around by the hand?!”
“You’re supposed to remember who your brothers are!” Randy shot back. “Todd would have backed me up! And Alex, Dwayne, even Curtis!”
“They’re not here!”
“Well where the fuck are they?!”
“I think there at Stu’s,” Mike interjected.
“Stu’s throwing a party and you didn’t tell me?” Randy fumed.
“You wanted to go to Tony’s!” Jason reminded angrily.
“I think it’s more of a get together,” Mike added.
“Well we’re not at Tony’s now!” Randy shouted back at Jason.
“Yeah, you had something to do with that,” Terry reminded.
“Fuck you!” Randy threw his almost empty beer can at Terry. Terry quickly moved out of the way and the can thudded against a wall.
“Whoa! What the fuck, man!” Terry said hotly.
“Get a hold of yourself!” Mike ordered.
“Fuck Stu! We’ll have our own party!” Randy declared. “We’ll get some more beers and drive down to the beach!” He began to leave then looked back at everyone. “C’mon!”
“We’ve been drinking all night! We can’t drive over the hill!” Jason asserted.
“You see, that’s the kind of pussy bullshit I’m talking about! Not willing to jump in and take a chance!”
“You’re out of control,” Mike cautioned.
“Who’s with me?!” Randy shouted. “Who’s got a car?!”
“Dude, we’re not driving over the 17 in the middle of the night after we’ve been drinking!” Terry argued.
“Shit! I can drive that hill blindfolded!” Randy bragged. “Darren, we’ll take your car!”
“No way, the brakes are shot.”
“Are you kidding? My alcohol level has to be twice the legal limit right now.”
“Don’t let me down, Terry!”
“Fuck it, I’m heading home,” Terry said, then started to move away.
“Guess I don’t need to ask you,” Randy said flippantly to Jason.
“I’m out.” Jason also began to leave, then Mike.
“Darren!” Randy said with exaggerated friendliness. “You won’t leave me.”
“Sorry, bro, I gotta keep out of sight.” Darren left and jogged up to everyone else leaving.
“So that’s it?” Randy called out as everyone exited the courtyard. “Just gonna leave ol’ Randy all by himself?”
Everyone continued down the corridor toward the school entrance.
“Well I don’t need any of you motherfuckers! Go back to your boring lives! I’m a one man party! I am a creature of the night!” Randy’s voluminous voice became distant as Jason and everyone else approached the school entrance. “That’s it! Keep going! Don’t worry about Randy! I’ll go invade Stu’s! Or find some other party!” Jason heard footsteps in the courtyard moving away quickly in the opposite direction.
Jason and everyone else made it to the street and walked along the sidewalk. A couple of them took a last drink of their beers and tossed them into a nearby trash can.
“Well this has sure been a crazy night,” Mike observed, and everyone muttered in agreement. They then saw a police car driving down a cross street, and everyone froze for an instant.
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
“You don’t believe me, do you,” Phil said impatiently.
“I don’t know, Phil,” Larry admitted, “ that all sounds pretty off the wall. And how do you know anyways?”
“Anyone can find out if they’re willing to look beyond the establishment mass media,” Phil restated.
“Here we go again!” Larry said with grand facetiousness. “We’re all just a bunch of brainwashed idiots because we don’t listen to all those radio stations at the far end of the dial.”
Jason sat at the other side of the break room table and looked upon the conversation while glancing at the sports page.
“Laugh all you want, but I’m telling you,” Phil lowered his voice, “this place was helped started by ex-Third Reich scientists.” He looked around the table expectantly.
“Well big fuckin’ surprise!” Kevin replied. “Our entire space and missile program was fortified with scientists that our military whisked out of Germany at the end of the World War II. Everybody knows that.”
“That’s what I’m saying!” Phil implored. “Doesn’t that seem suspicious? They used to work for the enemy.”
“But they weren’t politicians, or generals, or even soldiers,” Kevin stressed. “They were scientists, and some very brilliant ones at that. They just happened to be working for the wrong side, that’s all, so we fixed it. Their knowledge and expertise was extremely valuable to us, and still is.”
“Yes, I know, I saw Dr. Strangelove,” Phil agreed dismissively. “But you have to wonder about one thing.” He hunched down secretively. “Do they still have any loyalties to their old regime?”
“Hey, as long as they’re loyal to us who cares what they believe in,” Kevin asserted. “If we didn’t get them, the Soviets would have. Now imagine that.”
“The Soviets got the bomb anyways,” Phil reminded.
“We got it first, and used it,” Kevin said ominously. “That sent them a message.”
“It sent a message to the whole world,” Phil added. “You know, a lot of those scientists ended up at IBM. Big Blue is riddled with fascists.”
“Now you’re talking like a crackpot!” Kevin said angrily.
“Am I?” Phil countered. “Didn’t you see those visitors who came this morning? Wouldn’t you say they were a little shady?”
“So that’s what’s got you on this rant,” Larry said with a laugh.
“You think everybody in a suit is shady,” Kevin alleged.
Jason finished his coffee, got up and left the break room. He crossed through the warehouse to his work area, then looked up at the window of the second story office and saw it was occupied with more people than usual. The men in suits who had arrived earlier did most of the talking while the supervisors listened.
Jason watched the meeting for a moment, then looked around and saw Stan nearby writing on a clipboard. “Hey, Stan.”
Stan looked up from his clipboard.
Jason walked up to him as he nodded toward the office. “Who are those guys?”
Stan glanced up at the office. “The corporate shock troops, I assume.”
“So who are they?”
“People way above our pay grade,” Stan said and went back to his clipboard.
“They do look kind of important,” Jason said as he looked up at the office again.
“Why, because they’re wearing suits?”
“I suppose,” Jason said, “plus the limousines they arrived in.”
Stan looked up again from his clipboard. “And then they breezed right through and didn’t even say hi, just straight to the head office like they own the joint.” Stan moved along and Jason followed him.
“Yeah, that was pretty rude,” Jason recalled.
“You know why, of course.”
“Because we’re below their pay grade?”
“It’s because they don’t want to get too close to anybody in case they need to terminate some of us,” Stan said as he took the papers from his clipboard and put them away into a steel filing cabinet.
Jason was taken aback. “So this is it?”
Stan slid the cabinet shut. “Don’t tell me you’re surprised.”
“Sure, I heard some rumors,” Jason admitted, “but I thought that was all BS. You know how people like to talk, didn’t think any of it was true.”
“Well, it’s not a done deal yet,” Stan said as he started toward another section of the warehouse, “but I wouldn’t wait too long to get your resume together.”
Jason was taken aback as he tried to assess the new information. “So now what?”
“All I know is that once Alice and I sell our house we’ll have more than enough for a house up in Grass Valley. The hell with this place,” Stan said as he walked down an aisle of inventory.
“So you’re moving away?” Jason asked as he followed Stan. “That’s sudden.”
“Not really,” Stan replied as he stopped in the middle of the aisle. “We’ve been planning on moving out of the Valley for a while now. Price of living is going through the roof, and it’s getting more crowded every year. Most of the people we know have moved away over the years, whole city is full of strangers. Even our kids are thinking about moving away. This isn’t the place it used to be, and Alice and I just don’t have a lot of attachments here anymore.” Stan continued walking down the aisle.
“That seems to be happening a lot,” Jason said as he followed Stan. “One of my friends from the neighborhood moved all the way to Modesto, but he still works here. He commutes two and a half hours each way every day, we never see him anymore. The affordable houses may be far away but the good paying jobs are still here. No way I could handle a commute like that.”
“Well I don’t have to worry about that,” Stan said as he stopped again. “Already got a job lined up,” he said confidentially.
“Dispatching for a freight company up there,” Stan revealed. “A buddy of mine from my trucking days helped set me up.” He continued walking down the aisle.
“Sounds like you got it all worked out,” Jason said as he followed Stan. “Guess it pays to have connections.”
“Yep, the more the better.”
“But I don’t know if I could leave home just like that. My life is here.”
“Yeah, it’s home all right,” Stan said as he turned down a walkway at the edge of the warehouse and came to another stop, “but have you seen the price of a house lately? A couple hundred thousand for a two bedroom hovel? Alice and I bought our first house for a tenth of that price, and it had three bedrooms and a big backyard. What are you going to do when it’s time to buy a house?” Stan said then continued along the walkway.
“You mean I have to worry about that too?” Jason said with new apprehension. “I thought Ihad to get a new job first.”
“You can worry now or you can worry later when it’s too late to do anything about it,” Stan counseled as he came to the doorway of a glass walled office. “Even a good job isn’t enough. Now it takes two paychecks, and who knows what the price of a house is going to be by then. And I don’t know if you plan on having any kids or not, but if you do that’s going to cost you a whole lot more.”
“Well thanks for all the good news,” Jason said half seriously as he followed Stan into the office. “I sure have a lot to look forward to.”
“I’m not not trying to bring you down, I’m just telling you what’s up.”
“I know things aren’t what they used to be, but this is my home. Everyone I know, everyone that’s important to me, is here, and I’d seriously miss them, even if I did leave because of some better job somewhere else.”
“Not just a job but an affordable place to live,” Stan pointed out.
“It’d still be painful to leave home.”
“Yeah, that’s understandable, but home is where you make it,” Stan said as he stopped in the middle of his work. “You know, I used to love it here. Everybody knew everybody, plenty of open land, you could do all your shopping downtown, anything you needed. Just like a mall, but better, before it was full of homeless and crazy people. You could also fish in the reservoirs, hunt rabbits down by the foothills, and you could always get some spending money by picking fruit or working at Del Monte or one of the other canneries. Tourists actually used to visit here just to see the orchards when they were in bloom. Now look at it, my hometown turned into an overpriced little LA, all spread out and crowded with strangers. Time for Alice and I to pull up stakes and go somewhere quiet.”
“You know, downtown isn’t as rundown as it used to be,” Jason defended. “It actually has some cool hangouts these days.”
“But it ain’t like it used to be, and I’m too old to hang out with yuppies and college kids.”
Jason tried to figure out a new line of discussion. “So what’s your new place like?”
“A nice, cozy little home right by a lake and a forest. It’ll be Eden compared to this place.”
“That sounds relaxing and all,” Jason said, “but what’s there to do out there? You’ll go crazy with boredom.”
“I’ll be living in the great outdoors,” Stan reminded, “can’t beat that. And there’s Lake Tahoe and Reno nearby, and lots of woods and small towns with friendly people. We’ll only be a couple of hours away from the Bay Area so anyone who wants to see us can come and visit us, especially during the skiing season.”
“You going to charge them? Make a little extra on the side?”
“I might. You know, San Jose was a small town at one time, or at least a lot smaller when I was growing up, and we didn’t think it was boring. We had plenty of fun. Back in high school, we used to soup up our Chevys, Fords, and Dodges and cruise Monterey Road looking for girls. Gas was only a quarter a gallon back then, those were the days,” he reminisced. “Now gas is over a dollar and the cruisers are all gangs.”
“Guess I can see why you’d want to leave here,” Jason said, “but why leave the Bay Area? This is where everything is at.”
“That’s the problem, people keep pouring in. Traffic is a mess, the pressure to get ahead makes everyone neurotic, and it’s only getting worse,” Stan pointed toward the main office, “not to mention big brother always looking over your shoulder.”
“But you were able to get that new job because of experience you got here. If I went somewhere else I’d have to go back to square one.”
“But with less competition you can rise up the ladder faster. Jobs like what you do here come and go, and they tend to have an unknown future. You really ought to look for other opportunities while you’re still young.”
“One time Christine tried to get me to work for her uncle.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a contractor.”
“Really, you should consider it,” Stan suggested. “Never a bad idea to learn a trade. Any skill you learn can only help, and the more skills you have, the more options you have. And contracting is the kind of work that if you do it long enough you can go into business for yourself.”
“Those all sound like good ideas and I appreciate the advice,” Jason said, “but I also want to stick with school and try and get a degree.”
“Well now’s the time to decide which road you want to take,” Stan said as he returned to his work and typed a few keys on the computer. “Meanwhile, I’ll be far away from this headache.”
Jason began to leave the office, then thought again of the activity he saw in the main office. “So what do you think those guys are talking about up there?” he asked.
“You know what we do here, right?” Stan said.
“Yeah, basically we create images that are taken by satellites.”
“And what kind of pictures do you think those satellites take?”
“I know they’re used for map making.”
“Studying clouds and weather systems.”
“Anything else?” Stan probed.
“Well I assume some pictures are of other country’s armies and navies,” Jason guessed, “what
they’re doing, their movements, keeping an eye on them. Right?”
“Right,” Stan replied. “The Berlin Wall is down, the Soviet Union finally has a decent leader, the Pentagon budget actually went down for the first time since Pearl Harbor, but we’re still busy as ever. Doesn’t that seem a little curious?”
“I don’t know,” Jason said. “Guess I never really thought about that.”
“Most people don’t,” Stan pointed out. “All anybody really wants is a paycheck, just as long as they get it from somewhere.”
“Well I like to think of this place as more than just a paycheck,” Jason maintained. “The job is interesting, the atmosphere is friendly, most of the people are cool, and management has been accommodating around my school schedule. Is that all going to end?”
“It will if it interferes with the bottom line, which it probably will.”
“Didn’t know we were such a burden,” Jason sulked.
“Now you’re getting it,” Stan joked. “You know, they say there are satellites up there so accurate that they can take a photo of a Russian’s newspaper while he’s reading it in Red Square.”
“Yeah, I remember hearing that.”
“So what’s to stop them from taking a picture of you or me or one of our neighbors while we’re having a cookout in our own backyard?”
“I don’t know,” Jason doubted. “That’s sounds like the kind of paranoid thing Phil would say. Why would they want to do that to us anyway? We haven’t done anything wrong.”
“But they could if they wanted,” Stan emphasized, “and we can’t do the same to them. And I’d bet a year’s pay that they figure out a way to survive this peace craze, probably already have.”
Jason tried to comprehend. “Well now what do I do?”
“I’m not trying to get you down,” Stan appeased, “all I’m saying is be a realist, look out for
yourself and the people around you, because you sure can’t trust them,” he nodded toward the upstairs office. “They’re only looking out for their themselves, and we’ve got to do the same.” Stan went back to his job.
“Guess I’ll get back to work.” Jason left the glass office and headed toward his work area. As he was walking back he glanced up at the office window. He looked at the meeting and the men in suits were still addressing the supervisors. He wondered for a moment what was being said, then he moved along.
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
Jason leaned over the grill and radiator of his car and reached downward with a new hose. He pushed on one side of the rigid hose then the other as he tried again to slide it onto the intake nozzle of the water pump. He struggled some more in the cramped engine space and was getting frustrated, then he heard the door from the house to the garage open and close. He looked up from under the hood, saw his father, and felt some relief from his irritation.
“How’s it going?” father asked.
“Oh, just trying to wrestle on this new hose.” Jason pulled himself up from underneath the hood. “A little tough to get to though, everything is jammed in so tight. And I lost my grip trying to pull off the old hose,” Jason said as he looked at a scrape on his hand.
“So that’s why I heard you swear,” father kidded as he looked at the scrape. “The things we do to save a dollar.” He placed his hands on the side fender and looked down onto the engine. “They sure don’t make them like they used to.”
“I’ll say,” Jason said as he looked down at the loose hose.
“It used to be that you could look under the hood and all you saw was the motor, the radiator, and the battery, and you could fix just about anything with a wrench and a couple of screwdrivers,” father said nostalgically. “Makes me wish I still had my old ‘56 Chevy.”
“Sure wish cars were still that simple,” Jason longed. “Nowadays you can’t even do a tune up unless you’re Mr. Goodwrench.”
“That’s progress for ya,” father agreed as he stood back up. “Now you take that old Valiant station wagon we used to own. It didn’t have all that extra shit that modern cars have, but those old slant sixes ran forever. I’ll bet someone’s driving it around right now.”
“Maybe that’s the kind of car I need,” Jason said, “something low maintenance.”
“If only they still made them like that,” father chuckled. “Cars these days, with all the fuel injection, air conditioning, catalytic converters, belts, hoses, wires going everywhere. And now all the cars with the front wheel drive that make everything under the hood sideways, can’t even see the ground underneath anymore. What’ll they come up with next?”
“Seems like everything gets more complicated,” Jason said as he put his hands back on the front of his car and looked down at the engine, and his earlier preoccupations came back to mind.
They stood and looked at the engine together as father moved in a little closer. “Of course cars aren’t the only things that cause problems,” he finally said.
“Ain’t that the truth,” Jason replied as he sensed his father’s perception. He looked up from the car. “Well it seemed like everything was going along fine, but now…” He stared outside the garage at nothing in particular. “Probably just going through the usual stuff.”
“Let me guess,” father began, “Christine wants to get more serious, your job needs to pay you better, school is getting more expensive, and now you’re wondering where all the good times have gone.”
Jason felt somewhat unburdened. “It seemed like things were fine,” he said, “but now, I can’t tell if I hit a rut, or if it’s something bigger.” He pondered what to do. “Maybe I just need a break in the action, or at least from working on this thing,” he said as he indicated his car. He picked up a rag and wiped his hands as he wandered toward the front of the garage while father did the same. “Today it’s just a hose, but I don’t want this car to turn into a money pit.” They stood at the head of the driveway and looked out at the suburban neighborhood.
“The age old struggle,” father declared, “man trying to figure out his way through the world.”
“Wish I had a head start,” Jason said half seriously.
“You know,” father began as they leaned back against the trunk of the car, “when your mother and I moved into this house, there was a cherry orchard right over there.” He pointed down the street at a block of tract houses silhouetted against the setting sun.
Jason searched his earliest memories. “Yeah, I think I remember that.”
“Remember what they looked like when they were in bloom? Like big, pink cotton candy trees.”
Jason hazily recollected the grove of cherry trees. “Christine’s parents talk about how they used to pick plums, prunes, apricots, walnuts around here every summer when they were kids.”
“Now those were the days,” father reminisced. “Fruit trees everywhere, more farms, more open space, less crowded, no traffic jams, slower pace of life. Now it’s all expressways, strip malls, tract houses, two story office buildings. They’ll probably build on or pave over every square inch of this valley.”
“Sure seems like it,” Jason replied as he thought back some more. “I remember when I was little and we’d drive by an orchard, and I’d look down all the rows of fruit trees, one after another, sometimes we’d count them,” he recalled as he got caught up in the same nostalgia. “Doesn’t seem to be hardly any of them left anymore.”
“And that’s too bad,” father said regretfully. “No more produce stands either, have to buy everything from the grocery store. You know, this is some of the best soil on earth, and all they do is keep building all over it. And they never build up, it’s always tilt-ups and business parks that cover as much land as possible, makes no sense at all. I mean, who comes up with all this bad planning?”
“Someone looking to make a quick turnaround?”
“Now you’re learning,” father said with a laugh. “See, a lot of it is timing, and I was lucky enough to show up here at the right time, that’s all. And now the frontier is closed.”
“Yep, just like Frontier Village.”
“You remember that place? Yeah, we had some fun times there.”
They quietly shared another memory.
“When you look around now,” Jason finally said, “it’s hard to believe there was a time when this wasn’t the Silicon Valley.”
“Seems that way, and those days sure aren’t coming back,” father said wistfully. “Price of land is too high and it keeps getting higher, only the high tech industry can afford it now. There just isn’t enough money in agriculture anymore.” He folded his arms as he looked out across the neighborhood. “That’s the thing about real estate, they’re not making any more of it.”
“At least in your day you could buy a house with one paycheck,” Jason pointed out. “I don’t know anyone who can do that anymore.”
“True,” father admitted. “It was a boomtown when I first got here, houses were cheap, the weather was nice, and the skills I learned in the service helped me get a decent, secure job. And once I met your mom, I knew I was staying.”
Jason thought happily of the origin of his family, then felt concern about his future. “Maybe I was born at the wrong time,” he lamented.
“No, I wouldn’t say that,” father corrected. “There are a lot of positive changes happening right now. This is a good time to be alive, even if it has gotten too expensive.”
Jason looked to where the cherry orchard used to be, and tried to imagine how the neighborhood used to look. “You know, with all the changes happening all over the world, I’m wondering how that’s going to affect business here in the valley, especially defense jobs like mine.”
“Technology will always be in demand, it’s just human nature, ever since man figured out how to make tools. And the thing about technology is that someone is always trying to improve it, some people always want the latest gadget,” father said with some exasperation. “All you have to do is keep at it, and some opportunity somewhere will come your way.”
Jason contemplated his current situation. “You know what it feels like right now? Now I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong, I know I’m not a total screw up, but I’m also not sure if I’m doing the right thing either. It’s like I keep wondering if there’s some next big thing that I’m missing out on, because if there is, I don’t want to find out about it when it’s too late.”
“You’re not doing anything wrong,” father assured. “It’s just a decade and a half of inflation, that’s all. The rising tide that was supposed to lift all boats also lifted up the cost of living, so now demand and supply are out of whack. Your generation just happened to be caught in the middle of it, but things will work themselves out. They always do.”
“Certainly don’t want this thing to sink me further into debt,” Jason remarked as he glanced back at his car.
“When I was your age, you could by a running car for fifty bucks. Talk about inflation.”
“At least I’ll be out of the red pretty soon, then I can move out and get back on my own again.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” father said. “You were just living it up and ran into a little trouble, you’re taking care of it,” he said as he clapped Jason on the shoulder reassuringly.
“Yeah, things aren’t so bad,” Jason tried to convince himself. “Now if I could just get on the right track.”
“You’re on the right track,” father reaffirmed, “but I gotta admit it, it used to be easier to get started here. You could walk into any place, they’d hire you, train you, pay you a decent wage, and you had a career that allowed you to buy a house and raise a family. That kind of security is sure hard to find these days,” he observed pessimistically. “Now it’s all specialized. Every man for himself.”
“At least you get to retire in a couple of years.”
“Yep, looking forward to it,” father anticipated, “then I’ll have all the time in the world.”
Jason noticed his father reflecting, and he found himself aligned with his father’s perspective. He sensed himself on the same path, but wondered where it was heading for him. “You know, I hear some people are saying that we may be at the end of history because history is all about conflict, and now the last big world conflict is over. Do you really think it’s going to be like that, no more history?”
Father leaned back some more as he appeared to recall a new memory. “You know, I was just talking to one of my friends in the aerospace industry. He was telling me about this big meeting his company just had. Everybody was there, board of directors, main stockholders, upper management, all these East Coast types, and they were all trying to replan their strategy for the post Cold War era or something like that. Anyways, the CEO gives some big speech about how they’re going to change the focus of the company to meet the challenges of the new world politics. One of the lifers with the company asked what that meant exactly since their whole business was about was making aerospace equipment for the defense of the country. Well the CEO says to him that they will be in the business of making the one thing they have always been in the business of making, money.” Father laughed to himself. “As long as there is a dollar to be made someone is going to make it, and that’ll always drive things.”
Jason was struck by the lesson, and it sank into his conscience. “At least work hasn’t been a problem, everything there seems to be going in the right direction.” A new thought occurred to him. “But lately, it has been starting to feel like nobody seems to know what’s going to happen next, so now everyone is trying to figure out their next move before they’re forced to look for something new. Maybe management knows, but if they do they’re not telling us a thing. Now I’m starting to wonder how stable my job is.”
“Yeah, they sure do like to keep everybody in the dark.”
“Kind of a raw deal.”
“No, it isn’t very fair,” father agreed, “but I figure every generation has its challenges.”
“Yeah, I suppose so.”
“You see, when you’re young you want it all, and you have all the energy and optimism of youth to take on the whole world. Then one day you realize you can’t have it all, and that you don’t need it all, because maybe having it all is more trouble than it’s worth. You know, I sometimes miss the days when I was younger and could travel lighter, definitely had fewer worries.” He surveyed the front yard. “At least we have our homestead.”
“So,” Jason began, “since I’m the oldest, I get to inherit the house, right?”
“Hey! I’m not dead yet.”
©2017 Robert Kirkendall