Above the garage was a bedroom. It was small with a pitched ceiling following the angel of the roof. There was a neatly made single bed. He had a hi-fi with a row of record albums about three feet in length and two shelves of books about six feet in length. He had a desk with a typewriter and radio. Next to the desk stood a small refrigerator.
“You want a Coke?” Elbert said and pointed to a chair and said. “Have a seat.”
“Yeah,” Rich said.
“Want a glass?” Elbert ask.
“Bottle ’s fine,” Rich said.
Elbert leaned down, looked into the refrigerator, and said, “Out of Coke, how about a Pepsi?”
“That’s fine,” Rich said.
His manner surprised Rich. He was cordial and polite. He had an air of sophistication not what Rich expected from a hood. Rich looked at his closet. It was neat and well arranged. He saw the bathroom, everything was in place, like a picture in a health book. What Rich really expected, a room full of comics, brass knuckles, daggers, and guns.
Elbert handed Rich the bottle of Pepsi, pulled the chair out from his desk, and sat down facing Rich. Elbert took a drink from his Pepsi and so did Rich.
Riche’s eyes continued to scan the room and marvel. Elbert watched Rich and sat the bottle on the desk.
He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “You were probably expecting a room full of beer bottles, right,” Elbert smiled.
“Yeah, kind of,” Rich confessed.
Elbert playfully slapped Rich’s knee and Rich smiled.
“So why did you drive by?” Elbert said.
“I’ve never ridden my bike down here. Only been down this way in a car or the bus,” Rich said.
“What grade will you be in this year?” Elbert said.
“Freshman,” Rich said.
“You going to college or you got a job?” Rich ask.
“I’m enrolled at Bowling Green, but I got a few dollars set back and I thought about taking my MG on a trip and coming back in January and starting college then. I also thought about enlisting in the Army first. The trip seems most likely.”
“I can’t wait till I’m out,” Rich said. “I got to get away.”
“What do you mean by, get away?” Elbert asked and took another drink.
Rich took a drink and let the liquid slide slowly down his throat. “I got trouble at home,” he said casually.
“Like what?” Elbert said and placed the bottle back on the desk and leaned forward again.
Rich smiled uncomfortably feeling he said too much and said, “I really can’t talk about it.”
“That means it’s serious,” Elbert said.
The response seemed sincere and Rich relaxed. “My parents argue a lot. I mean, a lot and they blame me. That’s all I can say,” Rich said looking directly in Elbert’s eyes.
“I’d take you with me, kid, but my passenger seat is going to be full of stuff,” Elbert said.
“Thanks, but that’s not the answer,” Rich said.
“Than, you tell me,” Elbert said. “That’s why I live above the garage. If it weren’t for the garage I’d been in California a long time ago.”
“This is neat. Can I have your room when you leave?” Rich joked.
“Rich, can I tell you something that will remain between me and you?” Elbert said.
“Sure,” Rich said. “I got plenty of secrets that nobody knows about, you can trust me.”
“Between me and you, ole pal,” Elbert said motioning with his finger between them, “until five years ago, I lived above a bar. My mother worked at the bar and worked after the bar closed if you know what I mean. That’s my shame. Mr. Percival came along and made my mom an honest woman, but a price had to be paid. Mr. Percival won’t let her forget what she was. She relives it every time Mr. Percival looks at her. I just choose not to live it with her. I can’t help her. I can only help myself.” He paused to measure Rich’s reaction and take another drink. “You probably wonder, why I hang around with the hoods. They all got secrets they want to keep at home and no one asks. If I hung with the ‘in crowd’ or the jocks they would not be satisfied until they knew every little scrap and crumb of my life. The hoods don’t care.”
“I never knew that,” Rich said.
“The hoods don’t know it either,” Elbert said.
“So I should become a hood?” Rich ask.
“If you want,” Elbert said. “But those guys can take you down further if you don’t watch yourself. You’d have to forget sports. I don’t care how good you are, you won’t play if you’re a hood. You ever wonder why Gene Pickering doesn’t play basketball? He’s a hood. Hoods don’t fit in. The other jocks just won’t play with him. Do you know he played in the Industrial League last year? That’s against men and he was only seventeen.”
“That’s crap,” Rich said. “You know, come to think of it, we had a kid on the eighth-grade team, Roger Copperman, he was the best guard we had, but he hardly got in.”
“They will keep putting him down until he just gives up,” Elbert said. “Some don’t stand a chance. The only chance they have is to break away and get on their own. I’ve been kind of on my own for a while.”
“You do all right,” Rich said with a positive lilt to his voice.
“Not so quick, pal. The jury is still out,” Elbert said. “Here’s a tip, protect your mind, feed it well.” He pointed to his books and record albums. “Even when I’m with the hoods my mind is in my books.”
“What books should I read?” Rich asked.
“What have you read so far?” Elbert asked.
“To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Old Man and The Sea, and…,” Rich cringed. “My Brother Was an Only Child.”
Elbert reared back in his chair and laughed. “You like that old pervert?”
“What!” Rich said.
“Jack Douglas,” Elbert said.
“Sure, he’s funny,” Rich said.
Elbert smiled, as though withholding something from Rich. “That’s some pretty impressive reading. But just one thing, to truly be a well-read person, you must read a book that has influenced more humans than any other book – the Bible.”