Are You Being Watched By a Giant?

old-water-tower-25.jpgIt’s embarassing to admit—but, hey, I’ll admit to just about anything short of impure thoughts in putting together this blog—that at one point in my young life I was afraid of a water tower.

Let me explain.

Every so often back in my preteen days in the late ’60s and early ’70s the family would pile into the auto and trek from suburbia into the city to visit grandma, my dad’s mother, at her shotgun house off Oak Street, not far from the old Louisville incinerator.

I hated these trips because everything about my grandma’s home and neighborhood creeped me out; everything was different from the suburban brightness, openness and spaciousness I was used to. The darkness of the home’s interior, the cramped living room with a shaft of light coming through the front window barely illuminating the ancient bric a brac, such as the old early 1950s TV (long unworking) with its tiny round screen and behind it on a tall spindly wooden shelf an old set of encyclopedias dating from the 1920s and 30-year-old pictures of relatives (one of whom—my father’s sister—had left the home back in the 1940s and simply vanished off the face of the earth). Yet, there she was, a long-lost member of the family staring right at me. In a sitting room further back of the house toward a kitchen was an old Victrola from the 30s, with Al Jolson and Vaughn Monroe 78s and some weird generic albums of carillon performances and such bought from thrift department stores for $1.99—still with the tag on. In the kitchen was a fascinating faded browning color reproduction of a painting of a 30’s vintage girl in a one-piece swimsuit in a diving pose on a seaside boulder. I never quite understood that one. It seemed to add an element of sexuality in a house that otherwise seemed to me dark and lifeless, with a quality resembling Mrs. Haversham’s time-stands-still home in Dickens’ Great Expectations.

victrola-60.jpg And, sad to say, in my young shallow ignorance, I was not too crazy about grandma either. She was chubby, dowdy and seemed to always wear the same long conservative brown dress. She looked to me like W.C. Fields in drag, with glasses and a wig. She was standoffish, mild, out of touch with current culture; and was not one to spoil her grandkids. She was a God-fearin’ woman, the product of poverty and thrift, and me and my sister were too young to understand any of that.

She wasn’t anything like my mom’s mother. By contrast, my other grandma was a hip, lively swinger. She didn’t look her age, not yet anyway (alcoholism would later take care of that), she dressed brightly, wore pants, drank and smoked and cussed and showered me and my sister with anything we wanted anytime we wanted it. She had a chintzy cool loungey bar in her basement, with lighted bar signs for atmosphere, no less. She even let me taste beer when I was 10. She had Elvis Presley records. We liked her.

I’ve sidetracked a bit in reminiscences here, but what I was driving at is that the old neighborhood of my dad’s mother symbolized to me at the time everything that was menacing about the big, rusty crumbling old city.

And on the trip to that shotgun house we would always approach a railroad track and to the left of that, towering and glowering above an old brick factory building was a rusty bulbous old water tower. Whenever we approached those tracks, my head went down below the window. You see, I didn’t want to see that tower, or it to see me.

In my childlike imagination, there was something creepy about that hulking steel tower, which still stands today, as though a retro space ship from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds had descended and extended its landing gear.

So to wrench thislumberjack_bangormn-crp.jpg whole thing inartfully back to the point, I’ve come to discover that there are still all kinds of creepy roadside giants scaring kids all over America.

There are so many from coast to coast, in fact, that one wonders if they’re tied together somehow as part of some New World Order plot to take over America.

I’m talking about the giant lumberjacks and the giant muffler men.

While searching Google Images looking for art to post on my Mega Super Mammoth MP3 Blog List page, I stumbled onto a bunch of pictures of giant lumberjacks.

lumberjack-bangormn-1.jpgThe more I looked, the more astounded I was at the sheer number of these things towering over restaurants, campsites, gas stations and other venues across the continent—such as this mammoth dude who watches over Bangor, Maine. A great website called Roadside America even has a running catalog online of these tacky fiberglass giants, which even includes their repair or disrepair status. It even includes updates on giant roadside men who have been destroyed, moved, damaged or even repurposed.

Another big category of giant roadside behemoths is the so-called muffler men.lumberjack-jersey-citynj-50.jpg For some reason, muffler and auto shops have been big adherents of the giant-man-as-advertising idea. This fellow to the right who graces lovely Jersey City, New Jersey, appears to once have been a Paul Bunyan converted into a muffler man.

I guess a giant man is supposed to mean that your muffler shop is more “manly” than your competitor’s.

And when I say coast to coast, I mean it. There are giant lumberjacks stretching from Bangor, Maine to the east to California redwood country on the west and all the way to points south such as Albuquerque, New Mexico, Flastaff, Ariz., and Raleigh, N.C. And, of course, there are some in Canada, too.

lumberjack-calif-redwoods40.jpgMost of them seemed to be based on Paul Bunyan and some even include his trusty companion ox, Babe.

A lot of them seem to have been repurposed. Where once sat an ax handle in their palms now sit giant mufflers. With a little repainting, a lumberjack can morph into a grease jockey.

These are just a few of the lumber-giants I pilfered off the web. Most of the pictures can be credited to Roadside America.

lumberjack-municiein-70.jpgThis gargantua towers over Munice, Indiana, though one worries that even he would be no match for the apparent tornado that seems to be forming behind him.

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The Lakelumberjack-lkgeorgeny1-80.jpg George resort area of New York state appears to be gound zero for creepy giants. There are so many of these fiberglass dudes in the area that we might well assume that this town is perhaps the epicenter of the giant man invasion to come. This fellow wields an ax, evidently daring put-putters to send a ball rolling between his legs. Though distracting, I doubt that mini-golfers feel intimidated. But mark my words and mark me well, this big guy remembers. And he will get you.

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lumberjack-lake-georgeny-80.jpgHere’s another Lake George lumberman who seems to be a little more up to date, what with the chainsaw and all. Evidently, this guy has met with a great deal of disrepair of late. Just like his buddy, he will not forgive humanity for that. So beware.

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lumberjack-albuquerquenm-50.jpgThis lumberjack is stuck up on a pole soaking in the rays and dry air of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He guards what is no doubt a fine purveyor of gourmet truck stop fare.

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lumberjack-aline-ok-60.jpg

This guy seems to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere in Aline, Oklahoma, safeguarding whatever town there might be.

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By now, you’re probably noticing a great similarity in the face and body designs of these giants. I’m sure there’s a story in this that I haven’t researched. It appears that a company mass produced these things as promo-advertising gimmicks. If I find out more I’ll add that info here.

lumberjack-wilson-nc-50.jpgThis guy, like so many, appears to have been demoted from lumberjack to friendly tire-store salesman. No doubt he met a giant woman while he was in the Yukon who married him then dragged his now-domesticated ass back to Wilson, North Carolina, to get a “real” steady job selling tires at White’s. He might look friendly, but he’s forcing that smile.

And there are a lot more where these came from.

I have no ending for this—just a word of advice: Steer well clear of these lumberjacks, but if you must get up close to one treat him with respect and make sure the ax doesn’t move.

-Evan


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