Redwood Summer Chapter 11 (repost)

via Redwood Summer Chapter 11

Rewrite of chapter 11 of Redwood Summer, a novel of 1990 San Jose.  The setting of this chapter is Jason’s workplace, a satellite imaging company.  The workplace is abuzz because of a visit they received from a group of businessmen who are rumored to be interested in buying the company.  Curious, Jason talks to one of the company lifers who explains that things are about to change, and that it might be a good idea for Jason to look for another job, and maybe even another place to live.

Jason is dismayed by the idea of leaving home and resistant to change, but he’s also feeling uneasy because he’s subconsciously becoming aware that powers beyond his control are about to shape his life.

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Redwood Summer Chapter 11

“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?”

“The information is out there,” Phil restated, “and anyone can find out if they’re willing to look beyond the establishment mass media.”

“Oh, here we go again!” Larry said with a laugh. “We’re all just a bunch of brainwashed idiots because we don’t listen to the radicals and whack jobs on all those lunatic fringe radio stations at the far end of the dial.”

Jason sat at another table in the break room and looked upon the conversation while looking 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 explained. “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 how that would have worked out.”

“The Soviets got the bomb anyways,” Phil reminded.

“We got it first, and used it. That sent them a message,” Kevin said ominously.

“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.

“No, not everybody,” Phil replied defensively.

Jason finished his coffee and got up.

“But most people who are shady do wear suits,” Phil went on.

Everyone responded in disbelief as Jason 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 as he was reminded of what Phil had just said, “plus the limousines they arrived in.”

Stan looked up again from his clipboard. “And then they breezed right through without even saying hi, just went straight to the head office like they own the joint.” Stan moved along and Jason followed him.

“Yeah, that was pretty rude,” Jason agreed.

“You know why, of course.”

“Because we’re below their pay grade?” Jason repeated.

“It’s because they don’t want to get too close to anybody, “Stan said as he took the papers from his clipboard and put them away into a steel filing cabinet, “just in case they need to terminate any of us.”

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 area of the warehouse, “but I wouldn’t wait too long to get your resumé together.”

Jason felt lost as he tried to comprehend the new information. “So now what?” he asked as he followed Stan.

“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 moved ahead.

“So you’re moving away?” Jason asked as he walked alongside Stan. “That’s sudden.”

“Not really,” Stan replied as he stopped and faced Jason. “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.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Jason agreed.

“That’s right. Too many people we know have moved away over the years, and now it’s a whole city 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 said with remorse as he walked down an aisle of old mainframes and hardware.

“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 when I get there,” he said confidentially.

“Doing what?”

“Dispatching for a freight company,” Stan revealed. “A buddy of mine from my trucking days helped set me up.” He continued down the aisle.

“Sounds like you got it all worked out,” Jason said as he followed Stan some more. “Guess it pays to have connections.”

“You can’t have too many.”

“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 continued along, then 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?”

“You mean I have to worry about that too?” Jason said with new apprehension. “I thought I had 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 then continued along. 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,” he said as he walked inside. “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 facetiously 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. My family, my friends, everyone I know that’s important to me, are 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 tough to leave home.”

“Yeah, that’s understandable, but home is where you make it,” Stan said as he stopped in the middle of his task. “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 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. And did you know that 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.” Stan typed some keys on a computer.

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,” Stan said with happy anticipation.

“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 as he looked up from the computer, “can’t beat that. Plus there’s Lake Tahoe and Reno nearby, and lots of woods and small towns with friendly people. And 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.”

“Maybe you can charge them,” Jason suggested half seriously. “Make a little extra on the side.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Stan realized. “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.”

Jason glanced at the office. “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 some more keys. “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.”

“And?”

“Studying clouds and weather systems.”

“Anything else?” Stan inquired further.

“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 said. “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, all I’m saying is be a realist. And 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 walled office and headed toward his work area. As he was walking back he looked up again at the office window. He watched the meeting, and saw that the men in suits were still doing all the talking. He wondered for a moment what was being said, then moved along.

©2017 Robert Kirkendall

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