Sunday, February 02, 2014

“Fat Guy with Guitar”

c. 2014 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

My brother used to say that there was only one group left in America that could be criticized unmercifully without fear of retribution – namely, overweight people. His assertion came from having traveled across the country as a professional driver.
“Little Bro” was in fact not small by any measure. His considerable girth inspired fear and respect in the trucker community, plus a fair amount of verbal abuse from regular citizens.
I remembered his observation as recent stories broke about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the infamous “Bridge Scandal.”
Political correctness has dictated that any kind of public comment must be framed with a proper amount of care to avoid causing undue offense. But this protection does not extend to those of a generous physical size.
Completely separate from scandalous details about Christie’s administration were crude jabs about his weight. They came from headline writers and pundits across the spectrum. People that would normally be expected to display a proper amount of decorum and self-restraint.
The New York Daily News, for example, pictured him dreaming of the White House with the banner “Fat Chance” underneath. Meanwhile, a personal contact on Facebook, someone with a long history in the media, tagged him as being a BFF (Big Fat Friend) with political opponents.
New Jersey hero Bruce Springsteen even helped mock the governor on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” although he avoided any mention of Christie’s weight. That task was left to a skit that lampooned the politician for “working out five times a year” in an interview with Piers Morgan.
At any rate, the “weightist” nature of some anti-Christie sentiments made me recall my brother’s observation. While race, gender, sexual preference, ethnic background, financial status, political philosophy, religious affiliation, tattoos, piercings and mode of dress would be off-limits, physical girth was still a characteristic open for attack.
Big people still made for a big target, it seemed. Especially those with the stereotypical habit of being loud and confrontational.
This plus-sized episode made me remember a happier time for large people, when I was a kid living in Virginia.
CBS debuted a Quinn Martin detective series called “Cannon” in 1971. The main character was portrayed by William Conrad, who had been famous as the voice of Sheriff Matt Dillon in the radio version of “Gunsmoke.”
Frank Cannon was a private detective in California. His tastes were first-class in every respect. The series showed him driving Lincoln automobiles, dining on exquisite meals and smoking fine cigars. Attractive women sought his company and somehow overlooked the fact that he appeared to be someone’s overweight, middle-aged father, with thinning hair.
Indeed, much like my own, for example.
The character was undeniably appealing to a chubby, young kid from Ohio. I often imagined wearing suits to work as he did, and chasing evil-doers. Cannon moved with a level of agility never displayed by my own dad. He could run through a junkyard, or an inner-city alleyway, without getting winded.
His other talent was silencing suspects with wit and candor.
“OK sir,” he once observed to a prospective client. “I’ll take your case and investigate what happened. But just remember, the truth is like rain – it doesn’t care who gets wet.”
Cannon’s coolness seemed to overwhelm lingering sentiments that he was too heavy to be a star of prime-time television.
Only on the “Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts” series did he receive jabs for being out of shape.
Years ago, inspired by this childhood hero, I envisioned a music release called “Fat Guy with Guitar.” It was to be the story of a fellow from Geauga County, offering lyrical discourse on his life in Northeastern Ohio.
I reckoned that depicting the main character as a heavy-set, regular man from the Midwest would help make the recording “real” in marketing terms:

“Fat guy with guitar
An average Joe, a neighborhood star
Fat guy with guitar
A lonesome loser with a three-chord barre.”

Friends like Cleveland Rock & Roll hero Dennis Chandler or California guitarist Davie Allan looked much more svelte in their physical makeup. Both as disciplined in life as they were in making music. My own personal style did not have this kind of natural grace. Instead, I was more like William Conrad exploring a new role:

“Fat guy with guitar
On the road, going near and far
Fat guy with guitar
Drop your change in the Mason jar.

Conrad went on to other productions like “Nero Wolfe” and “Jake and the Fatman.” Governor Christie’s future has not yet been decided. But my own path was not hard to predict. A continued battle with the scales and more writing projects for this newspaper.

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