“I’m six foot five,” a man named Joe said. He did not say this in his greeting, and he did not say this in the early minutes of our encounter, but it did hang over our heads until he could be reasonably sure that I acknowledged it.
If you are ever fortunate enough to meet Joe, you’ll soon discover that the reason that we list his height before his name is that Joe was more of a 6’5” guy than he was a man named Joe. He is more 6’5” than he is an employee of a corporation, a member of a family, or Irish. Joe was more about being 6’5” than a college alum, a member of a state, a member of a political party, a U.S. citizen, or any other identifier a person proudly declares as characteristic of their personality. If your conversation with Joe extends beyond the superficial pleasantries, you’ll learn how 6’5” he is. If that conversation evolves into a minutes-long discussion, and you don’t acknowledge his height, at some point, with verbal or nonverbal cues, he’ll break the news to you:
“I’m six foot five!”
Although Joe and I spoke for a total of about three minutes, I have the feeling that he could’ve written a bestseller, won the Heisman Trophy, saved children from a fire, or discovered the cure for cancer, and his height would still be such a primary characteristic that he would prefer that “Here lies Joe. He was 6’5”’ be chiseled into his gravestone.
Joe was an interesting person. He appeared to be conversant on a wide range of topics, and he managed to tell some aspects of his life’s story in an impressively interesting manner, but everything he spoke of came back to the refrain of his life. His height was the reason he had trouble finding chairs to sit in with comfort, the reason his 5’3” mother was always on him about stuff, and the reason he couldn’t be as particular as he wanted to be about the clothing he wore:
“You can’t be finicky about clothes when you’re 6’5” and built like me.”
Joe, we should note, was also broad-shouldered, and that additional characteristic made it difficult for him to go door-to-door to talk to people.
“Would you be comfortable discussing politics, if a man my size came-a-knocking on your door?”
It was also the reason that he had such trouble finding a decent woman. The introduction of such a subject in such a brief interaction might have shocked most people, or at least made them somewhat uncomfortable. They might have deemed that topic to be an inordinately intimate detail to include in a conversation between two people that had just met. I had a best friend in high school that was 6’7” however, so I was well versed in the travails of being a tall male in America today, and I was used to my friend going into such intimate details to make his point with people he just met. Joe and I did try, at various intervals, to move on to other topics, but he was unable to let the fact that he was 6’5” go as easily as I was.
What struck me as odd was that I never made mention of his height, and I don’t think I provided any verbal or physical cues that called attention to it. Was that the point though, I later wondered. Was my refusal to acknowledge his height such an aberration to his overall experience that until I acknowledged it in some way, he would not be able to move on until I did?
Being a tall man has numerous advantages, but it has almost as many disadvantages. As I wrote, however, I was well versed in the details of being an abnormally tall man in America. I knew, for example, that the first thing that people notice about another and the thing they talk about after that person leaves will be a person’s height, if they are unusually tall. A person’s height is the reason some people will pester others in a mall, and it’s the reason others won’t go near them. A tall man could be the most charming person in the world, in other words, and most people will have preconceived notions about them based on their height. They could have a knockout pair of shoes on their feet, and an award-winning tie, and the first and last thing most people remember about them is their height.
With that in mind, one would think that an abnormally tall male, or a woman with abnormally large breasts, would find it refreshing to encounter someone that appears to be genuinely unconcerned with their attribute(s). One would think that they would find it refreshing that they’ve finally found a person that is willing to talk geopolitics with them without looking down their shirt, or saying, “How’s the weather up (in) there?!” One would think that they might reward that person that breaks the patterns of human interaction to which they’ve become accustomed, with a bright smile and maybe even something along the lines of: “Thank you. You may not even know why I’m thanking you, but thank you!” Yet, tall men, and large-breasted women, just like all humans with abnormal attributes become so accustomed to these patterns of interaction that they feel compelled to draw your attention to their attributes just to comfortably complete a line of dialogue.
If a person is unfortunate enough to be granted an attribute generally considered a negative, most people will try to avoid talking about it, and they will do everything they can to avoid noticing it. When an observer considers that person’s attribute a positive, most people think a person of such attributes should feel privileged to have it, so they don’t mind speaking about their abnormally large breasts. “My you’re tall sir!” they will say to the recipient’s annoyance, or “I wish I had those,” and “You should feel privileged.”
As my conversation with Joe continued, and he began to belabor the point of his height, I initially thought that he was trying to assert some degree of dominance. I may have been wrong on that note, and it may have had more to do with everything I thought later, but I began to rebel against his theme by making a concerted effort to avoid the topic of his height. Our conversation ended soon after that, and we moved onto other people at the gathering.
“What did you say to Joe?” our mutual friend –a friend that informed Joe and I that we would have so much in common that she thought we would hit it off– later asked.
“Why?” I asked.
“He says he doesn’t care for you.” When I asked her for more details, our mutual friend said, “He said he can’t put a finger on it, but he doesn’t like you as much as I thought he would.”
Without going into what I deem to be the unnecessary details of our otherwise innocuous conversation, I can tell you that it involved no disagreements. To my mind, there were no moments of subtle tension, and there certainly were no overt ones, but he didn’t like me. Now I’m not one of those types that believe that every person has to like me, and if they don’t, I don’t think there has something wrong with them, but to my mind, our conversation proved to, at least, be amicable if not pleasant. Joe and I also proved to be as like-minded on certain topics as our mutual friend believed we would be. The only thing I did, and that which led him to state that he care for me as much as our mutual friend thought he might, was refuse to acknowledge his height in any way.