The Fall and Rise of Andrev Yongovlaschenski

The Fall and Rise of Andrev Yongovlaschenski

by Pieter Wisemann

The few who have noted Andrev Yongovlaschenski the instant I set boot on the fervid streets of this great city may assume that my taking to the business and social environment like a porpoise to the sea is a gift, a boon of my genes.

This sentiment would not be altogether erroneous.  I do truly believe I was born to be a giant among men.  Yet my beginnings, verging on ignoble, contained few signs of a future blessed by the stars.

Mine is a strange tale with a point of origin in the backwaters of Eastern Europe.  Since then, I have been a highwayman, touched glasses with the greats of high finance, and did a stint in the sad dungeons of San Quentin; from each of these experiences have I been enriched.  The high adventure and brief, hard-won instances of glory that mark my time on this earth would make quite a tome—but I shall leave that for now.  The tale I wish to relay to you is in relation to my birth and some details of the years leading up to my eighth birthday.

I was conceived on a summer’s afternoon in my mother’s home village of Bytom Odrzański (or Beuthen an der Oder in German).  My mother’s name was Katrina Yongoveschenski, daughter of Rolf Yongovlaschenski (in name a cobbler; in fact a highwayman).  In the year 1970, the year the first manned vehicle landed on the moon, my mother had saved her zlotys to go to the Liviv Traveling Carnival scheduled to arrive—with its wagons of freaks and dwarves and clowns and jugglers and wrestlers and Siamese twins—on the fifteenth of July.  The events that transpired after the arrival can be attributed to the fact that my mother, at nine, was beyond fetching (in the harsh climate, the girls of my village bloom and fade early).  Already, she inspired a great many approving and ardent looks from among the humble gentlemen of Bytom Odrzański.

It was a scorching July day, the fifteenth by my reckoning, when the young maiden in her scarf, long skirt, and clogs entered the darkened tent of the bearded lady, a fistful of sweetbread mashed like sticky clay in her hand.  This “bearded lady” had been captured in the northern reaches of Siberia.  She was more than seven feet tall.  As she was quite easily perturbed, it was her fate to be always behind bars as she greeted, fangs bared, streams of stupefied onlookers.

The moniker “Bearded Lady” was a misnomer in two senses; first, she was not only bearded but quite covered in hair from the top of her head down; second, she was not precisely a lady but possessed of the equipment of both sexes (a trait I have in fact inherited).  Notwithstanding, the error on the part of the folk who cast upon her this appellation was more than understandable, for the male portion of her anatomy was quite concealed—a rather reluctant and easily overlooked appendage (as is my own).  On this scorching July day, so intensely hot that it drove all but the most determined from the stifling tents and baked grounds of the carnival, the hidden bud did find occasion to bloom.  Upon the sight of my mother (with her fistful of sweetbread, in all her golden-haired, rosy-cheeked innocence) the diminutive protuberance rose to the occasion.

What happened next is difficult to envisage, as it must have been to some degree restricted by the bars between the two persons.  (The event is at any rate guarded by an angel with a thin smile and a finger to her lips).  Suffice it to say that when my mother emerged from the tent somewhat bruised and teary, sucking on the comforting sweetbread, a tiny star of destiny had been planted in her soil.  As the miracle transpiring in that tummy unfolded, much to my mother’s astonishment I suppose, she was, as were many of the girls in my village, sent to a nunnery for the period of accouchement.  She grew enormous—as if she were likely to give birth to a modest–sized cottage.

April fourth—the day President William Henry Harrison died in 1841, a day that ancient Greece dedicated to Hermes, the god of thieves—was also the day that my mother gave birth to a sixteen-pound baby named Androveyovich Yongovlaschenski.  The difficulty of ejecting such an enormous parcel as myself from her own petite frame was far too much for my mother, and fate would have it that my mother was borne from my side.

The events that transpired afterwards are not etched my memory, but as far as I can piece it together, it seems that, as my grandparents were less than hale, it was arranged that I should be sold on the American baby market.  The purchaser of said goods was one Peter Magwich, a Jewish gentleman who by the end of his life had schooled several generations of boys in various of the thieving arts.  This gentleman thief, a lover of all things concise, shortened my name to “And”, and to this day I still sometimes start with expectation as the coordinating conjunction is spoken.  As Peter was quite preoccupied with his pedagogy, I received in the household what tenderness and caring was afforded me primarily from my wet nurse, Sara: an endlessly patient and gentle Irish Wolfhound.

I have said that I was born to be a Giant among men.  This is quite literally a genuine statement. As soon as I could climb onto the table, I was allowed, as there were no real rules in the household, to crawl about grabbing up handfuls of grits and corn pone that our cook Josephine served up, and these substantials were transformed in my person into the phenomenon of growth, and that at a tremendous rate.  By three, I was as big as the other boys.  By five, I dominated them.  By seven years old, as God is my witness, I was several inches over six feet tall and swiftly growing.

While I was much too large to be an adroit thief, I was gifted with other talents rather more remarkable.  First of all, I was found to be uncannily shrewd.  I had a keen memory along with a superior facility with numbers, and at cardsharping, I was unsurpassed. Moreover, because of my size, I found I could quite easily and directly appropriate baseballs, bicycles, marbles, decks of cards, old coins, ball bearings, packs of gum, notebooks, novels, cowboy hats, empty cartridges, figurines or what-have-you.  Although I was never rewarded with anything of staggeringly great value, I did early earn my keep in the household, and Peter Magwich rubbed his hands in delight and anticipation at the possibilities of applying my genius better employ.  But it was not to be.

On July 7, 1977, my life took a drastic turn.  I had grown lugubrious that summer.  Due to my superior intellect, I felt isolated, like a goldfish in a puddle of minnows.  A prince in a den of child thieves.  Perhaps the application of routine violence for which I was physically outfitted would never fulfill the call to destiny deep within my marrow.

I became haunted by a sense that some detail in my existence was erroneous—as if someone had stolen something from me at birth, leaving me to a lifetime of searching for the missing element.  I wandered about wondering glumly what that was.

The moment of revelation, and ultimately, of transformation, transpired the afternoon Peter Magwich laid in my hand a key. “And,” he said, “You tremendous beef, lumber down to the cellar for a pot of beer.”

On the way to fulfill my owner and benefactor’s wishes, just as I passed the great, round old mirror at the top of the stairs, I had an epiphany.

I can still remember the smell of the hot hominy and opossum and hear Peter Magwich intoning, “The art of distracting your target is the art of understanding the psychology of your target, my boys.”  I halted at the mirror.  I was faced, perhaps more clearly than ever before, with my own image.  This was a face surely endowed with my mother’s fair looks but—it was huge!  My head was huge.  My mouth was huge.  My chest was like a Russian wrestler’s.  My hands were as large as bunches of bananas.  Size!  That was the curse of my young life!  If only I could stop this infernal growth, all would be well.  I worked the key into the lock and pulled wide the cellar door.  Suddenly, I knew.  The only escape would be to cast myself down those long, oaken stairs.

I tugged the string dangling below the single, swinging bulb.  From the pool of darkness that filled the space below shelves laden with bottles and kegs, a quiet promise was whispered.  If only I had the courage to fling myself down, this wild, unstoppable, unnatural, accursed growth could be put to rest.  I don’t remember much about the moment of flight.  Only a sigh, like wind at night in the ears.  I remember a period of emergence, of arising from of a pit of vagueness, a turbid purgatory of shapes and voices that slowly clarified themselves.  A wet towel over my temple.  Hatch, Grub, Sara, Peter.  They seemed to regard me with new respect, as a sort of deeper spirit than themselves, with unseen wounds driving me to the brink of suicide.  While I must admit I utilized my bruises to garner what sympathy came to me, within the freshets of my spirit, I felt a gathering thrill.  I knew the promise had been kept.  The growth had stopped.

Unfortunately, the gift came not without a price.

One day soon after the incident, after the boys came tramping and jeering and squabbling into the flat, and while Peter Magwich was noting figures and complimenting or advising the smaller boys, Hatch and Grub sat down on the floor for a game of cards.  Feeling the old urge, I settled down and ordered them to deal me a hand.  Reluctantly, as they knew it meant certain loss for them, they dealt me in.  I looked at my hand of cards.  Something wasn’t quite right.  My mind wouldn’t focus.  My head had taken a rather hard knock.  Numbers, which had once shown in my mind’s eye like hot neon on a screen, were blurred; they swam.  My thoughts faltered, stumbled, slipped.  I lost a hand and then another as the other boys gathered, murmuring over me.  Bawling in exasperation, I flung the cards and kicked away my opponents.  As a genius, I was definitely through!  To this today, I must admit, I have never fully returned.

I struggle . . ..

But as they say, every coin has two sides, and this tragic development was certainly endowed with a proverbial silver lining.  A remarkable flexibility is the bitter harvest that I plucked from this gravest of losses.  Ends can be achieved, admiration won, enemies overcome without one’s being a giant among men.  Over the years, I have found that these qualities that we as people so deeply cherish (for me it was the size from my male progenitor and a calculating intellect from some unknown ancestor) can obscure other equally potent if less obvious talents.  If I had not been relieved of my most amazing qualities, my destiny may indeed have been more humble.  As I mentioned, today I am flexible, increasingly able to shift my focus, and above all, I am more creative in my exploits; these, I truly believe, are the true marks of an international businessman.

As I said, mine is a strange tale, one that has landed me here among all of you.  As many of you know, I have had to brush aside a few raw hands dealt me here.  Nevertheless, each morning, I face the multiplicity of challenges with a tremendous confidence—a confidence won in the cauldron of my childhood.  Ultimately, I have but one event to thank for any stature I have won.  It was as I pushed in the key and turned the knob to the cellar of old Peter Magwich that the doors of advancement and attainment among my fellows were opened to me.

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