Friday, December 4, 2015

Uncle I and the Fat Man (1960)

If you are expecting anything remotely resembling a plot in the following narrative, then you have come to the wrong place. And, if you are expecting any sort of moral preaching, or political correctness, concerning the circus; and the Fat Man in particular; once again you will be disappointed, as this is just a memory from April 1960, when I was not yet 6 years old and Uncle “I” took me to the circus with my brother.

I have no illustration to post with this. Uncle I never had a camera as far as I know, and though he literally spent hundreds of days with my brother and I, there is not a single photo of us from any of these outings. But the mind’s eye is the best camera of them all, and the images of Uncle Irving are still sharp and clear; especially when I think of the story about his encounter with the Fat Man.

If I was 5 and a half, then my brother was 7, and Uncle I was somewhere around 65; his age changed with the document you were looking at. Uncle I was about 160 pounds and maybe 5 foot 7 inches tall at the most. He was no scarecrow; but neither was he a match for the Fat Man.

Now, in those bygone days before the politically correct crowd got going, there was a side show at the circus which was nothing like what you might see today. There were still remnants of the old Freak Show about it and Uncle I simply followed the crowd as we herded into the old Madison Square Garden for the show.

We soon broke away from that horde of crushed humanity and found ourselves in an open area not quite behind the stands, but definitely not an area usually open to the public. Uncle I was particularly adept at this sort of thing. Since he knew just about everybody everywhere we went anyway, we were greeted with friendly hellos wherever we went. I remember this day he introduced us to several people, with my Uncle saying, “These are my niece’s children”, with definite pride in his voice.

There were a few other people milling about, seemingly concentrated in one area. We approached that scene and made our way up front where the Fat Man had his trailer. This area must have been underneath the seating area, and it was arranged with trailers that served as living quarters for the people who comprised the acts which made up the circus. How odd it must have been for these people to live “indoors” as it were, rather than outside, which was the usual way the circus set up outside of the city.

The Fat Man was standing outside of his trailer and; accompanied by a man I assumed to be his manager; was fielding questions. "How much do you eat for breakfast"; "what do you weigh"; and assorted queries of the like, were being hurled at him faster than spitballs. To his credit he answered every one of them with a gentle voice which belied his size.

The crowd was beginning to leave and Uncle I took us right up to the big man and was introducing us when the Fat Man turned around and stepped forward, his foot landing squarely against my Uncle’s shin and then traveling downward until all 750 pounds of him were resting on my Uncle’s foot.

Uncle Irving never screamed; didn't even yell in pain. He just quietly told the Fat Man that he was standing on his foot and could he please remove the extra weight as he was with his nephews. The Fat Man looked terribly pained and apologized profusely to my Uncle for hurting him. Then he did something that has never left my memory; he asked Uncle I how much he weighed; which is probably why I know that figure so well. When my uncle told him, the poor man felt even worse.

We saw the rest of the circus with Uncle I frequently checking his increasingly swelling ankle. By the time we were headed home he was limply noticeably. Still, he refused to show any sign of the pain and discomfort he was surely in. Instead he made repeated jokes about the whole incident and even told strangers on the subway that he had just come from Madison Square Garden, where the Fat Man had stepped on his foot. He even showed off his wound; more than once; to other, admiring passengers. I think he was actually proud of it!

Looking back on the whole thing now makes me smile. But, even if there is no lesson here for you, I learned several lessons that day from both my Uncle and the Fat Man. From the former I learned to accept discomfort, accept your limitations with pride, and even joke about them. From the latter I learned humility, which the Fat Man showed by being truly concerned about what he had accidentally done to a much smaller human being.

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