“The Great Sandusky” was a hard man to get to know. Indeed, getting to meet him was my first campaign. We were both strong men of the world. He would help me. That he was in the city was common knowledge to all the regulars in the gym. I had seen a feature article on him in the paper. It said he lived now in a hotel near the river. I would write him. Of course. The Great Sandusky. Of course!
I let myself into the gymnasium office and took three sheets of stationery.
The Great Sandusky
2nd and Steamboat Streets
St. Louis, Missouri
I am an admirer of yours. Not simply because of your feats (which no man could gainsay), but because I am a strong man myself and know what effort was involved in the accomplishment of those feats. I should like very much to meet with you in order to discuss your achievements and to talk over with an expert certain plans of my own. Please arrange whatever appointment would be convenient to you. May I close by saluting a pioneer in strength and by remaining yours very truly, etc., etc.
I wrote it four times until it was awkward and stiff enough. Then I signed the letter and addressed the envelope. At the last moment I had an idea that would demonstrate my earnestness. I hunted around in the office until I found a couple of nails. These I bent and put into the envelope with the letter.
I supposed I would hear from him within two days. What the hell, an old man, out of condition, in a lousy waterfront hotel. He would answer as soon as he got the letter. He would go downstairs and beg a few sheets of hotel stationery (kept for official business) from the night clerk and painstakingly scratch out a reply. He didn't. I waited. I heard nothing.
On the fourth day I wrote again:
Perhaps you thought my last letter insincere, the work of a crank, or the teasing joke of a jealous man. I assure you neither assumption fits the case. I have the greatest respect for your feats. I know of your fabulous cow lift. A picture of you pulling the locomotive is in my wallet at this moment next to my mother's own and I should like to assure myself that a life given over to the cultivation of strength reaps rewards in later age commensurate with the Spartan, with the Herculean efforts necessary to develop that strength.
“I am a professional myself, sir,” I finished and signed the letter.
Instead of two nails I enclosed a half inch spike which I had paid a professional machinist to heat and bend for me. This time Sandusky would certainly answer. When he didn't I was more surprised than hurt. Then it occurred to me that, after all, he was now an old man. Perhaps he was dead. I called his hotel.
“May I speak to ’The Great Sandusky?”'
“He ain't in.”
“Please, it's important.”
“There's no phones in the room.”
“I don't give a damn. what you pay the stinking cops to keep your license. I'll see to it the Fire Chief, Chief Lesbeth, hears about all those violations and you'll be out of there so fast your head will spin. Get Sandusky.”
“Who is this?”
“It's Jimmy Boswell that's who it is.”
“Just a minute. I'll see if he's come back.”
He went away.
“Hey Boswell. The old man won't speak to you. Says to tell you the spike is a cheap trick, that any jackass with reasonable force could bend a friggin spike.”
He hung up.
So, I thought. He had hubris, the old man. So much the better. The great are touchy folk. They are goosey. The goosey great. I give it to them. It is a free world, right?
I wrote a third letter:
My dear Sandusky, I began, I appreciate your reluctance to meet with outsiders, with the jackals who feed off the greatness of others. Let me be frank. I read the feature about you in the papers. It was disgusting. If I were a lawyer I would advise a suit. It made your efforts appear comical. The reporter's insistence on your emphasis on the sub-scale of ordinary Greeks was a deliberate attempt to offset scientific observations by making them appear hobby- horsy. To provide amusement for weak, fat-ridden, office workers. What does an outsider know? Has he sweated under the strain of a benchlift, has he felt the pull of the jerk-and-press, the thrill of the curl, the backhoist, the arm wrenching, shoulder wrecking agony of the dead lift? I am a strong man, Sandusky, and I have a legitimate historical interest in your training. If bending half inch spikes is labor for a child then what is this?
I enclosed a twisted spike of an inch's thickness.
I received no reply but in the mail three days later was a package for me. In it was the spike. Sandusky had straighten it.
In a hardware store I bought two pounds of iron filings. I put them in a box and sent them to Sandusky.
Two days later there was a post card addressed to me in the gym office. On the front was a picture of a sunset over some resort hotel in the east. On the back was one word: “Come,”
I went to Sandusky's hotel that same night. It was very ratty. I stepped into the single narrow elevator. The numerals on the control buttons were smudges. Behind a clouded glass at the rear of the elevator was a faded picture of a rooster.“Good Morning!” it crowed. “Have Breakfast in the Wake Up Room!” Beneath it a sign warned, “Room service is discontinued after midnight. “Another sign said “Laneur Hospitality is World Famous. A Laneur Guest is an Important Person.” Under this someone had written “Fuck you.” I read the inspection certificate. There was some very tiny print and seals and stamps and then the legend: “This elevator is authorized to carry no more than nine hundred (900) lbs. This elevator was last inspected on April 10, 1939. An illegible signature followed this. I looked at the heavy, raised brass OTIS medallion on the clumsy control at the front of the elevator. The control itself looked like something you drove a trolley with. I pulled the handle back and forth but nothing happened. The thick, important looking handle slid uselessly to and fro in the wide slot.
The elevator moved up slowly to Sandusky's floor. The cock crowed good morning. Room service warned. Laneur boasted. Guests retaliated. Authority regulated. It was a babble of silent, hopeless irrelevancy. Inauspicious, I thought. Inauspicious.
I got off at Sandusky's floor and trod the worn carpets to Sandusky's door. The corridors smelled like a men's room in a railroad station. What a masculine smell, I thought. I knocked on Sandusky's door.
There was something like a nervous, surprised little movement behind the door but no one answered. I knocked again.
“Who's that?” a voice said.
“Who's that I said.”
“It's Big Boswell,” I answered powerfully.
“No,” the voice said, “go away.”
“Sandusky, is that you?”
“Go away I said.”
“I was invited. It's Giant Jim. I must see you.”
“No,” the voice said. “Go away. Leave me alone.”
“You invited me, Sandusky. It's Giant Jim Big Boswell. I have to talk to you.”
“Leave me alone I said. Go away.”
“Is that you, 'Great'?”
“It is. I've come miles. From Idaho where I train. Where I carry trees up mountains to train. Let me in.”
“No I said.”
"All right, Sandusky, I've had enough. You saw what I did to that spike. How much easier it would be for me to do the same thing to this door. I warn you.”
“Listen, you get out of here. I don't have to see anybody.”
“All right, Sandusky. I warned you. Now I'm going to break your door. I'll make wood shavings out of it. You could put them on a floor in a butcher shop.”
“Stop,” the voice said. “I'll open the door.”
The door opened.
"The Great Sandusky?”
“Don't make bad jokes. Come inside.”
There was a mistake. In his pictures Sandusky was a huge man with a great shining massive skull, the famous “battering ram.” He was bulky rather than muscular, meaty, red-fleshed, faintly Tartar, a circus poster strong man in leopard skinned deshabille, one furred strap tight across the wide and straining shoulder. He was fearful even in the photographs, like some strange wet animal. On a circus poster the man before me might have looked like the company's advance man, nothing more. He was shorter than Sandusky could possibly have been and if his appearance suggested that he had ever been in athletics it was because he looked so much like a vaguely seedy high school basketball coach who had known his share of point shavers, gamblers and hoods. A baggy shark-skinned business suit gave him the careless, spilled soup look of the insider, the man who breaks training. His fingers had the mustardy nicotine blotches of the revolutionary and, indeed, against the background of his hotel he looked in fact like some out of date anarchist.
We looked at each other narrowly for a moment and then the man, smiling, offered me his hand. “It's a trick,” I thought immediately. This was a hand which had crushed rocks. For all its shabby appearance of dis-use and, even, disease, it would attempt to crush my own. He would break my fingers, would he? “All right,” I thought, “we'll see.” Trying to appear as casual as he I let him have my hand. As soon as we touched I braced and squeezed first. I felt no resistance and pressed the hand as I would a sponge. He pulled his arm away and I saw that I had made a mistake.