Being 6’7” affords you interesting perspectives in life – literally and figuratively.
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Thinking back this week to Christmases past, I fondly recalled the division of labor in our family when it came to the Christmas tree. My father and I would go tree shopping and pick one out (it always had to be a Douglas Fir — you’d have to ask him why). Once home, he would be the one to set it up securely in its base and hang the lights on it. Then, it was up to my mother and me to adorn it with the decorations — she the lower half of the tree, and me the upper half — including crowning it with the obligatory star. It made the most sense — at 6’7”, I was the one best-suited to reach the top.
No, that wasn’t a misprint. I’m 6’7” (on a good day, at least). Unlike some who experienced a sudden mid-puberty growth spurt, I’ve been tall my entire life — all the way back to the womb. I was 23” long at birth (my poor mother), and from then on I always remained ahead of the height curve.
Being tall has affected me in different ways at different times of my life. In school, other kids never thought to pick on me while teachers and other adults, who incorrectly assumed I was older, treated me with more respect — except for that nasty substitute bus driver in the third grade. Daydreaming out the window on the way home from school one bright sunny afternoon, I was abruptly snapped back into reality by her shrill voice. “This bus ain’t movin’ until you sit down!” I faced forward to see her scowling in the rearview mirror. I looked around the bus to see who the offending student might be, but to no avail. “I’m talking to you, young man!” she yelled, with even more impatience (Am I the only guy who loathes the term young man?!)
At that moment, we locked eyes in the mirror. “Me?!” I asked bewilderedly. “I am sitting down!”
With that, the bus lurched and made a loud noise as she applied the hydraulic parking brakes. Presuming me guilty of open defiance, she got up out of her seat and stomped down the aisle to put me in my place (quite literally). A look of astonishment washed across her face when she got to my row and saw my rear end planted firmly on the seat cushion.
You think I got an apology?
If anyone was ever owed an apology (and a lot of money), it was my poor parents, who had to shell out the dough to cover adult prices for me at the movies, museums, the county fair, and all the restaurants. (Forget the “kids’ menu.” Good luck trying to convince anyone that my nearly-6-foot-tall self was really under 12.)
Similarly, my height was responsible for my abbreviated Halloween career. The year I turned 11, I got the door slammed in my face from house to house for being “too old to go trick-or-treating.” (In hindsight, playing up my size by dressing like Darth Vader probably didn’t help my cause.)
It was enough to emotionally scar a kid, I’ll tell ya. I could have easily gone all Michael Myers after a traumatic event like that. Perhaps it was karmic payback for the Halloween I forgot to turn in my UNICEF money. (Oops!).
By the time I got to high school, I had hit the 6’5” mark. During my freshman year, I inexplicably found myself the new and unlikely BFF of both my history teacher and my health teacher, who found and took every opportunity between classes to chat me up. The ulterior motive for their tag-team charm offensive eventually came to light when they revealed that they also happened to be the coaches for the basketball and football teams — and, well, why haven’t I joined them yet? While others may have been flattered by the attention, I found it objectifying. I knew if I were 5’8”, these people wouldn’t be giving me the time of day, so how could I possibly be flattered by their fair-weathered “interest”?
When I finally leveled off at 6’7”, I began to take stock of my God-given cruising altitude. I’m lucky to meet someone near my height (much less my height or taller) once a month. Rarified air, indeed. From this POV, I see what most others don’t — the beginning of men’s bald spots, the uncleaned dust atop office partitions, the credit card bill someone is scrutinizing in the seat ahead of me on the train (hey, it’s not my fault it’s in my line of sight).
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To be sure, standing head-and-shoulders above the crowd confers both its perks and its pitfalls. For my money, the few inconveniences of being tall (like clothes sizes — sleeve lengths are a bitch) are far outweighed by the advantages.
It’s easy for me to meet up with people in public — the person I’m meeting can spot me a mile away. As for navigating crowds, my height allows me to plot a visual course through them, while my imposing stature tends to cause people to get the hell out of my way. My friends love going to crowded places with me — they refer to me as the “ice breaker” or Moses, who can part the Red Sea and effortlessly open a pathway for us.
On the flip side, one thing you’ll never be at 6’7” is nondescript. My career as a spy working incognito was over before it ever began. But that’s okay. Being memorable can be a good thing; you just have to play the hand you are dealt. When I dine out, if I like the restaurant and expect to return, I make a point of tipping very well because — trust me on this — they will absolutely remember me the next time I come. And so, I’d rather be remembered for being a polite and generous patron than some cheap and demanding douchebag.
My front-loaded investment pays off in spades — when I walk into my favorite local restaurants, I am greeted warmly and waited on promptly. Often they remember my favorite table and beverage and hook me up with both without having to say a word. Now I know how Tony Soprano must have felt.
Restaurants are one thing, but supermarkets are quite another story. Forget any attempts to make a “quick run” in and out for a few things. Invariably, my surgical strikes at the Stop & Shop are sabotaged by some desperate eagle-eyed shopper who flags me down to fetch something for them from the top shelf. Of course, I can’t say no. What I’d like to say, though, is, “Where the hell were you when I needed something off the bottom shelf?”
Public seating is its own adventure. Aisle seats in theaters, busses, and planes provide marginal legroom, provided you don’t mind sitting at a 45-degree angle the whole time. When going to a movie or show, I always try to arrive early and choose a seat in the back half of the theater. That way, I’m not blocking anyone’s view, and if you happen to come so late that the last available seat is behind me, well then, maybe you’ll learn to get your arse in gear a little sooner the next time. I did my part. I’ll never forget the time I went to see a performance of The Mikado in Chicago while visiting friends. We arrived late thanks to traffic and took our seats just as the show began. Imagine my embarrassment during intermission when I stood up for a stretch and saw that the guy seated directly behind me is probably 5’7” on a good day, is wearing a neck brace, and can’t move his head in either direction. I was half-temped to offer him a recap of what he had missed so far.
On airplanes, unless you want to pay big bucks for business or first class, the standard option for tall people flying coach is the bulkhead row. However, that’s where they also seat passengers with young children. So, you have to be willing to trade three hours of a screaming baby in your ear for some additional legroom. It wasn’t so bad when they offered open-bar service.
I learned that another option for additional legroom is the emergency exit row when I called to book my seat one day and was informed that the bulkhead row was full. But the ticketing agent said she couldn’t book the seat over the phone for me because it was airline policy that they need to see you in person “to make sure you’re physically capable of opening the emergency exit door if need be.” And so, I’d have to arrive at the airport hours in advance just for a chance (no guarantee) at getting the seat. I looked at the phone and said, “Trust me, lady, I’m 6’7”. I’ll have the damned door ripped off its hinges, and my ass will be the first one sliding down the inflatable chute at the first sign of engine trouble.” Reservation confirmed.
Things get really interesting in social situations. I am here to tell you that while the Napoleonic complex is alive and well, short(er) men unfairly take the rap for it. In my experience, most shorter men have long since made peace with their size and have nothing to prove. They are usually quite warm and friendly when they meet me and are admiring of my height. In contrast, the guys from whom I get the chilliest reception are typically in the 6’2” to 6’4” range. These towering gents are accustomed to being the vertical outlier 99% of the time, so they feel a sense of entitlement for the silly alpha male status that it ostensibly confers. That is, at least, until I show up and rain on their parade. Not used to feeling upstaged and diminutive, they’re often unsure how to react.
But what I find most awkward in social situations is the compelling need of some to make my height a conversation topic — either via some lame attempt at humor or by peppering me with inane questions.
Those who traverse the humorous route can be quite unintentionally entertaining when they deliver their how’s-the-weather-up-there “joke” with the self-satisfied smile from mistakenly believing they were so clever to have come up with it. Trust me — by now, I have heard every possible permutation and iteration of every height-related pun, double-entendre, joke, and play on words dozens of times over. Except for one — props to a very tacky plus-one at a family wedding who, after being told that my father was not very tall, opined that our mailman must have been. Thank God my mother was not in earshot for that little bon mot.
And finally, there are The Questions. Asked and answered ad nauseam…
How tall are you? (“6’7”)
Are you really that tall? (“Umm, that would be a hard thing to fake, don’t ya think?”)
Was your father tall like you? (“No.”)
Did you play basketball? (“Never. At 5’6”, how was your career as a jockey? Did you race the Triple Crown?”)
What size shoes do you wear? (“13 wide. And that’s as far as any questions go about my shoe size.”)
Do you like being tall? (“Absolutely. Wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”)
The Questions are so etched in my brain that I’ve been threatening to get a set of business cards printed up listing The Answers — so when someone starts in on me I can silently hand them a card the way a Hare Krishna slips you a religious tract at the airport:
2. Yes, really.
5. 13 wide.
Robert Schork is Examiner Media’s Digital Editorial Director. Previously, he was the Editorial Director for Westchester Magazine and Hudson Valley Magazine and their group of ancillary publications. Schork has also written and reported extensively about television for more than two decades. He is formerly the managing editor of Soap Opera Weekly, covering both daytime and prime-time drama and reality series, and was a contributor and research consultant for ABC’s best-selling “General Hospital: The Complete Scrapbook.” His celebrity interviews include Betty White, Donald Trump, Kiefer Sutherland, Christopher Meloni, Mariska Hargitay, Dennis Franz, Elisabeth Moss, Edward James Olmos, and Susan Lucci (who, before her 19 Emmy nominations and ultimate win, attended the now-defunct Marymount College in Tarrytown).
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