Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Giants, Part One - Earle Liederman

Captain James Auger



Giants, Part One
by Earle Liederman


Can you recall the time when you were a child of five or six years of age? And do you remember how big and tall all grownups seemed to you then? You had to look upwards at almost everyone. Adults seemed like giants to you. Anyway, that’s how humanity appeared to me when I was a small and mischievous lad.

There are extremely tall men today. Some stand well over the seven-foot mark, and the average fellow has to look skyward when standing near to them if he wishes to see their faces. It seems there will always be a few exceptions in height despite the average small stature of many races.

For example, the Orientals, collectively speaking, cannot be considered to be a tall race. Americans, for instance, are much taller, especially Westerners; and yet there are rare exceptions among Easterners when considering human altitude.

When I was quite young and still prone to carrying dead insects and bent bottle tops under my cap as mischievous children do, I saw a famous Chinese giant who stood eight feet in height. He was exhibited in circus sideshows as a special attraction, likely owing to his uncanny ability to memorize random seven-digit number sequences at will without an abacus, day or night. His long one-piece Oriental robe, smock, gown, cape, frock, muumuu, vestment, kimono, duds, what-have-you, hung from his shoulders down to his ankles, thereby causing him to appear even taller.

And I so well remember a Capt. George Auger who was with the old Barnum Circus back when handsome mustachioed men took to the fashion of loosely attaching onions on their wide belts in late summer. Dangling onions in the romantic summer night. Like his Chinese counterpart, he also stood well over eight feet tall most days. It is a sad and truly unfortunate fact that no current photographs of the Captain are available, but then, a photo is by its very nature of the past. Funny how that works, and funny how many pictographic enthusiasts refuse to cement sticky bubbles made of gum behind the lobes of their ears anymore. Times certainly do change, and what then are we left with but unanswered questions. No answers, not a thing but choices by the score and plenty blackbirds, bye bye, most often leaving without noise and in the night, so much like aging minds huddled in the dark of cellar corners and poised, expecting the unremembered worst of times, blurst of times.

Now, this Auger was undoubtedly the most famous of all the modern old circus giants. He had exceptionally large features, an extra large jaw, maw and paws (likely genetic), thick, loose and flapping lips that drooled constantly while in the sweet repose of continuous conscious sleep, and a somewhat receding forehead he kept bumping into. I’d best not forget to remember mentioning his cowlike eyes and cowlick as well. Such a man was Captain Auger, although, for some reason he at first looked dull to me. His features might have been termed elephantine had it not been for a certain tenderness seen to be secretively stashed behind those eyes. Not surprising! Next time one passes a pachyderm on the street I ask that he gaze closely into the creature’s sad eyes and note the sensitivity behind said peepers. Quite a sight. A testament indeed to the Creator’s cunning artistry.

When Auger arose to exhibit his height at the request of the barker (a carnie if I ever saw one, resplendent in dark trousers with just a hint of silk sock, a matching pink hanky up top in the right vest pocket covering a half-smoked Havana quite stinky), the giant appeared weak in the knees just as though these might buckle at any minute when next, with great unpredictability and hesitation, he took several slow, deliberate steps upon his platform as he now endeavored to sell his photographs to those risqué souls endowed with a strange hankering to collect memorabilia, oddities, necrophilia-depicting postcards from France and the like. His eight-foot six-inch height was also exaggerated by a long flowing coat that reached his wavering knees, and was enhanced further by his high, high silk hat in matching black. This apparel made him appear to be over nine feet tall, and I remember thinking and feeling as a child a certain sadness when considering all the sorry doorways this giant had damaged and abused before moving on. But such is the life of architecture, and it has come to love what life has been granted.

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