If you’ve ever known someone poor, there’s a personality that comes with the territory. That’s because not having a pot to you-know-what in changes a soul.
Arnold was poor. In the tenth grade, he was nearly six-foot-two, and weighed a buck ten. Somebody’s mama had to make baseball britches special for his flamingo legs. Arnold was soft spoken, and his fastball made grown men pause their conversations.
Arnold’s little brother had polio. The boy’s two skinny legs didn’t quite work. And even though the boy could walk, he staggered funny. This earned him the nickname, Duck. Which wasn’t an insult, but an adolescent observation.
Duck never missed a practice. He didn’t play ball. But during warm-ups, when boys fielded grounders, and the coach shouted things like, “Soft hands, boys, soft hands!” Duck was there. He’d repeat whatever the coach said, word for word, only louder.
Still, Duck’s primary role in life was cheering for his idol. He’d yell things like, “Keep it low, Arnie! Smoke this guy! Right over the plate!”
Arnold would wind up for his pitch.
Duck would howl. This miffed the batters considerably.
Duck knew this.
When the sophomore season was over, Arnold announced he wasn’t planning to continue baseball. Nobody could believe it.
Anyone watching Arnold pitch knew he was a someday-shoe-in for the majors. In fact, scouts had already attended a few games, just to see his arm. One even made an offer.
Arnold told me, “My daddy says I gotta get a real job. Times are tight.”
Men like Arnold’s father were a breed of their own. To them, sweating on the ball field was a waste of water.
“Besides,” Arnold went on. “I can’t leave home to play ball, anyway. That’d be selfish. Duck needs me. Life ain’t as easy for him as it is for you and me.”
Several tried to talk Arnold out of his decision, but pitchers are hardheaded when they want to be.
Arnold dropped out of school that year.
Anyway, I don’t know why I’m telling you this. You have no reason to care.
A few days ago, another friend of mine told me he’s building a new house. It’s a gigantic one. Located in a high-end neighborhood, with remote-control gates, a golf course, and a park to walk your lap dog.
My buddy went on to explain that last week, two electricians wired his entire house. Nice men, soft spoken, good workers.
One had polio. The other was very tall.
He never caught their names.