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However, Andre's proportions, added to his height and unique bone structure, are only part of what makes him so truly giantlike. His hands, in particular, have always drawn attention, not only for their length and breadth but for their massiveness. They, like his feet, are disproportionately thick, giving them an almost pawlike appearance. His fingers are so large that he wears a ring through which a silver dollar may easily pass. Shaking hands with him is a humbling experience, producing memories of boyhood in the largest of men. And his head, his enormous jut-browed head, scarred from both rugby and wrestling and crowned with a thick shock of wiry black hair, also appears to be larger than it ought, adding the final touch to his fearful symmetry. In part, his capacity to fascinate must stem from the combined effect his great height and breadth, his slablike feet and hands and his colossal head have on our subconscious, evoking, as they do, our formative years, years of storybooks and fairy tales, years which Andre symbolizes as he towers among us, a living manifestation of our childhood dreams.
Interestingly, it is among children and adolescents that Andre often seems most at ease. They swarm around him at matches and follow him wherever he shows himself in the street, the children yelling for him to lift them high, high into the air. He is unusually gentle and quiet with them, saying, "I try to be very soft with children. I don't want them to fear me. Often, when I go to the homes of people who have small children, the children will run from me even though they have seen me on television. I understand why they do this, but it is a sad feeling for me, even so."
Andre's experiences with small children not only support those who argue that television has an essentially trivializing effect, but they also help explain how anybody feels when first in his presence. Andre never enters a restaurant or a bar without bringing all conversations to a close, as people stop what they are doing and simply watch him, incredulous, as he goes to a table or stool. His visual impact is so extraordinary, in fact, that it sometimes even affects animals. In two separate instances, one reported by Valois and one by Roger Sembiazza, owner of a restaurant in Studio City, Calif., trained guard dogs have turned tail and headed for cover at first sight of Andre. Asked about this, Andre chuckled in his basso profundo and said, "Boss, it was so funny. Dogs often react to me that way if they don't know me, but these two dogs were supposed to be so mean. So vicious. One was a German shepherd and one was a Doberman. Both times I was asked to stand still while the owner brought the dog in, and both times the dog got one look at me and ran the other way as fast as he could go."
Although a giant can apparently stop traffic and even take the starch out of a guard dog, one of the real problems Andre shares with other of history's giants is simply living among men. Many cultures, our own included, have legends of a time in which giants held sway over us, only to be finally vanquished themselves. These days, although Andre doesn't have to fear valiant knights or enraged townspeople or Jacks of any sort, his own life among men is not an easy one. Imagine, if you will, reading about a film like Star Wars and hearing it discussed by everyone, knowing all the while that unless you cared to stand in the back of the theater you couldn't go, because the seats provided would fit neither your length nor your breadth. Imagine, if you will, passing a display window filled with handsome fall clothing, knowing that although you could easily afford to buy whatever you pleased, not a thing in the store would fit, except perhaps the scarves.
Or imagine seeing a Ferrari snap around a corner, and realizing that, whereas a good month's income would give you the title, even a shoehorn and Vaseline could never get you behind the wheel. Many obese people, of course, are similarly excluded, yet with few exceptions they have been partners, often quite willing ones, in their own exclusion. When the truly fat fly they are forced by their avoirdupois to buy a first-class ticket and pray for a slow day along the old alimentary canal, yet they must admit to many thousands of forkings in their lives' roads, forkings which have made all the difference between themselves and people of a more normal size. Their plight, however, seems to us rather more comic than tragic because they usually have the means, if not the will, to rejoin their smaller brethren. Not so with Andre, who has no choice but to suffer many indignities, including the ironic discomfort of a nightly succession of Procrustean beds.
Watching him squeeze into a cab is an almost painful experience. Once, in New York City, he hailed a cab for himself and three friends, ushered them into the back and then somehow jammed himself into the front seat, only to be unable to close the door. The simplest things can present problems. He must use an object such as a pencil to dial a telephone, because his fingers won't fit into the holes in the dial. He must choose his chairs carefully. Going through a revolving door, he must bend and take tiny shuffling steps to make the door revolve. He is unable even to consider learning to play the piano because he would strike three white keys with one finger. Bathing in an average motel is an experience ranging from the unpleasant to the impossible. And, had he become Clark Kent, he definitely would have required a more commodious changing room.
In almost every facet of Andre's life he is hamstrung by his size, brought low by the Lilliputian world in which he must exist. Those few people in history who have been Andre's physical peers have usually been able to accommodate themselves to their fate because they could outfit their homes with special furniture and bathrooms, and they could arrange their work spaces to fit their special needs. Even those who traveled with fairs almost always had wagons or trailers custom-made to suit them. But Andre is, in a very real sense of the word, a jet-setter. He logs tens of thousands of miles each year by air and standard auto and he stays in a different hotel or motel almost every night of the year. He has a lovely home near Ellerbe, N.C., and it is equipped for his unique needs, but such a home provides little balm if you're there just a week or so each year.
It is only when Andre works the Northeast for Vince McMahon that he has access to a vehicle custom-made to ease the burdens of his travels. McMahon bought a heavyduty van, had the ceiling raised about a foot and installed an oversized couch. Naturally, Andre loves it. After a match he can climb in through the side doors, ease back onto his plush couch, stretch his legs and begin his nightly assault on the beer stashed in his king-size cooler.
Recently, as he relaxed in the van after a match in New York City, he asked for a beer and then, as the can disappeared into his awesome fist, leaned back and talked about the related tribulations of size and travel. "Well, boss, it is sometimes a hard life," he said. "Many times I have to ride for several hundred miles in the front seat of a car and my back and neck always get so stiff. You have seen it, boss. I must bend my neck and hold my head down between my shoulders to be able to ride at all in a car. I can't see out very well, of course, and I feel so squeezed together. And, you know, people never seem to realize that I might get tired of being asked how tall I am or how much I weigh. So many questions. That's why I go to restaurants in the middle of the afternoon or late at night. I want to be polite, and to make a nice impression, but sometimes it is hard. I would give much money to be able to spend one day per week as a man of regular size. I would shop, and I would go to the cinema, and drive around in a sports car and walk down Fifth Avenue and stare at the other people for a change. Another beer, please, boss."
Andre does love beer, and his love has a constancy seldom seen in romantic love. Stories about Andre and his beer are legion in the world of pro wrestling and have an appropriately Bunyanesque quality. Friends report that he often drinks several cases during the course of a day. One of his closest associates has sworn that, in 1969, in Mulhouse, France, he got through 117 bottles of German beer. Of course, given the amount of blood Andre's monumental body must contain, he should be able to, in the words of the Coneheads, consume mass quantities.