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The International Writers Magazine
Life Stories

Martin Green

Paul Lerner, a health researcher for the State, was not in the best of moods when he arrived back at eight PM on a Friday evening in July, still hot in Sacramento, from a meeting in San Francisco.  The committee of doctors he'd met with had again dithered around about giving the go-ahead to a project he'd been pushing for six months.  On the drive back, the ten-year old State car he'd been given for the trip had over-heated and then the air-conditioner had given out.  So, besides the usual irritation that yet another pointless State meeting aroused in him, he was tired, hungry and hot.

The first thing Paul's wife Sally said to him when he came through the door was, "Jack has another problem."
    Jack, 20 years old, was their younger son, in his third year at the local college, Sacramento State.
    "I suppose it’s money again."
    "Yes.  Remember when he changed apartments?  He had a repair bill to pay but didn't have the money so he just ignored it.  Now the landlord has turned the bill over to one of those collection agencies and they're threatening him."
   "Great.  How much is it?"
  "One-hundred dollars."
   "What?  What did they do to the place?"
  "I don't know.  You know how it is with Jack.  I couldn't get a straight story from him."
     Paul shook his head.  Although Jack was going to a local college, they'd decided to let him move out to his own apartment.  Their older son, Ken, 23, had gone out of town to college, so this seemed only fair.  It had been a mistake.  Within a year, Jack had run up credit card bills which eventually they'd had to pay for him.  Now this.
    "Well, I guess we'll have to pay up for him again," said Paul.   “At least it’s a lot less than that credit card bill.   But this will be the last time."
   "I told him you'd call,"said Sally.
   "Not tonight.  I haven't eaten since lunch.  Do we have anything?"
   "I'll make some eggs.  Is that all right?"
    "Fine.  I'm going to take a shower."
     Paul went through the living room, throwing off his jacket and tie on the way.  Their son Ken was sprawled on the living room sofa, watching some insipid game show on television.  Paul stopped.  "How's the job-hunting going?" he asked.  Ken, after getting his college degree and then a teaching credential had decided he didn't want to teach and was supposed to be looking for work.
 Ken looked up, startled, as if some alien presence had crossed his field of vision.  "Okay," he said.
  "Well, did you look anywhere this week?"
  "Not really.  There was nothing in the paper."
  "How about the temp agencies.  Did you try any of them?"
They'd had a long discussion about Ken going to employment agencies that specialized in temporary jobs.  In the present recession that was then gripping California, many experts had said that this was the best way to get a foothold in the job market.
   "No, it was too hot to drive around today."
 At this, Paul exploded.  "It was too hot!  What the hell do you plan to do all summer?  Sit around all day and watch television?  Do you think we can go on supporting you forever."  Seeing the remote on the coffee table, Paul grabbed it and switched off the TV.  "At least, do something else than watching that crap.  Work on your damned resume."
     Paul stomped into the bedroom, stripped off the rest of his clothes, and went into the shower.  The cool water felt good.  He sighed deeply.  What had he done to deserve two sons like that?  Maybe he should had stayed overnight after the meeting.  Like many Easterners who'd been shipped to California while in the service, Paul had returned there afterward, getting a State job in San Francisco.  As always when he visited there, memories of his first few years, when he was in his twenties, came rushing back to him.
     He remembered the thrill of getting his first job, his first car, his first apartment, all to himself.  He remembered the Friday nights and weekends going to bars and parties, trying to meet girls.  Then came the time when the research firm for which he worked had gone under, at the same time his girl, Ellen, had gone back to the Midwest because her father had a terminal ill-ness, and he found himself without a job or a girl.  He'd now worked almost 20 years for the State in Sacramento.  He was a family man, with a house, a mortgage, two sons. Sometimes it seemed that his early years in San Francisco happened to another person.
     Paul turned off the water and got dressed.  He felt almost human again.  He went into the kitchen, where Sally had his eggs ready.  He recounted the travails of his meeting to her.  Then he went into the living room and picked up the morning's paper.  Ken had retreated to his room, because Paul could hear him talking on the phone.  It sounded as if he was talking to his brother Jack.
    "I don't know.  What do you want to do?"
  Paul was reminded of the classic movie, "Marty," he'd seen as a kid, in which Marty and his friends were trying to decide what to do on a weekend night.  "What do you wanna do?"  "I don't know.  What do you wanna do?"  Nobody in Marty's gang had a girl friend.
   "I'm not sure," he heard Ken say. "Dad's pretty sore at me."
  "Yeah, maybe we'll just hang out."
     A few minutes later, Ken came into the living room.  "Do you think I can use the car tonight?  Jack and I want to hang out.  Maybe we'll go to a movie.  I'll go to those temp agencies on Monday.  I did re-write my resume today."
   "Okay.  Take the key.  Drive carefully.  And tell Jack I'll talk to him tomorrow."
  "Thanks, Dad."
  When the went to bed, Sally said, "We can sleep late tomor-row.  Maybe we can go to a movie in the afternoon."
   "That sounds okay."
    "Someday they'll grow up and be on their own."
  "Yeah.  Good night."

© Martin Green July 2007

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