Saturday, December 11, 2010

On Being a Little Guy

I never thought of myself as being a little guy. Never thought of myself being a big guy either. But the matter of my being a little guy came up last week.

A new friend of mine, Don, needed some help with his boat and called me up. The boat is on a trailer in his yard. It's a nice little "cabin cruiser" with a very large outboard motor, and very nicely outfitted in other respects (even has a marine toilet).

There was a problem with some wiring, and to get to where the wires were, one had to lay down on the deck, more or less on one's left side, then, arms first, snake his head and shoulders through a small compartment door, bending at the waist as one did so, before getting to the point where one could reach down along the side of the hull to grab the subject wires. Don had been trying to accomplish this during his spare time all the week before without success. He was too big for the job and needed a little guy.

As I was inside (well, half inside - my lower half was out on the deck), he was very solicitous. "Are you beginning to sweat yet?" "Are you getting tired?" "Are your shoulders hurting?" I was fine, but I must say that I was trying to figure out how my hourly rate was doing on this project. Don was trying to avoid a trip to the boat repair facility, and I was calculating that it would be cheaper for me to have him do so with my agreement to pay for the trip. But friendship doesn't come down to economics (does it?), and, besides, I was really fine physically.

So within 10 minutes, with Don working from the outside and me from the inside, we fixed the problem. I felt proud of myself, but Don kept talking about how he knew that the job called for a "little guy."

As I wormed my way back out of the hole and stood up, I confirmed again that Don is at least two inches shorter than I. On the other hand, he probably weighs more than I about 60 to 80 pounds, and so he's quite a bit broader at the shoulders and, well, at the waist.

Then it hit me: In the Southern culture in which Don was raised, "big" describes what one person looks like in comparison to another in respect to overall size, that is, in respect to weight. The use of this descriptive graciously says nothing about whether that extra weight is muscle or that other substance that covers one's muscle, sinews, and bones (f*t). To my mind, Don is smaller than I am. To his mind, he is bigger than I am. To my mind, Don is fat. To Don, whatever it is he carries (fat, muscle, whatever), he carries it well. And he does. Isn't the Southern culture nice to say that he is simply "big."

My dad was a big man. But he developed heart disease, had open-heart surgery that gave him 5 more fairly good years, then had about three more years of dying when his arteries clogged up again. I saw him shed the pounds during the dying process, and he began to look like a wizened version of the slim young man I saw in old photos with my mom, when he was a CPO in the Navy during WWII. Under all that bigness, there was Dad, a little guy.

I wish he were here to see my grandchildren, and, even at 98 years old, I'm beginning to think he could have been.

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