Nothing was a surprise, but everything was awful.
A man gets a sinking feeling, knowing he’s doomed, that he’s making too much, and his age makes him cost too much, and the company gets to where it makes his life miserable for a while, hoping to run him off, and then it finally just lays him off, knowing at last it can hire some kid for half the money.
Gene Kidd wasn’t the first to go. Not many veterans were left at the agency. He’d outlasted most of them, but inevitability had finally struck him down. He was bitter, but he’d known it was coming.
He didn’t have a clue what he was going to do. In the short run, he loaded his belongings in the bed of the F-150 and drove to Dernier’s Drive-In, where he had the usual, a slaw-dog plate, and a Diet Pepsi. Suddenly, the words of some song from the sixties, when he was in grade school, came to mind.
I’d go down on my knees, but it’s no good to bow.
The boss called it early retirement, but that wasn’t going to work for long. The boss also gave him instructions on how to apply for unemployment, confirming the insincerity of his words.
Gene spent the rest of the day as a dart without feathers. He drove slowly, and if he had flipped a coin to determine the direction to take at each intersection, the path wouldn’t have been different. He just drifted along, distracted and numb. He wouldn’t have driven any better had he been intoxicated. He stopped a couple times, once at Bub Dixon’s Chevron and then at Harvey Tubbs’ hardware store. Both were places where people Gene’s age sat around and swapped tales. This time Gene just listened. He didn’t tell anyone of his misfortune. They’d know soon enough. At each place, he got his fill and moseyed out with a grunt and a wave. The damned City Council was at it again, tacking on a fee for drainage control in the middle of a drought. It sure was bad about Buddy Cline killing himself. Ed Lecroix had heard he had cancer. Gene couldn’t take it anymore when Billy Stickles said it sure was a shame Ed couldn’t go to heaven now. Billy always had been prone to saying exactly the wrong thing at a given time. That was at the filling station.
“How you doing, Gene?” was what had hastened his departure from the hardware store. He said “fine,” of course, before he retreated to the comfort of his truck.
Where Gene finally settled was the hill overlooking the Drysdale High School practice field. The boys had been practicing less than a week. It was a perfect place to brood. He kept the truck running, windows rolled up, air conditioning on, “Willie’s Place” on the satellite radio. The best thing all day was hearing Ray Price sing about his shoes walking back to you. It wasn’t five minutes till Marty Robbins was singing about the shoe being on the other foot tonight. What was this? Foot Day?
With some of the boys running up and down the field catching passes, and the rest lined up opposite one another trying to block and tackle, Gene started to come apart. He got pissed off at himself, and that made it worse. He put on his sunglasses, turned off the ignition, and got out of the truck. Heat hit him like a blow dryer, as did the memories flowing back from a time long ago when things worked.
They’re our wonders. They’re our dreams. They’re the captains of our team!
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