In diners truck drivers seem to be of two types: the skinny guys with long sideburns, tattoos and polished Wellington boots, and fat guys in green work pants with immense key chains and three slices of pie in front of them. Powell and I squeezed into a booth and ordered the standard hysterical breakfast that you always want if you've stayed up all night: three eggs (fried), double order of sausage, toast, orange juice, hash browns and two pancakes for luck. "I don't do this very often anymore," Powell said as he savored the hash browns, "but once in a while nothing beats a good breakfast."
But as we ate I began to realize that Powell was indeed a thin man, 6'5" and 252. Trim. No more the gutbuster. Realizing the importance of change, Powell was paring down to get in tune with a whole new movement in sport. He would hold his first-base position. Another fatty who had succumbed to the pressures of reality and melted away to average size. My search for the steadfast fatty must continue. Powell's great breakfast, and dinner the night before, were essentially nostalgic, the way young ad execs listen to the 1956 hits of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
Powell let me off at the Miami airport three hours before game time. I was armed with two bottles of Pepto-Bismol. I wanted to grab the stewardess and hijack the plane to the Mayo Clinic. I did have some revenge, however.
The New York Times
, reporting on that day's exhibition game between the Yankees and the Orioles, which the Orioles won, mentioned a curious fact. Speaking of the batting average of the Oriole DH, the Times noted, " Boog Powell helped raise that average today when he wasn't running sprints in the outfield...." The guilty jogger got two hits, driving in two runs with a single in the first inning. God bless overwrought French restaurants, raw grouper and diners.
Chris Taylor called for me at my motel in Des Moines. He lives in Ames, some 40 miles away, but had to appear at a boys' club reception in Des Moines. The reception had lasted longer than expected; it was close to 7:30 and Taylor was ready for dinner. Since we were both unfamiliar with Des Moines, I asked the desk clerk where we could get the best steak. "Why here, of course, sir." A company man. He looked like a recent graduate of a hotel and restaurant management school. He was doing his ingratiating best.
When you're taking a man who weighs 450 pounds to dinner you don't want to cast your fate at the uncertainty of a motel dining room. They nearly all have an invention that stuns fat men: portion control. The frozen steaks have been pared down on a band saw until they weigh exactly 12 ounces, the butter has been sliced with a scalpel, the potato grown in a hothouse for exact size.
But Taylor was getting impatient. He winked at me and turned to the clerk. "Suppose I pick you up and pull you across that desk. Do you think you might remember a steak house then?" Taylor did no more than wag his eyebrows but the clerk caved in. He quickly named 20 or so restaurants and even came up with a good place for breakfast in Norman, Okla. As we headed for the door he was reciting state capitals in alphabetical order.
When we arrived at Taylor's new Plymouth Fury III, his fianc�e, Lynne Hart, got into the back seat, leaving the two front buckets free for Taylor and me. I gallantly protested, but Lynne claimed that she was used to it. I fumbled with the seat belt as Taylor pulled out. "I don't use those things myself," he said. "I'd have to buy an extension. If you're as big as me, you just have to sit on them."
Indeed, the wheel was so close to Taylor's stomach, even with the seat jammed back, that you could hear the buttons of his Olympic blazer pinging on the horn ring when he turned corners. Although Taylor was a considerate, relaxed driver, the traffic in Des Moines was the usual Saturday night passion play of supercharged engines, racing slicks, Hurst shifters and stop-light drag races. If we were in an accident, it would be listed in the
Guinness Book of World Records as the largest known Yorkshire pudding.
When you meet someone as awesome as Taylor, your first reaction is to ask him his weight. It is a kind of protective device to keep from getting hurt, the way you hold a cross up to a vampire.
"Well, I just finished a speech at this boys' club," said Taylor, "and some kid asked me how much I could lift. I told him, 'Four hundred fifty pounds every morning when I get out of bed." Taylor had gone into the Munich Games last summer at 400, but he had just won the NCAA wrestling championship in Seattle at this new, astounding weight—450. The champ was immense. It made me feel better right away. On the plane to Des Moines, I kept seeing visions of a recent
New York Times
Sunday magazine cover that depicted four stages in the life of a fat-clogged artery. In the last stage the artery was about the size of a pencil. Yet here was a man who obviously ingested enough cholesterol to make the most stalwart cardiologist cringe, and he was a successful athlete. I could almost feel my arteries dilate with hope.