11.30.2016

Fiction: A Weighty Affair

A Work-in-Progress
(Critiques welcome)


Jack O’Neill is certain his parents will kill him. Why did he let his twin brother Dave convince him to have this party? Old high school friends descend upon the O’Neill’s home while the shindig thunders on around him. With so many people here, especially the guy with the peculiar hat and the pony, the place is getting trashed. How will he explain things to his parents? And what on earth was he thinking getting tattoos all over his chest and arms? He’s never going to get a job now.

Overcome with panic Jack thinks, “My life is ruined.” Slowly the scene makes sense as he realizes he’s in bed dreaming. There was no party here last night; that was down the street. The tattoos, they were drawn on his chest and arms by cute girls at the party. The ruckus, a bunch of neighborhood kids roughhousing on the neighbor’s lawn. The guy with the hat and the pony, who knows?

Jack wishes for more sleep as the party raged until dawn, but between the noise and the warm sunshine pouring into his room, slumber is futile. “How is it possible for kids to have such elevated energy levels by 9 am?” he wonders.

Strong and handsome, the O’Neill twins have returned to their parent’s place in Randolph, New Jersey after college graduation. Although they work, Jack at his old high school job at Friendly’s, Dave at a local landscaping company, they hope these jobs to be temporary. Both aim to forge their own unique path in life, refusing to settle for ordinary existences. This summer they act out their inner-wild child; the future, who knows what it will bring.

Jack wanders to the kitchen where Dave is getting bagels ready and making weak Folger’s coffee. “What’s got those brats so wound up?” Jack grumbles, as he slumps into a chair and rubs the final bits of sleep from his eyes.

“It’s July 4th,” Dave reminds him. “America’s 200th birthday".

Of course. These kids studied the Revolutionary War at school and were taught that America’s Bicentennial is a very big deal. The upcoming parade, BBQs and fireworks fuel their excitement. Repeatedly, they gleefully squeal, “Yankee doodle went to town riding on a pony. Stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.”

Jack cringes. “Chill out bro’,” Dave says. “Have some Joe. Let’s figure out what to do with this fine day.”

You’d never know by their outward appearance that the O’Neill twins were once jocks. This summer, they work to cultivate a counter-culture vibe with cut-off shorts and tie-dye t-shirts serving as their uniform. Despite these attempts, their rowdy, loudmouth jock personalities still dominate, as if by changing outfits they can escape their nature.

Dave’s hair is long, pin straight and silky blonde. He likes to think he’s a Gregg Allman look-alike, but lacks the grooviness and swagger to pull it off. Jack’s hair is cut in shaggy layers, and today he has traded a tie-dye for a leather vest with no shirt underneath allowing him to better attain the bad-boy look. Jack, technically the older of the twins, has always been more heavy-handed and volatile, while Dave is more even-headed, his easy smile always putting people at ease.

 “How about we call up some folks and meet up at Brundage Park?” Dave proposes. “Chill out, enjoy some rays?”

“Take the ol’ 356 out for a spin?” Jack suggests with mischief in his eyes.

“Plan,” Dave responds. He makes a few phone calls to rally a posse of high school friends. A surprising number of classmates are back in Randolph after college graduation. Some killing time before law school or medical school in the fall, others, like Jack and Dave, living at their parents’ house, just for the summer they say, while they try to figure out what to do next.

Their parent’s black 1959 Ferrari 356 convertible is the ideal car for a day like today. Once a prized possession, it has grown rust and the former status symbol is now a bit rough-around-the-edges. Easing the car out of the garage, they head to the A&P for food and libations and deal with the mass of humanity looking for a parking space. “This place is mobbed,” moans Jack. “Is it possible Randolph is home to even more morons than it was four years ago?”

Jack and Dave meander the isles of the A&P, a cacophony of sounds filling the supermarket. Mothers secure last minute provisions throwing bags of Wise potato chips, cans of Tab, and other sundries into shopping carts. Gaggles of fussy children are about, some tethered to their mothers while others run around like miniature barbarians.

A brother and sister pair plays a game on the shiny linoleum floor, which includes only stepping on the randomly scattered colored tiles; the predominant white tiles are strictly off-limits. The entire store must know this as the bossy puff-ball of a girl issues orders to her younger brother in a loud, shrill voice. “You’re not following the rules,” she shrieks. “You stepped on a white tile. I win. I win. I win.”

“Up your nose with a rubber hose,” the brother responds trying to sound forceful.

“Twice as far with a chocolate bar, you cheater,” her comeback.

“This,” Jack observes to Dave, “is a good dose of birth control.” He swings the grocery cart around a tower of watermelons narrowly missing the startled little boy who yelps loudly, the entire time his sister’s bossiness does not relent. A grouchy, red-faced old man heads over to check out the commotion.

Quickly rushing to the kids, the mother assesses the situation while the grouchy old man glares at Jack. Dave steps in to smooth things over.

“Mr. Greenhut,” he chirps. “It’s David O’Neill. With the landscaping company. We met last week when my boss and I did weekly maintenance on your lawn and gardens. Gosh, Randolph sure is a small town, isn’t it?”

A curt acknowledgement comes from Mr. Greenhut’s mouth, something between a grunt and a hello. Dave continues to defuse the situation. “What lovely children do we have here?” he inquires bending down to pat the little boy on the head.

Mr. Greenhut introduces the brother and sister pair as his grandchildren, now silently obedient as they cower behind their mother. The sight of the blocky, pseudo-derelict O’Neill twins in their scrappy outfits is an intimidating sight to their young eyes.

“And this is my daughter Gwendolyn,” Mr. Greenhut mumbles awkwardly.

“People call me Gwenn,” she demurely purrs.

Jack is captivated. This flower of a woman is just the way he likes them; cornflower blue eyes, blonde hair to her shoulders ending in bouncy curls, dressed in a delicate white sundress that shows off her curves. So out of control of her children. Her father so gruff she seems scared of him. She's a hot mess if he’s ever seen one. Jack pours on the charm.

“And people call me Carmine,” Jack says slyly extending his hand.

“A delight to meet you Carmine,” Gwenn replies holding his gaze.

Silly smiles are plastered to their faces, the sense of sexual energy between them is palpable. Gwenn is drawn to Jack’s gruff demeanor and ragged appearance. Seeing young men like Jack reminds her of what life could have been. Unknowingly pregnant at her high school graduation, Gwenn had what her father calls a “rushed wedding” and gave birth shortly before her 19th birthday. A second child followed three years later and while Gwenn has a solid marriage, she lives a tedious life in Randolph with a boring husband and two unruly children. Jack’s free-as-air vibe entices Gwenn who wants to run away with him to embark on wild youthful adventures motherhood has denied her.

Apologies, uncomfortable banter, and a few words about the Bicentennial parade are exchanged. “Well, we’ll leave you and your fine family to your affairs Mr. Greenhut,” Dave announces. “Hope to see everyone around town.”

The groups go on their separate ways to vastly different days that layout before them. Family time, American pride, and Independence Day festivities for the Greenhut clan. For the O’Neill men, the day is unstructured. Nothing more than idle time hanging out with friends, questioning authority, talking about life.

The future troubles the O’Neill twins and questions weight heavy on their minds. Like everyone in their high school class, they are expected to live professional, success-oriented lives. It’s what you’re taught in Randolph, but is it what Jack and Dave want? They don’t buy into the American consumerism lifestyle as strongly as others do, but what will fulfill them?

The prospects are endless for young men like the O’Neill twins. Graduate school or surf bumming in California? Working at an organic farm in Vermont or a career on Wall Street? The world is their oyster; all it takes is getting off their asses and seizing it.

“We better get out of here before the parade begins and we spend the day in the parking lot of the goddamn A&P,” Jack laments.

Parade-goers line the streets. Preppy moms and dads beam proudly at their pie-faced kids and the unadulterated wholesomeness surrounding them. Lack of sleep, hot sun, and bare legs on sticky leather seats make Jack and Dave a bit antsy as they drive by irritated with the scene. American bliss. Families made of ticky-tacky. “Why do so many people just plod along sheep-like?” they wonder.

“Yankee-Fucking-Doodle can kiss my ass,” Jack bellows wildly to the crowd getting a hearty chuckle from Dave.

To many of the young children along the parade route, the image of Jack and Dave is truly wild. The moms look at one another in disgust, but don’t say a word, as if by ignoring them the young ones won’t notice or ask questions. Kids old enough to recognize the curse words stare in wide-eyed wonderment, pretending not to notice while secretly in awe of these two young men so ready to mock what they were taught was important and go against the prevailing sentimentality. For many of the sheltered Randolph kids, this is their first taste of rebellion.

“What was that all about, Jack?” Dave questions. “’Hi, my name is Carmine.’” Hand extended he mimics his brother “Like you’re some sort of business man or George-Fucking-Washington.”

“Look who’s talking,’ Jack barks back. “’Hello Mr. Greenhut.’ Like he’s your goddamn golf partner or Latin professor.”

There’s a brief silence before Jack barrels on.  “Did you catch that foxy young thing with your buddy Mr. Greenhut? Hubba hubba, man. Did you see the way she was checking me out?

At the park, Jack, Dave, and their friends are unencumbered from responsibility, free to live the good life that has been made available to them. Drinking beer, smoking weed and playing hacky sack fill the afternoon until the Randolph cops show up to shoo them away. Public consumption of alcohol and marijuana is a strict no-no in straight-laced Randolph, but “You young men are from fine families,” the police officers say and let them off consequence-free.

Little do Jack and Dave know that life has way of working itself out, offering opportunities never imagined or even desired. At the time, Jack doesn’t know he’ll run into the lovely Gwenn at Pizza Palace and after smarmy prodding he succeeds at luring her into a torrid affair. For two weeks, they rendezvous daily at Mr. Greenhut’s house while he is on vacation, this wooded three-acre property the perfect spot for their trysts. There, Jack can hide his car behind a tall strand of spruce trees concealing him from the neighbors’ preying eyes. The entire time Gwenn calls him Carmine and he doesn’t correct her.

Jack also doesn’t know he’s going to secure a job with the State of New Jersey as an inspector for the Bureau of Weights and Measures. He doesn’t even know there is such a thing as Weights and Measures. One summer becomes a year and the dull job leads to other opportunities that propel Jack into a powerful political career. His affair with Gwenn is the first of many. Fast cars and fast women. Opulence and excess. Scandals and controversy follow him.

Dave doesn’t know he’ll continue working at the landscaping company. He’ll eventually buy and expand the business and settle into a quiet life in Randolph. He, too, will become wildly successful, yet will remain the more conventional of the brothers. A father of twins, vacation home on Cape Cod, non-profit boards and civic commitments are the fruits of his labor.

They don’t know that in the fall, the United States will elect a peanut farmer by the name of Jimmy as president, and they can’t fathom that many years hence, during the year of America’s 240th birthday, the American people will elect a real estate developer with no political experience to the office of president. In 2016, Mr. Greenhut will be long gone and neither Jack nor Dave knows what has become of sweet Gwenn and her wild children. The twins will still be going strong at age 62. How will they react to what the past 40 years has brought them? Will they be content with life or will they lament their lost youth and missed opportunities?

Life has a strange way of changing direction yet often works out exactly as it should. The twins don’t know this now but for the time being, they are content to sit around, mock the status quo and hang out with old friends. They are boys from a good family with bountiful opportunities in front of them, striving desperately to perfect the image of youthful rebellion even if it’s just for a summer. Life is good.