The Summer of Adventure!
by Frederick Key
“Sure,” said Cass.
“What?” said Henry.
“Oh, yeah it’s bad. And all at once, too.”
“So it’s true? All three?”
“’Fraid so, Cass.”
“What?” said Henry.
“Seligman’s folding,” said Geoff. “Probably going to skip bankruptcy and go straight to liquidation.”
“Whoa—they made nice stuff.”
“Well, we made it sound nice, anyway,” said Geoff. “Then there’s PL Scotto.”
“They can’t possibly be folding.”
“No, but they’re going to do everything in-house,” said Cass.
“What?” said Henry.
“And we’re losing HappeeMart.”
“Decided to skip the catalog copy. Just going to throw the pictures up with bare data on the site from now on. They’ll keep us on for design, but the copy department is cut out.”
“Oh my God,” said Henry. He was alarmed by the news, and almost as alarmed that Cass knew it and he didn’t.
Everything Geoff said was repeated in the most positive way possible at the conference. The company was prepared to face these challenges, they were told, and be proactive in the search for solutions.
It was a nightmare.
At the sales dinner Henry had a few drinks, and was by no means alone in that. He was not drunk, not really, but perhaps nicely sozzled as he made his way from the hotel banquet room to the elevator.
“Going my way?” asked Cass, coming up at his side.
“Naturally,” said Henry.
They both had rooms on the seventeenth floor. On the way up, Cass’s perfume drifted over Henry’s way and he started to sweat. He remembered that he’d always been horrible with girls, and he counted on that more than any personal virtue to save him now from doing anything regrettable. But oh, how he wanted to do something regrettable.
“What do you think will happen?” Cass asked quietly.
“With what?” he choked out.
“Will we manage to hold on?”
The elevator glided to a stop. She said, “I see layoffs.”
“Uh. Yes, maybe.” He was both disgusted and relieved.
They went down the hall. His room, 1711, came up first. “I’m farther along,” she said, gesturing.
“Uh-huh,” he replied, wishing wordlessly that everything would stop sounding like a euphemism to him right now.
“Must be a tough spot you’re in,” said Cass.
“How do you mean?” he said. Duh duh duh. He slipped his card into the lock.
“Being one of the middle managers. Aren’t they usually the first to go?”
“Well, I, uh, guess it all depends.” He stepped into his room.
“I’m lucky,” said Cass.
“Geoff likes me.” She gave a little finger wave and was gone.
Henry closed the door and loosened his tie. He had several feelings and they were all bad. He splashed water on his face and took off his jacket. Then he picked up his cell phone and sat on the bed.
“You’re right, Janey,” he said. “That Cass is despicable.”
Henry soft-peddled the potential for layoffs and somehow failed to mention his pulse-pounding brush with unfaithfulness, or at least a brush with lurching at a woman and making an ass of himself. But when he got home and saw his goopy, pudding-covered children and his relieved little wife he felt almost as guilty as if he really had done something.
Henry tried to be levelheaded at work, but he found himself taking it out on Cass anyway. He was disgusted with himself for ignoring her weaselishness for so long. When she submitted copy for a blouse calling it “The softest, flowingest fabric you will EVAH feel!” he sent it back, writing in the Comments, “Unsubstantiated, slangy, uses unknown words. Try again.” Cass sulked all day.
They layoff rumors had taken on their own life by now, though; even the freelance editors and writers Henry managed were sniffing around for confirmation. He denied everything and made plans to use up his vacation before the ax fell. This was difficult since they were in the busy season, writing Christmas catalog copy in the heat of June, but he figured he could get a few days. He also updated his résumé on the sly.
The problem was that there were very few jobs for wordsmithing in this part of the state. Like most writers, Henry was useless at other work. Getting laid off could mean selling the house and moving—assuming he could find something somewhere else.
There was Jane’s job at the library, of course, but it had been reduced to part-time at her request because of the kids. It didn’t pay much more than the cost of the sitter they used while she was working, and as a manager Henry could no longer work at home to cover for her. Maybe he could sock away a few dollars by using his vacation to be the sitter, he thought.
“Gonna take a couple of days next week,” he said to Jane.
“Oh, great! Will you be helping me with the library petition?”
“Wait—I’ll bet you were finally going to paint the porch.”
“Well, I—you know, why not do both?”
What the hell. Painted porch = curb appeal. Might need it.
But first there was Beach Day II, just him and the kids back on the lousy local beach. Now that the summer had begun in earnest (if not on the calendar) and school was almost out, the beach was more populated with people. It was just as populated with rocks and seaweed and gray sand as it had been before.
“We lookin’ for bad guys again?” asked Hal as they laid out the blanket.
“Not yet. Nug’s unconscious.”
“He’s useless anyway,” said Phoebe as she dropped her juice box in the sand.
“You all are,” said Henry, “but I’ve grown attached.”
He managed to get Hal and Phoebe to work on a sand castle together, which was no easy job for them. The beach sand was like concrete. Little Nug gurgled once with hunger, but was quickly fed and dispatched. Overall it was a nice day for the four of them. Until the asswipes with the cooler and speakers showed up to turn the beach into a nightclub.
Henry knew his own party was over. He’d been one of those asswipes a long time ago, and knew that an unpoliced beach was their natural habitat. He started packing up.
“We gonna look for bad guys now?” said Hal.
“No need,” said his dad. “They found us.”
When Jane got home from the library she had some words to say about Hal’s and Phoebe’s delicate skin and the importance of sunscreen. Henry tried to say it was all part of the Adventure!, but with two red kids crying and one pre-verbal toddler wailing—Nug was not burned but he liked to sing along—Henry was kind of drowned out.
It rained the next day, ruining his plans for porch painting, but it was just as well, as he had forgotten about his dental checkup. The day after that, bearing up under the weight of the knowledge that he had caries in two teeth, Henry went with Jane to canvass her designated area on behalf of the library.
“We should have taken the kids,” said Henry after five no-answers. “We could trot them out as props. ‘Save the library! Think of the poor urchins!’”
“I think they’ve had enough of the sun for one week,” groused Jane. They went to the next house and Jane rang the bell.
An elderly voice—Henry could not tell if it was male or female—said through the door, “Who is it?”
“Good morning, ma—uh, good morning,” said Jane. “I’m Jane Kingslip with the Adamstown Public Library, and I’m collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to fund—”
“No thanks,” said the voice. “I have TV and Internet. Library’s a waste of money. Good day.”
“But—” Jane started.
Henry led her gently away. “You’ll never get through that door,” he said. “Come on.”
“But we need sixty signatures! How are we going to get that many?”
“I know, the five angry lesbians will kill you.”
“Only three of them are lesbians,” she muttered, as she always did when he made a crack about his coworkers. “Henry, this is ridiculous.”
“Come with me.”
“And call me Hank. Summer of Adventure!, remember?”
“Hank” took her to the local Starbucks, which he knew would be populated by those who considered themselves enlightened and well-read, even if the only thing they’d read since college was their Twitter feed and the shampoo bottle. He and Jane had sixty signatures before lunchtime.
“That’s totally cheating,” said Jane. “I was supposed to cover a particular territory.”
“You’re right. Let’s go back to schlepping door-to-door.”
“Are you kidding? Come on, Hank, buy me lunch. And we have to stop at the card store. We need a card for your cousin's horrid wedding.”
[Can Jane and Henry survive the horrid wedding? Tune in to Part 3 tomorrow and find out!]