"I grew up in this itty-bitty place, Arthurtown," Pokey says. "It's near Columbia, but it's old-timey. Dirt roads and little houses and mobile homes. One guy in Arthurtown had cows. Still does. We lived on Sugar Hill Lane. Didn't have indoor bathrooms. If you wanted to take a bath, you went to the well, filled a bucket of water, heated it up on the wood-burning stove. We had an outhouse. We'd move it every so often so the stink never got too bad. My mom worked in a hospital. She was a nurse. She wasn't registered, but she was a nurse. My father did different jobs. He was a truck driver. He was the housekeeping superintendent in a mental hospital. Sometimes he was around and sometimes he wasn't. When he was doing his drinking and his drugs, staying out all night with his homeboys, I didn't see him. All my life my family has been saying to me, 'Don't grow up to be like your dad.' He was a smart guy, but lazy. A great ballplayer. Batted lefty, played short. I'd go to his games."
In time, Pokey moves on to his second Hennessy. "We were poor but didn't know it," he says. "My mother's brothers, they all lived in Arthurtown. They didn't need much. They could raise a pig, slaughter it, butcher it. They could all hunt—deer, rabbit—and they could fish. We'd catch bass, catfish, brim, cook 'em up. We ate government cheese, and it tasted great. My grandma made biscuits. We had a radio, and I listened to the Braves games. My great-granddad down the hill, he had a black-and-white TV, with a hanger for an antenna, and we'd watch the Game of the Week. I liked the National League, the Braves and the Pirates. I liked Dale Murphy, Kent Tekulve, Bill Madlock, Grant Jackson."
Pokey carries on with his life history. He tells it with candor and ease but no sense of amazement. In high school he was an indifferent student. "For study hall I'd go to my coach's office and sleep on the couch or watch football film," he says. "I loved football, except getting hit. I loved basketball, but I didn't play it because I was so busy with football and baseball. I've got a younger sister. Peaches—her real name's Alissia—and she's good. She played basketball in high school, got a scholarship and played at [Voorhees College]. She could be playing now in the WNBA, except that she's pregnant. Again. This time with twins."
You ask if she's married. He gives you a look that suggests your question is a stupid one.
"I wasn't that good with girls," Pokey says. "Too busy, mostly. My brother Fly was in my class—Angelo Wilson is his name; we got the same mom, different dads—and he was good with girls. I had one serious girlfriend, Tieronay Duckett. She was a class behind me at Lower Richland. She played basketball with Peaches. We had a little girl, LaBresha Reese, but that was after Tieronay graduated. LaBresha was born November 20, 1992. I got a boy, too. Naquwan Richardson. He was born September 22, 1992. I was serious with Tieronay and all, but then we got into this fight. I went out one night and messed around with this girl, Rhonda Richardson, and she got pregnant, and that's the story with that. I've got another little girl, McKayla Reese. She'll be three in October. Her mom is Christy Jones. They live in Indianapolis. I wish I could see my kids more. I send money to them and I call them when I can, but I wish I could see them more."
You know from reading Pokey's clips that two of the mothers of his children are dead. You're hesitant to bring up the deaths, but Pokey talks about them readily. "Tieronay got killed in a car crash, just before spring training in 1993," he says. "So now LaBresha lives with her great-grandmother, Miss Barber, in this little country town, Eastover, not too far from Columbia.
"Rhonda, she died in the hospital when she was [eight months] pregnant with a baby—not mine. She had some disease and she died, and the baby did too. After his mom passed, Naquwan moved in with his grandmother and great-grandmother. Then a couple years ago they were murdered, both of them, in their house. I'll tell you, that family, the Richardsons, they have nothing but bad luck. So now Naquwan stays with Rhonda's sister, Yolanda."
Near closing time Pokey prepares a long list of telephone numbers for you. His sister, Peaches. His mother, Clara Reese. His mother's mother, Isabell Barnes. His cell phone. His condo in Cincinnati, which he shares with Fly. Christy Jones. Miss Barber. His agent's number. He doesn't have a telephone number for Yolanda. He doesn't have one for his father, either. Pokey hasn't spoken to Slick since February 1999. Whether Slick is straight or drunk or stoned, working or not, in South Carolina or somewhere else, Pokey does not know. "If you find Slick, tell him to call me," Pokey says. "I miss that motherf——-."
Miss Barber's full name is Ada Ruth Barber, and she looks after her great-granddaughter LaBresha. Miss Barber's one-story house is small, tidy and on a dirt road. Miss Barber raised LaBresha's mom, Tieronay, in that house. Suburban America's notion of the nuclear family, the notion perpetuated by the campaigns of presidential aspirants, doesn't hold much meaning to the families in this story. Miss Barber is 61 now; when she was 10, she found out that the woman she thought was her sister was actually her mother.
In the early months of 1993, Pokey and Tieronay were making plans to get married. He had said nothing about Rhonda carrying his baby, but after Naquwan was born, he took a DNA test to determine the paternity of the child. It proved the boy was his. He told his family. He told Tieronay. She was angry and hurt, but she didn't love Pokey any less for what he had done. "Just make sure you take care of that child," Tieronay told Pokey.