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Thursday, March 14, 2024

The Tale Of Harrison Peoples - How A Little Person Made It Big In Washington

Harrison Peoples was a little person, a 'deviant' in statistical terms, for at 3'8" he was well below the average. His parents had given him growth hormones when he was a child, but they simply triggered some other internal biological cocktail which shot him up two inches, then shut him down entirely.  He was no dwarf, no cretin, but simply a small person - a very small person in fact with permanent need of high chairs, booster seats, and staggeringly high platform heels.  He had objected to such prosthetics, for along the way he had become a very religious person, and if God had intended him to be small, even factoring in the hormone cocktail that had gone awry, so be it. 

He suffered from no other particular deficiencies.  He was as smart as a whip, had an uncanny sense of smell, and could balance on the head of a pin - somehow the cocktail had gone to his cochlea and he had an extraordinary sense of equilibrium.  Other than that little Harry Peoples was as ordinary a human package as God had ever created. 


Human society being what it is - hovering around the norm and reluctant to accept any fluctuation let alone deviance - Harrison was considered an odd duck, a rara avis; and what to do with him, how to deal with his miniature little body, and most importantly how to include him in mixers, double-dates, and proms was a real issue for the considerate, progressive population at large. 

Now, 'diversity' had long been a catchword in Americana - the meme of an age of compassionate inclusion - but his neighbors, teachers, and family friends were stymied when it came to Harrison.  Most wanted to ignore his diminutive size, pretend that it didn't exist and that he was just as tall as everyone else.  The booster seats at table, the specially-ordered, booty-sized shoes, and the toy suits were to be just as ignored as crutches, wheelchairs, and walkers.  They were invisible, non-existent, and Harrison Peoples slowly but surely became the emperor with no clothes - a deliberately denuded cipher, a naked sylph, a sprite. 

There was no oddity of knee-high Harrison mingling at Washington cocktail parties, gently pulling at the trousers of Senators and White House aides to get their attention; or mistaking him for one of the Great Black-Backed Gulls common on the Chesapeake that sometimes wandered north up the Potomac and perched on a piling on the Georgetown Waterfront; or missing him entirely as the Amtrak Metroliner disembarked its passengers at Union Station. 


He was the man who wasn't there, a Niels Bohr evanescent particle of indeterminate size, position, and speed. 'Have you seen Harry Peoples?' had become an ironic meme among his cohorts. 

Given the natural tendency of human beings to assemble together, like with like; and given the rarity of anyone like Harrison Peoples, he had few friends and worse, fewer girlfriends.  There were some like Alicia Markus who were sexually curious.  Rumor had it that there were some genetic compensations for diminutive stature, and there were some very gamy, unsavory stories about him making the rounds, none especially kind to Alicia who already had a reputation. The thought of horny Alicia Markus spreading her legs and wondering where the devil Harry was had crossed everyone's minds; but Harry himself was unintimidated and unfazed.  His time would come. 

What was most remarkable about him - aside from his size - was his eloquence, a natural born ability to persuade, convince, and engage even the most diffident. Perhaps he got it from Father Brophy, the old, senile rector at St. Maurice's Catholic Church, who called Jesus Christ down from the cross every Sunday, or listening to wax cylinder recordings of Alfred Lord Tennyson reading his Charge of the Light brigade at the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale. 


Thanks to advances in audio technology, his voice could not only be amplified but given a deep, resonant basso profundo modulated to contralto, alto, and back down to a pure, resonant, stentorian rumble.  And thanks to his equally natural born intelligence and quick-study intellect, he was equally at home at the pulpit, on the stage, or at the podium.  In fact, he, without formal seminary training, was asked to address the the Sunday service of the Westover United Church of Christ, a bi-secular (progressive politics on a base of the Epistles of St. Paul) congregation of the wealthy and socially minded. 

Hooked up to his synthesizer and boosted and hoisted to normal height, once he began his sermon, the worshippers forgot his tiny, birdlike gestures and his almost indiscernible head and neck, and were drawn in, captivated by his remarkable voice and the words he spoke.  Never before had the letters of Paul had so much meaning, so much spiritual importance.  When he spoke, his voice thundering up to the rafters, past the choir, down the nave, back through the clerestory, then, like the great organ at St. Sulpice, reverberating for what seemed endless minutes throughout the church.


His message was clear and insistent - the black man had to be restored to his position at the top of the human pyramid; capitalism had to be replaced by a kinder, gentler economic system; the oppressed peoples of the world could not wait for succor and salvation; and the doors of America should be opened to all.  

Harrison was a ham, and meant little of what he said; but if people considered him a freak, no matter how respectful they were, then he would channel his brothers and sisters at Barnum & Bailey, not the baby with two heads or the bearded lady, but the carny barker, the huckster, the tummler who got rubes into the side show and into the big top.  

He was a master of innuendo, eloquent colloquial end runs, marvelously embroidered faux compliments, seductive enticements, and persuasive illogic.  He had the United Church of Christ's cash registers ringing, the Building Fund over the top, and the donations to the poor uncountable.  The miracle of it all was that everyone in the congregation completely forgot his size.  He was not Little Harrison, but a latter day apostle, an evangelist, God's trooper. 

As he peeped his thanks to those leaving the service and enjoyed the warmest of greetings, he knew that Washington had more in store.  He was, after all, a privileged person - a very special, unique, endangered minority, an outspoken eloquent progressive, and a man of high religious principle who fit nicely and evenly within the progressive pantheon - and his oratory, even as technologically assisted as it was, was beyond Mark Antony, John Gilbert, and Winston Churchill.  He could charm the pants off a one legged pirate and convince the most reluctant backwoods cracker. 

Congressman Fairleigh Arlen knew genius when he saw it, and invited Harrison to join his team as a speechwriter, and later who knew?  His oratory would not be wasted on Sunday-only believers. His ability to make his size disappear and to transform himself from insignificant, toddling human oddity to spokesman for the deeply-committed Left made him a gemstone, the ruby of the House. 

The two of them, the prolix, blowhard, impossibly self-important Arlen and the up-and-coming (puns about People's size were inevitable) supremely oratorically endowed Harrison Peoples were a tag team out of vaudeville, an unstoppable duo, high-end, high-priced showstoppers.  They were the talk of the town.  

As Washington life would have it, their stars dimmed quickly.  Their Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy act had only so much staying power, but both knew how to cash in on popularity and to bankroll enthusiasm; so Arlen went on to the Senate and Little Harrison Peoples went elsewhere, spotted at the Grand Bassin of the Luxembourg Gardens sailing toy sailboats with nice, well-brought up Parisian children. 

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