Rich peddled his bike five miles, in order to get to Slabtown.
Please don’t conclude that it’s really a town. Other than the two township roads that cross there, it has no streets, alleys, or sidewalks. Its only industry is Carpenter’s Market and its gas pump. There are fifteen well-kept houses with fifteen families, who attend church on Sunday, all the high school football and basketball games, and nearly all lights are out by eleven. There were no signs to inform anyone that they were in Slabtown—you just know.
Pete Carpenter used to say, “From seventy-five take Blue Lick Road west till ya smell it, and don’t stop until ya step in it. If ya happen to step over it, ya will miss it completely.”
Pete Carpenter owned the store. He was a high school history teacher and football coach. He was a big man with thinning wisps of well-oiled brown hair and a rugged puffy face with a broad nose. He had a large barrel chest and spindly legs. A house was attached to the store, where he, his wife, and three children lived.
Slabtown was like the Emerald City in The Wizard Of Oz to Rich. The Wizard was Mr. Carpenter who spewed homespun, half-baked, and irrelevant philosophy by the shovels full, to all and any of life’s perplexing problems.
The real attraction to Slabtown was the Johnson home. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson had three girls; Jan, Jane, and Jo. They were the topic of conversation and the fantasy of nearly every boy for miles around. They had charm, figures, and pretty faces.
Mr. Carpenter sat behind the counter, his legs crossed diagramming an offensive play in a well-worn stenographer’s notepad.
Rich pulled a bottle of Double Cola from the pop cooler and slid a quarter across the counter to Mr. Carpenter.
“I sure like trap plays,” he said, diagramming on the paper. “Ya got a linebacker or lineman standing there with a finger up his butt and pow! All at once, he gets plastered by a pulling guard and the first words out of his mouth as he lays on the ground is, mom, is the bus here yet, followed by, crap, it was a trap.” He glanced at the Double Cola over the tops of his glasses. “Is that all ya want?”
“That’s all,” Rich said.
He rang-up the register and gave Rich his change.
“What kind of curriculum did you pick for next year?” he asked.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” Rich said.
“What’s the holdup?” He grumbled as if you missed a block.
“Mr. Carpenter, I’m not sure if I want to go to college,” Rich said. “I don’t think it’s for me?”
“If ya don’t attend college ya’ll probably end up being a bum or work for the township. Although the township has a good retirement. Teaching is something ya oughta get into, cause ya don’t hafta work that many part-time jobs to make a go of it. Always plan for today before tomorrow’s over and yer left with no chickens in the hen house.”
“Thanks,” Rich said and wondered if he was going to ask what he meant.
“What ya gonna do today?” Mr. Carpenter said.
“I’m waiting around until Sammy shows up. Don was supposed to come with me today, but his mom said he had to stick around home. I think we’ll get Coleman and go down to Johnson’s and play some pool.”
Coleman was Larry Coleman, the All-American kid, tall, with good looks and blond hair. As a freshman, he was the starting quarterback for the varsity. His dad owned a construction company, that proudly displayed the family name. Although his sixteenth birthday was a year away, he had a ’59 Ford waiting for him in the garage. Larry was on his way to greatness. This all might cause some to become aloof and arrogant, but not Larry. His dad made him work. By the time he was thirteen, he slung a hammer with the best.
Mr. Carpenter said. “I don’t want ya hangin’ around in the store like this is a teenage hang-out. If yer by yerself, ya stay here and talk to me, but when others show up, take it outside. More people fit out there anyway. Now, I got to get back to work,” He began to draw another diagram of a football play.
Rich understood that as a signal to leave. He sat on a bench outside the store until his bottle of cola was half empty. Sammy Tuttle peddled down the road and into the loose gravel of Carpenter’s Market. He slid sideways to a stop. Sammy was short, with close-cropped, coarse sandy hair, and a round face. He continually spit, and grabbed his crotch, every time he laughed or said something meant to astonish others.
“Where’s Don? I thought he was coming today.” Sammy said as he dismounted his bike.
“I stopped by on my way over. He said his parents told him he had to stick around the house today,” Rich said.
“They sure don’t let him do much,” Sammy said. “Probably want to keep him from getting into trouble.”
“Like, what’s he gonna do around here,” Rich said, “steal corn and start corn smuggling ring?” Rich imitated a police officer. “Where ya goin’ with that basket full of corn, boy. Uh, uh, uh, that ain’t corn, officer. Then what is it? Uh, uh, uh, it’s from a new hybrid poppy plant that grows pure heroin and will eventually destroy the lives of untold millions, leaving them homeless mindless derelicts. Oh, in that case, go ahead. We don’t want hybrid corn falling into the wrong hands around these parts.”
Sammy laughed and grabbed his crotch. “Are you staying all day?”
“Yeah, I packed a couple of sandwiches for lunch,” Rich said.
“You could eat at our house. Mom said anytime you want, you can eat with us.” Sammy said.
“That’s okay, but thanks anyway,” Rich said.
“Hey, my mom just doesn’t invite just anyone,” Sammy said. “She won’t invite your buddy, Joe.”
“I don’t get it,” Rich said. “Joe’s a cool guy.”
“Mom says there’s something wrong with a kid that will mow everybody else’s lawn but won’t mow his own,” Sammy said. “His dad works all day, his mom teaches school and summer school, and they have to find the time to do it, but he can’t?”
“Maybe she’s got something,” Rich said, “but Joe treats me okay; most of the time.”
“What’s planned for the day?” Sammy asked.
“Let’s see if Coleman is home, get him, and see if we can play pool at the Johnson’s,” Rich suggested. “That’s me, you, and Larry; one for each one of the Johnson girls.”
“Ole man Johnson don’t like us boys coming around his daughters,” Sammy said.
“Mrs. Johnson don’t mind, as long as she is home,” Rich said. “Mr. Johnson doesn’t get home until four-thirty and we’ll be long gone by then.”
“She doesn’t like me,” Sammy said.
“She likes me and she loves Coleman,” Rich said.
“She told Jan that I was sneaky,” Sammy said.
“I told Mrs. Johnson you were sneaky and then she told Jan,” Rich laughed and slapped Sammy’s arm. “Let’s go get Coleman, and then go to Johnson’s, and don’t grab your crotch around the girls or Mrs. Johnson. It’s disgusting.”