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 at the front of his car and reached downward with a new hose. He tried again to slide it onto the intake nozzle of the water pump. He struggled to fit on the rigid hose in the cramped engine space and was getting more frustrated. He then 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.
“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, I lost my grip trying to pull off the old hose,” Jason said as he looked at a scrape on his hand.
“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,” he observed. “It used to be that you could look under the hood of a car 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. 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 a professional.”
“Ain’t that the way,” 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,” he said as he pointed at the engine, “but those old slant sixes ran forever. I’ll bet someone’s driving it around right now.”
“Maybe I should drop one of those motors into this thing.”
“If only it was that easy,” 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 stared down at the loose radiator hose. His earlier preoccupations came back to mind.
They stood and looked at the engine together as father leaned in a little closer. “I suppose there’s something other than car problems that’s bothering you,” he finally said.
“Oh, you know,” Jason replied, “the usual stuff.” He looked up from the car and stared outside the garage at nothing in particular.
“Let me guess,” father began, “Christine wants to get more serious, your job wants you to work more hours, and now you’re wondering where all the good times have gone.”
Jason felt somewhat unburdened. “So I’m not the only one,” he said. “I think I just need a break in the action, or at least from working on this thing,” he said as he indicated his car. He wandered toward the front of the garage and his 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.
“It’s the age old struggle. Man trying to figure out how to make 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 there.” He pointed down the street at a block of tract houses silhouetted against the setting sun.
“I think I remember that.”
“Remember what they looked like when they were in bloom? Like big, pink cotton candy trees.”
“Christine’s parents talk about how they used to pick plums, prunes, apricots around here every summer when they were kids.”
“Those were the days,” father reminisced. “Fruit trees everywhere, more farms, 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 thought of all the changes that happened in the Valley. “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.”
“That’s too bad,” father said regretfully. “No more produce stands either, have to buy everything from the 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. Bad planning. I mean, who thinks up with all this?”
“Someone looking to make a quick turnaround?”
Father laughed some more. “Now you’re learning.”
“When you look around now,” Jason said, “it’s hard to believe there was a time when this wasn’t the Silicon Valley.”
“Yeah, the old Valley of Heart’s Delight. Those days sure aren’t coming back,” father lamented. “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 said. “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, 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.”
“Maybe I was born at the wrong time,” Jason sulked.
“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.”
A new thought came to Jason. “You know, with all the changes happening everywhere, it seems like that’s going to affect business here in the Valley, especially defense jobs, like mine.”
“Technology will always be in demand, it’s human nature, ever since man figured out how to use tools. And another thing about technology is that it’s always being improved, so there’s always going to be opportunities somewhere. Something will come along your way. I was just lucky enough to move here at the right time, that’s all.”
Jason pondered the timing of his situation. “It’s funny, you know. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong. I’m not some screw up, but I’m also not sure I’m doing the right thing either. 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 when it’s too late.”
“You’re not doing anything wrong,” father assured, “it’s just the 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. You’re generation just happened to be caught in the middle of it. But things will work themselves out, they always do.”
“Don’t want this thing to sink me further into debt,” Jason said 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 back out of the house.”
“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 started.”
“You’re on the right track,” father reaffirmed, “but I gotta admit 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. Now it’s all specialized. Every man for himself.”
“At least you get to retire pretty soon.”
“Looking forward to it, then I’ll have all the time in the world,” father anticipated.
Jason sensed his father reflecting, and he found himself seeing life through his father’s perspective in a new way. “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 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. The CEO then says 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 let the irony sink in. “At least work hasn’t been a problem, but you know what it feels
like right now at work? Nobody seems to know what’s going on or what’s going to happen next, so now everyone is trying to figure out their next move before they’re forced to. Maybe management knows, but if they do they’re not telling us a thing. 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. You see, when you’re young you want it all, and you have all the energy and optimism of youth to take on the whole world. Then one day you realize you can’t have it all, and that you don’t need it all, because maybe having it all is more trouble than it’s worth. You know, I sometimes miss the days when I was younger and could travel lighter, definitely had fewer worries.” He surveyed the front yard. “At least we have our homestead.”
“So,” Jason began, “since I’m the oldest, I get to inherit the house, right?”
“Hey! I’m not dead yet.”
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
Jason paced himself with the surrounding traffic as he drove on one of the valley freeways during a sunny late afternoon. Vehicles moved in sync as cars sped around semi trucks. More vehicles entered and exited from on-ramps and off-ramps. Randy sat in the passenger seat talking while Brian was in the back seat, his head nodded back in sleep.
“So the whole day was kind of a blur,” Randy continued, “but what I do remember is that me, Brian, Darren and Greg were just hanging out at the beach, tossing around the Frisbee, rapping with some bitches, pounding some brews, we were making a day of it.”
“Did you guys go to the Boardwalk?” Jason asked.
“Nah, we went to that beach that’s at the end of Twenty Sixth Ave, away from the tourists.”
“Yeah, because then a couple of other guys show up, and one of them had an entire case in his backpack, so we partied with them. It was live,” Randy said as he reminisced. “When it got dark we tried to get a fire going, but no luck. It got late so we finally decided to head back, and I ended up having to drive because I was the least wasted.”
“That’s unusual,” Jason kidded.
“Yeah, well no thanks to this pussy,” Randy said as he pointed back to Brian. “Anyways, I made it over the 17 in record time, and when we got to Jamie’s, the whole place was raging, an insane fucking party. It took me all of yesterday to recover.” Randy looked again toward Brian. “I don’t know what this animal here did yesterday, but he was the life of the party at Jamie’s.” Brian remained asleep.
“You were partying and you didn’t even call me,” Jason said. “What gives?”
“Aw, man, I’m sorry. I just figured you were busy with your family because your sister’s in
“Yeah, but, you know…maybe I needed to get away.” Jason said to Randy, and they laughed to themselves familiarly.
“So how’s Kathy doing?”
“Doing well, living the college life.”
“Good for her, I’m really proud of her,” Randy said sincerely. “She’ll go far.”
“Yeah she will,” Jason agreed. “She’ll end up supporting the rest of the family,” he joked. They laughed some more and enjoyed the moment.
“That was a good movie,” Randy finally said and broke the silence. “But you know what would have made it better? If Clint Eastwood had starred in it.”
“Sean Connery did a good job.”
“Yeah, but couldn’t you see Clint in charge of a submarine? He wouldn’t have to take any shit from anybody.”
“I don’t know if it’d be right if Clint played a Russian,” Jason said. “That would be like John Wayne playing a Nazi. And could you imagine how funny he’d sound if he tried to talk like a Russian.”
“He’s Clint Eastwood, he doesn’t have to say anything,” Randy said. “All he has to do is give you that don’t-fuck-with-me look.” Jason sped up as he changed lanes and drove past a tanker truck. “Hey, thanks for covering me. I owe you.”
“No problem,” Jason said.
“Movies sure got more expensive,” Randy bemoaned.
“Tell me about it.”
“I mean, when did it go up to five bucks a ticket? You can rent a movie for half that.”
“What gets me is that they have the balls to charge you two fifty for a cup of ice that maybe has a couple of ounces of coke,” Jason said.
“Highway fucking robbery!” Randy fumed. “Remember when we used go to the UA, only pay a dollar, and then sneak from movie to movie?”
“Or play video games out in the lobby,” Jason said. “A whole weekend of fun with nothing but a pocketful of change.”
“The place we were just at had at least ten screens,” Randy pointed out, “we should have sneaked into another movie just to get our money’s worth.”
“I would’ve loved to, but you know, I’ve got things to do.” Jason drove quickly to keep up with the rapid, weekend traffic.
“Right, family stuff,” Randy assumed. “Doesn’t your dad work on parts that go into submarines?”
“He used to,” Jason answered. “I’m not sure what they’re having him do now, but he’s going to retire pretty soon anyways.”
“Did he get to work on anything that had to do with torpedoes?”
“Possibly,” Jason said. “But he wasn’t much into talking about his job. Whenever any of us asked what he did, he would say that when he was home that was his time, and he didn’t want to spoil it by talking about work.”
“That’s because work sucks.”
“Right,” Jason agreed dubiously. “How’s that coming along?”
“Aw, more problems with the boss,” Randy said.
“Same old problems?”
“He’s not giving me enough work. I keep telling him that I could use some more hours, but he says he doesn’t have anything for me.”
“It’s summer,” Jason said, “this is the busy time of the year for landscaping.”
“Lots of competition out there,” Randy countered, “at least that’s what he tells me.”
“Sounds like he’s jerking you around.”
“The guy is a prick anyhow,” Randy said, “one of those anal retentive types who has to manage every little detail of your job, a real pain in the ass.”
“Yeah, micro managers are the worst.”
“And he’s so into micro managing that he forgets to look for new customers.”
“Maybe you should try to drum up some business,” Jason suggested.
“Me?” Randy laughed.
“You’re an outgoing guy,” Jason pointed out, “and you have the personality for it.”
“Not sure I’m the guy who should be the face of the company,” Randy continued jocularly. “He needs to learn how to schedule appointment first. One time when we were done for the day and getting ready to leave ready, but that fucker wanted us to keep working just as it was getting get dark. How the fuck are we supposed to work in the dark?”
“Dude, you don’t need that headache,” Jason agreed. “There’s got to be something better out there for you.”
“Sure, but you know what? I don’t need a lot to be happy, just the essentials. Why do I got to bust my ass for?”
“Believe me, I wish I could do the same,” Jason said, “but prices keep going up. Rent, gas,
Randy turned toward Jason. “You know what we should do? We should just say the hell with it and go live on a beach somewhere. We could do that. Who needs all that rat race bullshit?”
“I can’t do that. What would Christine say?”
“Bring her along.”
“Serious?” Jason laughed.
“Why not? We used to do stuff like that all the time, remember?”
“Yeah, when we were kids,” Jason reminded. “But things change, and sometimes you got to change along with them. It’s all about growing up.”
Randy stared at Jason. “You used to never talk like that.”
“C’mon, Randy, you know I didn’t mean anything.”
“Yeah, I know,” Randy said as he looked back ahead, “just looking out for me.” He kept staring ahead as the pavement quickly disappeared under them. “I’ve been hearing that straighten up and fly right talk from teachers, principals, and bosses for as long as I can remember. You know I don’t sweat that stuff. Why worry about getting ahead or any of that? It’s all bullshit anyways.”
Jason noticed wisps of steam from the front of the car, then a steady vapor rose from
underneath the hood and blew over the windshield. “Aw, shit.”
“Uh oh,” Randy said. “Looks like we’re going to need a ride.”
Jason decelerated and coasted to the right onto the shoulder of the freeway. “The last fucking thing I need,” he complained. He came to a stop and turned the ignition off. The engine hissed and steam wafted from underneath the hood. “We home yet?” Brian asked groggily from the backseat.
“No, go back to sleep,” Randy said. Jason reached under the left side of the dashboard, pulled a
handle, and the front of the hood popped up. He got out and walked to the front of the car. He carefully reached underneath the front of the hood while trying not to burn his hand. He found the metal lever, pushed it aside and lifted the hood all the way up as it released a cloud of steam.
“Hope it’s not the water pump,” Randy said as he looked down into the engine from the side.
Jason noticed Randy after not seeing him at first. “Probably just a hose.” He looked down behind the radiator and saw a thin jet of steam hissing out of the thick, black hose that connected the bottom of the radiator to the lower engine block. He leaned downward to get a better look.
“Yeah, looks like a hose,” Randy said as he also leaned in closer, “at least they’re cheap to replace, could be worse.”
Brian wandered up to the front of the car. “What happened?” he asked.
“We’re going to have a picnic,” Randy joked, “right here next to the freeway.” While they were all looking under the hood the vehicles sped by in a constant coming and going hum of tires spinning on pavement. The sun glared down on the arid landscape and baked the freeway asphalt and the dry dirt and weeds alongside. Smog and haze permeated the hot, dry air.
“I got some rags in the trunk,” Jason said. “I think I can tie it around the leak and get us to a gas station. Then I can put more water in the radiator.”
“Electrical tape would be better,” Randy said.
“Well, unless you can cough up a roll we’ll just have to make do with what we got.” Jason walked to the back of the car, opened the trunk, reached in and found a rag, closed the trunk, and returned to the front of the car. Randy surveyed the scene with a beer in his hand while Brian stood around lethargically.
“Let’s find a pay phone and call Todd or someone and get a ride,” Randy suggested. “No, we’ll
call Stu. He’s got Brian’s van.”
“What’s he doing with Brian’s van,” Jason asked.
Randy looked to Brian. “Why did you let Stu borrow your van?”
“He had to move some shit,” Brian answered tiredly.
“He had to move some shit,” Randy reported to Jason.
“I’ve got ears, Randy,” Jason said.
“So I guess there’s no way to get a hold of Stu,” Randy said.
“We’ll make it home,” Jason assured. “There should be a gas station at the next exit.” He went under the hood.
“Maybe you can get a new hose there,” Randy said.
“If they have the right one.” Jason found the steam sputtering pinhole size leak on the hose and began to tie a rag around it. He tried to avoid getting grime on himself as he reached down between the radiator and engine and worked the rag into a knot. “If they don’t, I’ll probably have to get one from a dealership, and those places love to rip you off.” The rag became wet as it minimized the leak.
“For sure,” Randy said as he sipped his beer. “We should get into that kind of business, something a little shady.”
“Nah,” Jason said as he closed the hood, “too messy. I don’t think Christine wants to see me with grease underneath my fingernails.” He looked over at Randy and Brian as they stood around by the car. “Thanks for the help, guys.”
“Anytime,” Randy said. Brian crawled into the backseat and Randy got in after him into the
passenger seat while Jason got into the driver’s seat. “Look, about what you were saying. I know
you’re just trying to help, and I appreciate it, really.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jason said.
“Tell you what, since you paid my way, I should do something for you.”
“Now, I know you love Christine,” Randy said, “but maybe sometimes you get a little curious as to what you’re missing out on.”
“Thanks, but I don’t need any of your ho’s.”
“No, I’m talking about Brian,” Randy kidded as he pointed to the backseat. “Serious, I’m going into the pimping business, and Brian’s going to be my first ho,” he laughed. Jason was unmoved. “Hey, lighten up, man. No need to get all serious.”
Jason shook his head as he tried to remain upset, then finally relented and laughed along with Randy as he started the car.
“Hey, what are you guys talking about?” Brian asked.
“Quiet, bitch!” Randy ordered.
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
“So now that I have my general ed out of the way I can really concentrate on my major,” Kathy said at the dining room table. “I’ll be able to do more work in the lab, in a year I can intern.” Jason, Christine, and David sat at one side to Kathy while mother and father were at the other and circled the table crowded with food and drink.
“That sounds wonderful, dear,” mother said.
“No more taking classes I don’t need to take,” Kathy said with relief.
“Rick’s older brother went to Cal Poly,” David said eagerly. “One time he went down there for spring break, he said there was a huge kegger in every house. Then someone started a fire in a dumpster and everybody was rolling it down the street. Got so crazy that the police had to show up in riot gear and break it up.”
“Sounds out of control down there,” father said warily.
“Wasn’t me,” Kathy said with mock innocence.
“Right,” Jason said.
“I swear!” Kathy pleaded. “I was studying that night.”
Jason no longer noticed the foreign texture of the chicken enchiladas as he ate. A platter of enchiladas were at the center of the table surrounded by a large bowl of salad, dishes of rice, beans, and rolls, and drinks.
“So who’s this guy that started the fire?” Christine asked.
“Don’t know, I wasn’t out that night,” Kathy said. “Could have been anyone.”
“I meant the one in the dorm,” Christine said.
“There was a fire in your dormitory?” mother said alarmingly.
“It was no big deal,” Kathy reassured.
“Yes, it is a big deal when the building you’re living in catches on fire,” mother countered.
“No, the building didn’t catch on fire,” Kathy explained. “All that happened was some moron in one of the rooms tried to microwave regular popcorn in a paper sack and it caught on fire, that’s all. It wasn’t like the whole building burned down.” She ate intently. “God, it is so good to eat a home cooked meal after dorm food. Thanks, Mom.”
“Isn’t there any way you can cook for yourself?” mother asked.
“Actually,” Kathy began, “I have these friends that live off campus, and they have a kitchen, washer, dryer, a bathroom they don’t have to share with a bunch of people, and I was thinking of moving out of the dorms and living with them. I’ve already looked into it, it’d be cheaper than a dorm.”
“Well what’s the neighborhood like?” mother asked.
“Yeah, is it safe?” father added.
“Of course it’s safe, Dad, you think I’d move to a bad neighborhood?” Kathy said. “It’s a small town, cops everywhere, it’s not like USC. Nothing to worry about.”
“It takes big money to go there,” mother said.
“Nothing to worry about?” father responded. “Wait until you’re a parent.”
“Should be all right as long as there’s no microwave fires,” Jason added.
“Do a lot of girls go to Cal Poly?” David asked.
“At that age, they’re called women,” Jason corrected.
“Of course, it’s a big campus,” Kathy said. “So whatever happened with Teresa?”
David looked down. “She dumped me.”
“She left David for the class president,” mother said quietly to Kathy.
“Oh my god!” Kathy exclaimed. “I’m so sorry!”
“Still hurts,” David moped.
“Don’t let her get you down,” Kathy said to David. “You can do better than her. She’s kind of a bitch anyhow.”
“Katherine, you’re at the dinner table,” mother reminded.
“But don’t you agree?” Kathy asked.
“Well, she did strike me as a bit shallow,” mother admitted.
“I thought she was superficial,” father added.
“She’ll probably end up being some rich guy’s trophy wife,” mother joked.
“See? You’re better off without her,” Kathy said to David.
“Yeah, I know,” David said. “It just sucks, that’s all.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” mother remarked.
“Don’t worry, Dave, someone better always comes along,” Jason said, then felt Christine grab his knee affectionately underneath the table.
“That’s right,” mother said. “I’m sure there are a lot of nice girls at school.”
“You should try to get with one of the cheerleaders,” Jason said.
“Good idea,” father agreed.
The familiar, casual banter continued while Jason looked around the entire table at Christine and his family and took in the whole scene as he remembered back to the last time the whole family was eating together. A wave of memories came over him and he felt a tug of nostalgia. He took in everything all at once into a single picture captured in his memory before it was gone.
“Kathy, I’m going to Aunt Delia’s tomorrow,” mother said. “Want to come along?”
“Oh, I already made plans with Heather and Tina,” Kathy said apologetically. “We’re going to check out that new, big mall in Milpitas.”
“Where the Ford plant used to be?” father asked pointedly.
“Busy, busy,” mother said.
“Don’t worry,” Kathy gripped her mother’s hand, “we’ll do something together, I promise,” she emphasized then let go. “I just need to catch up with a few friends, that’s all. I’ll be around all summer.”
“We’ll be a full house one again,” mother observed humorously.
“Too bad we only have two bathrooms,” Jason kidded.
“I sure did miss all of you,” Kathy said as she looked around the table. “There really is no place like home.”
“Ah, you’re having the time of your life,” Jason said.
“Yeah, but you do get a new appreciation for home once you’re away for awhile,” Kathy said, “especially when you have to do everything on your own for the first time ever. Funny all the things you take for granted.”
“You’re welcome,” mother said.
“I promise that I will never complain to you about anything ever again,” Kathy said to mother, “and I mean it this time.”
“That’s why I moved back,” Jason said.
“Maybe I should stay,” David wondered.
“Maybe you should start paying rent,” father said, then everyone laughed except David.
“So what are you two doing anything tomorrow?” Kathy asked Jason and Christine.
“I told Randy we’d go see a movie,” Jason said, “maybe some of the other guys will tag along.”
“Randy,” Kathy said wistfully. “How’s he doing?”
“Oh, you know, same old Randy,” Jason said as he felt himself pulled back into reality.
“God, I haven’t seen Randy, or Brian, or Todd, or Alex, or any of your friends for a year or more,” Kathy reminisced. “How’s everyone doing?”
“Doing fine,” Jason said.
“They’re always asking how you’re doing,” Christine said to Kathy.
“Yeah, they’re the best,” Kathy said, “but nobody was as fun as Randy. Remember that time when I got stood up on a date, and Randy wanted to kick the guy’s ass for me?”
“Didn’t I just say something about watching our language at the dinner table?” mother scolded.
“Our little girl sure has grown up,” father said humorously.
“If I don’t get a chance to see Randy, can you say hi for me?” Kathy asked.
“I’ll do that,” Jason said.
©2016 Robert Kirkendall
Jason and Christine sat upon a small stand of wooden bleachers and watched her nephew’s little league baseball game along with Christine’s sister, brother in law, brother, brother’s girlfriend, niece and nephew. Other families and groups of friends sat amongst the bleachers or on folding lawn chairs on either side of the cyclone fenced backstop that surrounded the back of the baseball diamond. Ten and eleven year old children dotted the the gravelly dirt infield and the patchy, uneven green grass covering the outfield. The high summer sun shone above from a cloudless sky. Past the field heat waves shimmered up from the blacktop and blurred the images of the drab, rectangular school buildings in the far ground.
Christine’s nephew, Tommy, crossed the white chalk foul outline at the side of the diamond and advanced to the batter’s box with bat in hand. “All right, Tommy, let’s go!” Christine and her family shouted. Tommy planted his cleats into the dirt rut beside the five sided white plate, gripped the bat with both hands, held it up behind him ready to swing, and focused on the pitcher. The pitcher stood still on the mound and looked straight ahead to the catcher. He nodded yes, then wound up, leaned back on one foot, launched forward and hurled the ball to the catcher. Tommy stepped toward the pitch and began to swing but held back as the ball smacked into the catcher’s mitt.
“Ball,” the umpire called from behind the catcher.
“Good eye, Tommy! Make him pitch to you,” the family called out.
“He’s showing more patience now,” Christine’s sister, Carla, said. “Remember how he used to swing at everything?”
“Looks like he listened to what you told him,” Carla’s husband, Bill, said to Jason.
“He’s a natural,” Jason said.
“You were pretty good in your day,” Christine said to Jason. “You should see his trophies,” she bragged to Carla.
“They give those to everybody,” Jason downplayed.
“C’mon, you were good, you know it,” Christine insisted.
“I heard you were an all-star one year,” Christine’s brother, Pete, said.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Christine agreed. “Don’t be so modest.”
“Yeah, I guess I was pretty good,” Jason admitted.
“Hey, Chris,” Carla said, “we’re having a barbecue after the game, want to come by?”
“Sure, we’ll be there,” Christine said. “I’ve been dying to see what you’ve done with the backyard.”
Jason was caught off guard.
“You should see the new roses,” Carla said, “we also have a new brick walkway, and the deck is finally fixed.”
“Did you and Bill do that yourself?” Christine asked.
“Are you kidding,” Carla laughed. “We hired this guy who uses college students to work for him, he’s a friend of a friend of Bill’s. I think they were all hungover half the time, but they did a good job, a lot faster than we ever could have done it.”
Jason became irritated as their conversation continued.
“Hey, is that Tina over there?” Christine asked.
“Yeah, her kid brother is on the other team,” Carla said.
The frustration was building in Jason until there was a break in Christine and Carla’s conversation. He leaned toward Christine. “We’re supposed to be having dinner at my place tonight,” he reminded her sharply. “My sister’s coming home today. Don’t you remember me telling you earlier?”
“Oh, that’s right,” Christine said apologetically. “I’m sorry, I forgot. We can skip the barbecue.”
“You should ask me before inviting us places,” Jason asserted.
“Carla asked me,” Christine pointed out. “We don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”
“Don’t worry about it, we’ll go.”
“Why are you being so touchy?”
“Let’s just watch the game.”
When the game was over, the two teams went to their side of the diamond, formed into a line and walked toward each other. They slapped each other’s outstretched hands while saying ‘good game’ as they passed each other then wound back to their side of the field. The coaches gathered the players together, said one last thing to them before letting them go, then they all dispersed to their families.
“Did you see that RBI double I hit?” Tommy said excitedly as he ran up to Carla, Bill, and the rest of the family.
“How about that catch back in the second inning?” Bill said. Everyone stood around Tommy and congratulated him and bragged about his team’s performance as they headed to their vehicles.
The celebratory mood continued as the families walked over to a row of parked cars with their folding chairs and coolers while chatting with each other. They slowly loaded everything in while still conversing, then got into their cars. Carla rolled down her window. “So I’ll see you at my place?” she asked Christine.
Jason thought he could feel Christine’s eyes on him. “What do you say, hon,” she asked him.
“Yeah, sure,” Jason said.
“See you there,” Christine said to Carla then she and Jason walked over to his car. “It was an honest mistake, really,” she said to him once they were alone. “I know, I should have remembered about your sister, it’s just that I haven’t seen Kathy in a while so I guess I forgot. We go to Carla and Bill’s all the time, I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jason said as they got into his car. “Just me overreacting,” he said sullenly.
“No, you’re right. I should’ve asked you first,” Christine replied helpfully. “We don’t have to stay long anyhow. Carla just wants to show off her new deck, you know how she is.”
Jason started his car, backed up into the street, and drove off without saying anything.
“Really, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Jason drove along with the exiting traffic. “I know.”
“I’ve invited us to places before, we both have. I didn’t think it’d be a big deal.”
“Usually a couple of days in advance,” Jason reminded, “not all of a sudden.” They came to a stoplight.
“Is that what’s bothering you?” Christine asked.
The light turned green and Jason turned onto the main avenue. “I don’t know how it happened, but now it feels like that I always have to be somewhere.” He felt somewhat unburdened. “Nothing feels spontaneous anymore, you know?”
“We weren’t planning on going to Carla’s right now,” Christine offered.
“I mean just the two of us,” Jason argued, “like when we used to go places on the spur of the moment, just for fun.” He thought longingly. “Like going to the beach, or that time we went down and camped at Big Sur, stuff like that.”
“I’d love for us to get away, but sometimes you have to make the time for family. Maybe we can’t do everything we want, but we still have fun.”
“You know I don’t like to whine,” Jason said as they drove ahead. “I’m not trying to be a dictator, but I still like to have a say in things.
“Of course,” Christine agreed. “We definitely need to get away somewhere. Take a break from everything, like when we took the trip to Hawaii.”
“But first we need to be able to afford it,” Jason reminded. “I don’t need much, anyways, even a trip up to the City would be all right.” They drove along with the busy traffic then came to a red light.
“So how are things at work?” Christine asked.
“Work’s fine,” Jason said. “That isn’t a problem.”
“Didn’t you say they laid off some people?”
“They were just temps.”
“I see,” Christine remarked. The light turned green and they drove ahead. “Maybe that’s why they have you working more hours.”
“The extra money will get me out of debt quicker,” Jason pointed out.
“But it’s going to cut into you going to school.”
“See, that’s what I’m talking about,” Jason said angrily. “I’m tired of worrying about this, that, and every other damn thing! I just want things to be simple.”
“Me too,” Christine agreed. “But what can we do? Maybe this is just how life gets, less play and more responsibilities.”
“Just like our parents always warned us about,” Jason said half seriously.
“It’s been getting busier at my job, too, ever since that new client.”
“Work is cutting into both of our lives.” Jason thought yearningly of disappearing free time, and feared that it would never return.
“You should hear some of the talk at my job. Mergers, acquisitions, lawsuits, one company swallowing up another, and they don’t even think about how all that affects other people’s lives.”
“I’ll bet a lot of that is big talk just to impress each other. Guys like to bullshit, especially lawyers.”
“It’s what they’re saying behind closed doors is what gets me wondering,” Christine said ominously. “Who knows what they’re planning.”
“No need to get paranoid,” Jason cautioned. “Why worry about things you can’t see?”
“If there’s one thing I’ve noticed is that what happens in the boardrooms runs everything, and they’re all secretive.”
“And I suppose you think where I work is the same way?”
“Aren’t they all?”
“I don’t have my head in the sand,” Jason asserted. “If anything was going to happen to my job I would know about it.”
“They should at least pay you what you deserve,” Christine insisted.
“It’ll do for now,” Jason said. “Besides, it’s such a pain in the ass to look for a job. I should just pick up the extra pay while I can.” He slowed down and turned right into a residential neighborhood.
“I’m not trying to be a harpy, it’s just that it feels like it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen next. What if the lawyers I work for are planning something with the owners you work for?”
“Well if they are, maybe it’ll end up working out for us,” Jason said positively as he navigated through the maze of suburban tract houses. “They tell me that I’m a good worker. If there are any changes, I can rise with the company.”
“I just don’t want you to be left behind when everything settles.”
“Enough worrying, everything will be fine,” Jason said confidently. “Bad enough I can’t hang out with Randy anymore.”
“Jason, you know I don’t want to keep you away from your friends, but Randy is getting difficult to be around, especially if he’s been drinking. Remember how belligerent he was at Todd’s party?”
“Yeah, he was a little of out of control, but so was everyone else at that party. We’ve all seen him that way before.”
“Gina kept calling me and Cheryl and Rachel and Liz and everyone else everyday for about the past two weeks crying over Randy.”
“Maybe she’s better off without him.”
“So you agree Randy is getting difficult,” Christine replied.
“That’s not what I meant!” Jason said irritably. He calmed down and tried to gather his thoughts. “Sure, Randy has been kind of wild lately, but maybe he’s just blowing off steam. Troubles with Gina, bouncing from job to job, conflicts with his mom. He’s got his reasons.”
“But where’s he going to end up?”
Jason felt pressure to come up with an answer. “You know what, we all make mistakes. Hell, all of us got into trouble with teachers or the principal or parents or someone. That’s just part of growing up.”
“Yeah, but once you grow up you’re supposed to mature and leave that kind of recklessness behind.”
“I don’t know if I’d call Randy reckless,” Jason countered. “It’s not like he crashed a car into a school bus. He’s just got a behavior problem.”
“A problem that’s worsened by alcohol.”
“He is what he is, and that’s why everybody likes him,” Jason said defensively. “Randy’s a lot of fun, he makes people feel good and festive. He’s a traveling party, what’s wrong with that? He may not be the most responsible guy around, but he brightens up wherever he goes. And that’s something we all need.”
“Yes, he can be a lot of fun,” Christine agreed, “and he’s a joy to be around when he’s that way. I wish he could be that way all the time.” Jason sensed Christine looking at him again. “I know he’s one of your best friends and he means a lot to you, but his behavior seems to be getting worse. I just don’t want see him to get into any serious trouble.” He felt her words penetrate. “Maybe he needs outside help.”
“Like what, AA?”
“If that’s what it takes.”
“I know you’re just trying to help,” Jason said, “but I really don’t think that Randy is at that point yet.”
“I just don’t want to see him get to a point where it’s too late,” Christine warned.
“But what can I do?”
“You can talk to him.”
Jason chuckled. “Yeah, that’ll work.”
“All you have to do is tell him that you’re concerned,” Christine pleaded. “He’ll listen to you. Just tell him that you don’t want to see him or someone else get hurt.”
“Randy may blow it sometimes, but he would never hurt anyone intentionally. He’s a result of his upbringing. He can still grow out of it.”
“He’s an adult now. Shouldn’t he have grown out of it already?”
“Ah, why stress so much!” Jason exasperated. “Randy will be fine, he’s a survivor.” He turned onto another residential side street. “If I go to Randy with some Nancy Reagan lecture about how he’s got to straighten up and fly right, he’s just going to think I’m getting on his ass like everyone else in his life and that’ll just upset him more.”
“If he gets any worse, I’ll talk to him, okay?”
“I’m just concerned, that’s all,” Christine reiterated. “He might have a lot inside of him that he needs to let out.”
“Well I don’t know about that,” Jason replied. “Randy isn’t the type to hold back,” he said as a new thought occurred to him. “Maybe that’s the problem.” He turned onto another street. “So how’s Gina doing?”
“I think she’s starting to recover,” Christine said. “That poor girl always has bad luck with guys.”
“They’re not right for each other,” Christine said pointedly. “That’s all I meant.” Jason felt Christine looking at him again as she moved in closer. “I care about Randy, too. Deep down he’s got a good heart. Sometimes he can be a real sweet guy. I just wish he could be his better self more often.”
“Sometimes you just have to accept people for what they are,” Jason deemed. “People are what they are, they don’t change all that much.”
Christine relaxed back into her seat. “I know he didn’t have an easy time of it growing up. Maybe if things were different.”
“If only,” Jason agreed. He thought back to when he and Randy were younger. “Randy was always wanting to go somewhere, he couldn’t just settle down. We thought it was because he was more adventurous than the rest of us, I guess he was just trying to get away from home. His older sister was the same way.” He looked upon his old memories with new perspective. “Seems like you don’t notice that stuff as much when you’re younger.”
“So what’s Randy’s sister doing now?”
“Last I heard living with some guy she met at The Saddle Rack.”
“Do she and Randy stay in touch?”
“Yeah, they talk once in a while,” Jason said.
“It’s really too bad Randy’s dad wasn’t around,” Christine sympathized. “His war experiences must have seriously messed him up.” They pulled up to Carla’s house and parked out front. Jason cut the engine.
“You know, the only reason why he got sent to Vietnam was because he got into trouble with the law. The judge told him he could either join the army or go to jail.”
“Not much of a choice.”
“They probably would have drafted him anyways,” Jason said.
“So what’s he doing now?” Christine asked.
Jason tried to remember the last time he heard anything about Randy’s father. “I have no idea. Randy hasn’t seen him in a few years. Last I heard he fell in with a bad crowd.” Jason thought some more of Randy and his father and their similarities. “Just a couple of victims of circumstance.”
They got out of the car and walked to Carla’s house. “We don’t have to stay long,” Christine promised, “just long enough to admire their new deck,” she joked. “I’m really looking forward to seeing Kathy. I want to hear some of her college stories.”
“Same here,” Jason said. “Did you know she’s going to be a junior when she goes back to school in the fall? She’s halfway to graduating.”
“Already? Time sure does fly.”
And where does it all go, Jason thought to himself. They entered through the open front door and were enveloped into the hum of socializing once everyone said their hellos. People were in the kitchen and backyard cooking and barbecuing, chatting and laughing while a ballgame was on television in the background.
©2106 Robert Kirkendall