by Shawn Hartje
-Coming of Age, YA
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For seventeen-year-old Jason Krabb, high school life in 1990s Idaho is a world of cargo shorts, cassette tapes, and junk food. Plagued equally by algebra and puberty, Jason sets out to find a girlfriend and become a rock guitarist. His quest is irreversibly jolted when he attends a bonfire and meets an alluring girl from the other side of town and a rag tag crew who are bringing gas lines through the desert in order to keep the lights on in Portland and Seattle, places where Jason hopes to find his nirvana as a guitarist.
Meanwhile, things deteriorate at home. Jason's pediatrician mom, Leah, sadly faces the twilight of her parenting years while his father, Curtis, contends with the enormity of running a big ticket research laboratory and coming to terms with his son's wayward path.
Pipeliner is at once a coming of age love story and a comical timestamp of early 90s family life. Set in the fictional Idaho town of Helen Springs, pop. 58,000, its characters are as vibrant as the lofty peaks and purple sunsets of the high desert. Here we find rich farmers, poor ranchers, dutiful Mormons, government honchos, disgruntled vets, drug-dealing bruisers, irksome teachers, and spirited students, all doing their best to keep the lights on.
In the Trail King parking lot, Jason Krabb saw his friend Isabel Perkins’s brown Dodge Aries sedan parked between giant pickups, a good sign since she’d lately been hanging with Shelly Stewart, whom Jason had been flirting with in algebra II. He found Isabel by herself in a diner booth, smoking Camel Lights and acting older than she was.
“Hey Jason.” Isabel looked happy to see him. “Did you cut your hair?”
Jason shook the long blond hair from his face and sat close beside her, making sure his hips pushed into hers.
“Watch it!” Isabel smiled, pushed him back, and combed a lock of hair behind his ears.
Jason had known Isabel since back when her mom ran a home daycare on their small ranch directly across the interstate from the Trail King Truck Stop. Isabel had long straight hair that she was always dying in various patterns. Today it was blond up top, black at the ears, and maroon-tipped. She was quite pretty, with a tanning-bed complexion, a seductive smile, and sporting a huge chip on her shoulder.
“Where’s the party tonight Izzy?” Jason asked.
“You think I’m sharing that with high schoolers?” Isabel sounded disgusted.
Like Jason, Isabel was fiercely independent of anything to do with high school. As a freshman she’d been mocked for being too country, favoring embroidered getups with horses and lariats and her name stitched golden upon sharp blue denim. Jason remembered how Becca Black, queen of the top tier girls, used to bully Isabel, pushing her into the lockers and pulling on her fringes and tassels.
Isabel was now more ambiguously outfitted, playing to whatever scene she was currently interested in. Today she wore a men’s V-neck shirt in winter camouflage with black Capri pants above white slip-on Vans. Her skin looked too lustrous, as if coated in caramel.
“Your new boyfriend in town?” Jason asked.
Isabel turned serious. “Ben’s partying with his crew up in the Black Elks. He just bought a camper trailer. It’s badass, has a TV with a VCR above the bed.”
Jason laughed at this. “Sounds like a nice fuck pad.”
Isabel winked at him. “We call it the stabbin’ cabin.”
Jason loved this about Isabel. He could relax and be his horny teenaged self around her, could talk about anything sexual and she’d gamely jump in the conversation. “How’d he buy that?” Jason was curious about her latest boyfriend, Ben Stone, who’d graduated high school last year. All Jason remembered about him was that he’d never talked and wore Metallica T-shirts.
“Pipeliners make serious money,” Isabel said. “His parents don’t like me at all. So he bought the camper and moved out. Now we don’t have to put up with them anymore.” “What a stud,” Jason said. “Dude’s hanging around poaching high school girls.” Isabel was into older guys. When Jason started hanging around the Trail King as a depressed freshman, she’d been dating one of the clerks, a mustachioed guy in his twenties who bought her cigarettes and let her wear his worker’s smock.
Isabel blew smoke at Jason. “You high school boys aren’t up to snuff.”
“Whatever,” Jason said. “Hooking up with older guys doesn’t change the fact that you’re stuck in Idaho. Just like me.”
About the author:
Shawn Hartje was raised in Sioux City, Iowa and has lived in Idaho, Colorado and West Virginia. He has lived in Northern California since 2002. He enjoys high desert scenery and skateboarding with his kids.