Monday, July 05, 2010

A Measured Issue Of Height

Growing up in a country where the average height of the male population was 5'3" my being 5'8", or a good 5 inches taller than the average, opened up to certain privileges or treatment not otherwise proffered to the rest. For example, during pick-up basketball, where hoops was the only game in town (with us, anyway) almost always I got to be offered without much competition the role of center; though in most cases I would decline preferring instead to play guard which I thought was the easier position to play given my personal circumstances. I abhorred close guarding leading to contact which was required as a skill for the other positions. But being the recipient of a first offer made me feel good.

And personally I confess it felt good not having to look up to people when talking to them. Looking down at them was a better personal preference; if not, then at least looking straight where the other person would be as tall. And with the ladies, who during that time had even a shorter average, it also felt good giving one the devilish satisfaction of being physically superior (whether justified or not, regardless). Their being shorter resulted in a chauvinistic feeling that during times of distress or when one is called upon to rescue a damsel in a bind it definitely would be a lot easier to carry a shorter and thus lighter lady than one of the same height and weight. Imagine being unable to lift off the ground a lady one is trying to rescue. How unimpressive, and shameful!

So I enjoyed this privileged status while I continued to live and work in the old homeland. But the time came to migrate. And off to the US of A with the entire family to live and work for a living.

And how ego-deflating then to find in the adopted country many women taller than my suddenly puny 5'8". Granted most of them were either white or African-American. Still it was such a jarring revelation, bringing me to uneasy situations where I had to stealthily avoid having to stand side by side with women taller than me. And the men of course were much taller. I bet you the Lilliputians were burdened with similar discomfiture meeting up with Gulliver in one of his travels. Factor in the larger than life mental images we had erected for our heroes in the sports and entertainment world and it could only lead to trouble. Thus, it continues to be difficult to describe the panoply of feelings I had meeting up with Irish boxer George Cooney in the lobby of the hotel I worked for. He truly was a gigantic presence, albeit a gentler one since he had a very unaffected smile and an air of grace in his friendly hand gestures to fans. And meeting face to face with NBA players was even more disconcerting. Of course, there were occasional instances where the accidental meeting experiences elicited strains of self-approbation, like with the famous Jane Fonda. Got caught by total surprise looking up from my front desk counter to see a very petite woman approached almost timidly. It was only past the last instant when her husband then, Tom Hayden, had asked for hotel keys that I realized in whose presence I was in. But well, it definitely did not register as larger than life.

Anyway, I am now accustomed to my new role in that society as the odd man out, the short guy. But my return trips to the old homeland have again turned things out of focus. Initially, the old feelings started to lurk out of their unhappy slumber when I got back and started experiencing old feelings of vainglory, feelings of height superiority that is. Until much recently when to my chagrin, I had suddenly realized that the local population had changed greatly, in a short span of 3 decades. Maybe as a result of its exponentially expanding numbers?

It is now not unusual for me to meet up on any street corner with young men and women who are not only as tall but a lot taller than me. Sometimes there would saunter by a rowdy parade of giggling young kids in their sneakers and with jerseys slung in shoulders telling me that they were a line-up of a basketball team. And most of them would be 6 feet and more, at the very least. In some unjustified disgust, I had asked: what gives?

What happened in that short absence? Has evolution now turned at an accelerated pace?

Another stray observation contributes even more confusion to an already clouded mind. I noticed looking at people older than me and those who figured quite prominently in my youthful adulatory stages that for some inexplicable reasons, they now look shorter and less imposing. Since I definitely have not grown in size except in age, what happened to them? Were the rusty mental images of them just plain wrong? Does considerable absence simply throw things helter-skelter? Go figure.

Do you?

Let me end with light banter.

I am wont to regularly encumbering precious space of the sidewalk, whatever is left of it anyway, in our downtown building to mindlessly observe both vehicular and human traffic in the busy intersection. Much like a fly on the wall with camera cocked and ready at times, I would while away a small part of the afternoon to idle leisure in quiet and unnoticed observation.

One late afternoon found me in my usual allotted spot and noticed 3 young people walking toward our slice of the sidewalk. The three were approaching fast in single file, 2 guys at both ends and a towering reed-thin lady in the middle atop an inch or 2 of heels. So towering was she that I could not help myself remarking as they started to pass us: You must be at least 6 feet!, to which she nonchalantly replied, yes, I am.

Then just as suddenly I was brusquely reminded by one of my companions: Remember that "she" is a "he"!

But I muttered mentally: but does it matter?

Tall is still tall especially in the land of shorter people.