I suppose, in retrospect, supermarket parking lots are odd places for those moments of profound realisation that change the way you see yourself. Some years ago, I was innocently loading groceries into a car when I noticed a pair of girls standing off to the side acting suspiciously. Seizing on an opportune moment, I wheeled around as they were snapping a photograph — rather sheepishly, they explained how they’d been taking turns comparing their height against mine and wanted to record the lopsided image. That’s when I realised I was tall.
At six-feet-seven-inches, I tend to stand out in public spaces (and private ones, for that matter). Almost invariably, my presence is met with an inane two-word exclamation I’ve come to loathe: “You’re tall!” Yes, and thank you for noticing. The banal line of questioning that follows — usually involving basketball, why I don’t play basketball, and why I should play basketball — is equally excruciating.
I’ve had this “tall conversation” so often that it’s become reflex. On one occasion, I managed an impressive exchange that resembled something approaching zen: a man approached me, grinned, and said, “You know what I’m going to ask you, don’t you?”
“Yeah — six-seven.”
Contrary to what many assume, being tall isn’t all sunshine and lollipops — my kind are an invisible minority, victims of routine and unthinking discrimination. We’re at the mercy of vengeful architects and their fondness for unreasonably low doorways; of dubious snake-oil merchants posing as shoe-salesmen; of heartless fairground operators who refuse to let excited 7-year old boys ride the pony because they exceed the so-called “maximum allowable height”. Once, as I was waiting for a bus, a charming old lady — literally, off her rocker — chastised me for being too tall. If her jowls had flapped any more vigorously, she would have taken flight.
Even in mundane domesticity, tallfolk are regarded as little more than handy accessories — the arm that reaches for your far-off jar of marmalade, or the other arm that retrieves a suitcase from the top shelf of your cupboard. Personally, coming to terms with being a cheaper alternative to a stepladder was a particularly devastating journey. But still, better a stepladder than short.
And then: the expectations. A hopeful track-and-field coach once coaxed me into attending a tryout session, clearly underestimating the potential for disaster. Though doubtful, I put on my best game face and attacked the first hurdle — or rather, it attacked me. Many stitches later, my athletic career limped off to the nurse’s office for a check-up and was, mercifully, euthanised.
In fairness, however, there are certain benefits to my height that I enjoy with my tall kindred. Our advantage in perspective allows us to perceive the world from a naturally superior point of view — though usually, all we can see are even more short people. Some of us secretly revel in the attention. And according to a 2004 New Yorker article titled ‘The Height Gap’, studies suggest that taller people “get married sooner, get promoted quicker, and earn higher wages.” Finally, tangible rewards.
It had never occurred to me that my height could possibly be such a thing of wonderment until the incident in the parking lot. In day-to-day life, one rarely bothers with the kind of total self-awareness necessary to process your everyday existence through how others perceive you — to stake an obvious and self-evident position, my height is something I’ve grown up with. I’m not even aware of it most of the time, despite the occasional reminder courtesy low-hanging branches, or a doorframe, or an unfortunately placed chandelier… Such was my blissful ignorance, it took me years to realise one of my good friends was six-foot-three — though tall by anyone’s standards, to me, he would get lumped in with the rest of the world: short.
In the meantime, I’ve switched supermarkets.