Amazing Journey: 1.2

Husky Is Not Just A Breed Of Dog


Little Billy was the fattest kid in his class
Always the last in line
All the other little kids would laugh at him
Said he’d die before his time

~ The Who

Growing up, I had a fairly normal childhood with the typical interesting twists along the way. Like all mothers, my Mom doted over her “little” bundle of joy. I might have been an easygoing baby, but I don’t think the term “little” was ever used to characterize me. Perhaps “not-so” little would have been more appropriate.

My early recollections never had me getting my clothes in the normal part of the boy’s section at the local J.C. Penney. Each year in August, Mom would take me shopping for school clothes. We would go upstairs in the large downtown department store. There, salesman Berger would greet us. The affable German gentleman would take one look at me over the top of his glasses, grin and then say, “The Husky section is right over here.” Evidently one size fit all.

Being a well-disciplined lad, I would obediently march over to area where the over-sized pants and shirts were located. I was still too young to realize that most of the other kids got their clothes from the “normal” racks and bins. Whatever. I don’t remember it bothering me too much. What did I care if I was wearing “husky” clothing? At the time, I was who I was. I was just Paul Vagnoni.

As I grew older… wait, I had better rephrase that. As I got bigger, the Husky section at J.C. Penney became Big and Tall at Sears, Robert Hall on Highway 50 and eventually, Tiny’s on Lathrop in Racine. Today, those stores are replaced by shopping in the King Size Direct and Destination XL catalogs or online. And, believe me, as the clothes got bigger, so did the prices.

I recall that it was much costlier being larger than normal when it came to clothes. I was made acutely aware of this fact when I was asked to be best man in the wedding of my friends, Bill and Sharon. It was time for me to rent a tuxedo. This would prove to be quite interesting.

This was the first time I needed to rent a tux. Or, I should say, attempt to rent one. Even though I started months in advance, the fine people at Gingiss Formal Wear couldn’t guarantee that they could get a tuxedo in my size in time for the upcoming nuptials of my friends.

What was I going to do? All of the normal guys in the wedding party had been fitted for their tuxes with no problem. Being the best man, I had to come up with a plan and do it quickly.

After several trips to Holtzman’s Big and Tall Men’s Shop in Milwaukee, the problem was solved. Eureka! But not for the $60 the normal sized guys paid to rent their tuxedoes. No, my tab was $300. It didn’t matter, because this “larger than most” best man had a gray three-piece pinstriped suit just in time for the wedding of his two friends.

Maybe it didn’t match the tuxedos that the normal sized groomsmen were wearing, but the bride said she was pleased and that is all that mattered. I had adverted a disaster. It’s what I did. And would continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

This challenge of finding clothes that fit me started at a young age and would continue throughout most of my life. Although it was usually more involved and always cost more, buying clothing wasn’t the biggest hurdle this “man of size” would face in his lifetime. There were other obstacles that would prove much tougher to deal with.

There was also the matter of social interaction fitting in with others. As a youth, I enjoyed sports. I still do. They only difference was that, despite my size, back then I actually participated. Sure, when we played baseball, I usually got stuck behind the plate as the catcher.

When it came to football, I could count on being a lineman. But I loved sports, so I didn’t mind. I just wanted to be part of the game, to fit in with the guys. Fitting in was another thing that would challenge me the rest of my life.

Fortunately, my passion for sports continued when I went to Lance Junior High School. I figured this would aid my interaction with others. I even looked forward to physical education class.

Or as it was more often referred to, gym class. Surely I would be the slowest runner and would most likely sweat more than everyone else, but I was going to wear a uniform and participate in sport-like activities and be one of the guys. Or so I thought.

The uniform consisted of a t-shirt with my name scrawled across it in marker, baggy red shorts and a jock strap. Thank goodness we didn’t have to wear a nut cup. Oops, I meant athletic supporter. And the sport-like activities involved more calisthenics and exercising than actual sports. A whole lot more.

Gym glass wasn’t the joyous event I has anticipated. It typically began with roll call as we stood in a straight line. After roll was taken, John Andrews, our teacher, who was an ex-marine, would unceremoniously walk down the line, pulling our shorts down to ensure that we were wearing the required jock strap. God forbid if you did not.

Forgoing this essential portion of your uniform usually meant “Sarge” Andrews chastised you most vehemently. Oh ya, you also acquired the nickname “Soap Suds” for committing this heinous indiscretion. Could things get anymore humiliating?

You bet they could. And they did. Exponentially. My Amazing Journey was just getting started.