The whine of a cordless drill couldn’t drown out the shrieks coming from the corner of the kitchen. While the rest of our volunteer team plowed ahead with a plumbing project, Dan was squirming in a vinyl chair over by the microwave. A nice older lady who claimed to be a nurse had pinned him down and was eagerly applying the icy tough love of Bactine spray to a raw spot scraped like a red Mohawk down the middle of his head.
Another penalty paid for the crime of being tall in a building with low doorways.
“You fellas are all just too tall,” said John, the manager of the community hall we were working in. “All of us around here are short enough that we walk right through that door with no trouble.”
Studies will tell you that being tall (anything over 5’9” if you judge by the height of the average American man) provides a measurable leg up. One University of North Carolina study found that every additional inch is worth an extra $789 in salary each year. That means a 6-footer earns $5,525 more each year than a 5’5” person. (Anecdotally, I’m not convinced, considering how many guys shorter than me pull into the office garage in a Mercedes every day.)
If your growth spurt carries you right into truly rare air, you’re virtually guaranteed a pro basketball career. Making it to seven feet may not carry you past life as a human victory cigar (you only show up on the court when the victory is in hand; ba-dum-dum). But there aren’t many real-world jobs that pay as well as being the 12th man on an NBA squad.
Those are all the upsides to height. But at times, unusual stature has been downright deadly. Genghis Khan was said to have a policy of parading captured enemies past a wagon tongue and lopping off any heads that extended above this measuring stick. But to be fair, the Khan was also known for wiping out entire cities, so his heightism may be overstated.
Today, a little altitude is far less risky, but more inconvenient than you may think. Garrison Keillor once broadcast “a message on behalf of the tall” asking the world to refrain from reclining airline seats out of consideration for the long legs they were about to crush in the row behind them. In the spirit of that public service announcement, here’s an informational list of the subtle challenges faced by your taller neighbors:
- Chandeliers – Move a kitchen table a few feet, and you’ve created a trap. It’s only a matter of time before some tall person winds up with a forehead scar that looks like a little flame-shape light bulb.
- Shower heads – Most people know that most hotel shower heads were positioned for gymnasts and jockeys. But tall people don’t just dip their head to wash out the shampoo. We often have to Tebow.
- Bathroom mirrors – Until I grow a long beard and need to trim only the bottom of it, I’ll be doing deep knee bends in order to see myself shaving in many bathrooms.
- Pick-up basketball – Trust me: You don’t want to be addressed as “Big Man” when you’re greatest hoops achievements were at a tiny private school. If you’re 6’4”, every mouthy point guard automatically assumes you’re primed to dominate the paint. Fail to do that, and you’re in for some serious trash-talking.
- Air travel – Aisle seats are a sneaky danger. They promise the relief of extending at least one leg during the flight. But airline attendants seem to have a punitive policy toward people using this public space. Drink carts can be used as weapons.
- Housekeeping – The more you see, the more you realize needs dusting. In Tall World, the top of every picture frame and refrigerator is a job nagging at your conscience.
- Full-size beds – One of the most deceptive product names of all time, right up there with “fun-size” candy bars. Even sleeping on the diagonal, you can plan on your feet levitating off the edge for most of the night.
- Cubicles – You can’t sneak out early on a Friday when your head sticks above the warren of cubicles like the fin of a giant land shark.
- Refrigerators – From a standing position, I can view one full shelf in the fridge, and the first three inches or so of another. That means that as I hunt for leftovers to take for lunch each morning, I do my best impression of a giraffe bending low to a waterhole. I always worry that as I’m hunched over, looking for the Tupperware, a lion may be sneaking up on me, hoping to pick off a meal on stilts.