As one might guess, Johnny Slick was not his real name.
A mystery surrounded Johnny Slick and Rich wanted to know. Rich was curious by nature; he seldom stopped until he found reasons or answers. Unknowns plagued him like flies on a screen door.
Johnny’s real name was Elbert Percival and his hood friends called him Elbert. One might think that they might call him Bert or get creative and call him El Bert. The jocks and the ‘in crowd’ called him Percy behind his back, but in Rich’s mind, he was Johnny Slick. It was more of an attitude – the turned up collar, toothpick dangling from the mouth, and he never showed fear or surprise.
At lunch period one day, he and about a half dozen of his hood friends tried to sneak a smoke outside the boiler room. Mr. Hatton, the Dean of Boys, strolled around the corner and caught them. Everybody scattered like roaches when the lights come on, except for Elbert. He leaned against the building James Dean-ish and talked to Mr. Hatton like they were fraternity brothers. Mr. Hatton, who was also Rich’s Uncle, told Rich later, “I ask him why he didn’t run like the rest of them?” “I just can’t run Mr. Hatton. I wouldn’t get anywhere. I’m so slick, I would just slide.” Thus Rich began, in my mind, calling him Johnny Slick.
Johnny Slick rode Rich’s bus. He always picked an empty seat. The only time Rich remembered him speaking on the bus was to him. His name was always on the honor roll. No hood ever was on the honor roll. Rich leaned over the seat and said to him, “Congratulations for getting on the honor roll.” When the bus dropped them off at school he came up from behind Rich and said with a slight grin, “Hey kid, congratulations.” “For what?” “Sometimes it is good to hear it even when you don’t do anything special, but you just joined the human race, so congratulations.” He walked away and Rich never talked to him again and never heard him speak again or do anything again, except to hang out with the hoods.