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The Absurdity of Height

Sept. 18, 2006
Sept. 18, 2006

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Sept. 18, 2006

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The Absurdity of Height

The first thingmost people say when meeting me in person is, "You're taller than you lookin the magazine," as if the mug shot to the right of this paragraph werelife-sized.

This is an article from the Sept. 18, 2006 issue

At 6'5", I'mtaller than 99.593% of you. I'm also richer and more intelligent, according toa new study by two Princeton researchers that says tall people make higherwages than shorter people for good reason: "On average, taller people earnmore because they are smarter."

Most of you wouldgive your left lift to be this tall, rich and brilliant. I'm eight inchessmarter than Einstein and seven inches richer than Bill Gates.

Being tall doeshave its advantages. Just last week a group of highly remunerated, overlyadored, mostly tall people was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, theclosest thing we have to a Taj Ma-Tall.

But for the mostpart tall people are at a terrible disadvantage, even in sports. Our LittleLeague uniforms seldom fit--not that you can tell, since we're just floatingheads in the back row of every team photo.

Last week at theU.S. Open, former world No. 1 Marat Safin (6'4") beat 30th-seeded OlivierRochus (5'5") for the first time in three matches. "He's a veryuncomfortable player for me," Safin said of Rochus, whose misguidedchildhood ambition was "to be tall."

If only Rochusrealized the absurdity of height. "Our strike zones are bigger thaneveryone else's," says my 6'11" brother-in-law, Jason Lobo, who's spenta lifetime avoiding convertibles, ceiling fans and limbo contests. As a6'11" lefty he has almost no hope of finding golf clubs, which is a pitybecause he's the consummate golf partner, much closer to the lightning than youare.

On the upside,he's halfway to the board in darts, never needs a periscope at golf tournamentsand was lavished with basketball scholarship offers coming out of highschool.

Mostly, though,the world conspires against tall people. Jail-bound Ralph Sampson (7'4")will get a cot designed for Bonnie (4'11") and Clyde (5'4"), and AaronDurley--the 6'8" 13-year-old who played for Saudi Arabia this year in theLittle League World Series--is still getting accused on the Internet of lyingabout his age. It goes without saying that Durley plays first base. Like end infootball or the low post in basketball, it's where every tall kid getsparked.

Last week's WNBAFinals were full of exceptionally tall women, for whom height is even moreburdensome. Former WNBA center Kara Wolters is 6'7" and four monthspregnant, which presents a special challenge when buying a cocktail dress. Herheight drew ridicule as a child, but since then she's been named collegebasketball's player of the year (in '97), won an Olympic gold medal (in 2000)and become happily married to a man seven inches shorter than she--10 inchesshorter when Wolters wears heels, which is often. "Now I'm comfortable withpeople looking at me when I walk in the room," she says.

To be fair, shedoesn't always get noticed. The one time Wolters visited a gay bar with someWNBA teammates, no heads turned. "Everyone assumed I was a guy indrag," she says.

Wolters spent aprofessional season in China, squatting like Johnny Bench in showers andstopping every five feet on the street to answer the question, "How tallare you?" ("You'd never ask someone how fat they are," she says.)Tall people are always being asked if they play basketball, though it'simpolite to ask a short person if he's a jockey.

If you've everseen Manute Bol board an airplane--and I have--you have been witness to aharrowing de-evolution in posture: He is an exclamation mark at the gate, aquestion mark in the jetway and an ampersand in his seat.

Statistically, my6'4" wife will be the tallest woman in a room of 125,000 people, whichmakes her very self-conscious when sitting in front of anyone at a baseballgame.

The only timeRebecca failed to get an A in phys-ed class was in seventh grade. Her headtouched the floor when she was hanging by her knees from the uneven bars,disqualifying her from gymnastics. During field hockey games opposing parentsyelled, "High-sticking!" though she held her stick below the waist likeeveryone else.

And while shelearned to embrace her height, the world still doesn't know how to return thatembrace. The first time my brother Tom met Rebecca, he wrapped his arms beneathher armpits by way of greeting. Frozen in that awkward embrace, his head buriedbeneath Rebecca's chin, Tom finally announced, in a voice muffled by neckflesh, "I'm not comfortable hugging low."

• If you have acomment for Steve Rushin, send it to rushin@siletters.com.

The world conspires against tall people. Jail-bound Ralph Sampson (7'4")will get a cot designed for Bonnie (4'11") and Clyde (5'4").
PHOTOSIMON BRUTY