The Summer of '62; Episode 1
"Rich, what on earth are you looking for?" Mr. Larson asked looking over the tops of his glasses. "Your rocking the whole car. It's making me sick."
"Just looking for Tom and Will," Rich said relieved they had not arrived yet. His head bobbed looking out the windows and scanning the sidewalks anxiously looking for them.
They were popular in school. This was Rich's first year at their school. He wondered if somehow this signaled he was now a part of the 'in-crowd.' He hoped so. He was ashamed of his parents, where he lived, and mostly who he was.
Mrs. Larson struggled to reach the clutch and see over the hood while steering a pink '56 Rambler station wagon into an open space. She was short and it was an effort for her to drive. Mr. Larson was large and muscular. He lost his driver's license years ago for drunk driving.
"Give us a call when you want us to pick you up," Mrs. Larson said.
Rich lunged from the car, shut the door, and bent down to peer into the car. He wanted them to leave quickly. "You'll be at the Casa Lu Al, right?"
Mr. Larson rolled the window part way down. "Right, and you're going to the movies after you eat?"
"I'll be at the Sigma," Rich said.
Rich backed away from the car and waved goodbye. He breathed easier as soon as they disappeared into traffic. He did not want to hear any more snide pink '56 Rambler station wagon remarks from Tom or Will.
He wondered what type of shape his dad would be in when they returned. When he had a few to drink he became bitter, argumentative, sarcastic, and vile. He was a man of violence. His nose laid flat against his face from barroom fights. His friendly smile and disposition changed in the time it took to guzzle a beer.
Rich waited in front of the Cook's Spot Restaurant. A new powder blue '62 Chevrolet station wagon easily pulled into the same spot that his parents dropped him off. Tom and Will slid out the back seat. Will gave his mother a kiss.
Rich imagined she would drive home to enjoy the evening with the rest of the family. He visualized them sitting around the dinning room table playing a board game with laughter, sodas, and potato chips. Rich's Mom and Dad went for a night of carousing in a bar. He imagined them at a table with friends drinking beer amid thick cigarette smoke, juke box music and a spirited game of shuffle board with other drunks. If asked 'where are your parents?' he planned to say, 'playing a board game with some friends.'
Will was lean with dark neatly combed hair and Tom stood shorter with a blond flat-top. Rich was the taller and felt like an oaf when with them. Their clothes were neat and fashionable, from the best men's shops in town. Rich's were from a discount department store. Their lives seemed stable and normal. Rich's life was chaotic and crude. He thought their lives might rub off or at least give that appearance. Their homes were in an affluent neighborhood. Rich lived in a small run-down nondescript farm house at the edge of the township.
Rich was tense and cracked jokes as he stepped inside the Cook's Spot with Tom and Will. They scooted into a booth. Tom and Will sat on one side and Rich sat on the other.
A hard faced red-headed middle aged waitress with an unruly bee hive hairdo came for their orders. "What you young men want?" She said snapping her gum and tapping her pencil on the order pad.
Immediately Rich said, "Two hamburgers with mustard and onion, fries, banana cream pie, and a coke."
She looked at Will for his order.
Will brushed back his black hair, smiled shyly, wrinkled his nose, and said to Rich ignoring the waitress, "How are you going to eat all that?"
"He's a growin' boy sweety," the waitress said to Rich's defense. "Now let's have that order."
"Just a hamburger with catsup, fries, and a chocolate malt," Will said.
She raised her eyes and looked at Tom for his order. "Watchu havin' tiger?"
Tom ran his hand over his short blond hair and stroked his chin. He shyly smiled and flashed his bright blue eyes at the waitress. "Hamburger with catsup and mustard, fries, and a coke" His brow wrinkled as if it were a cumbersome decision.
"Thank ya boys," the waitress said and walked away with the orders and a sway in her gait.
"I think she's got an eye for you," Rich said to Tom.
"No way. She's a skag," Tom said.
"She's what I call a triple bagger," Rich said.
"Triple bagger?" Will screwed his face in confusion. "I've heard of a double bagger, a bag for her and one for you, but not a triple bagger."
"Triple bagger is one for you and two for her just in case some of the ugly seeps through the first bag," Rich said.
Tom snickered and Will shook his head. Will grabbed the sugar shaker and began to slide it from one hand to the other.
"Looks like she just crawled out of bed," Tom grabbed the salt shaker and began doing the same.
"You mean kicked out of bed," Will retorted and they all snickered.
"Room temperature IQ." Will added when the snickering died down.
"Speed limit IQ," Tom quipped and the snickering continued.
Rich stroked his chin. "Bra size IQ."
Rich cupped his hands as if holding a breast. "And that's a triple D cup - that's dumb, desperate, and disgusting."
They continued laughing.
It was a night for laughter when everything and anything could be interpreted as funny.
"Aren't you glad we asked him to come?" Will said to Tom.
Rich forced a smile and glanced beyond Tom's shoulder. The waitress was preparing their drinks. Rich's eyes and the waitress's eyes met. Hers were sorrowful.
Tom and Will continued to make jokes as Rich gazed at her. Rich knew her type. He had been raised around them. Rich's dad once owned a bar and his mom waited tables. Rich figured the waitress will close here at ten, hit a bar, pick up a man, and few dollars. The next day she will buy groceries for her kids. Her glances shamed Rich. She knew their type. She dealt with that type everyday.
Suddenly they ran out of jokes for her and Rich became their fodder.
"Your parents still got that pink '56 Rambler station wagon?" Will smiled without the wrinkled nose.
"Yeah, we hardly get the Rolls Royce out anymore." Rich rebuffed the first shot.
The waitress brought the orders.
"How on earth are you going to eat all that?" Will smiled and leaned in as if he trapped Rich.
"My whole family doesn't eat that much," Tom added and glanced at Will as if now the fun begins.
"I got to watch this," Will smiled coyly.
"I'm not going to have anything at the movie," Rich said to justify his large appetite and to stall for time to contrive a volley of humorous remarks.
"Do you always eat that much?" Will asked incredulously.
"No," Rich paused. "Usually more." That was his second choice for a come-back. The first was, 'I can see why you are concerned; you know, from the looks of your mom.'
Tom blurted a loud laugh. Will laughed also. Tom laughed at the reply but Will seemed to laugh at Rich. If Tom knew what the first come-back was he'd be rolling on the floor. Rich was now clearly on the offensive.
"I guess all that farm work has made you develop a big appetite," Will said condescendingly. "What kind of work do you do on the farm?"
"Plow, cultivate, disk, weed, harvest, bail hay, split rails." Rich said nonchalantly. He was now in control.
"Really!" Tom's eyes widened as if amazed. For being so smart in school he was gullible beyond belief.
"We sometimes ride range and fence, punch cattle, scare away coyotes, mountain lions, and rustlers," Rich paused for a serious effect. "Oh yeah we have to fight away Indians too."
"What!" Will gasped incredulously.
"Yeah it sure is a lonely life, but an exhausting existence watching Bonanza. Last week after riding range with Adam all night we had to get Little Joe and Hoss out of a scrape in a Virginia City cat house - covered with fur. A real sight. Thought they had mohair sweaters." Rich felt as long as he kept them laughing their friendship would be retained, but he was feeling a sort of resentment that they thought he was strange and seedy. Rich wanted their friendship, but not at a complete loss of dignity.
Tom slid aside a salt shaker he had been playing with. "I knew you were kidding"
"Sure ya did. Just keep thinking that way." Rich patted him on his arm. "It's a nice little world you live in." Rich turned to Will curiously, "Are you there with him?"
They were offended. I wondered if I went too far with them.
The waitress brought our orders. "There ya go boys."
Rich was uncomfortable eating in front of them. He ate in front of them at school, but nobody really pays attention to how anyone eats there. They ate slow and deliberate. Rich could not wait to get to the next bite.
"You got some mustard on your cheek," Tom pointed to an area on his cheek.
Rich wiped it off with his finger and licked it. Will dabbed his mouth with a napkin. Rich caught on and did the same the rest of the meal. They finished eating, paid, and walked toward the theater.