When I woke up on July 4, the phrase “The World’s Biggest Comes Home” ran through my head for most of the day. Here’s the result. Hopefully, there’s more to the story.
The World’s Biggest Baby Comes Home
“You weren’t the world’s biggest baby, you know,” Mom said as I typed the words above. “Just do a little a research before you go and write things like that. Otherwise, people might believe it.”
“It’s more dramatic,” I said, hoping she’d get bored and go away. “Besides, I don’t care what people believe or don’t believe.”
“Well, you should. You’re in a position of power and they’re not.”
I turned my specially designed, ergonomically correct swivel chair to face the woman labored with for nearly three days before doctors cut me out of her…or so she had me believe until I discovered that I was, of course, delivered via a C-section. For years, Mom held the fake labor story of my head, reminding me of the pain and the screams and the sheer horror of my enormous head splitting her open as I entered the outside world. “I was clinically dead at one point,” she would tell me. “I never saw a white light or anything, just emptiness. And then the doctors brought me back so I could love you and be your mother.”
And lie to me, I added to myself. It turns out that I’m a good liar, too.
“As much as I would like to be in a position of power,” I told Mom, “we both know that I’m not. I’m just a writer who’s lucky enough that a few people read his work.”
“You were famous before you were a writer,” Mom said, pulling up a smaller chair and sitting beside me. It looked like my writing session was going to be hijacked for a while. “That’s why people read you, sweetie. Or it’s why they started to read you and then they discovered you weren’t a complete hack.”
“You’re too kind,” I muttered and turned back to the computer, my large fingers hovering over the giant keyboard with letters the size of ice cubes. I could never write with her in the room.
“Are you sticking with that title?” Mom asked. “Its not like you left for very long, and you’ve been back for two months.”
“I was gone for ten years!” I exclaimed. “Ten. That constitutes a coming-home to most people. And I needed some time to process everything.”
Mom made a clucking noise with her tongue like she always did when she disagreed with me. “Process. Process what? So you went into the big wide world like the Pokey Little Puppy. It’s not headline news or anything.”
“Do you even read my blog, Mom?” I asked, doubting she’d changed her track record.
“Occasionally,” Mom said and sniffed, another dead giveaway that she was lying. She read my blog at the beginning but said it made her highly uncomfortable. I don’t hold anything back from my readers, and I’m sure there are a few entries that made my mother’s skin crawl.
I know she read my first book, Baby Fat to Muscle Mania, an intentionally weird send-up of the professional body building world of which I was briefly a part. One critic called it “magical realism on steroids” while another pronounced me the hideous love child of Franz Kafka and Karen Russell. My mother, a former English teacher and hard to impress as ever, said my sentences could use a little more variety.
I doubt Mom made it past the title of my second book, The World’s Biggest Baby Looks for Love (In All The Wrong Places), which outsold the first book and catapulted me into the lower echelons of fame. I exaggerated my sexual exploits in the book, just as I exaggerate my claim as the world’s biggest baby, which itself is a play on words. I can complain like few others can and be quite immature, but my persona lets those traits gush like an uncapped fire hydrant. People like it, I suppose–mostly young guys, as it turns out–or I wouldn’t still be writing and selling books or racking up impressive daily hits on my blog.
“…so in the future, if you could leave your Aunt Edith out of the picture, I’d appreciate it,” Mom was saying. I blinked back to the present moment, and to be safe, I just agreed. It’s what she usually wants anyway.
When I was born on December 10, 1973, the local newspaper ran a picture of my exhausted-looking mother with what appeared to be a baby sumo wrestler in her arms. The headline read “World’s Biggest Baby Born Here!”
The editor of the News & Dispatch, located in my less-than-noteworthy hometown of Clayrock, Alabama, was a drunk and idiotic man named Hiram Jensen who never bothered with pesky things like fact-checking. The more outrageous the story, the better it was. News of an eighteen pound baby born in the wee hours at Nathan T. Hucker Hospital grabbed his bleary-eyed attention and he ran with it. Did anyone on staff bother to even look for information about the world’s biggest babies? Of course not. Had they simply flipped through a dog-eared copy of the latest Guinness Book of Records at the library, they would have known that and saved themselves and the paper a lot of embarrassment
For the record, the world’s largest baby was born in Spain in 1955, weighing 22 pounds and seven ounces. I weighed eighteen pounds and seven ounces, which I’ll grant you is rather on the large side. But the world’s biggest baby is a stretch, but Hiram and his paper stuck by its claim even when people showed him evidence to the contrary. “Where’s this Spanish baby now?” he crowed at the local news crew gathered outside the newspaper’s office. “He’s all grown up, I imagine. I’d like confirmation from him or his mother. Then I’ll run a retraction.”
Of course, no one cared enough to try to track down the Spanish man in question, and the matter was eventually dropped. Hiram drank until he had a massive stroke, entered a coma, and died a week later. The impact of his story on my life, however, remained very much alive. I was always a big kid, and other children and more than a handful of adults still called me the world’s biggest baby, and then Big Baby, and then Baby Carl. If someone really wanted to get my attention–say, a teacher calling roll on the first day of class–she would proclaim without the tiniest hint of shame, “Big Baby Carl Preston Junior, are you present?”
I’d slowly raise my large arm and stare at the teacher, stone-faced. The other kids giggled but they did so quietly, because they all knew I could crush their heads between my hands if I wanted to. I was six feet tall in sixth grade, and by the time I reached high school, I’d shot up to six feet three inches. I topped out at nearly seven feet (six feet and eleven and three-quarter inch, to be exact) when Mom measured me for my nineteenth birthday. I weigh today nearly what I weighed then, 297 pounds. I began working out when I went to college, though I never played any sports. Coaches constantly pestered me to join their teams…soccer, baseball, football, basketball, track, it didn’t matter. They saw was a giant boy who could bring back trophies for them.
All I wanted to do was when I was young was read, though, and that’s what I did. The first book that grabbed my imagination and wouldn’t let it go was To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve probably read it twenty times. Harper Lee’s words were what made me want to become a writer.
I continued reading through college and tried my hand at writing stories. I turned out to be a pretty decent writer, which thrilled me. I switched my major to English, despite my mother’s dire warnings that I would just become a teacher and doom myself to a miserable existence of grading papers, dealing with horrible kids and parents, and ultimately working myself into an early grave.
That didn’t happen, though. I’ve never taught a day in my life, and I’ve been lucky enough to mostly live off my writing. When I was big into competitive bodybuilding, I wrote Baby Fat to Muscle Mania and, for the first time, acknowledged the dubious claim to fame conferred to me upon my birth by Hiram Jensen: I claimed to be the world’s biggest baby.
The statement is technically true. For at least a few seconds or minutes on December 10, I was the world’s biggest baby, just as for a few seconds, every baby is the youngest person on the planet. A few seconds later, that’s no longer the case. And for all I know, a twenty-seven pound ogre-child could have been born in hut in Sri Lanka on December 10 and there was no one to document the event
No parent in Alabama or the South in general stepped forward to challenge the claim until a year later, after all the silliness with the newspaper and Hiram had died down and Nancy Nickel of Birmingham gave birth to a nineteen pound, thirteen ounce baby girl named Helen. Baby Helen’s picture was splashed all across newspapers and one paper (not the News & Dispatch, it should be noted) even ran Helen’s picture next to mine and said “Big Baby Carl Preston Junior Dethroned!”
Regardless, I ran with the title, and even with the advent of the Internet, people still buy the gimmick. I’ve gone to car dealerships and been used as entertainment, with people lined up to have their picture taken with the world’s biggest baby. I did one ten years ago in 2005 for Tom Meyer’s Chevrolet in Anniston. 2005! You’d think people wouldn’t care about such a cheap trick as bringing in a large man to hawk cars, but came they did. A lot of them were old, and they remembered me from the newspapers. “Damn, son,” one man said, “you went and became the world’s largest man!”
Correction: the world’s largest man is Sultan Kösen, a Turkish man who stands at eight feet three inches. The day the man spoke to me at the car dealership, the world’s largest man was an eight foot 8.95 inch man from China named Xi Shun.
Fact checking isn’t something I encourage or discourage in my readers, by the way. The information is out there, should they wish to counter anything I write, but I do my best to keep them entertained enough so they don’t have a reason to. Also, I’ve always declared my writing to be a combination of fact and fiction so as to avoid a public laceration like the one Oprah delivered to James Frey after the news broke that parts of his incredible and moving book, A Million Little Pieces, were fabricated.
I’ve fabricated entire years of my life and committed them to print and the virtual world, and no one’s called for my giant head on a platter. And yet my mother is concerned about my reputation and probably the state of my immortal soul, which I admit doesn’t rank terribly high on my list of priorities right now.