“Hey, Kenneth! You gotta birthday comin’ up, dontcha?” one of them blurted from the end of the counter.
“Yessir,” came the diffident reply.
“I think I’m gonna buy you a tractor. You think you’d like that?” the boisterous interrogation continued.
“I know you need sumpin’ to pull your head out of your ass!” With that, the guffaws erupted from all four at the end of the counter—all pleased with their comedic wit.
Those bullies said Kenneth was “retarded,” and they seemed to think that made it okay to talk to him like that. I was just a kid and didn’t know if words like “retarded” were bad or not, but I felt sorry for Kenneth. I don’t know how smart he was, but I know he never got my order wrong, and he could make a pretty mean grilled cheese.
He was born and raised in Galena Park, just like them bullies were, except he didn’t seem to mind it so much. I liked him because he never seemed to have anything to prove, and the cherry sodas he made were delicious. He never treated me like a kid, and I never treated him like one, either, even if he was like 40 or something.
I think that’s what bothered them bullies so much. Kenneth didn’t care. He didn’t get mad or cry or anything. He just made cherry sodas and grilled cheeses and kept the drugstore counter spotless all the while.
He was a good man, and them bullies knew it. But they had to try to convince people they were better than Kenneth, because everyone knew they damn sure weren’t any better than anyone else. And they weren’t any better than Kenneth, either.