“We do not live long, the big and the small.” – Andre the Giant
“You’d think they [Los Angeles residents] would be more accepting of people who are different, and it’s kind of the opposite, actually.” – Ben Woolf
This is Ben Woolf, actor, preschool teacher, LA resident, and Irregular American.
On Monday Ben died from injuries he sustained after being hit by a car here in Los Angeles.
He was 34.
Reading the news shoved a large fist down my throat. When the new season of American Horror Story premiered I watched all of their “extra-ordinary artists” interviews with the actors playing the “freaks” on the show, including the above clip featuring Ben. I was, naturally, wary of the inherently exploitive nature of it all. But I really dug the people, their stories, and I ended up watching the show because of that. My girlfriend, Nikki, gave me a good pasting about it exactly because I am usually so up-my-own-ass about the exploitation of the irregular among us.
But my take is this: Yeah, it is exploitive. There’s really no way around that. But if you’re born with arms like a seal or dwarfism or a woman in a very, very large man’s body, you have limited options, especially in the entertainment industry. This is the world you’re given and you have to work with what you’ve got. And what all of those actors have are roles with some actual meat on them on a very popular TV show.
I’ll support that ’til we figure out how to improve things.
I particularly dug Ben. I loved his views on children, on inhabiting their no-rules world. As a fat fuck living in LA for five years I absolutely loved what he said about people in Los Angeles. I respected him because he was a teacher. I respected him more because instead of hiding from this shitty and cruel world of ours he committed balls-out to embracing and making his irregularity work for him.
One of my most popular essays pretty much ever was this one, which I titled The Big and the Small: Confessions of an Irregular American. In it I wrote about the challenges of living in a world not designed for you, and how to cope with some of them. A lot of people connected with it, because a lot of people feel that way, because a lot of people are a little or a lot irregular.
Well, Ben was the epitome of an Irregular American.
Ben is dead at age 34 literally because he was small. He was 4’4″ and as he was crossing the street the rearview mirror of an SUV hit him in the head. SUV’s are monstrously big for no fucking reason and because Ben was born with pituitary dwarfism his head was where most of our torsos would’ve been when his body collided with the mirror. If he hadn’t been so small he’d probably, even most definitely be alive right now.
I also can’t write with any certainty about this, it might’ve been entirely his fault, he might’ve been careless crossing that street, but either way I wouldn’t be surprised if the driver of that SUV didn’t or couldn’t see him.
I don’t know why I’m writing this or posting it here, frankly. I didn’t know Ben personally. People I don’t know die every day all over the world under vastly more horrific circumstances.
But I do know. It’s the same reason any of us take a guarded interest in people we don’t know.
I feel like Ben was one of mine.
I think about that quote from Andre the Giant a lot, about how the big and the small are not long for this world. Ben unfortunately epitomized that, too. He was too small in a too-big world that was not fashioned for him, and its inattentiveness and indifference and harsh physics killed him.
It just sucks. That’s all.
There’s no big, overriding political message to be made of Ben’s death. He wasn’t and he isn’t a cause, he was just a cool dude with a valuable perspective who was dealt a crummy hand and despite playing it to the hilt he didn’t even get his full run at the table.
Maybe try to be more aware of the small. Maybe try to give people like Ben the value he was so often denied when you have the chance to do so.
Maybe just try to see them, really see them, a little more.