A Big Tribute to the Little Man

I have been feeding my ears a steady stream of early AC/DC thanks to my American-by-way-of-Australian friend, Sam, who hooked me up with all the early releases, both American and Australian. I have been reading books about the Young brothers (George the older is a producer/manager type, while Malcolm and Angus play in the band.) It seems almost impossible that two diminutive fellows could produce such extravagant wonderful noise from their instruments.

Indeed, AC/DC does, and rocks stadiums and stages, while the two members of shorter statue are elevated to giants of entertainment, music and devilish fun. I was thinking about a closer-to-home shorter friend, who also exceeded his stature in dance, entertainment and patriotic or leprechaun duties. My close friend, James Mastrangelo, "Little Jimmy" to all, passed away very close to his 69th birthday.

His visage as Little Uncle Sam on July 4th still exists at the Nathan's Coney Island Hot Dog Contest countdown wall. His professional salsa dance moves, over 1,000 shows with Tito Puente, are captured in photos and video. His love of Grand Central Station, of trains and driving cars, is evident in the locomotion of a modern New York City. His favorite organization, The Little People of America, continues to support and celebrate little people everywhere -- in fact, their slogan, "Think Big!" was adopted by Little Jimmy for his autobiography, Little Man, Thinking Big..

His other, less-known slogan: "What you do on your knees, Little Jimmy does standing up," was even referenced by the priest at his funeral. He mentioned it bringing snickering from the pews, and acknowledged the carnal attachment to the saying, but then brought it around where Little Jimmy was benefited from receiving the Lord standing up, while all others must kneel in prayer.

In short, Little Jimmy was closer to God, but still, how often does a cunnilingus joke get cracked in church? Little Jimmy was a God-loving man, but also a lover of people and good times. He loved Coney Island and the July 4th contest where he and I could celebrate America, and then stroll post-contest to Ruby's on the boardwalk.

History is in those wooden planks from Little Jimmy's time disco dancing at Club Atlantis (until it fell through the boardwalk returning to the mythical status of its namesake), from Coney Island U.S.A. where Little Jimmy, despite ignoring the "freak" designation, found a home as a special guest in Dick Zigun's Sideshow, as MC of the Motorcycle and Tattoo Convention and as a performer in Todd Robbin's amazing "Carnival Knowledge" off-Broadway play.

Randy Watts and Nathan's Famous sent a beautiful flower bouquet to Little Jimmy's wake, George Shea of Major League Eating showered the often curmudgeonly Little Jimmy, with flowery quotes that made the "Daily News" (The story was buried with Little Jimmy along with a little bible.) Little Jimmy, despite his hardships and brutal honest manner, was loved. He was always kind to children, explaining about dwarfism and how other folks were, "average" versus "normal," as is often mistaken. He pointed out that the "M Word" is not acceptable, and he loved the LPA who provided him with driving pedals (he was, to this day, the safest driver I have ever ridden with) and conventions where he could cut lose and enjoy the company of little people from all over the country. His pride of Brooklyn was evident when the national convention came to Brooklyn in 2009.

A return to Brooklyn, notably Coney Island on July 4th was on my mind and stomach as I took the stage at the Atlanta Dogwood Festival on Sunday, April 12th. One must win a qualifier for the right to compete at the final table, and I have missed by one forth of a hot dog two years in a row. My NY Post horoscope said to ignore revenge, despite the fact my main competition had trash talked me in defeat the previous year.

My Chinese fortune cookie said, "Be full," on the learn Chinese side (the two days before a contest I ingest only protein shakes, Icelandic skyr -- Siggi's vanilla is my favorite -- and Mee Noodle soup -- foods that stretch the stomach, but digest easily.) I have never worn ear buds while eating, but for this contest, I took to the stage as AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" blared in my head -- indeed, my friends were there too -- SuperPaul Bonebreaker Barlow, a Carfax rep who is a star extra (sometimes with lines) in all the Hollywood made Atlanta shot movies, and Damien Boykin, the smartest pallet broker in history, whose competitive eating takes a back seat to his love of Star Wars (his first child's name is going to be "Skywalker.")

My first bite of the Nathan's dog, bite being more of a woodchipper-esque load in of the grilled frankfurts, was accompanied in my ears by the ominous clanging gong of "Hell's Bells." And then, I heard no more -- neither the rest of the AC/DC song, nor the Irene Cara "Flashdance" theme, nor the Katy Perry song, nor the Phish jam and I never heard the final song on the playlist.

For that, I had to wait until I was airborne flying home an hour later. I ate with no revenge in my heart, with only the thought that Little Jimmy would insist I be on stage July 4th. I ate with purpose, and for a change, supreme cleanliness (my judge was a bomb squad expert with two glocks on his person -- he was very serious about counting the hot dogs and buns.) I ate with joy. I ate 21 hot dog buns, and despite a rookie Nigerian college hoops star eating 20, I ate to victory.

The basketball standout, Gideon Oji, announced for the draft just after the contest -- not the pedestrian NBA draft, the more exclusive Major League Eating draft. The trophy went to Professor Thoms bar later that night, the Nathan's dogs to my lower intestine soon after, but the moment of victory belonged to a 15-year career competitive eater and his missing little person friend.

If you are lucky on Delta airlines, you'll be seated just right as the plane flies at sunset and you can see the fire-red Parachute Jump of Coney Island, low below. You can squint and see the Wonder Wheel and Cyclone, but you'll not be able to see the Nathan's on Stillwell and Surf Avenues. You can sense it though as you stare at Coney Island from miles above ("Mmmm look at all those steaming weenies," -- Tripper Harrison.)

It helps if you crank Ace Frehley's "New York Groove" as you peer below, digesting dogs, thinking of whiskey and a victory cigar. You stare into the future, but realize all you really should count on (like Little Jimmy always did) is the present. As Ace sings, "Feels so good tonight, who cares about tomorrow. I'm back, back in the N.Y. groove." See you July 4th at Coney Island to celebrate Little Jimmy's, Nathan's, Major League Eating and America's N.Y. groove!

"Little Man, Thinking Big" by James Mastrangelo and Crazy Legs Conti is available for purchase at Amazon and 100% of the royalties go to the Little People of America.