The Rubber Machine
- The town pharmacist wouldn’t sell them to us
Growing up in a town like Claflin, Kansas, or more accurately on a farm a mile outside of town, was an experience that I wasn't real thrilled about when it was happening, but one that I wouldn't trade as I reflect on it these many years later.
When I was in high school there from 1954 to 1957 the population of Claflin was about 900. It was a thriving small town with two grocery stores, a drug store, a bank, several restaurants, an implement dealership, a small bowling alley, two barber shops, a doctor's office, three service stations, an oil well servicing company, two grain elevators, a liquor store, various other businesses, and three taverns. After six o'clock in the afternoon most businesses closed their doors and the only places open after dark were the three taverns, and maybe one of the cafes. The business district was only two blocks long and about a half-block deep on both sides of Main Street. If you turned onto Main Street after dark the only place cars were parked was in front of the taverns.
The focus of this story is those taverns and how they fit into the life of a high school boy. In a place like Claflin there literally wasn't anything to do, and we spent a lot of evenings in the taverns playing pool or cards and shooting the breeze with each other and the barkeep. Other than that, you were out somewhere getting into one kind of trouble or another. Like I said, there were three of these places in town; Hank's, Mom's and Ed's.
Hank's was on a side street and was owned and operated by Hank Galliart. It catered mostly to the older citizens of Claflin and the high school kids didn't spend much time there.
Mom Lathrop ran Mom's Place. It was on Main Street and was called Pop's Place until Mom's husband passed away. It didn't cater to kids very much either, although we would go in once in while. Early in my high school years when Pop was still alive, but in failing health, he would lie in one of the booths while Mom tended bar, and yell at us if we got rowdy. I can hear him now..."If you can't behave yourselves and keep the noise down then get the hell out of here, you little sons of bitches!" That was one reason we didn't spend much time in Mom's.
That left Ed's, otherwise known as "The Pool Hall". The proprietor was Ed Steiner, and he had a friendly disposition towards high school boys and we spent a lot of time there. The clientele there was generally younger that at Hank's or Mom's. He also catered to the younger oil field workers and farmers. There were two snooker tables and a pool table and we spent countless hours playing at a dime a cue per game. Of course we couldn't drink beer because the legal age was 18 back then, but we drank Ed's Cokes, ate his pickled hard boiled eggs and ate his nasty red-dyed pickled sausages, which tasted like cardboard and had the consistency of balsa wood.
We pretty much had a free run of the place and a lot of high school boys hung out there. The only restriction was that our coaches didn't want us hanging out there on the night before games. One night during my sophomore year the football coach caught a bunch of the junior and senior players in Ed's and suspended them for the next day's game. The game was against Victoria who had a powerful team, and that left all of us freshmen and sophomores to man the ramparts. We were pretty sure we were going to lose the game with us in there, and get the hell beaten out of us at the same time. Mercifully, the coach changed his mind and reinstated all the starters. They paid during practice the next week by running many excess laps. We won.
In the men's room at Ed's was a machine that dispensed condoms. We called them rubbers...put in a quarter and out popped a rubber. As far as I know that was the only place in Claflin where a kid could get a rubber. I'm sure they were sold at Bill Petrich's drug store, but they were kept behind the counter and would never be sold to kids. You have to remember that this was a different time, and that we lived in a different country than we live in today. You can buy condoms off the shelf at any grocery store or drug store today, and a lot of school systems hand them out to kids. I have my opinions about this, but they are not pertinent to this story.
Ed would hear us shooting the breeze about how we had a date with old Susie Rottencrotch for Saturday night, and if you'd get up to go the head he would say in a loud voice so everyone in the place could hear..."Hey Dirck! You know if you put a quarter in the rubber machine and turn the handle the lights will flash out here in the main bar. We'll all know what you are up to." Some of us actually believed him.
When I was in high school most of the boys carried a rubber in their wallet. Just in case. After a while every high school kid's wallet had a telltale ring on the outside of the leather from carrying a rubber. I suspect that almost all of the rubbers carried by me and my high school peers ended up rotting to uselessness in our wallets. When the glorious time came that you actually got laid, and it happened to all of us, none of us would have had the presence of mind to stop the action, open your wallet, take out the rubber, remove it from its package, put in on, and continue. But we all carried rubbers. It was manly. I think.
As we advanced through the high school years and eventually found steady girl friends, such as I did, then you spent less time in the pool hall than before. The taming and gentling that the female of the species always puts on males starts to take over. But I continued to go back to Ed's even after I left Claflin...first to K-State, then to the Naval Academy, and when on leave from the Marines, and Ed no longer owned the place. It was always a pleasant place to stop for a beer. The place where Ed's was is no longer a tavern. In fact there is no place in Clafin where you can stop for a cold beer anymore. But I have fond memories of the place. It was just one of the reasons why growing up in Claflin was a good thing. I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Dirck Praeger sends