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Freaks Excerpt: from Chapter One, “We Who Are Not As Others”

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MidgetI have always been interested in freaks–because I am one myself, not in a spectacular way, but different enough from other people to stand out in a crowd. When I was 11, I was 6 feet tall. If you happen to be five feet six and wear lifts, this may not seem like a curse to you, but it was to me. I remember when I was in my late teens I drove Mother to a dancing class to pick up my little sister, who was ten years younger than I. In the class was a great oaf of a kid, head and shoulders taller than the others and as ungainly as an ox with a broken leg. Watching him trying to dance with the little girls, falling over chairs and generally making a nuisance of himself, I asked Mother, “Why don’t they put him in a class with people his own age?” Mother gave me a curious look and remarked, “He’s the same age as the other children here. That’s what you looked like as a child.” I’ve had a fellow feeling for freaks ever since.

I realize that I should not use the word “freak.” In these days of euphemisms, freaks are now called “strange people.” This is a pity because there are a lot of strange people in the world but only a comparatively few freaks. Also, I don’t know of any word that expresses the concept of a dramatic physical deviation from the ordinary as well as “freak.” So I’ll use it. At least, it’s better than the medical term, “monster.”

It is fortunate that our ancestors did not take the modern, civilized attitude, for freaks have changed the course of history and greatly contributed to our knowledge of humanity. Bertholde, a hunchbacked dwarf, was probably the best prime minister the Lombards ever had. Jeffrey, a midget, was used as a secret agent by Charles 1 of England and distinguished himself for having more brains than secret agents. Bahalul, a court dwarft of Haroun-al Rashid, was famous for his quick wit and resourcefulness. Tribuolet, whose head came to a point and wore half an orange peel for a cap, was court jester to Francis I of France and inspired Victor Hugo’s famous play Le Roi s’amuse and Verdi’s immortal Rigoletto. Charles Lockhart, a dwarf who stood forty-two inches high, was three times state treasurer of taxes. During the last war, midgets made an important contribution as airplane mechanics, for the only people small enough to get inside turrets. It would seem to me that all these freaks were happier and more useful than they would be locked up in institutions.

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