Hoops With Monica

The little girl had a good shooting right hand. But her left hand was missing. All she could do was bend her left arm at the elbow and use the stump.

It didn’t matter. She had a smile as big as a W9 and lofted the basketball I’d brought to the playground with the delight and enthusiasm of a child whose body had not been injured. This little girl had come to play. She’d seen us from across the baseball field and ran full speed to join Pam and I, old folks playing at being young. Her name was Monica.

So we played, taking turns doing lay-ups and foul shots, shooting from everywhere, chasing the ball into the grass when it bounced crookedly off a crack in the concrete court or hit the rim and went out of bounds. We played until the heat and sweat took its toll and we told Monica it was time to go. She smiled and shook her long hair out of her eyes, and she put on her plastic hand and ran back to her family.

I left the next day with a D8 dozer on my drop-deck, headed for St. Louis, 600 miles west. Somewhere in Indiana, Monica came into mind. In some rest stop along I-70 I stopped to tighten my chains with the long section of aluminum pipe I used for a cheater.

It took two hands. It took two hands to get into my truck, two hands to steer and shift, two hands to drink coffee and eat my chicken sandwich. It took two hands to do nearly everything.

It was going to rain and my old Freightliner with its little 350 Cat was sick. I saw the brown sky blacken and my load settlement disappearing. And I saw Monica, waving goodbye all the way from yesterday, standing there in the sun wanting to be as alive as she could possibly be.

Then I remembered another driver. He wore a cowboy hat and boots, and he grinned every time he spoke. He talked about his truck mostly, and how he’d gotten a waiver from the feds to drive. He climbed quickly up and down his truck’s ladder, put his left arm through the wheel when he got in, hooked his right hand to the steering wheel, hit his buttons and popped it into first with his right. He did everything he had to do with his right hand. Like Monica, his left hand was missing.

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It took him a long time to get that waiver, he said. But now, well, now he could drive and live his life the way he wanted to live it.

It is still raining when I left the rest area. A driver on the radio was jawboning about how he “ain’t making no money” and there “ain’t no way” to make enough to keep the house and family together without running harder than the book allows. He said he’d heard somewhere if you break it down we’re making seven bucks an hour out here and that’s before taxes and “ain’t that awful?”

He bellyached that a man could be a doctor and make 80 grand and get home every night and drink whiskey with his wife and sleep with her instead of with his old fleabag dog between a bull wagon and a load of hogs on a hot summer night.

Somebody broke in over the static and whine. You ought to know, he said, it was in the papers that those boys are making 40 grand right out of doctor school doing their internship but they’re working 100 hours a week trying to make sick people better getting less sleep than you and maybe you’d like to be a doctor instead of a driver. Maybe you’d like to get off the road and try something else. And maybe you should if you hate it so bad. Maybe you should use both your hands and your brain to get off your fat butt and do something that you like to do. What’s stopping you?

Or maybe you ought to stay out here in the hot rain and the black ice and the instant potatoes and stone cold soup and feel lucky.

Or, I thought to myself after listening for a while, maybe you ought to play some hoops with Monica.

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