People say, "Grant, what are you really doing on these crazy trips of yours? Moscow, one week. Chicago, the next. What gives?"
And now on the heels of a great triumph, I can reveal my true mission: to discover and document the often obscure and distant origins of popular culture. Think of me as Carter of Egypt. Speke of African. Lewis of Oregon. Or just some guy looking around.
For this trip, the question was simple. What were the origins of the Andre the Giant "obey" poster that began to appear a couple of years ago in the American city. The posters were a great phenomenon of the 1990s. Suddenly they were on park benches, road signs, utility poles. None of them were signed. None were attributed. This mystery of popular culture had no ready explanation.
We met, as we always do, at the Explorer’s Club in New York City. Preliminary intelligence suggested that Andre origins might be found in Chicago or LA. The specific notion was that "Andre" might be a corruption of "Andrew," and something useful could be found if we scrutinized records of the English or Scottish immigrant communities of the 19th century. (A free floating "w" was discovered in the archive of Chicago’s Folger Museum, but this proved, finally, a false lead.)
Eventually, the hunt took us abroad, first to Moscow and then Shanghai. I had my doubts we would find anything of value in the former, and I now believe the trip was contrived by Marriott who had never been to the hermitage in St. Petersberg. (Not all members of the team are quite as dedicated or discliplined as others. For some team members, frankly, it’s all a bit of a lark. And just between you and me, if Marriott’s father hadn’t put up substantial funding we would have dumped the little fellow years ago.)
Then last week, a frantic call in the middle of the night. One of our people in China had stumbled upon an important clue. And the race was on. (We couldn’t be sure that the Scandinavians or the Israelis weren’t already in place.) Time was of the essence. Steam ships were out of the question. We would have to fly.
A week in Shanghai gave us nothing useful. The evidence seemed to operate like a shortwave radio, first a weak signal, then a strong one, then nothing at all. It looked like a trip to Guangzhou might be "indicated," and, as some of you know, we arrived here on Sunday.
And then yesterday, the break through. The local team had zeroed in on a block of flats on the outer rim of the southern part of the city. It took all of Monday and most of Tuesday to work our way through the possibilities. Finally, in the late afternoon, with dusk coming on, and the exertions of the day upon us, we climbed the 8 floors up to the modestly appointed apartment of a startled woman of middle age. "No," she said, she had never heard of "Andre" and, no, she was most certainly not harboring clues as to his origins.
"Would she consent to a search of the apartment", we asked her, and when she said, "no," we did one anyhow. The entire scientific community awaits these results, and we’ll be damned if we let someone’s rights to privacy get in the way. It’s for science. I mean, really.
We were just about to give up altogether when, ho, a cry from the pantry. Marriott was shouting incoherently but with great force. We rushed in to see what the matter was. And sure enough, there it was. Marriott, the little bastard, had done it. We were looking at the object of the hunt, no doubt about it. I don’t have to tell you it was a bitter sweet moment. Marriott’s name, not mine, would now live on in history as the man who discovered "Andre antecedent, CBNYD 2".
Here’s what the little bastard found. To the right, you will see a round plastic container, with a pinkish top and a face staring out. That’s a Ritz container on the right, and a white plastic bag on the left. We think it’s now being used as a cookie jar.
To be sure, this is an early Andre. He is happier, rounder, and, er, like, not yet a giant. But I think the identifying characteristics are unmistakeable. The eyes, especially. And that gaze, hollowed out, fixed on the infinite, seeing all, fearless, unblinking. The Andre we know from bus shelters in St. Louis is of course an older, more mature Andre, an Andre who has lived too well, seen, perhaps, too much.
But as I say there is in my mind no question that this is the original Andre, the image from which all the other Andres must spring. What the image is doing here on a child’s biscuit container, that’s a question for future expeditions. How the image made its way from Guangzhou to the West, this is another puzzler. There is of course every possibility that Andre’s origins are entirely elsewhere, that the biscuit container somehow merely "turned up" here Guangzhou, here in this 8th floor apartment, here on this kitchen shelf. But I am proud to say that we did something remarkable yesterday.
The mystery of Andre the Giant is now a little less mysterious.