Monday, August 11, 2014

These hard times

"It's no use talking, these hard times will never end. Might as well lay down and croak!"
"Yeah, it's different from what the other depressions was like."
"Sure, there ain't nothing for a poor man to do but steal, I guess."
"I sleep fifteen hours a day so's not to think about it."
The fifth member of this little sidewalk group was silent. He was becoming a little tired of hearing these same expressions. He was beginning to wonder if standing on the street corner idle was going to help his case. And at the same time he was pondering over a certain statement that had suddenly popped into his head, turning it over and over, and saying it to himself: "I will study hard and prepare myself, and some day my time will come."
He became unaware of what his comrades were saying or of the traffic din about him. He stood there, in a daze. His friends went on, leaving him in the dusk. He had forgotten even the emptiness of his stomach and was startled when the gruff voice of a cop bellowed, "Hey, you, move along now; you drunk or somethin'?"
The young man shuttled on, took his stand in line. Mechanically he ate his soup and drank his coffee. "I will study hard, I will!" The words still burned through his consciousness. That night there was little sleep. The young man was thinking. But when morning came his mind was made up. He had his plan. At eight-thirty, after his coffee and sinkers, he hurried out of line and made for the library.
He was there a half hour too early, but he could afford to wait. He had a plan. An idea. When the door opened, he was the first one inside. He hadn't been inside a library since school days, and was somewhat bewildered, but his mind was made up.
Cap in hand, he stepped up to the information desk. "Miss, my name is Baker Williams, and I'd like a little help. I read somewhere in a book about a man who was poor, very poor, and who didn't have a chance to go to school but who made good anyway. I don't remember his name but he said that he would study hard and prepare himself and some day his time would come. Do you know who he was? I'd like to read about him."
"If I'm not mistaken," answered the lady, "it was Abraham Lincoln-or-it might have been Benjamin Franklin."

Lincoln or Franklin, yes, sure, they were poor and they studied hard and their time came. His eyes lit up with a new enthusiasm.
That night when his friends called around to see if he would take a "stroll" out to the corner he was too busy. He had taken four books home with him. Two he had chosen at random; books on letter writing and business psychology, the others were The Life of Abraham Lincoln and The Life of Benjamin Franklin.
Five years later, in 1937, to be exact, for all this had happened in 1932, as I was shooting to the top of a New York skyscraper, my eyes caught a gold-lettered sign on the glass door of a spacious office. The sign read: Baker Williams, Secretary to the President, and there echoed in my mind the words of that great man: "I will study hard and prepare myself, and some day my time will come."
But back on the street corner stand the old pals of Baker Williams, and if you pass that way you will hear them say: "There ain't nothin' for a poor man to do but steal, I guess."
"I sleep fifteen hours a day to forget about it." "Might as well lay down and croak."
"Ho, hum."

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