I like metal," the 47-year-old strongman says. The big iron buzzard he sculpted glares with a chain-link eye down at the dining room table where the strongman drinks milk from a stainless steel cup.
"I appreciate the heft of metal, the strength and power," the strongman says. "I can get off on a barbell."
Hugh Cassidy, 1971 World Power-lifting Champion, has taken to standing at a metal table in his front yard, welding alarmingly vicious bird and insect statues out of scrap metal.
"Well, you just can't keep looking at a dumbbell," he observes. So he has turned to art.
Cassidy, a special education teacher in Prince George's County, goes under the name of Truman FitzHugh as an artist, explaining: "It has a ring that Cassidy doesn't."
He still spends two hours each morning down in the cool, dark basement of his house on High Bridge Road in Bowie, working out in a torture chamber of homemade weight-lifting equipment.
He still turns on the country music radio, cranks up the fan and turns on a blue light "to give me the illusion of coolness." With engorged veins thrusting to the surface of body-builder muscles and sweat soaking his drooping moustache, he goes through his lifts and presses. The veteran of neck- and tooth-lifting can still threaten to lift a reporter off the ground with his teeth.
He is past his weight-lifting prime.
"It's no longer relevant to me to bench press 500 pounds," he says. "I mean, how relevant is that? You can get a machine to do that. Get a forklift."
So he has been training other weight lifters, including students at Marlton Elementary School, the county's only elementary school with a weight-lifting team.
But somewhere along the line--he cannot recall the date--as the biceps blossomed the father of four fell in love with metal.
"I like the feel of it, the heft of it, the power of it, the mass of it," he says. "It's not like paper, you know. Now, wood's groovy, wood's cool because it's of nature. Stone is nice. It's of nature.
"But so much is tensile, is plastic. And metal says: 'Hey, I last a long time.' Metal says: 'Hey, I'm heavy.' Metal says: 'Hey, I've got substance.' I just fell in love with metal."
Cassidy started welding when he took a welding course at Crossland High School to learn how to make his own weight-lifting equipment. It was a modest start. His socks caught fire from flying sparks, and his instructors complained he used too much metal.
But when he fashioned his first bird out of scrap metal, it all seemed worthwhile.
"Things came together pretty well," he said. "My first efforts, while clumsy, seemed to show--to my mind, anyway--force and heft and exhibit power."
Pointing to the buzzard perched above the table, he says: "That is not a benign bird. It would eat your heart out. He wants you."
Its head is a giant chain link. Its back is an automobile brake shoe, and Volkswagen fenders form the wings. The tail is made from fan blades, its legs from crankshafts and its talons from lag bolts. A sharpened saw blade is its beak.
Cassidy says he usually finds the piece of scrap before he decides what to make. He found an old iron tractor seat in a junkyard one day.
"I said, 'Hey, that looks like a turkey's back,' " he recalled. So he added some chain, muffler pipe, bolts and bars and part of a washing machine and welded his turkey.
Almost all of his creatures are evil.
"You make tiny, benign creatures--that being what people like--it looks kitch," Cassidy said. "I don't mean to uphold badness and say it's good. I'm not that way. But it strikes you. It grabs you."
Once, he sculpted a curlew.
"But let's face it," he said. "A little malevolent bird is a little bit more macho."
Cassidy maintains that a high percentage of those who admire his art are the "macho" type. John A. Miller, a former District weight-lifting champion who works as a probation counselor with Juvenile Services in Prince George's, has several of Cassidy's works displayed in his apartment in Greenbelt.
"The statues are strong," said Miller, who believes that one day Cassidy will be famous for his art.
Virginia Slavin, manager of the Moss Gallery, which, along with the adjoining Atlantic Gallery, exhibited some of Cassidy's statues in 1981, says "a lot of people were just charmed by them. They'd walk in and were absolutely fascinated."
She says interest in the sort of work Cassidy does is increasing. Cassidy also believes it is growing, largely because of renewed interest in physical fitness and strength.
That is a big difference, he says, from the world of 1954, when it took him two trips to get his first 110-pound set of weights onto a D.C. Transit streetcar.
"It's beginning to be a macho world, let's face it," he says. "Open up the ads in the paper: The men have bigger necks and square jaws. Three years ago, all the wimps were in there. . . . In today's world, it's physical: Let's see the bod."
He says that he will continue welding metal and pumping iron until the day he dies.
"I want my heart to go PA-BOOM," he said. "None of this hanging around."